Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.
I Corinthians 10:11
When was the last time you read from the Old Testament? Did you dive into II Kings in your personal quiet time this morning? Is Lamentations your favorite book of the Bible? Probably not. But consider this, of the 66 books in the Bible, 39 or almost 60% are in the Old Testament. It covers nearly 2,000 years of God's dealings with His people while the New Testament covers less than 100. Not enough to convince you? How about this: the Old Testament is the only written Scripture that Jesus or His contemporaries had, yet we largely ignore it.
Most of us, when we do find time to pick up the Bible, tend to stay in the relatively familiar New Testament. It's less confusing and more accessible. Jesus is in it, and it's just... easier. But when we ignore the Old Testament altogether (either in our personal Bible study or in the church) we rob ourselves of an important gift God has given us.
In I Corinthians Paul reminds his readers of several Old Testament stories then tells them that these things took place as an example for us. The stories in the Old Testament are living illustrations. They show us how we ought to live and how we ought not to live. Moreover, Paul says that God saw fit to make sure these stories were written down for our instruction. We need all the help we can get to think rightly and make good decisions in this world. We simply can't afford to miss out on God's instruction for our lives. While there's no denying that the New Testament is at the heart of Christianity and that it probably even deserves to be read more than the Old Testament; when we ignore the Old Testament altogether and treat it as a lesser class of Scripture, then we doom ourselves to be ignorant of important lessons God has for us.
So pick up your Bible and read from the Old Testament today. As you do, here are two pointers to guide your interpretation.
- Context- Because the Old Testament covers a time span of roughly 2,000 years, it's important to have some idea of the context surrounding what you're reading. A good study Bible like the ESV Study Bible will have introductions to each book to help you out with this.
- Literary Type- Pay attention to what type of literature you're reading. For example, books like Genesis are historical writings. In these books the authors' primary concern is recording what happened in a factual manner without commenting on the morality of specific actions. Be careful here! Just because the Bible faithfully records that something did happen, doesn't mean that God approves of the actions the men and women took in that story. Look for the times when God or the author breaks into the story to give their opinion. These asides help you to rightly understand the stories where no commentary is given.