You hear it occasionally. Somebody explaining that, since we live under the New Testament covenant, the only purpose the Old Testament serves is to help us understand history and to supply us with stories of faith. They point out that we no longer serve under the rules of the Law, so none of that is necessary for the Church to know.
That wasn’t the opinion of the first church leaders.
The Old Testament was the only Bible they had. Using the Old Testament book of Isaiah, Philip taught a government official about Jesus, and convinced him to be baptized. Paul used the book of Deuteronomy to prove that churches should pay the preachers that serve them (I Corinthians 9:9-10). He also told Timothy that those Old Testament scriptures would lead us to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus, and that they would make a man of God perfect, giving him all the tools he needed to fulfill his calling (II Timothy 3:15-17).
Jesus admonished men to search those Old Testament scriptures, saying that they testify of Him.
Some early believers were confused because they tried to incorporate obedience to the Law into the doctrine of the church (Galatians 3). Paul tried to help them see that the purpose of the Law was to lead us to Christ. Paul compared the Law to a schoolmaster. It was an instructor; a guide.
Most of what we learn about God we glean from the Old Testament. It’s there that we observe what He loves, what He hates, what He blesses, and what He curses. Those old stories and histories teach us that His people never fit into contemporary culture. It’s here that His laws and principles are introduced and illustrated. Observing the lives of those old timers teaches us that faithfulness for the long haul is what pleases God.
Reading the Old Testament does not remove the human limitations that keep us from comprehending everything that God does, but it does remind us that God has never apologized for reserving those things for Himself.
Remember Job’s story? When Job declared how he wanted to plead his case before God, the Lord let him know that Job had nothing to add to the discussion. He wasn’t around when God laid the foundations for the Earth and marked the boundaries for the seas and set all the stars in the sky. What qualified this mortal man to question the judgment of the God who was loaning him the breath he needed to even exist? You won’t find that principle, essential for our faith, illustrated so colorfully in the New Testament.
In this life, we will never fully grasp why God allows babies to get cancer or how He can send good people to hell. But if we’ve read the Old Testament, then we already know that He insisted that what we would call innocent children be put to death because of things their parents did. The death angel killed children in every Egyptian home because of the choices their king made – and God had hardened his heart!
If we didn’t have these Old Testament stories to teach us that God reserves judgement for Himself and that He does not feel the need to explain Himself to us, then we would go nuts trying to figure out why He lets all those painful things happen. But having that bit of information from our guide, our schoolmaster, frees us from the pressure of feeling that God’s actions must reconcile with our emotions. God’s ways will never resolve to our satisfaction.
I don’t have to explain God – I just have to trust Him. That’s a lesson I learned from the Old Testament.
The next time someone seems lost or confused because of what they perceive as one of God’s flaws, encourage them to spend some time reading in the Old Testament.
If you don’t get to know the God of the first thirty-nine books of the Bible, you will never fully comprehend the God of the last twenty-seven.