For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Romans 15:4 – Scripture of the Day (February 14, 2014)
A lot of us misunderstand the Old Testament.
Some of us think it records the story of a vengeful, unmerciful, wrathful God, whereas the New Testament talks about a God of love and grace…even though the Psalms sing repeatedly of God’s everlasting love and mercy and Acts 5 informs us of him killing a husband and wife on what we would perceive to be a minor offense.
Some of us think that some of the Old Testament commandments and practices are still binding today…some of them, but not all of them, in spite of what the apostle said (Gal. 5:3).
Some of us recognize the truth that the Old Testament foretold of its replacement with a New Testament (Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:7-13) which took place at the cross (Eph. 2:14-15; Col. 2:13-17)…but as a result hardly study the Old Testament and resent it when sermons are preached from it, thinking a study of Genesis through Malachi to be irrelevant.
Yet, even though the Old Law was taken out of the way at the cross, the Holy Spirit still inspired Paul both in today’s scripture passage and also in 1 Corinthians 10:1-11 to declare to Christians that they need to study it. The Old Testament (“whatever was written in former days”) was written “for OUR instruction.” Ours. Christians. The Old Testament instructs us. To see how, read the book of Proverbs alone. In addition, take note of how God reacted when men disobeyed the laws he had for them in that covenant (e.g., Nadab and Abihu, Uzzah, Adam and Eve, Saul, Moses, David). See how patient he was with them while they sinned and how quick he was to forgive them when they repented (David comes to mind when he repented of the sin with Bathsheba.) See these great men and women of faith shine as examples of faithful obedience (Noah building the ark, Eli’s charitable taking in of Samuel)…and yet still sin in terrible ways at times (Noah getting drunk, Eli being a terrible parent). The Psalms teach us not only about God’s mercy and blessings, but also how to praise him and pray to him in good times and bad. Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible, has 176 verses, all of which extol the virtues and blessings that surround studying and obeying the Word of God.
All of these examples and more are found in the Old Testament, and when we read them and commit them to our hearts and minds…what happens? We learn more about God and his will for us. We learn how to endure through difficult times, and we are encouraged to keep on keeping on. In short, we get hope.
The New Testament, the law of God which applies to us today (Heb. 8:7-13), tells us that the Old Testament still has much value for the Christian. The accounts of what happened to the Israelites provide instruction, admonition, encouragement, hope, and an example to us today (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:1-11). Therefore, it is proper for modern seekers of God to study the Old Testament, because through it we can find out a lot about how our Creator looks at things.
For example, consider Phinehas (Num. 25:6-13), a little known man in the Old Testament who lived during the time of Moses. While the Jews were wandering in the wilderness, one of them brought a foreign woman into the camp in front of everyone, presumably either to marry her or to fornicate with her. While the idea of marrying a foreigner may seem trivial to us today – possibly due to the New Testament giving no prohibition between races (Gal. 3:28) – it was a sin under Old Testament law (Ex. 34:11-16; Deut. 7:3-4). Phinehas apparently recognized this and was very upset that one of his Jewish brothers would so blatantly disobey his God, and so he picked up a spear, went into the man’s chamber, and killed both him and the woman. As a result, God took away the plague he had thrown upon Israel, and even praised the actions of Phinehas.
What lessons can we learn from this? First, let me make it clear that I am not advocating killing someone whom you see blatantly disobeying God’s Word. While the Old Testament allowed that (Josh. 7) due to being the lawbook of a singular theocratic nation, the New Testament – the lawbook of Christians of all nations – tells us to deal with sinners among our brethren in a firm but non-violent way (Matt. 18:15-17; Rom. 16:17-18; 1 Cor. 5; Eph. 5:11; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14-15; 2 John 9-11). Under the New Testament, only the various secular governments have the authority from God to use capital punishment to punish evildoers (Rom. 13:1-4), and anyone – including Christians – who would purposely take a man’s life outside of governmental parameters would be guilty of sin (Gal. 5:19-21).
That said, what I would like us to consider is the zeal Phinehas must have possessed in order to do such a thing as take a man’s life because that man was sinning against God. We need to remember that Phinehas was putting his own life in danger by going into that man’s tent and attacking him. The man could have defended himself and maybe even taken Phinehas’ own life. Yet, Phinehas cared so much about God’s Word being obeyed that he would not allow sin to be in his presence for one minute…and God praised him for that attitude.
Do we have that attitude? Do we hate sin that much? When someone tells a dirty joke or uses foul language in your presence, do you have enough zeal for God to politely ask them to stop? If your friends are involved in fornication, do you care enough about God and them to tell them that what they are doing is wrong? Or do you look the other way and maybe even join in so that they won’t think you’re weird? If that’s the case, where’s your zeal for God? More importantly, where is God’s approval for you?
I hope we all can have Phinehas’ zeal for standing up for what is right in the sight of God. It’s something to think about, and a goal for us to have.
(This is the final part of a series on correctly interpreting the Bible. I encourage you to also read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4. Certainly much more can be said about accurate hermeneutics; this series is meant to be a kind of general overview of the subject. Nevertheless, it is my prayer that this study has been beneficial to us all. Civil and respectful comments and questions are welcome, and might even be inspiration for future articles which pertain to this and other needed subjects. Thanks so much for taking the time to read. Your interest is greatly appreciated.)
