I was searching the Interwebs, looking for blog post inspiration, when I found an article on RELEVANT magazine titled “Why I Still Love the Old Testament.” Problem solved.
In his article, Tyler Huckabee says someone once told him that 70 percent of sermons are drawn from New Testament books. He couldn’t back this statistic up, but it certainly fits my church experience. I rarely heard Old Testament (OT) sermons growing up, unless it was a quick reference found in a New Testament book. Some churches only spend time on the OT on Wednesday evenings or maybe in a Bible study. We love hanging out in Paul’s letters and the Gospels — the OT is mainly a reference library or the focus of Sunday school stories.
Huckabee posits three reasons the OT tends to get ignored, even though it makes up the majority of the biblical text: the boring lists of names, the violence and the “judgmental God” presented in its pages. People have a hard time with the OT — I was just talking with a friend who is reading through the Law and parts of it bother him. There are wars and angry prophets, and God is sometimes confusing and seemingly harsh.
But, you guys. I love the OT. I love it. Is it bad of me to say that I usually enjoy reading it more than Paul’s letters? Because I do. So there.
The OT is beautiful. It is full of stories about real people — people who seek after God, people who ignore God, people who try and fail, people like you and me. The OT has a plot line; we get to follow along through creation and the beginnings of sin, to God speaking to a man and telling him that He has chosen to make Him great. We see the beginnings of that nation, and then the story goes horribly wrong as the sons of Jacob are enslaved, far from the land promised to them. But then — plagues — and God guides His people home. From there, land is conquered, kings are raised, rebellion runs rampant, the people are warned and finally, punished. The nation of Israel can’t seem to do it on its own. They need something more — God promises a Messiah. The story will be continued.
I mean, what? It’s so fascinating! Just imagine that you’d never heard these stories before, that you were reading for the first time. It’s the kind of book you’d stay up late at night reading, because you just can’t put it down. The problem, I think, is that we don’t often read the Bible that way. We don’t see the big story. We read it in little chunks and divided chapters. We grab a verse here and there, and we completely miss the thread running through the entire OT — continued in the New.
And, yes, there are parts of the OT that are difficult. I’ll finish my master’s in OT next May, and I know I will graduate with a lot of unanswered questions. However, the more I study, the more time I spend with the language, the more I attempt to understand the context and culture of the Ancient Near East, the more the once-confusing OT makes sense to me. Our world — our mindset — is very different from the world of the Bible. It’s not impossible to understand; we’ve just not always tried very hard.
God does bring judgment in the OT, but He does in the New as well. Let’s not forget Revelation. And ultimately, if you read the prophets, you see how much God doesn’t want to bring judgment. He warns the people over and over again — He calls for them to repent. If they do, He’ll turn from His anger; there will be no punishment. Compassion is always God’s desire for us. Always.
The biggest reason I love the OT is because I think it is so crucial to understanding Jesus and the Gospels. Everything about Jesus is Jewish. He followed the Law of God; His customs were entirely based on the Old Testament. He never ate ham or shrimp, and He observed the Sabbath. (The times it seems like Jesus breaks the Law is when He breaks traditions that were added on later, or when He chooses to “trump” something like a Sabbath law with another biblical law — loving your neighbor.) I think that to fully understand Jesus and the things He said, we have to know and appreciate and cherish the OT.
I could keep ranting for a long time. Seriously. Ask my friends. But I’ll stop. Because clearly I need to let you go so that you can get to reading the OT! Start at the beginning and pretend you’ve never read it before. When you get to certain stories, wonder at what might happen next. Can David defeat that giant? How will the Israelites escape slavery? Who will be the next king of Israel — will he serve God or not? Will Judah listen to Isaiah and repent?
If you do want to give the OT a second chance, I highly recommend Biblica’s, The Books of the Bible. It’s an NIV translation without any chapters or verse markings (like it was originally). It completely changes the way you read the text. You follow a story through instead of stopping at the end of the chapter. It’s pretty cool.
OK, what are some of your favorite things about the OT? What do you have a hard time with in the OT?