Why It’s Vital for Christians to Read and Study the First (Older) Testament

By: Dr. John G. Weldon; ©2012
Many Christians apparently concentrate on the New Testament to the exclusion of the First or Older Testament. If some of the most brilliant people who have ever lived have seriously studied the Old Testament, some of them their entire lives, isn’t it a bit peculiar that some Christians should neglect it? Literally hundreds of books and commentaries have been written on the Old Testament — and without it the world as we know it would not even exist – there would be no Bible, no Jews, no New Testament, no Jesus, no church, no Christianity, no Western Civilization.
“Education is useless without the Bible” – Daniel Webster (1782-1852), noted Secretary of State, attorney, Senator and orator

Introduction

Many Christians apparently concentrate on the New Testament to the exclusion of the First or Older Testament.

Let me supply 12 reasons why this is a mistake. If some of the most brilliant people who have ever lived have seriously studied the Old Testament, some of them their entire lives, isn’t it a bit peculiar that some Christians should neglect it? Literally hundreds of books and commentaries have been written on the Old Testament —
and without it the world as we know it would not even exist – there would be no Bible, no Jews, no New Testament, no Jesus, no church, no Christianity, no Western Civilization. It isn’t too much to say that the Old Testament is one of the two most important books in the world.

How can anyone possibly ignore it?

Some of my most enlightening and encouraging studies have been in the Old Testament. It would be beneficial if it were taught in every secular school, college and university, not just in Bible schools and seminaries. But at least some teach it.

Dr. Victor H Matthews of Missouri State University teaches Old Testament at the University and is the author of two texts on the Old Testament. He refers to “the influence and importance of both the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament on Judeo-Christian Culture and, thus, American society…” He also observes, “The U.S. Supreme Court (Abington v. Schempp) in 1963 encouraged the objective study of religion and the Bible. This is why we teach an introductory course to the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible at Missouri State.”[1]

Famous Dutch theologian Arnold van Ruler wrote that “All goodness and also all truth and beauty — the fully redemptive knowledge of being — shines out before us in this [Old Testament] book. It is the book of humanity.”[2] Note that last comment of this prominent theologian – “the book of humanity” – not the “book of the Jews.” Clearly, it is both; however anything that is legitimately labeled “the book of humanity” is only foolishly ignored.

Part One: The Importance of the Old Testament Today — 12 Reasons

Why is the Old Testament so Important for Christians today? It has been important for Christians for 20 centuries and the 21st Century is no different. Even as I read
newspapers and magazines, watch television and converse with others, I see unconscious remnants of the Old Testament, scores and scores of them. For example, have you ever heard or used the phrase “the writings on the wall” – which means “it’s all over”? This originated from Daniel 5:5 which miraculously declared God’s judgment upon the evil King Belshazzar through a mysterious hand that appeared from nowhere and wrote out the Kings judgment on the wall; historically we know he died that very night.

So, what are the 12 reasons that studying the Old Testament is important?

First, the Old Testament is just as much the divinely revealed, inspired, and inerrant Word of God as is the New Testament (2 Peter 1:21; Hebrews 1:1). It tells us just as much about the loving, immutable, merciful, just, and holy character of God as the New Testament. In fact, so to speak, Jesus incarnated the God of the Old Testament (technically, of course, the second person of the Godhead). When we see Jesus whom do we see? We see the God of the Old Testament. Apart from the life of Christ, the 1,800 years of the Old Testament is the single most powerful elucidation and demonstration of God there is.

Anything that tells us about God is supremely important. But there are only 66 books in the entire world which do that – and most of them, 39, are in the Old Testament. Further, the Old Testament is over three times the size of the New Testament. If we were just considering matters such as divine revelation numerically and by size, the
Old Testament would actually be more important than the New Testament. In addition, God revealed Himself first through the Old Testament, not the New Testament – obviously, He must have thought it was important to do so for good reason.

