Reading the Old Testament for All It’s Worth

We never outgrow our love for a good story, do we? There is something compelling, something magnetic, and something altogether unique about the best stories. They engage, both our minds and our hearts. They allow us to empathise with the experiences of other human beings. They also create opportunities to learn from the lives of others.

The greatest communicator of all time, Jesus Christ, used stories to communicate the truth about God, our lives, and our world. He often chose to employ stories when faced with a diverse crowd of people, hungry for His teaching. In some cases, He selected stories to veil the message, while other times He used them to clarify and illustrate truth. Stories were one of His favourite communication styles.

That should come as no surprise. As a young Jewish boy, Jesus heard the truths of our Creator and of His people’s amazing history delivered in story form by reading and learning the Old Testament. Stories were vital to passing along the Jewish heritage of faith.

In our modern day, these fascinating stories too often remain tucked away in the “white pages” of our Bibles, pages so little used that they look brand new. In many Bibles they stay stuck together. How unfortunate, since there is a wonderful timelessness about the great stories of the Old Testament. God in all His wisdom as our Creator knew all about human beings when He commissioned the writing of the Old Testament: we remember truth better when it’s placed before us in story form.

I have discovered in my walk with Christ that there is nothing quite like the Old Testament to help me gain an understanding of our heavenly Father, the living God. It was through the Old Testament that I first gained an appreciation for who God is and what He does.

When we crack open those early pages of Genesis, we meet God at the creation of the world, as His handiwork goes forth throughout the heavens and the earth. Turn a few more pages and we witness His personal relationship with humans, from the first moments Adam and Eve were created. We see His hand as it reached down into the nations and chose Abraham. Through this one man, God developed an entire nation of people to bear His name, to witness to His miracles, and to carry His message into the world. When we read of the Israelites’ failures, we see God’s mercy and compassion as He dealt patiently with them. God’s desire to redeem His people, despite their rebellion, never drifts far from the pages of these fascinating stories. And it’s through the majestic hymns recorded in the Psalms that we learn to offer exuberant praise to our heavenly Father.

Beautiful, isn’t it? Even so, the reality is that far too many Christians today still feel intimidated by the Old Testament. Have its pages in your Bible become brittle from disuse? Are they stuck together in your Bible? I want to suggest one action and one approach to increase your appreciation for the books from Genesis to Malachi. First, read and study all that you can about the history and culture of the Old Testament. Commentaries, encyclopaedias, and atlases can deepen your study of God’s Word in a way that will bring the accounts of the Old Testament to life. God has gifted some writers to study, to conduct research, and to teach us through books. Go there! Read their words and expand your mind. The goal is not for us to get puffed up in our knowledge but that we might know our God more deeply.

Second, if you want to appreciate the Old Testament for all its worth, remove the halos from above the heads of every person you find there. Take away all of the aura—not all of the respect but all of the aura—that keeps you distant from the Abrahams, the Davids, the Elijahs, and the Daniels of the Old Testament. Otherwise, you will hold them at such a distance that you will not see yourself in their lives. Sure, they lived in a different era; their times were more primitive, more rugged, not nearly as comfortable, and certainly not as modern, but they were people just like you and me who went through situations similar to those we go through. They were ordinary, garden-variety human individuals who knew nothing of their future and only occasionally understood their present. They, too, wondered what life was all about, just like you and I wonder over the same question today. So take away all the glowing halos so you can see the people of the Old Testament for whom God created them to be . . . people.

Their stories are our stories. They struggled to trust God and to obey His commands just like we do. And because their stories are inspired by God, we find in them life-giving wisdom that brings us into relationship with our Lord, which will guide us down the path He has planned for our lives.

I don’t know about you, but to me, that sounds like a great reason to read the Old Testament for all it’s worth.

Copyright © 2009 Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide.

Posted in Bible, Bible Characters.

Accuracy, clarity, and practicality all describe the Bible-teaching ministry of Charles R. Swindoll. Chuck is the chairman of the board at Insight for Living and the chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary. Chuck also serves as the senior pastor of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas, where he is able to do what he loves most—teach the Bible to willing hearts. His focus on practical Bible application has been heard on the Insight for Living radio broadcast since 1979.