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The Old Testament
How to Study Old Testament
The Old Testament (OT) can be grouped into three main themes, namely, the Laws, the Prophets, and Writings (like Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Daniel and Ruth). The OT and the New Testaments (NT) compromise each other. The NT is not meant to replace the OT but to fulfill it. As Jesus said it himself, Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. Paul also pointed out, All Scripture is God-breathed/ (Timothy 3:16). Therefore not only should we not abolish the OT, we must consider its messages carefully for it is the inspired work of God. Also, one should keep in mind not to interpret the teaching of the Bible through one or two verses, but to look at the Bibles view as a whole towards any subject.
The Importance of Old Testament
The message of the NT was scattered all over the OT; without the OT, it would be almost impossible to get the entire picture of Gods salvation plan.
Putting aside individual prophecies like Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 etc., lets look at the big picture of how the OT is fulfilled as far as the covenants between God and man are concerned:
a) Covenant between Noah and God (Gen 9:8-17)- God made it very clear that the punishment of sin is death, by using the flood to destroy all life. However after the flood, He promised not to let history repeat itself. Does it mean that man would become sinless that God would never need to bring his wrath on mankind again? Since we know that all men are sinful (Roman 5:13), and that we cannot become righteous through our work, God must have a better plan for us; salvation through Christ.
b) Covenant between Abram and God (Gen 17:1-21)- Like Noahs time, Gods laws had not been revealed to the Israelite. But God clearly stated that He wanted us to be blameless (which no one can accomplish). Also, the covenant that God wanted the Israelite to bear physically on their flesh (circumcision) was replaced by the new covenant he put in our mind and writes on our hearts (Hebrews 8:10).
c) Covenant at Sinai (Exodus Deut) God clearly specified His laws, 613 in all. He emphasized the importance of sacrifices, through which was the only way to redeem ourselves. God would not accept any sacrifices falling short of those laws commanded by Him, much like nothing will wash away our sins other than Christs crucifixion on the cross.
d) Davids Covenant (2Sam 7:8-16)- God promised that the throne of Davids kingdom will last forever. Indeed Jesus who came from the family of David will reign eternally.
e) The New Covenant (Jerem 31:31-34)- God declared the New Covenant in the OT, promising to forgive our sins, but how? This was finally fulfilled by Jesus dying for our sins.
From this, one can see the importance of the OT in getting a complete picture of Gods amazing salvation plan. Unfortunately, most Christians nowadays tend to think that the OT is no longer important to us. They read the OT as if it was a storybook, paying little or no attention to the important messages, e.g., the laws. Others interpret the OT in light of the NT, because they came to know God through the message of the NT. However, since the former was written before the latter, one should not be quick to interpret the OT through the knowledge of the NT. The OT was referred to in the four Gospels of the NT repeatedly (as summarized in the following table). From this, one can see the importance of OT in the hearts of the early Apostles and Disciples.
The entire Bible is our gateway to understanding God, who created us and the universe. Without studying the Bible from cover to cover, its impossible to know this God of love, wrath, grace, jealousy, and might.
Importance of Laws in the Old Testament
It is often possible to measure the importance of the messages God tries to convey to us in the Bible by looking at the length of the chapters involved. The following is a summary of the duration of the period covered by the Five Book of Moses, and the number of chapters used to describe the events.
Table 2- Duration of the period covered in the Five Books of Moses and the chapters involved
From the above table, there are two periods that stand out; they are Ex 19:2 Num 10:10, and Num 22.1 Deut 34:12. The unusual length of the chapters compared to the duration sends a clear-cut message to us, that God wants us to pay attention to the contents of these passages; the Laws.
History and the Laws
Reviewing the passages alluded to above, one finds a repeated message in the Old Testament. The Laws are given after accounts of historical events, showing mans repeated sins against God. God, on the other hand, forgave the Israelites relentlessly. This contradicts most peoples impression that God of the OT as a God of wrath (Lev 10:2, Numbers 11:1, and 1Chron 13:10) and the God of the NT as a God of grace (Acts 15:11, 20:24, Rome 3:24, and 1Cor 15:10) and love. A common misunderstanding among Christians is that the an eye for an eye teaching of the OT was replaced by the turn the other cheek teaching of the NT. One has to realize that the an eye for an eye law was never meant for individuals to seek revenge. It was simply a punishment to be implemented by the judges. Obviously, during Jesus time, most Jews have taken the law into their own hands, which prompted Jesus to teach them to love each other by turning the other cheek. By forgiving the Israelites repeatedly in the OT, God's abounding love and grace were clearly reflected. There is no contraction between the OT and the NT.
We have to understand that God is never changing. His characteristics persisted from before time began, through the OT to the NT and beyond. The grace of the NT God was also overwhelmingly displayed in the OT through his relentless forgiveness of the Israelites, despite their repeated sins against Him. God gave the Laws to the Israelites after accounts of the history to remind them about His grace and love, and urged them to repent and keep the Laws.
Should We Abolish the Old Testament Laws?
Gods wrath is not only confined to the OT. In the NT, Gods wrath was also shown (Roman 1:18 and Acts 5:1-10). God is sending us a clear message about his wrath through the teaching of the OT (and the NT as well). Unfortunately, most Christians nowadays tend to emphasize Gods love and trivialize Gods wrath. They accept God as their Savior (accept His blessings and gift of salvation) but not as their Lord (not willing to serve Him and obey Him). They believe that the OT has been replaced by the NT. They believe that the God of wrath in the OT has been replaced by the God of love in the NT. This is simply not true, for God never changes and Jesus did not come to abolish the Laws, but to fulfill them. In trivializing Gods wrath, Christians are more prompt to committing sins by not following Gods commandments. While it is true that there is no sin too big God to forgive, repeated sins show that the person may not have been saved in the first place.
