Old Testament and the Student
The substance of the article was prepared and presented by request to Christian students gathered at Case Institute of Technology, Cleveland, Ohio.
An invitation to minister the Word of God in an assembly brought with it the unusual request that at least one message be from the Old Testament. Some one among those Christians had an interest in that portion of the Bible. Christians believe in the structural oneness of the Word of God, and that both parts of it are given by inspiration of God; nevertheless, apart from some allegorical lessons gathered from the Old Testament, there is considerable ignorance as to its primary value.
Our present inquiry will lead us in three directions, namely: What is the Old Testament? What did it mean to Christ? What is its value today?
What is the Old Testament?
The Old Testament consists of the first 39 books of the Bible, and stands in one respect, separate from the closing 27 books which form the New Testament. The Roman Catholic Bible has certain additional books. These are called The Apocrapha. These are rejected by the Protestants in general because of internal evidence against their being inspired, and because they were not in the Jewish Canon.
The first section of the Bible was not always called the Old Testament. This name was given to it during the early centuries of the Church era to distinguish the Jewish Scriptures from the Christian Scriptures, the New Testament.
The authors were men, for the most part highly endowed with both natural intellectual abilities and spiritual powers. They were men like the law-giver Moses, the military genius Joshua, the king David, the poet Isaiah and the prime minister Daniel.
Structurally, the Old Testament is composed of three important parts. We may think of these as the traditional, historical, and prophetical sections. The traditional section covers the Book of Genesis. The historical section begins with the maturity of Moses when he was able to write of incidents in his own times (Exodus chapter three). The prophetical section commences with Isaiah. In so speaking, the impression must not be given that the contents of the Book of Genesis rests solely upon tradition. The first book of the Old Testament was given as much by inspiration as any other.
The knowledge contained in the Book of Genesis was passed orally from father to son throughout the early generations of humanity; there was no written record of divine accuracy. Finally, through Moses, God gave the perfect record.
The general characteristics of the Old Testament might be summed up in two words, preparatory and messianic. The diligent reader of the Old Testament senses that revelation is limited in itself and goes on to read that complementary part of the Bible, the New Testament. There is much in the Old Testament that is messianic, but how incomplete is the picture there without the fuller revelation of the Lord Jesus as given in the New Testament.
To summarize: the Old Testament consists of the first 39 books of the Bible. They were called the Old Testament to distinguish them as the Jewish Scriptures. All were given by inspiration of God. Moreover, they embrace a period of human history during which knowledge was transmitted in a traditional manner. These same books also give both historical and prophetical facts. The entire Old Testament is preparatory to the New and is messianic in its concepts.
What Did the Old Testament Mean to Christ?
Everyone is conversant with the fact that the Lord Jesus possessed a perfect knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures. Only Christ could say, “I delight to do Thy will, O My God: yea, Thy law is within My heart” (Psa. 40:8).
In the days of His flesh, our Lord Jesus used this vast knowledge of the Word of God in many ways, for example:
He used them in His defence (Matt. 4:1-11): Each temptation by the devil of the perfect Man Christ Jesus was met by the ready power of the Old Testament Scriptures. The Lord rebuffed Satan by the saying, “It is written.” The threefold temptation by the devil was met by three quotations from the Book of Deuteronomy. This powerful defence of the Old Testament is available to all of God’s people.
He used them in His claims (John 5:39-47): In this passage the Lord presents three witnesses to substantiate His claims to Deity. These were: John the Baptist, His Father God, and the Old Testament. He said, “Search the Scriptures . . they are they which testify of Me” (V. 39), and “Moses … wrote of Me” (V. 47).
He used them in teaching (Luke 24:13-35): Believers are generally acquainted with the story of the walk to Emmaus, and how the Lord Jesus joined the two disconsolate disciples, and how, beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. The Holy Spirit still reveals to the devout heart, Christ in all the Scriptures.
He used them in preaching (Luke 17:20-37): What words of warning were given to the unbelieving Pharisees when they demanded to know when the Kingdom of God should come! What lessons Christ drew from the destruction of Sodom, the salvation of Lot, and from the punishment of his wife!
