Getting Through the Old Testament Doldrums

Jesus had to reveal the true meaning of the Old Testament to His disciples after the resurrection despite the fact that they had been acquainted with it their entire lives.  We too have no hope of understanding Scripture unless the Spirit reveals it to us as Jesus promised He would.  So we must pray for His guidance to understand the Scriptures He inspired whenever we read them.  Finally, all theology should lead to doxology (worship), so read any passage looking for things that can aid your worship. 

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

-2 Timothy 3:14-17, ESV

With any new year, many Christians begin a quest to read through the entire Bible that often gets bogged down and fails just like many health and fitness resolutions.  Interestingly, the reason is the same: people lack a greater purpose for wanting to read through the entire Bible. They get lost in the confusing history of Genesis, the seemingly-insignificant tabernacle details of Exodus, the puzzling ceremonial laws of Leviticus, or the endless genealogies of Numbers.  Then they face a myriad of difficult names in Joshua, a bewildering barrage of strange stories and more genealogies in the history books and cryptic language in the poetry, wisdom, and prophetic books.  When you see little of relevance in these passages, it is easy to become discouraged and quit reading, returning instead to the familiarity of the New Testament.  If your sole reason for reading the Old Testament is because you are supposed to since it is part of the Bible, that reason will not sustain you through “the doldrums”.  In this post, I hope to give you reasons not only to read the Old Testament, but to love the Old Testament.

Inspired and Profitable

The doctrine of Scripture is the foundation of all other doctrines, which is why my theology page and posts on theological illiteracy begin with the doctrine of Scripture.  A biblical theology of Scripture holds that every bit of the Bible is inspired by God and that the Bible in its entirety is sufficient to equip us for life and godliness: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  While this certainly applies to all of Scripture, we can see from context that this is particularly referring to the Old Testament.  Paul started the letter by recalling the faith of Timothy’s grandmother Lois and mother Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5), so they are the ones who taught him “the sacred writings”.  Eunice was a Jewish Christian, but Timothy’s father was a Gentile (Acts 16:1-3) so he was not brought up in the Jewish community.  Still Eunice and Lois taught Timothy the Old Testament.  Therefore, Paul is reminding Timothy that the Old Testament is able to make him wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  So along with the New Testament, every word of the Old Testament is inspired and profitable.  Additionally, Paul specifically says that they are useful because they “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus”.  Yes, the Old Testament is able to make you wise for salvation.  The New Testament did not come in a vacuum but into the context of the Old Testament.  This is seen in countless direct quotes and references to the Old Testament found throughout the New Testament, especially in its first and last books.  Written to Jews to prove that Jesus was their King, Matthew includes numerous references to Old Testament prophesies.  And Revelation contains more Old Testament references than any other New Testament book, so you cannot hope to understand Revelation if you do not understand the Old Testament.  Therefore, studying the Old Testament will greatly enrich your understanding of the New Testament.

Jesus is the Point

We are tempted to focus on the New Testament not only because it is often easier to understand but also that we find Jesus there. But you can find Jesus in the Old Testament as well—and not just a few places.  If you have a keen eye, you can spot Jesus everywhere in the Old Testament because the entire Old Testament like the New Testament is about Him.  He said as much on the Emmaus road after the resurrection:

And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

-Luke 24:25-27, ESV

Notice how Jesus interpreted “in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” in Moses and the Prophets—i.e. the entire Old Testament.  He is even clearer to his disciples:

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

-Luke 24:44-47, ESV

Here Jesus sums up the meaning of the Old Testament in statement that followed: He would suffer, die, and rise again, bringing forgiveness through faith and repentance that would start in Jerusalem and spread to all the nations.  The entire Old Testament therefore points to Christ and prepares the way for Christ, so if you diligently search for Jesus throughout the Old Testament, you will find Him.

Finding Jesus in the Old Testament

If Jesus can be found throughout the Old Testament, how do we find Him?  The first step is to properly interpret that passage within the context of redemptive history.  Since the Old Testament covers thousands of years, observing where a passage falls within that history is vital.  Every passage was written to specific people at a specific time in a specific context, so bear in mind how the original audience would have interpreted the passage.  Remember, the Bible was written for us but not to us.  Still, we have an enormous advantage over the original audience because we have the entirety of God’s revelation in the form of the complete Bible.  We can read the Old Testament with the New Testament in mind and therefore see how Old Testament passages fit within the greater story of redemption.  In addition to what we discussed on how to study the Bible, look for what the passage teaches us about who God is, who we are, and the plan of redemption.

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