The Other Extreme
On the other extreme, since the OT is not to be abolished, some Christians tend to justify their sins through the laws or events of the OT. They argue that since God is never changing, what He allowed in the OT should also be granted now. One example is the issue of divorce. Moses allowed Israelites to divorce their wives because their hearts were hardened. Since Moses allowed divorce in the OT they argue that God must approve divorce (Reference 1). Just because God allows things to happen, does not mean that He supports them.
Gods Intention in Giving Us the Laws
If the OT Laws are not to be abolished, but not all of them apply to us, why did God give them to us in the first place? God gave the OT Laws to us for the following reasons.
1) Paul told us that God gave us the Laws so that we know what is sin (Roman 3:20)- like the Ten Commandments (Ex 20, Lev 19, Dt 5), laws on servants (Ex 21), laws on properties (Ex 20:15, Dt 5:19, Ex 21:33-36, 22:1-5, 23:4-5, Lev 19:35-36, Dt 22:1-4, 25:13-15), laws of justice and mercy (Ex 23), on unlawful sexual relations (Lev 18), false accusations (Ex 20:16, Dt 5:20, Ex 23:1-3, Lev 19:16, Dt 19:15-21), punishment for wrongdoing (Dt 25:1-5), marriage (Ex 20:14, Dt: 5:18, Lev 18:6-23, 20:10-21, Dt 22:13-30), and fair trials (Ex 23:6-8, Lev 19:15, Dt 1:17, 10:17-18, 16:18-20, 17:8-13, 19:15-21), social order (Ex 20:12, Dt 5:16, Ex 21:15-17, 22:28, Lev 19:3,32, 20:9, Dt 17:8-13, 21:15-21, 27:16)
2) So that we know what pleases Him- various offerings (Ex 15, Lev 1-7), description of the consecrated matters (the Ark, Tabernacle, Altar, furniture, priests outfits, etc), firstfruits and tithes (Ex 13, Dt 26, Lev 23:9).
3) To separate Jews from their neighbors, so that they would not pick up their sinful nature. Uncleanness in the camp (Dt 23:9), Clean and Unclean Food (Lev 11, Deut 14), circumcision, etc.
4) But the most important of all, God gave the Laws to the Israelites so that they can be blessed (Dt 5:33). These are the laws that protected or benefited the Jews. For example, He taught us not to eat animals torn by wild beasts (Ex 22:31) which may contain germs, not to eat fat and blood (Lev 7:22, Lev 17) which may have bacteria and of high cholesterol content, observe Sabbath Regulations (Ex 23:10, Ex 35, Lev 23:3, Lev 25:3-7) so that the Israelites could rest and land rejuvenated, good medical advices were also given ranging from childbirth to skin diseases (Lev 12-15), etc.
Love the Lord ; Keep His Laws
In studying the above reasons carefully, one realizes that God's intentions in giving us the OT Laws can be distilled down to only one intention. He loves us and wants us to be blessed (Dt 10:12-13). The first three reasons above are for us to know this loving God, our creator. Due to His Holy nature, He cannot tolerate sins therefore it is important for us to know what sin is (reason 1 above). It is also important for us to know what pleases Him (reason 2) and what angers Him (following those who worship idols, reason 3), so that we can build a relationship with him. His meticulous thoughts behind the laws given in 4) show his unfailing love towards the Israelites. The medical world has only recently discovered the important values of these laws, like the harm of eating fat and unclean foods. Without knowing this almighty God, how can we be blessed by Him.
There are 613 laws in the OT, sending a two-fold message to us. It shows how meticulous God was in planning these laws for the Israelites, it also reminds us that with our sinful nature, it's impossible for us to keep all these laws. Therefore, we cannot become righteous our work, but instead by the grace of God (Eph 2:8-9). If so, shall we abandon the commandments altogether? Absolutely not. Our obeying the commandments is an outward expression of our inward conviction in accepting God's gift of salvation. On the other hand, it is possible for one to keep the Laws but not love God. This is not what God desire. He wants us to love Him, as He loves us by sending His only Son to die for our sin on the cross. If keeping the laws is good enough for Him, then the message would have been ended in the OT.
The Bible is a manual given to us so that we can know God, our creator. Without the OT, we would not be able to get a complete picture of this God of love, wrath, grace, jealousy, and might. We would not be able to know what pleases Him and what angers Him and thus build a better relationship with Him. We would also not be able to get a complete picture of His amazing plan of salvation. Although not all the OT laws are applicable to us nowadays, we must understand the spirit behind the laws. Gods meticulous plan in devising the laws for us, wanting us to keep His laws and be blessed. However, due to our sinful nature, no one can keep all the laws. Knowing this, God planned His salvation plan from the very beginning, that we are saved by grace and not by work. This does not mean that we can throw all Gods commandments out of the window. The fruits we bear (keeping the laws) is an outward demonstration of our inward conviction. While it is possible for one to keep His laws and not love God; it is impossible for a true Christian who loves God not want to keep His lawsAbout the author.
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