The following is very slightly adapted from a devotional given by the author at a college group event.
I think you, as a Christian, should be reading the Old Testament. I’ve heard the objections. They’re stupid. Let me tell you why.
I’ve heard it said that the Old Testament is hard to understand. Come on. Israelite children were read the Torah from a young age (consider for example Deuteronomy 6:7, or that when the people were assembled, of necessity children would be there as well). Besides, literal Biblical interpretation makes things generally easier to understand.
I’ve heard it said that knowing about Jesus is enough. Well, Jesus gave you the Old Testament, so, yeah. And the Old Testament speaks so much about Jesus through prophecy.
I’ve heard it said that the Old Testament isn’t relevant. Have you not read? “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for rebuke, for correction, for training in righteousness.”
I’ve heard it said that new believers need to learn the truths about their Salvation, which are in the New Testament. OK, that’s not stupid. This even has a chance to be a fair objection. Understanding salvation is vital to spiritual growth. However, the truths of our salvation aren’t limited to the New Testament.
I want to share with you now that your salvation was promised to the nation of Israel. Consider Deuteronomy 32:20-21.
Deuteronomy 32 is a song of Moses in which he prophesies much of the future of Israel. Starting in verse 15 Moses describes Israel’s rebellion against God. This is vividly described throughout the law, prophets, and historical books of the Old Testament. That history provides the backdrop for the development of much of our theology of God’s grace and mercy and faithfulness and love.
In verse 20 God disciplines Israel by turning his face from them. In verse 21, however, we read something very interesting. We see that when God isn’t pouring His love out on Israel, He instead pours it out on those “who are not a people.” Israel forsook God for idols, so God forsakes Israel for—whom could he possibly forsake Israel for? That would be gentiles. And that would include us.
Let me defend that confusion. It turns out this isn’t the only time the words “those who are not a people” are used in the Bible. The other two most notable uses are:
- Hosea 2, in which the restoration of Israel is described. Unfortunately our Deuteronomy passage talks about Israel in sin, so we’ll have to look instead at:
- Romans 10:19. Let it be known that I am not telling you not to read the New Testament. In Romans Paul lists multiple Old Testament passages predicting that the gospel would apply to the gentiles. Deuteronomy 32:21 is one of them.
Let’s get to something remarkable though: this is a passage about judgment. We see God pronouncing judgment on Israel through most of the chapter. We’re only 14 verses away from “In due time their foot will slip;” the text from which Jonathan Edwards preached “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” And right smack dab in the middle of all this judgment and anger against sin we have, what? More wrath? Well, no. Instead there’s Salvation for gentiles. Here we see God’s grace.
And why? Why does God show grace to the gentiles? This uncovers a great and beautiful truth: our salvation, by provoking the Israelites to jealously, is itself a means of grace by which God draws Israel back to Himself. Even the very thing God uses to punish His people shows grace to His people.
There is a twofold doctrine I want you to draw from this. First, and most importantly, learn more of the character of our God. God’s love is so great that even in His judgment, He must express it. God’s mercy and grace are such a big part of His character, that He seems reluctant to restrain them. Strike that, He can’t restrain them, as that would be inconsistent with His will. The Old Testament YHWH is our God of the New Testament, a God of love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness. But a God of holiness, justice, righteousness, and wrath at the same time. God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Come behold the wondrous mystery of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Isaiah, Paul, Polycarp, Augustine, St. Patrick, John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Lady Jane Grey, John Bunyan, Oliver Cromwell, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Charles Spurgeon, Eric Liddell, Jim Elliot, John MacArthur, and you.
But as a second part of that same doctrine, the Old Testament colorfully illustrates to us God’s character. “These things were written for our example.” We can learn the character of the God we worship by seeing what He does, how He acts, what He says, etc. The Old Testament defines our theology and fuels our worship, as does the New. The Old Testament tells us who God is, as does the New. And that should be important to you.
If we were faithful to be reading and studying Scripture and reading and studying what Godly men in the past have said to help us explain Scripture, then we wouldn’t have all sorts of problems in our Christian lives. We’d know God better, so we’d fear Him more, and fear man less. We’d know how God wants us to live our lives, we’d know why we believe what we believe, and why we do the things we do. This is of course much better than meeting up with people “because we’re supposed to,” and asking people their testimonies, “because that’s a typical meet up question.” Instead of being trapped in checking external acts off some list of “good Christian things to do,” we’d be glorifying God through a living relationship with Him, grounded in right knowledge of Him, grounded in prayer, grounded in God’s Word. We’d be able to fight the temptations to sin with the pleasures of God, because we’d know the pleasures of God, and that they are greater. This is why as Christians we must make an effort to understand God’s Word.