It is probably safe to say that most if not all casual to serious students of the Bible are aware that it is broken down into two basic parts: the Old Testament (Genesis through Malachi) and the New Testament (Matthew through Revelation.) The Old Testament (or covenant) gives us the record of the beginning of this world, the universe, and mankind before turning its primary focus to the history and laws of the nation of Israel from the time of their patriarchs to when they were taken into Babylonian captivity. The New Testament (or covenant) gives us the biography of Jesus Christ, the record of the earliest days of his church, and the writings of his divinely inspired apostles and prophets. Both covenants claim to be Scripture and thus inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16-17; cf. Rom. 15:4; 2 Pet. 3:15-16), and both contain commandments, examples, and principles by which people were and are to abide.
However, did you know that one was taken out of the way and fulfilled to make way for the other, and thus its laws and precepts are no longer applicable for Christians today? Understanding this fact is a major foundational precept to keep in mind in order to interpret the Bible correctly, which is why I want to write about it today.
The Old Testament continually points to Jesus Christ through numerous prophecies (e.g., Deut. 18:15-19) We know these prophecies are about Jesus because the New Testament proclaims them to fulfilled by him (e.g., Acts 3:18-24). In fact, Jesus declared himself to be the fulfillment of the Old Testament (Matt. 5:17). However, the Old Covenant also foretold of a time when it would be replaced by the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34), something which the New Testament acknowledged as having taken place (Heb. 8:7-13). The New Covenant replaced the Old Covenant at the moment Jesus died on the cross (Heb. 9:15-17; Eph. 2:14-16; Col. 2:13-17).
Unlike the New Testament whose laws apply to everyone (Matt. 28:18; Acts 17:31; John 12:48), the Old Testament declared itself to be written for and applicable solely to the nation of Israel (Deut. 5:1-3; Jer. 31:32). It was done in order to serve as a “guardian”to Israel until Christ came (Gal. 3:24). However, now that Christ and the faith which he brought has come, the Old Covenant’s laws are no longer applicable (Gal. 3:25) and Jewish Christians are now said to be free from it in the same way that a woman is no longer married to her spouse upon his death (Rom. 7:1-6). Those Christians who would attempt to still obey some of the commandments of the Old Covenant (such as circumcision – Gen. 17:10-14) were said to be obliged to obey all of its commandments (Gal. 5:3). More importantly, they were said to have fallen from grace (Gal. 5:4).
This is not to say that the Old Testament has no value to the Christian and should not be studied by the Christian. The New Testament promotes the value of the Old Testament by telling Christians that it instructs, encourages, and provides hope for us (Rom. 15:4). Some might ask how it can instruct us when we do not have to obey the commandments found within it. It instructs us, as well as encourages us and gives us hope, by teaching us about God. For example, it tells us about the awesome power of God as shown through his creation (Ps. 19:1). When we read that the Lord is our shepherd who protects us when we’re in the dark valley of death (Ps. 23), we are encouraged and comforted. When we read of the interactions God had with disobedient Israel in the Old Testament, it serves as an admonishing example for us (1 Cor. 10:1-11) by teaching us how God does not tolerate sin. In these and many other ways, it along with the New Testament is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work”(2 Tim. 3:16-17).
However, proper hermeneutics require that we recognize that the laws given to Israel in the Old Covenant which regulated their theology, their worship, their eating habits, their holy days, etc., do not apply to Christians today unless we read of those same regulations given to us in the New Covenant. For example, all ten of the commandments God gave to Moses at Mount Sinai are also commandments found in the New Testament except the one concerning the Sabbath Day. In like manner, the commandment to love our neighbors the same way in which we love ourselves is found in both testaments (Lev. 19:18; Rom. 13:9). However, while we read of Israelites commanded to worship God through animal sacrifices and instruments of music in the Old Testament (Lev. 1; 2 Chr. 29:25-30), we do not read of Christians being commanded to worship God in the same ways in the New Testament. Rather, Christians are told that Christ is their sacrifice (Heb. 9:26) and that they are to sing praises to God while “plucking the instrument” (the literal definition of the Greek word translated “making melody”) of their heart (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16).
This brings us to the final major difference between the Old and New Testaments which I’d like to cover in this article. The New Law calls the Old Law “a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form”(Heb. 10:1), and the food regulations and holy days of the Old Covenant “a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ”(Col. 2:16-17). If you were to see my shadow, you would be able to tell a few things about me…but not everything, not until you actually saw me in the flesh. In like manner, the people of the Old Testament in many ways were “shadows”or “types”of people in the New Testament (e.g., Adam and Jesus – Rom. 5:14; 1 Cor. 15:45-49). The physical emblems, places, and acts of worship in the Old Covenant were “symbolic”of the spiritual worship commanded “in the present age”to the church living under the New Covenant (Heb. 9:1-10; cf. John 4:20-24). The Old Testament’s worship focused on the physical, while the New Testament worship focuses on the spiritual. When we understand that, it helps us to more accurately interpret the Bible when it comes to the type of worship God wants of Christians in the church today.
Interpreting the Bible correctly is a goal which requires constant study (Ps. 1:2; 1 Tim. 4:13, 15-16). One will not come to a proper understanding and application of accurate hermeneutics overnight; in fact, continual study and learning will always be required of us if for no other reason than we will forget some things that we have learned (2 Pet. 3:1-2). These articles I’ve written this week only provide a generalized overview; much more would need to be written in order to “get into the meat” of the matter. However, it is my hope that what has been written this week can serve as a good starting point for all of us in our efforts to obey God’s command to no longer be spiritual children, “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes”(Eph. 4:14). May we all strive to get a good diet of the milk of God’s Word (1 Pet. 2:2) so that we can grow to get into the meat (Heb. 5:12-14) May we work hard to “leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity”(Heb. 6:1-2). The study and thought required to write these articles helps me to accomplish that, and it is my hope and prayer that these writings help you to reach that goal also. Thanks for reading…