The Value of the Old Testament — Dustin Forthun

The Old Testament is a treasure trove of information for the diligent student. Paul beautifully declares that the Old Testament was written for our learning (Rom. 15:4).  It is also credited with bringing us to Christ (Gal. 3:25). Despite this high praise, some still claim that members of churches of Christ don’t believe in the Old Testament.  Such a claim is patently untrue, and I hope that articles like this one will help to show the love and adoration we have for this valuable part of God’s Word!

The Old Testament is valuable because we learn about God.  Dear reader, you must explore the Old Testament if you want to know more about God.  Some think that the God of the Old Testament is very different from the God of the New Testament, and it’s often said that the God of the Old Testament was all vengeance and wrath while the God of the New Testament is all love and grace.  These blanket claims (like many such over-generalizations) fail to accurately express the truth.  Noah would be shocked to learn that there is no grace in the Old Testament.  After all, “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen. 6:8).  There is grace in the Old Testament, and it comes from God!  A gracious and merciful God delivered David from a lion and bear, and David trusted that God would deliver him from a Philistine too (1 Sam. 17:37).  David speaks of God’s goodness and mercy as constants in his life (Ps. 23:6).  This very same goodness and mercy allowed Moses to see the promised land that sin kept him from entering (Deut. 34:4).  The God of the Old Testament parted a sea for his people (Ps. 136:13), gave them bread from heaven (Ex. 16:4), kept their shoes from wearing out (Deut. 29:5), and kept alive a tiny remnant (Is. 1:9). That’s grace.  That’s love.  That’s power.

In addition to showing God’s grace, mercy, and power, the Old Testament shows us that God is exact and orderly.  The Old Testament gave many famous rules that had to be followed without modification.  Cain and Abel were told exactly how to worship God, and nothing else would do (Gen. 4:2-5).  The same exact thing was true for King Saul’s worship (1 Sam. 15:22), and this is also true for Christians living today under the New Testament (John 4:24).  The claim that there is only grace (and no rules) in the New Testament doesn’t pass even the simplest investigation.  Does anyone remember the sad ends of Judas (Acts 1:25) and Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:10)? Grace and wrath are in the New Testament as well as the Old.  We are saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8), yet we must follow God exactly or he will remove out candlestick (Rev. 2:5). This is one of the great legacies of the Old Testament:  we must give God precisely what he wants. He will not accept our edits to his will!  Noah’s ark had a strict blueprint; so did the tabernacle and the temple.  Moses was famously punished by God for the seemingly slight infraction of hitting a rock instead of speaking to it (Num. 20:10-12). Nadab and Abihu were struck dead for their use of unauthorized fire in worship to God (Lev. 10:1-2).  An entire generation of the children of Israel was denied their reward because of unfaithfulness (Num.14:23). When the children of Israel finally made it into the promised land, it was taken back by God because of their unfaithfulness (2 Kings 25).

The book of Hebrews illuminates the order, planning, power, and precision of God’s actions in the Old Testament.  This forms the basis for a very persuasive argument in favor of following the New Testament: God had a way that he wanted his people to live;  he was demanding and strict while loving and gracious; he instructed his people through great leaders whom he sent.  The Old Testament covenant clearly foretells its own end (Jer. 31:31; Heb. 8:8-10) and, indeed, points us to Christ (Heb. 8:6).  So, do not reject God’s New Testament message, or else we will suffer the same punishment as those who did not follow God in the Old Testament (Heb. 3:12-19).  The Old Testament shows us that God does not tolerate disobedience or desertion.

The Old Testament is valuable because we learn about man.  Men and women are seen in their highlights and lowlights throughout the Old Testament.  From the very beginning of its pages, we learn that man is susceptible to temptation.  When man sins, punishment comes.  Like training children, God teaches us early the behaviors he wants us to have. The Old Testament shows that man is often stubborn and rebellious like those before the flood (Gen. 6:5). 

The Old Testament also shows us that man is often fickle.  It’s not in man to direct his own steps (Jer. 10:23), but the temptation to do what is right in one’s own eyes is strong (Judg. 21:25).  In a famous episode of Israel’s life, they wanted a king (1 Sam. 8:6).  Their shallow thinking was that a king would solve all of their problems.  Israel failed to see that God was doing a great job taking care of them.  Throughout the time of the judges, God came to their rescue over and over.  Israel didn’t need a king; they needed a servant’s heart toward God.  Samuel pleads with these people to reconsider their want of a king.  Samuel applies parental, mature wisdom to these children who stubbornly refuse to listen to reason (1 Sam. 8:11-18).  They wanted a king to fit in with everyone else (1 Sam. 8:5).  Their minds were made up.  They were beyond reason.

The Old Testament shows us that man is often fearful.  Aaron oversaw the creation of a golden calf because they feared the unknown (Exod. 32:1).  Jeroboam was afraid that people would leave him, so he completely changed the tenants of worship in an effort to appease the people and kept them in his kingdom (1 Kings 12:27). Jezebel was married to a man who was too weak and fearful to constrain her wickedness, resulting in an innocent man’s death (1 Kings 21:14).

The Old Testament shows us that some men are still faithful.  Daniel was faithful to God when few others dared to be.  Daniel was aware of the laws against praying to God (Dan. 6:10), and he prayed anyway.  Daniel’s faith was rewarded as God kept him alive from ferocious lions.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were equally faithful to God, and these men told a wicked king that even in the face of certain death they would not turn from God (Dan. 3:18).

The Old Testament is valuable because we learn about Jesus.  The pre-incarnate Christ may not be clearly visible in the Old Testament, but Job knew he was there (Job 19:25). Moses knew that Jesus was coming (Deut. 18:15).  The devil knew his days were numbered (Gen. 3:15). The message of the Old Testament is that Jesus is coming!  The famous Abrahamic promise guaranteed the Messiah’s arrival.  This promise is painstakingly guarded for the remainder of the volume.  When God’s anger and disappointment seemed to threaten this plan, the promise made to Abraham shielded Israel from doom (Ex. 32:11-13).

Joseph, beloved of his father but hated by his brethren, was sold for a slave’s sum (Gen. 37:28).  His brothers thought they rid the world of Joseph.  However, the world eventually came to Joseph and bowed before him (Gen. 42:6).  This famous Old Testament tale encapsulates the story of Christ.

The Old Testament treats readers to just a glimpse of the priest and king Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18).  It’s not until thousands of years later that readers see the golden thread connecting it all (Heb. 7:1).  Jesus is the star of the Old Testament just as he is the star of the Bible, and he desires to be the star of your life.  The Old Testament is unmatched in its presentation of divine wisdom.  It’s a beautiful and powerful message that stabilizes the faith of God’s people everywhere.

Dustin preaches for the Augusta Road congregation in Greenville, SC.

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