There appears to be an increasing tendency for believers to overlook the importance of reading and studying the Old Testament. Naturally this limits Bible knowledge but it can also promote the incorrect perception that the Old Testament is irrelevant with little to offer the modern believer. The reality, however, is that the Old Testament has many spiritual benefits to offer us today. Before considering the practical aspects of this question, it is worthwhile to briefly view it from the perspective of the New Testament.
Paul states in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” In this passage “Scripture” refers to the Hebrew Scripture, the Old Testament, which Timothy had been taught since his youth. At a later time the New Testament would also be recognized as inspired Scripture. In Luke 24:44 Jesus tells his disciples, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” By referring to all three sections of the Hebrew Scriptures Jesus validates that insight concerning him is available throughout the Old Testament. The Apostles were aware of this and used the Old Testament to explain what God had accomplished through Jesus. Reading the Old Testament provides an understanding of what took place in the New Testament. It helps believers understand that God’s plan for salvation remained unchanged throughout the centuries.
Reading the Old Testament provides an understanding of what took place in the New Testament.
Although reading the entire Old Testament may look like an enormous undertaking, the benefits greatly outweigh any trepidation a believer might feel. Genesis provides the framework for understanding the sovereignty of our Creator God and how human disobedience separated us from him. The entire narrative from Abraham through Israel’s restoration from exile reveals the ongoing interaction of God with His people. God used people and nations to fulfill his plan whether they acknowledged him as their God or not. Phrases like “this turn of events was from the Lord” (1 Kings 12:13) demonstrate God’s involvement in history. As believers grasp God’s control of history they are able to pray for the world’s problems and then rest in the knowledge of God’s sovereignty. Reading the Old Testament through does not guarantee that the believer will understand everything that happened in it, but it will provide a foundation for the believer to more accurately understand God and his character.
The prophetic books reveal God’s patience and love as he warned Israel that their sins would bring his judgement upon them. However, God assured them that after their chastisement was completed He would restore and bless them. As believers reflect on the fulfillment of God’s pronouncements through the prophets, they are able to relate the reality of his never failing love, provision, planning, and purification to their own lives. The wisdom and poetry books teach believers that a successful life is built on righteous living. The Psalms provide believers with a beautiful prayer book in which they find reflections of their own rejoicing and sadness, victories and defeats. After gaining a general understanding of the Old Testament believers can increase their knowledge by using other approaches to organize their reading.
One popular approach is to study particular individuals in the Old Testament in order to understand and apply the godly principles they demonstrate to our own lives. Remember that the narratives find their full significance as they are set within the larger framework of God’s revelation.
The Old Testament helps believers understand their lives as one small, but important, part of the overall story of God.
Some believers enjoy a detailed study of a single Old Testament book. Others enjoy studying special topics. These more detailed studies influence the lives of believers and enable them to better explain biblical truths to other believers.
Whichever approach believers use, their primary goal should be to gain a deeper understanding of God. The Old Testament demonstrates the unchanging, eternal love of God who maintains his covenant faithfulness through centuries of dealing with the Israelites. Some of them loved and obeyed him and some were faithless and mesmerized by the gods of this world. Sometimes we recognize ourselves in one group and sometimes in the other, but thanks be to God we read and we are changed. This alone should give believers a reason to read the Old Testament.