These are but a few of the ways in which the Lord used the Old Testament.
What is the Value of the Old Testament Today?
This is a most comprehensive subject, and one that merits close attention. Only a few of many interesting angles can be considered.
Historical value: The genealogy of our Saviour given in both Matthew and Luke is a recapitulation of Old Testament history. The Old Testament reveals the ancestry of the Messiah; it unfolds the story of Messiah’s line from Adam through Seth, Noah, Abraham, David, etc. to Mary and Joseph. The Old Testament is the preparatory history of the Redeemer.
Instructural value: God, in Old Testament times, taught His ancient people, and through the lessons given to them, teaches us today. For example, the gravity of sin was taught by the fact that sin resulted in death. God said to Adam about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:17). Moreover, God declared, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.”
Furthermore, in His dealings with Israel, God taught them that the death resulting from sin could be endured by a substitute. God commanded, “If a soul shall sin … let him bring for his sin, which he hath sinned, a young bullock without blemish unto the Lord for a sin offering (Lev. 4:2-3). The Lord also taught them that the substitute be without blemish (Ex. 12:5. Lev. 1:3:3:1; 4:3).
All these instructive pictures from the Old Testament taught the heinousness of sin, the possibility of a vicarious death for sin, and the absolute perfection of the substitute. These facts, in a broader application, are all developed doctrinally in the New Testament.
Prophetical value: The Old Testament is full of predictions of both the first and second advents of Christ. It contains both fulfilled and unfulfilled prophecy. Details are given us as to the birth of Christ (Mic. 5:2. Isa. 6:9; 7:14). His humiliation and death are announced (Isa. 53:1-12), and so also are His exaltation and glory (Isa. 52:13. Zech. 9:9-11).
The Day of the Lord in all its many aspects is prophesied with clarity and force (Isa. 34:8. Zeph. 2:2. Zech. 14:1-11).
To know the future as well as the past, the Christian must read the Old Testament.
Evangelical value: It is obvious to all soul-winners that many have been directed into the joys of God’s salvation through the gospel in the Old Testament. Philip, in his leading the Ethiopian to the Saviour, provides us with a classic example. From the very passage the Ethiopian had been reading, which we know to have been Isaiah 53, Philip preached unto him Jesus (Acts 8:26-40).
May we become so well acquainted with the way of salvation as presented in the Old Testament that we also may point sinners through it to Christ.
Ethical value: Our understanding of the importance of the Old Testament to Christian living today would be most incomplete if mention were not made of its ethical value.
The moral law, known as the ten commandments, is given in the Old Testament, and is nowhere revoked in the New. While the ten commandments were not given as a means of salvation, God intended that they make sin exceeding sinful; they do, nevertheless, provide an excellent standard of living.
The moral law from the Old Testament reveals the highest standard of the true principles of ethics. The failure manifested throughout the Old Testament in the practice of this standard provides us with warnings which ought to help us in the control of our behaviour.
The Old Testament shows that Abraham lied, Jacob deceived, Moses lost his temper, David committed adultery and murder, and that many of the Kings of Israel and Judah stooped to idolatry; it shows that they failed to reach, in anywise, God’s standard of ethics. Furthermore, the Old Testament shows that any deviation from God’s standard of ethics results in punishment. “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). Abraham almost lost his wife and suffered a rebuke from Abimeleck, Jacob was disciplined by circumstances, Moses was shut out of Canaan, and David was punished by national and domestic tragedy.
Let us remember the words of Paul “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Rom. 7:12).
God placed young Josiah upon the throne of Judah when there was sad spiritual and moral declension throughout the nation. Early in his life, the young king sought after God, and ordered that the temple be cleansed. While engaged in this, his servants found a copy of the books of the law, the Pentateuch. As this part of the Old Testament was read to the king, he was bowed in repentance before God, and immediately ordered necessary reforms among his subjects (2 Chron. 34).
Jeremiah, at a later date, wrote about the same Old Testament books, “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart” (Jer. 15:16).
A deeper knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures will undoubtedly result in the reformation of our ways of living, and provide us with real spiritual delight and pleasure.
S. O. M.