For a long time, I dreaded reading books like Leviticus, 2 Samuel or Ezra. I didn’t understand the history, it seemed confusing and it was (in my mind) pretty inapplicable to my life. Years later, I now love reading the Old Testament. So what changed?
What changed was my understanding. I was trying to read the Old Testament through a specific lens; I wanted to read it quickly and apply it immediately. But that is not how the Old Testament is always meant to be read. When I changed how I looked at the Old Testament—my expectations for it—I learned to love it. If you struggle to enjoy the Old Testament books, here are five things to remember that will help you.
1. The Old Testament is often descriptive rather than prescriptive.
A “prescriptive” text is one telling you how to live the Christian life. Examples of this would be many of Paul’s epistles or Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. A “descriptive” text describes a situation in order to express a theological principle or historical account (or both). People struggle with the Old Testament because they expect it to be prescriptive when it is usually descriptive. Rather than ask “How can I apply this?”, we should ask “Who is God in this passage? What do I learn about Him?”
2. The Old Testament reveals much about God’s character and vision for His people.
As you ask the appropriate questions of the text, you’ll learn much about who God was, is and will always be. Reading the Bible chronologically is especially helpful for this. How God interacted with Israel shows us His consistency, faithfulness and grace—principles we can use to understand Him in the New Testament and in our lives today.
3. The Old Testament teaches us about the nature of humanity.
Some Christians struggle with how people are treated in the Old Testament. Why did Abraham get away with lying about his wife, Sarah, and endangering her when he visited a foreign land? In the same way the Old Testament is descriptive, it also tends to share facts without making a statement about the morality of certain choices. In the case of Abraham, the Bible doesn’t make a statement about his actions toward Sarah. That doesn’t mean God was endorsing his behavior! Abraham reaped consequences for his actions, and even when consequences aren’t recorded, we know that God is just. What these passages reveal is the nature of humanity. Apart from God, we are prone to sin and we hurt others.
4. The Old Testament is more about theological themes than immediate application.
As previously shared, when we read the Old Testament looking for points to immediately apply, we miss so much of the depth in these accounts. We must take time to understand the history. When we understand the whole story, we can start looking for themes and theological truths that DO apply to us today. But if we move too fast in our quest for application, we can miss them.
5. The Old Testament is the beginning of our glorious hope in Jesus.
The Old Testament is where the hope of Jesus began. In Genesis, God promised to crush Satan with the seed of Adam—our Savior! The “scarlet thread” of redemption that runs through the Old Testament ends in the gospel, accounted in our New Testament. The more you understand the Old Testament, the better you’ll grasp the New.
I hope these points encourage you if the Old Testament has intimidated you. You can learn to love it, benefit from it and draw near to God through it. He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow—in the Old Testament and in the New.