The Old Testament is a treasure trove of inspiration and truth for modern Christians today, if you know how to study it and what questions to ask. Because the Old Testament is a narrative history of God’s interactions with the ancient Israelites, not everything applies today (for instance, no Christian scholar today would advocate living out the book of Leviticus literally). When we don’t approach the Old Testament, we are in danger of picking and choosing the parts we like and we end up with modern Old Testament churches. But there is a powerfully redemptive purpose to the Old Testament, and it is worth studying and cherishing. Here are five ground rules when studying the Old Testament:
1. The Old Testament is authoritative. The Old Testament is Scripture, inspired by God and holding the authority of God. Jesus himself regularly quoted from the Old Testament, and the New Testament authors themselves held the Old Testament Scripture as God-breathed.
2. The Old Testament is not always directly applicable. The Old Testament is descriptive but not always prescriptive. The Old Testament tells the story of how Joshua walked around the walls of Jericho to conquer it. By no means should we book a flight to Israel and start walking around the city today to conquer it. Much of the Old Testament Law prescribes rules and regulations that were fulfilled with the death and resurrection of Jesus. We are now people of the new covenant, not the old covenant.
3. Look for the timeless truths. God’s nature doesn’t change, nor does human nature. So in the midst of God’s dealing with ancient Israel we can pull out timeless truths that still apply today, whether it’s the holiness of God or the sinfulness of humanity. 40 Days Through Joshua is a journey to discover timeless truths from an Old Testament book.
4. Find correlations in the New Testament. This fourth step is key. It’s easy to take one verse out of context in the Old Testament and start claiming it in your life (think the Prayer of Jabez that swept Christianity twenty years ago). Before you can apply Old Testament truth to your life, you need to find correlation in the New Testament. That’s why God’s instructions to the Israelites to burn the city of Jericho to the ground is not applicable today: we never see a directive to burn cities in the New Testament. In fact, our directive in the New Testament is to love others through sacrificial service.
5. Find fulfillment in Jesus. The ultimate narrative of the Old Testament is humanity’s inability to be good enough on our own to earn God’s favor. We are too sinful. We need Jesus to save us. Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of the Old Testament, so make sure that whenever you study the Old Testament, you always end up at Jesus.