If you were to flip through the back of my Bible, you would notice a lot of underlining, highlighting, and notes in the margins. Should you flip through the Old Testament, however, you would notice that the notes and highlights become few and far between. In my time with the Lord each day, I am tempted to consistently flip to the books that are familiar to me—Paul’s letters or the Gospels. If I do spend time in the Old Testament, it’s probably in the Psalms. Why is this?
Why We Need the Old Testament
While we may have the best of intentions, the Old Testament can feel intimidating. The stories are interwoven with detailed genealogies and laws. The culture is difficult to understand. It’s not as easy to pull out an applicable principle from a story of the conquest in Joshua as it is in a letter written to the New Testament church in Ephesians. But 2 Timothy 3:16 teaches us that “all Scripture” is “profitable” to us. It is the primary means God uses to reveal himself to us.
Putting the Pieces Together
The Bible is, in many ways, like a puzzle. It is made up of many pieces, with varying colors, shapes, and textures. The pieces are individually important and beautiful, but when you put them together, you get the full picture—the whole story. Most of us have only “put together” scattered pieces of the puzzle of our Bibles. We know about Jesus and His life, death, and resurrection. We’ve probably studied Paul’s letters to the New Testament churches in Galatia, Ephesus, and Rome.
We might even know a few stories from the Old Testament—of Noah and his ark or Ruth and her kinsman-redeemer, Boaz. But for the most part, the Old Testament portion of the puzzle hasn’t been put together. We can’t see how it fits into the beautiful picture God has given to us. And when we don’t put the pieces together, we miss out on a deeper understanding who God is and what he’s done for us in Christ. We fail to grasp the scope of his redemption story, a story that has been unfolding since creation.
What I didn’t realize when I set out to study the Old Testament is that Jesus Christ is the focus of both the Old Testament and the New. As the risen Christ walked with his disciples on the road to Emmaus, he helped them to see how he was the fulfillment of everything foretold in the Old Testament: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). The Bible is one story—the story of God establishing his kingdom on earth through Jesus Christ.
Suggestions for Study
As you open God’s Word, I encourage you to read the whole story. Study the Old and New Testaments and see the unfolding plan of redemption God has revealed to us. And as you read, here are a few suggestions to help in your study:
Look for the character of God.
As you read the Old Testament, write down things that are true about God. Does he exhibit grace and mercy? How does he respond when the Israelites fail? How do you see his faithfulness on display? The God of the Old Testament is the same God as the God of the New Testament. He does not change—he is the same yesterday, today, and forever (James 1:17; Hebrews 13:8).
See yourself in the story.
Write down things that are true of mankind. Do you relate to any of the feelings or actions exhibited by the characters in the story? Have you seen in yourself the same tendency to fear, distrust God, or worship idols? While our culture may change, our sinful desires and need for a Savior remain the same.
Examine the context.
While the Bible was written for you, it was not originally written to you. It’s important to know a book’s original audience and the type of literature you’re reading. While the book of Proverbs contains poetic statements of wisdom, the book of Exodus is a narrative. Understanding the context and original intent of the author will help you rightly interpret and apply Scripture to your context today. Reading the introduction to a book in a good study Bible, or utilizing other biblical resources, such as commentaries, can help you answer these kinds of questions.
Pray that God will help you understand his Word.
God wants you to know him and grow in your love for Him. Pray that as you study he would help you understand more of who he is and how you can grow to be like him! His Word does not return empty but accomplishes his purposes (Isaiah 55:11).
I pray that as you study the Word, you would grow in your knowledge and love of God through the Old Testament. He has revealed himself to us in one story—the story of his Son, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1–2). Let’s press on to know the Lord (Hosea 6:3)!