I’ve been reading through the Pentateuch for my personal devotions. It has been a long time coming, and as soon as I’m done with Deuteronomy, I’ll keep going and start reading Joshua. It’s tough. Not only because the names are hard to pronounce. Not because the laws and rituals and rites and commandments get to be overwhelming and jumbled in my mind. And not because of the strange stories that litter the commands of God, like Balaam and the talking donkey. It’s tough reading through the Old Testament because very few people do.
Most people spend their time reading the Gospels or the Epistles that were written by Paul. To be fair, some people will delve into the Psalms or the Prophets, if they are interested in end times theology, but by and large, the New Testament is where people park themselves when it comes to personal Scripture reading (if they do that at all).
Now, I am not saying that they are wrong to do this. The importance of the New Testament, the words of Jesus, the writings of Paul, and the other books that round out the 27 books, cannot be understated. But to overemphasize the New and undermine the Old Testament does a great disservice to a large portion of our Holy Scriptures. There needs to be a balance between the two.
Because most people aren’t reading the Old Testament now, and I am, I’ll give you 3 reasons why you should be considering the first 39 books of the Bible for your personal devotions.
1. You Knew This One Was Coming
If you’ve read the last series, 5 NT Passages That Your Pastor (Probably) Never Preached On, But I Will, you will have read this idea five times.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” – 2 Timothy 3:16
This famous verse from the letter written by the Apostle Paul is often quoted in reference to the whole Bible. I used it myself and there is nothing wrong with that. Everything that we consider the canonized Scripture has been inspired by the Spirit of God and so influenced. But Paul did not mean the whole of Scripture that we tend to think of. The “All Scripture” that he was talking about was the Old Testament.
At the time of Paul’s writing to Timothy, the Scripture was the 39 books that we call the Old Testament. That is what Paul believed was God-breathed. The chapters and verses that we tend to think are boring, frustrating to get through, or useless now that we have Jesus, were believed to be good for the Chruch: for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness.
While that might be hard to believe for most Christians, that is what Paul was talking about. The Bible as we know it today wasn’t put together until the Council of Carthage in AD 397. It was almost 300 years after the death of Paul before the New Testament as we know it was canonized and called “The Scriptures”. Before that, Scripture was a synonym for the Old Testament.
If all Scripture, whether you are talking about the whole Bible or the Scripture Paul spoke of, is God-breathed, then all of it is worth reading, is worth preaching, is worth listening to. So read it, preach it, listen to it.
2. It Helps Make Sense Of The New Testament
I love it when characters in a movie quote something, like a book or another movie. It’s a nice way of adding value or depth to a character. And it can add insight to a movie, another layer to make a film more interesting. But if you don’t know where the quote comes from, the importance or significance of a line of dialogue is lost on you. The quote may be nice and mean something, but there is more value added when you know where it is from.
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40
These are powerful verses from the first Gospel in the New Testament. Knowing what Jesus thought were the most important “laws” to follow is something that every Christian should be aware of. But what is more powerful is this: these words weren’t just spoken within the life of Jesus. These words were spoken thousands of years earlier, long before Jesus walked the earth.
The “first and greatest commandment” is lifted right out of Deuteronomy 6. As a part of the Jewish prayer, the Shema, it would make sense that Jesus would call this the most important of the 613 commandments found in the Old Testament. It would have seemed perfectly appropriate and perfectly Jewish of Jesus to suggest Deuteronomy 6:5 as the most important command.
But the second isn’t from the Shema, it isn’t from Deuteronomy at all. It’s from the book of Leviticus. Tucked away in a section that we have labeled, “Various Laws”, Jesus finds that love our enemies as something that is of the upmost importance. This idea would continue in Jesus’ parables like the Good Samaritan, and how Jesus acted towards the Romans that executed him. It is also important to see how Jesus was reading the Old Testament. Clearly, he was noticing and majoring on things that no one else was. There would come a major shift in understanding how the Old Testament would function because of Jesus and how He read the Old Testament. Beyond the quotations that Jesus makes, the Apostle Paul and the rest of the New Testament writers continually refer back to the Law, the Old Testament, quoting and illuding to the stories that are found within its pages.
How can we expect to read the New Testament and understand what we are reading if we have no idea what is going on in the Old Testament? It would be like watching Part Two of Back To The Future without Part One. Yes, it’s amazing, but it makes it so much better when you understand what came before it.
3. It Is Where We Find The Examples We Need
I love reading Paul. He was clearly a brilliant man, understanding the ins and outs of what Jesus had done in ways that no one else did (remember, the Apostle Peter said that Paul’s teachings were hard to understand). But there are times that I will stop reading because I need to see his words in action. What Paul teaches is powerful, but seeing those things put into practice help me understand what he is saying.
Or when James teaches things like,”Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance (1:2-3).” I want to have an example.
One place that we can go for the examples on how to live out New Testament lessons to is the Old Testament. And it isn’t just me saying that; the New Testament says the same thing.
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.
By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.
By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. – Hebrews 11:1-8
I could write out the whole chapter from Hebrews. It is just a list of Old Testament people living out a faith that the New Testament testifies to, preaches about. The truth that Paul and other shared was lived out long before they were around. If you are looking for examples of great faith, look in the Old Testament. If you are looking for examples of brotherly love, look in the Old Testament. If you are looking for examples of the Fruit of the Spirit, look in the Old Testament.
Does it take some looking? Does it require that you actually read the Old Testament to find all of these stories? Maybe. Chances are that you already know the stories but won’t recognize the New Testament truths they are living out until you read them. So, go and read the Old Testament.