What’s the point of reading the OT? Does this collection of 39 Hebrew books have any relevance for our lives today? I remember, as a child, my Christening Bible being full of wonderful, vivid pictures drawn to enhance the stories being told: stories of Creation, the Flood, David and Goliath, Jonah and Balam’s talking donkey. And, in my mind, I can still see these pictures now.
In the NT, Moses is mentioned 79 times; Abraham 74 times; David 58 times; Isaiah and the Psalms are quoted over 100 times. Just based on these figures alone isn’t it clear how vital the OT is to the New? Yet, some advice I still hear being offered to people who want to read the Bible is, “Don’t worry about the OT – just read the NT – start at Matthew and read through to the end.” But I’ve never understood this attitude to the Christian Bible – which is unique because it incorporates in the OT another religion – Judaism. These books must be in the Bible for a good reason! And in many ways the NT affirms that we’re not wasting our time by reading these Scriptures. Romans 15:4 says: “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” The pages of the OT show the moral and spiritual development of humanity. Moreover, Genesis to Malachi is God’s own record of the way He has acted over time in order to bring salvation to His chosen people. Again Paul has a clear picture of the part played by it when he writes: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living…” (2 Tim.3:16-17).
The events, people and places in the OT foreshadow the events, places and people in the NT. Moreover, the Old and New Testaments fit together seamlessly. In Genesis, we have the beginnings; in Revelation we have endings; As Augustine so neatly put it, “The New is in the Old contained, and the Old is the New explained.” Composed over such a long time, but with an exact purpose of pointing towards Christ. The most quoted psalm in the NT is Psalm 22. Let’s read verses 14-18…It’s a Messianic Psalm. It’s a prophecy about the cross, written thousands of years before crucifixion was devised. The prophets looked ahead to the Son of Man, the inauguration of God’s kingdom, the Anointed One, the Suffering Servant who would set captives free: “O people of Jerusalem! Look your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on the foal of a donkey.” (Zech.9:9).
The OT is about ethics and it gives instructions on how to live as Godly people. But its main purpose is to reveal the work and person of Jesus Christ and to have His life in our lives. In John 8:58, Jesus says something truly startling: “I am telling you the truth before Abraham was, I AM.” Jesus is not speaking in riddles but, as God, He is repeating the very words used when He identified Himself to Moses out of the burning bush: “I AM…the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob…this is my name for ever; this is what all future generations are to call me.” (Exod.3:14-15). If we want the eternal and existing One, we need to accept that we need Him. We need to fully understand His story by opening the Bible and meeting Him on the very first page, in the very first chapter and in the very first verse: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen.1:1). As Jesus Himself said: “We know that what the Scripture says is true for ever…and this passage from Isaiah has come true today as you heard it being read” (Jn.10:35; Lk.4:21).
The most important reason to read the OT is because it’s part of God’s Word which He divinely inspired and protected through the ages, so that we might have its revelation in its entirety.
Think of it as a large novel. If you only knew the last part, of the Bible you would miss the introduction of the characters, the setting, the plot, the themes of salvation and sacrifice and the developments that happen along the way towards God’s incarnation. The ending won’t make nearly as much sense if you haven’t read the beginning and middle. Re-read the beginning of Genesis. God created man to have fellowship with Him. When the first Adam broke that relationship through sin, God said He would make a way for that fellowship to be restored. According to Gen. 3:15, He would send someone born of a woman (a clear reference to the virgin birth of Christ) who would destroy Satan’s plans: “For the Scripture says, “The first man, Adam, was created a living being”; but the last Adam is the life-giving Spirit…The first Adam, made of earth, came from the earth; the second Adam came from heaven.” (1 Cor.15:45,47). In a nutshell, both the Bible’s Testaments help us to understand the relationship between these two men: the First and especially the Last Adam – the man who is Jesus, the Messiah. There’s a silly joke: why do Jews like the OT? Because that’s where all the profits are! Prophets were sent to announce God’s salvation plan. The OT is full of over 300 prophecies about Christ’s bloodline, the place of His birth, events of His life, and details of His death- all of which have been fulfilled. Our Bible would not be complete without the Hebrew Scriptures. The New has not replaced the Old. The person who merely samples the Word of God never acquires much of a taste for it and we mustn’t expect the world to respect a book that we ourselves neglect.
The entire OT is like a letter written by our Lord God for the benefit of us all. Fulfilled prophecy shows us the hand of God, the divinity of Jesus, and the mystical nature of faith in God and in His Word. If we limit our daily reading to just the NT, we miss so many signs about getting to know God in a deeply personal and intimate way. In the call to worship this AM all of your responses came from the Psalms – those hymns of praise – a great source of comfort and peace and as relevant to us today as to the people who wrote them. Some people today are still asking for some special sign that will prove that Jesus was sent from God. God has given us all the signs we need right here in the Bible. All God wants, is for us to believe in the One He sent. Jesus gave a short, direct answer to the Scripture He read – the first sermon He preached. So let’s unroll the scroll and find the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
I think Jesus expects us to take the Word of God as seriously as He does. Don’t you?