Why You Should Read the Old Testament
Not a word failed of any good thing which the Lord had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass. -Joshua 21:45
I sat there in silence, realizing that the culmination of everything I had been reading in the last several months could be summed up in this one verse. God made promises. God kept promises. All of them. God is unchanging through every facet of life; through every generation He is faithful. It had been worth it, if, for no other reason than this one moment, to reread the first six books of the Bible. Contained in those pages are the stories of countless individuals. It is filled with blood, sweat, and tears but also unspeakable joy. It is because of these first six books that I now have a deeper understanding of perseverance and the grace of our Lord.
But let me rewind to last year. Over the course of the last six months or so, I found myself inspired to begin reading the Bible over again, from the beginning. I resisted for a while - the Old Testament is not something I’m quite as fond of as the New, often because I feel it is easier to relate to the early church than people who lived back in the time of plagues and sacrifices. In this world, we think about things like paying rent, school, and insurance. How can people like Moses, Abraham, Sarah, and Eve relate to that? Do they really have anything to say to a modern, 21st century woman? Shouldn't we spend our time on the more exciting books, like Luke or Acts? This was my thought process, and maybe yours, too. And then of course, we live in a busy world. Is there time to read through the Old Testament, even if we should want to? After reading it, I found that there is something to be gained from going back to the beginning.
One day, after much nudging (okay, pushing), by God, I finally cracked open Genesis. Some of it was the same as I remembered, and other stories felt entirely new to me. As I read, the pages began to take on a life of their own. I had a front row seat to life in the garden pre-sin, then fast forwarded to the next generation and their faith, or lack thereof, towards God. I looked on in fascination as Joseph’s story unfolded and the new generations that came after him. The unfairness of the Israelites being turned into slaves by the Egyptians and their radical escape to the dessert had my mind reeling with anticipation. I became part of the writing. And I began to notice a pattern. God goes after people and reveals Himself to them. People, perhaps not initially, but eventually, run from or disobey God. God continues to pursue them. He raises up great leader after great leader who depend on Him, and He turns people back to Himself. Through it all, there is a never ending story of God reclaiming human hearts for His own.
Something else that is dotted through each page is how people did life with God. What I mean is, worship was not confined to a two-hour church service and some prayer time throughout the week. They had sacrifices to remember the Lord constantly. They prayed before going into battle, while in their homes, and during times of peace they called on the Lord. They bound the Lord’s words on their bodies and talked of Him when they met. They didn’t so much go to worship as live worship (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).
Another recurring theme is community. These Old Testament guys had it down. When a stranger came to town, they would be invited into someone’s home to stay the night. They would be cooked a meal and honored. The Israelites would have huge festivals to honor God throughout the year that went on for days and involved people coming together in support of the Lord and their fellow man with feasting and joy.
After all these realizations, is the Old Testament relevant? Well, they may have lived in tents or arks instead of apartments, and had the Lord’s words read aloud instead of from their own books, but there is something about these people that is eerily familiar to me. And I realized we are very much alike. We all have the same desires and feelings and failures regardless of the years. They wanted to know God and to provide a good future for themselves and their families, the same as many of us. They struggled with lying, greed, and distrusting God just like we do. So, though some things may be different, the core of who people are has not changed. And neither has God. As we read, we come to a deeper understanding of His character. God resiliently desires to love and pursue us, regardless of how many times we fall down, slip up, or just plain run away. And not only that, but the prophecy of Jesus, which is made many times throughout the Old Testament books, brought them the same hope that we still have in Him.
Sometimes, we fool ourselves into thinking we’ve heard it all. We have read every story, maybe we have grown up in the church, and so we get complacent. We become dry in our spiritual life. But I realized something: just because I have studied something before, does not mean that I will not learn anything the next time I study it. Quite possibly, if I see it with fresh eyes, it will take on new meaning every time.
I want to encourage each of you to read, or reread, Genesis through Joshua for yourselves (check out our accompanying devotionals!). I know many times the first five books are discussed, but I say the first six because Joshua is where you really start to see the character of God working in people’s lives. It isn’t necessarily quick, but it probably won’t take as long as you’d think. And it is so worth it. You may discover something new. Or remember something you’ve forgotten.
Reading the Old Testament is changing my life and the way I see the Lord, and perhaps it will do the same for you. That’s my prayer, anyway. So, pull up a chair, pour yourself some coffee, and grab a Bible. I would encourage you to start each reading with prayer for an open heart and guidance from our God. No time to sit down? That’s all right, there are some things that are great about living in the 21st century. Listen while walking or driving to work through your smartphone. There are tons of great apps that will give reminders to read, also.
One last thing - I truly care that you took the time to read this, and I am praying it inspires your life. God wants to know us, and He is reaching out in every way possible. He loves us immeasurably, and He will give anything to help us.
“...for the Lord you God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.” -Deuteronomy 31:6