Every year, I try to read the Bible from cover to cover. On New Year’s Day, I start in Matthew 1 and read through the New Testament. By April, I’m starting Gen. 1 and through the remainder of the year finish Malachi and the Old Testament. As a follower of Jesus, you may tend to be primarily focused on the New Testament, and may even neglect to discover and study the Old Testament. Knowing the Old Testament will enhance your relationship with God in many ways, but here are five reasons why you should know the Old Testament:
1. Reveals the gospel and God’s grace through Christ:
We need to understand the bad news regarding God’s judgment of sin to develop an attitude of gratitude for the gospel. The Law is a tutor that leads us to Christ [Gal.3:24]. In the life of the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob we discover that we are made right with God by grace through faith in God’s promises and work. This principle preceded the Law of Moses and has never been revoked. Paul made that principle clear in his great theological treatise, “Romans” a New Testament book. However, the principle is so greatly illuminated through the pages of Genesis. It is only when I see the countless lapses of faith, shortcomings, flaws and transgressions of the Patriarchs that I can better appreciate the extent of God’s grace. Salvation is conditioned upon faith in Messiah, not performance.
When I discovered the tremendous weight of the commandments contained in the Mosaic Law, I realized that I don’t measure up. The consequence is eternal judgment. I began to appreciate the gospel and God’s grace through Christ. By analogy, I like to think that I’m a good driver. But once I read the Department of Motor Vehicles handbook, I realized I’m far from a prefect driver. And if I needed to be perfect to have a license to drive then I wouldn’t qualify. The weight of the law is sobering.
2. Reveals Christ’s redemption:
The Bible is a meta-narrative of God’s redemption of man and His Creation. You cannot appreciate the depth of the story without the Old Testament. Jesus’ life, ministry, and person are pictured throughout the Old Testament. He is the Passover Lamb [Ex. 12, Jn. 1:29] and every lamb offered as a sacrifice pointed to His ultimate sacrifice once and for all sin [Heb. 7:27]. The Menorah or lampstand in the temple was to reveal Jesus as the Light of the World [Jn. 9:5]. The table of showbread pictures Jesus as the Bread of Life [Jn. 6:35]. Jesus ultimately fulfills the altar where sacrifice for sin was made. The whole New Testament book of Hebrews compares, contrasts and demonstrates that Jesus is greater than the Old Testament in His redemptive work. Yet, the greatness of the redemptive work of the Mosaic Law is undeniable, impressive, and attractive.
3. Reveals the Great Commandments to love God and your neighbor:
All of the law hinges on the Great Commandments. The first is that we are to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The second, which is related to the first, is to love your neighbor like you love yourself [Deut.6:5, Lev.19:18, Mt. 22:36-40]. The whole idea of giving God our firstfruits, our best, and faithful devotion and obedience is revealed through the OT. The relationship to a community of faith, to strangers, enemies and the marginalized – the idea of loving neighbors – is painted on the canvas of the OT.
4. Reveals the principle of reaping what you sow:
The OT consistently reminds Israel that blessings flow form devotion and obedience, but rebellion and neglect result in a curse [Deut. 11:26-28]. God’s very nature is to bless man [Num. 6:23-26], however God repeatedly warned Israel of the consequences of their sin. The underlying principle of reaping what one sows is a natural law and one repeated in the New Testament [Gal. 6:7]. If you plant an apple seed, you expect an apple tree, not an orange tree. Similarly, if we sow to the Spirit we reap spiritual fruit, and if we sow to the flesh we harvest the consequences. The law paints an elaborate picture of man’s need to separate from engaging in sinful behavior, and repenting from sinful attitudes and actions. The OT is a saga of the destructive nature of idolatry, sexual sin, and the failure to honor God. And it is an epic display of the immeasurable blessings of submission to God.
5. Reveals how grateful we should be to approach the throne of God boldly:
At Mt. Sinai when God gave the Law, the people feared God and were afraid to approach [Ex. 19-20]. The Holy of Holies that symbolized the dwelling place of God was separated by a thick veil from the rest of the temple. Only the High Priest could enter, and only once a year, and with great fear and trembling he entered. Silver bells were sown upon the hem of his garment, and a rope tied around his ankle. If the bells stopped moving for too long the High Priest was presumed struck dead by God and would be pulled out by the rope. The message was clear, that an all holy and powerful God should be revered and approached prudently on His terms. When Jesus died on the cross, God tore the veil from top to bottom to symbolize that access was now given to followers of Christ [Mt. 27:51]. “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” [Heb. 4:16]. I could not begin to truly appreciate the blessing of approaching God with boldness as I need mercy and grace without an understanding of the Old Testament.
Truly, there are countless reasons to know the Old Covenant, but these five should encourage you to know the Old to appreciate the New Covenant.