Why should Christians read the Old Testament?

given on Sunday, August 18, 2013

Why should Christians read the Old Testament?

         Much of our Christian Bible studies focus around the New Testament, but that is not even half of the entire Bible.  And yes, the COS curriculum has lead to today’s thoughts.  For that, I apologize, yet if I had not had to do the work this week, I might have never found an answer to one of my theological and philosophical quandaries.

Granted, I have repeatedly explained that for Jesus the book of Psalms was his worship book, and first five books were considered the Law for the Jewish people.  The priests in the temple also taught the prophecies now captured in written form, too.  We might consider that Jesus was a Biblical scholar by today’s definition.

Yet there is that initial question:  Why should Christians read the Old Testament?  Jesus was born, grew up, carried out his ministry and was crucified, buried and even arose into heaven.  Our Bible studies should focus on the New Testament—or does it need to include the Old Testament, too?

If we did not include the Old Testament, we certainly would miss out on some of our most comforting scriptures.  We would also have a smaller hymnal because the scriptural basis for many is in the Old Testament.  And what would our Sunday school curriculum look like without the Old Testament stories to share with the kiddos. i.e. Adam and Eve, Moses and the burning bush, the parting of the Red Sea, David and Goliath, Samson and Delilah, or Noah and the Whale.

Christians do need the Old Testament in order to completely understand all of the stories, all of the changes, and the importance of Christ’s appearance on earth.  The picture of who we are is not complete until you understand your history—even if it is all the way back to the beginning of humanity.

Unfortunately, here I am hovering in the 50s and I have not done any in depth study of the entire Old Testament.  Certainly I have read quite a bit, but that has been simple reading, not the intense, analytical style reading I typically do in any form of my studies.  Therefore, as I began my reading and research on Joshua and Exodus, I discovered quite a few answers to some of my most basic questions about the Jewish story that lead to my Christian faith today.

The hymn, “Go Down, Moses,” really provides a review of his story.  Seldom does a congregation sing the entire eleven verses, but the stories in those additional verses rounds out or completes Moses’ story.  Yet, it does not answer some questions that 21st century minds struggle to fit into the scientific, logical style of thinking which drives classrooms at all levels.  It can cause quite a bit of consternation within one’s soul when trying to put all the pieces together as though it was a simple jigsaw puzzle.

Within that construct for my reading these past few weeks, I struggled to understand the instructor’s question and wondered why do Christians today need to read and to study the Old Testament.  Then, much to my surprise, I found the key verses to two of my most basic questions:

  1. Why do we believe humanity stemmed from just one people?
  2. How did the Christian story develop strictly from the Hebrew story?

Those are two tough questions I have personally struggled with understanding since I began my faith journey.

Studying a timeline of the Earth’s history reveals that there are cultures existing simultaneously since times long before the stories of Moses began, even from the theoretical beginning of time.  The history books tell of the ancient Chinese culture, the Northern European culture, the South American Indians, the North American Indians, but the Bible focuses strictly on the people of the Fertile Crescent, the region around the Saudi Arabian Peninsula, the Mediterranean Sea, and Egypt.

At least that was what I thought until I read those words in Exodus 19:5-6:

Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’

Drum roll please!  The light bulb lit!  A breath escaped!  Understanding!  Why in the world had I not read this, heard this, or figured this out before!  That is a major missing puzzle piece for me.

Hear that line again:  “. . .then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.”  For the first time in my cognitive understanding I now see that God acknowledged that many more nations of people were living on the earth even before and while the people of Israel were struggling to live in the region of the Fertile Crescent.  God’s creation was the world, not just a tiny segment there at the eastern tip of the Mediterranean Sea!

If I had not been assigned that particular reading, would I ever have learned the answer to my puzzle?  If I had not had a Bible study based on the Old Testament, would I have found those verses.  In all things that we do, do for the glory of God!  I could not believe what I read.  I was so excited and so relieved to put together that piece of my spiritual puzzle.  Now I get it.  There are more peoples in the world.  Just because the stories of the Bible are from that area, it does not mean that when God created only the Hebrews.

And I continued to read on through the sixth verse:  Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ . . . ” Another puzzle piece!  The Israelites were obeying God the best of all the nations in the world, so they were chosen to spread God’s world.  What a huge responsibility!

For the first time in my life, I began to unravel all the murky levels of understanding that comes with a sudden revelation of the truth.  I found myself so overwhelmed that I could hardly wait to talk it over with others.  I needed to ask why I had not been taught this from the beginning.  I want too explore all the stories of the Bible through a new lens.  I want to shout it out!

But I cannot shout it out.  I have to learn more.  I have to battle society’s conventions, even the laws that separate church and state.  I have to explore new ways to communicate this important knowledge.  I know now why Christians must read the Old Testament.  And now, I want to know why the Israelites were chosen, why they were selected to serve, and why the faithful failed.

Reading the Bible is part of our acts of piety.  Reading the Bible becomes our curriculum.  Reading the Bible becomes a process.  Reading the Bible does unlock the mysteries of our faith and guide us to life eternal.  The Bible will provide us the tools to make disciples and for the transformation of the world.  We must not fail.  We must keep putting the puzzle pieces together to the glory of God.

Closing prayer

Dear Almighty Father,

How thankful I am today

to discover another answer

written in your Holy Words.

Thank you for guiding me

to better understanding

of the Old Testament scripture.

Lead me in sharing your words

with others, young and old

so they two may find answers.

Open the ears, the minds, and the hearts

of those sitting here today

so they too may know the truth.

Teach us how to take your message

beyond these sanctuary walls

to aid others in finding your grace.

As we leave today,

show us how to serve one another

in unconditional love in your glory.

  • Amen
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