Have you ever read the Old Testament? Are you currently reading it? Do you understand its general thrust and message? I know for many of us the answer is ‘no’. It could be that we’re simply daunted by its size. It could be that we’ve tried to read it before and came to a grinding halt somewhere near the beginning of Leviticus. It could be that we’re just put off by the title itself; the word ‘Old’ doesn’t seem to imply either importance or relevance. And it certainly doesn’t help when prominent church leaders suggest, as one did recently, that Christians ought to “unhitch” the Old Testament from their faith.
So, what is the importance and relevance of the Old Testament? Why should you spend precious time poring over its pages and mining the depths of its riches? David Murray, author of Jesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament, suggests seven reasons we should stop shrugging and start studying the first (roughly) 60% of the Bible:
1. The Old Testament reveals Christ. The Old Testament doesn't just “point forward” to Christ; it reveals him. It isn't merely a series of signposts to Christ; his revealing shadow falls on every page, exciting faith and love in believing hearts.
2. The Old Testament is a dictionary of Christian vocabulary. When we come to a word, phrase, or concept in the New Testament, our first question should be, “What does the Old Testament say?” Remember, the New Testament was originally written by Jews, and much of it was written to Jews. It assumes knowledge of the Old Testament and builds upon it.
3. The Old Testament is a manual for Christian living. While there is understandable debate over the continuing validity of a small percentage of Old Testament laws, there are 10 clear and unchanging moral principles that God applies in different ways in different contexts… Jesus and the apostles continue this varied cultural application of these same 10 moral principles for their own generation (e.g. Matt. 5). All these examples provide models for how to think about and apply these moral principles in our own day.
4. The Old Testament presents doctrine in story form. God has not only given us laws; he's given us lives. He's incarnated his 10 moral principles in the lives of Old Testament characters, providing us with fascinating biographies to inspire and warn.
5. The Old Testament comforts and encourages us. As we read the Old Testament narratives, we experience the beautiful comfort and hope that Paul promised would accompany such study (Rom. 15:4). We are comforted with God's sovereign love, majestic power, and covenant faithfulness in his relationship with Israel. And when we see the way that hundreds of Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled in Christ, our faith in God and his Word is strengthened.
6. The Old Testament saves souls. The apostle Paul had the highest regard for the Old Testament's origin, nature, power, and purpose (2 Tim. 3:16-17). But the Old Testament wasn't only helpful for Christian living; it gave Christian life. Like the New Testament, the Old Testament also saved (and still saves) souls through faith in the Messiah.
7. The Old Testament makes you appreciate the New Testament more. For all the Old Testament reveals of Jesus, and of Christian doctrine and experience, we must concede that it also conceals, that there's a lot of frustrating shadow, that there's unfulfilled longing and desire, that there's often something—or rather someone—missing. The more we read it, the more we long for and love the incarnate Christ of the New Testament. The dawn is beautiful, but the sunrise is stunning.