Why We Should Read the Old Testament: Part 2
What should we think about the parts of the Old Testament that are hard to read? For example, the dubious characters and the seemingly irrelevant laws. As we journey together, I hope you’ll see how even these tricky parts prepare us to receive Jesus and that next time you read the Old Testament you’ll enjoy finding the clues and following the breadcrumbs that lead to Jesus.
First, let’s consider the dodgy characters in the Old Testament, like Samson, a man of unrestrained lust and acts of mass violence (Judges 13-16). And even Noah, who trusts God’s instructions to build an ark, gets drunk and is seen naked by one of his sons (Genesis 9). Perhaps you can think of many other examples of shady dealings by people in the Old Testament. It’s hard to know what to think when even the supposed hero figures are the perpetrators! Clearly, these are not examples to be followed, so how should Christians read these parts of the Old Testament?
To understand, we need to first go back to the fall. God said to the serpent Satan, who tempted humanity to disobedience leading to banishment, “I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15) Just as things are looking bad for humanity, hope comes in the form of a promise that an offspring of the woman will crush the head of the serpent Satan. As we read on in the Old Testament, we should be on the lookout for this saviour who will crush Satan. Could it be Noah? No, his drunkenness proves he is tempted to sin like the rest of us. Could it be Abraham? Moses? No, we see their sinfulness too. By the time we read about Sampson, we should be feeling somewhat desperate for this saviour to arrive on the scene. The anointing of kings brings possible hope, but even David who is described as a “man after God’s own heart”, proved he is not the saviour when he commits adultery and murder (2 Samuel 11). In this way, the Old Testament is showing us that salvation will not come from a human leader. We need someone not susceptible to sin. The sinful characters in the Old Testament have prepared us to receive Jesus with great jubilation as the one who is finally able to save humanity and crush the head of Satan.
Now, what about the Old Testament laws? Upon first impression, it’s hard to see the relevance of laws such as: “You are to lay your hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on your behalf to make atonement for you.” (Leviticus 1:4) While we may not apply the sacrificial system today, we do have the same sin problem as the Israelites. Furthermore, the writer of Hebrews points out, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:4) So when we read Leviticus, we should be left desiring a better sacrifice that can actually take away sin. And having read Leviticus, we can rejoice with greater understanding over the words of John the Baptist when he points to Jesus saying: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) Other parts of the Old Testament law introduce the function of the temple, the priest, the king and Israel as a nation. Think of these as signs pointing to how humanity will be restored to living in God’s presence, but also look out for how they fall short of our hopes; then we can appreciate how Jesus is the better sacrifice, the better temple, the better priest, the better king and the better Israel. Only Jesus can effectually restore us to a living relationship with God.
This is part 2 of a three-part series exploring how the dodgy characters and Old Testament laws help us understand the significance of Jesus. Click here if you missed part 1 on how the Old Testament is the foundation for a Christian worldview. I hope you’ll join us next week for part 3 as we consider some practical tips for reading the Old Testament.