Why Study the Old Testament?

KATIE POLSKI|CONTRIBUTOR

My seminary professor posed a question in his lecture the other day: Should we decorate our nurseries with Noah’s Ark themes? Um, well…I did. My oldest, who’s now off at college, had a yellow and green Noah’s Ark themed nursery when she was a baby. What’s the problem, Prof.?

But then I studied the story. It’s not that I hadn’t learned about Noah before, but most of my understanding of the passage, along with many other Old Testament stories, comes from childhood books filled with primary colors and cartoon-like figures. But the story of Noah is actually incredibly heavy and exceedingly violent.

Many Old Testament stories carry this kind of weight. While studying 1 Samuel with our women’s Bible study, we came across this verse: “The hand of the Lord was heavy against the people of Ashdod, and he terrified and afflicted them with tumors…” (5:16). This probably isn’t a Scripture passage hung up on the fridge for that good ole’ morning encouragement. As we digested what was going on in the context, one friend lamented that passages like this are why she stays away from the Old Testament. I get it. I had similar feelings when digging into the story of Noah. It’s hard sometimes to understand how these Old Testament stories apply to us today; it’s equally difficult to grasp the importance of reading them when many are harsh and even some, grotesque.

But the Old Testament is significantly beautiful. It is vital to our understanding of the great and glorious God we serve and digging into these books sheds light on the incredible beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are many other reasons to give time and attention to Old Testament books, but here are three to consider:

The Old Testament is Significant because it Reveals the Purposes of God  

As a literature teacher, I delight in seeing a student’s face light up when they begin to understand how the plot details of a piece of literature fit together to create one unifying and often very meaningful story. Our understanding of Scripture must be seen in a similar light. The Bible is one beautiful and grand story – the grandest story! It cannot merely be understood as individual, disconnected books made up of individual, disconnected stories. When we study the Bible, we often do so by jumping around to different books and chapters, which is certainly fine and can be beneficial. But the challenge is that we not losing sight of the big picture – the grand story – that connects all the details from Genesis to Revelation.

As we study each book of the Bible, it’s important that we consider how a single book or individual story fits into the whole story which tells us about God’s redemptive plan to glorify Himself and to redeem His people. In the book of Matthew, the gospel writer begins by telling us the genealogy of Christ. Why does He do this? Why not just get to the good stuff of Jesus’s birth and life on earth? Because, we can’t fully understand the beauty of this New Testament story without understanding it in the context of the Old. Every name mentioned in Matthew 1:1-17 is connected to a Biblical story that we read about in the Old Testament. It all leads up to the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ! As many scholars have explained, the testaments are God’s two great acts in the story of Salvation. Like any play, if you miss one act, the beauty of the whole story is lost.

The Old Testament is Significant because it Reveals the Character of God

But why spend time studying the Old Testament when so much is focused on complicated laws and sacrificial systems that we don’t implement today?  Because these details in the Old Testament reveal the character of God. If you want to know more about Jesus, read the Old Testament. He was the fulfillment of much that we read in these books. He fulfilled all of the Old Testament animal sacrifices; He became the great high priest so that we no longer need a mediator between us and God. He became the lamb and gave Himself as the ultimate sacrifice for you and for me.

And we learn profound lessons about God’s character through the laws He put in place for the people of Israel. It’s easy to skip over passages like Leviticus 19 where God tells the Israelite farmers to leave some of their harvest. Why does this matter to us? Because it tells more about God. It reveals the way in which He values work, and it shows us the compassion He has for those who have less.

The temptation is to force God into our man-made molds, but the Old Testament confronts our version of God and reveals to us the truth of His power and glory, justice and mercy, tenderness and compassion – all greater and more profound than we can fully comprehend. Studying the Old Testament deepens our understanding of the God we serve and causes us to appreciate even more His personal and boundless love.

The Old Testament is Significant because it Reveals the Heart of God.

The gospel is the ultimate expression of God’s love. Isaiah 53 is one of several passages that announces the good news of the hope we have because of the death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s remarkable that hundreds of years before Jesus came into our world, God caused a prophet to look forward into the saving work of Christ. It’s a beautiful, life changing revelation that we see come to fruition in the New Testament.

These Old Testament passages which point us to the coming of Christ provide for the believer an unshakeable confidence in Jesus who gave His life that we might be free from the bondage of sin. And reading these books provides a greater depth into the sacrifice that Christ made on our behalf.

2 Timothy 3 reminds us that all Scripture is inspired, and all scripture is profitable (vs.16). And who does it profit? Each believer in Jesus Christ. Every promise that is made, every Covenant that was created in the Old Testament finds their “Yes” and “Amen” in Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20). When we enter the day tired, unhinged, or overwhelmed, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the entirety of Scripture has the ability to enable us to do the good work God has called us to. Immerse yourself in these promises as you see the beauty of the grandest story unfold.

About the Author:

Katie Polski

Katie is wife to Chris, a PCA pastor at Trinity church in Kirkwood, MO, and together they have three children, Ella, J-Rod, and Lily. Katie works as the music director at Trinity and serves on the Women’s Ministry Committee. She also spends much of her time writing, playing piano, leading women’s Bible studies, and speaking to women’s groups about the joy she has found in Christ. Katie graduated from Covenant College with a BA in English Education and has served on the board of Covenant. She is currently pursuing her Master of Arts in Theology from Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. For more information, as well as various blog entries, you can visit her website at www.katiepolski.com

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