We should read the Old Testament because the Bible is the story of God's interaction with the world—and the Old Testament records the beginning of that story. God reveals His nature and His purpose through His Word. To ignore the Old Testament is like making a new friend and never asking about his past. God is the same in the Old Testament as He is in the New, and studying the Old Testament allows us to know Him better and more fully understand our place in His plan.
Why should we read the Old Testament?
The Old Testament begins with God's work as it directly relates to humanity. First, He made our habitat (Genesis 1:1-25), then He made us (Genesis 1:26-27). This account explains what we are—creatures beholden to our Creator, made in His image, and designed for a relationship with Him. Nothing in our lives or in the world's history makes sense without this background.
Shortly after the account of creation, the Bible reveals the incredible damage humanity can inflict on itself. Having lost its relationship with God, human society slid into destruction (Genesis 6:5). God's plan was to nurture humanity while giving us the freedom to explore and the authority to rule (Genesis 1:28). When man-made social constructs threatened to usurp this plan, God had no choice but to wipe out the dangerous influences in a worldwide flood (Genesis 6-7) and remake our habitat in such a way that amassing such human power again would be much more difficult. God did not abandon His plan or His creation. He worked in history to put us back on the right track.
God's story continued. Working with a subset of humanity, Israel (Genesis 12:2), God established guidelines to develop a relationship with Him (Leviticus), with the idea that Israel would be able to teach others (Genesis 12:3). The Old Testament shows that the ensuing centuries were a roller coaster of success and failure as human nature, once again, fought with God's design. When the threat of the removal of worldly blessings failed to induce obedience, God had no choice to remove His people's socio-political influence (2 Kings 25) until the world was prepared to receive His own spiritual influence (Galatians 4:4).
The prophets predicted the culmination of God's work in history. First, the coming of the Messiah (Isaiah 7:14, 9:6; Isaiah 53:3-7; Micah 5:2; Zechariah 9:9; Psalm 22:16-18), then the end times (Daniel 7-12). It is the Old Testament that gives us the context for Jesus' birth, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection.
The New Testament is a snapshot of perhaps sixty years of history, plus some prophecy of the end times. The Old Testament shows the character of God interacting with His people over millennia. He is giving, jealous, forgiving, loving, and holy. The Old Testament shows His patience, His plan, and His personality. It presents a stunning, four-thousand-year-long illustration of the unfaithfulness of man and our desperate need for a Savior. The Israelites were not merely an ancient people who lived far away. They were humans, chosen by God but prone to stray, just like us. In them, we see our need for Jesus. And in the God of the Old Testament, we see the holy, loving Christ who came in the New Testament to restore us to Himself.
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