When Jesus said, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17), He was speaking of the entire Old Testament of the Jews, the Hebrew Bible. If Christians love Jesus who “is the truth” (John 14:6), they should logically love the Old Testament which is also “the truth.”

Jesus studied the Old Testament, and throughout His ministry (as recorded in the Gospels) quoted from it frequently. After all, He didn’t have a New Testament to quote from so if He wanted to quote Scripture or discuss God, he only had the Old Testament. If Jesus loved, studied and quoted the Old Testament as the literal, inerrant
Word of God, how can Christians do less? (See John Wenham, Christ and the Bible[3])

In fact, if you want to learn about Jesus, you can’t do so fully without studying the Old Testament because messianic prophecy is all about Jesus. Jesus Himself said that the Law, the Psalms and the Prophets were about Him: “He said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself…. He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms’” (Luke 24:25-27, 44). He told the Pharisees in reference to the Old Testament that, “…these are the Scriptures that testify about me” (John 539).

The Holy Spirit inspired the Old Testament, just as He inspired the New Testament. Isn’t it a slight upon the Holy Spirit to ignore most of the Word He inspired for us?

Second, every New Testament writer believed the Old Testament was God’s Word. Collectively the New Testament quotes from or alludes to the and Old Testament about 450 times.[4] For example, the book of Romans quotes the Old Testament 60 times; Matthew quotes the Old Testament 50 times, and the writer of Hebrews quoted the Old Testament almost 40 times (Isaiah and the Psalms are cited the most).

Jews steeped in the Old Testament wrote the New Testament under divine inspiration. How will we understand what the New Testament means if we don’t understand what Jews wrote in the Old Testament? In fact, I would argue one cannot understand the New Testament properly without knowing and understanding the Old Testament. In other words, Christians who read only the New Testament and think they understand it fully or accurately are missing the mark.

Third, the Old Testament was specifically inspired for the instruction and encouragement of Christians, not only Jews. As the apostle Paul told the Romans – note his use of the word “everything”: “For everything that was written in the past [the Old Testament] was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the
encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). If I might paraphrase and apply Psalm 102 to the Old Testament, it’s easy to argue that it was “written for future generations, that a people not yet created may praise the LORD” (Psalm 102:18). When the apostle Paul wrote that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16), he wasn’t speaking of the New Testament, but the Old Testament, although obviously His words have application for the New Testament. Nevertheless, the critical spiritual value of the Old Testament is evident from this verse alone.

The Old Testament has thousands of verses that are promises or blessings to Christians. For example, how important is Proverbs 3:5: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and he shall direct your paths”?

Fourth, God commands us to study his Word, which by definition includes the Old Testament: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, KJV Cambridge). If we do not care about studying the Old Testament, we are by definition disobeying God.

Fifth, if we are not studying the Old Testament, we are missing out on some of the greatest and most influential literature in human history – such as Genesis, the Psalms, Proverbs, Exodus and Leviticus, the book of Daniel, and the books of the prophets. Psalm 23 alone has inspired millions.

We are also missing out on some of the greatest acts of God in history. In meditating on such events we learn about God and His ways, majesty, glory and wonder. After all, He is the one we will live with forever – shouldn’t we be learning about Him? Consider some examples.

  • The instantaneous creation of the universe out of nothing;
  • The creation of our first parents, Adam and Eve;
  • Noah and the worldwide flood (which virtually every culture has remnants of);
  • The call of Abraham which changed the world, and embodies the gospel – not to mention his call to sacrifice his only son Isaac, foreshadowing the sacrifice God would actually make with His only Son 1,800 years later;
  • The dramatic and fiery destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as a warning to those who would live ungodly everywhere;
  • God making Joseph second-in-command over the most powerful empire in the ancient world (Egypt under the pharaohs);
  • The miraculous Exodus and the Red Sea events;
  • The giving of the Mosaic Law and the 10 Commandments that so dramatically impacted Western civilization;
  • God’s discipline and protection of His people in the wilderness wanderings;
  • All the miracles associated with God bringing his people into the Promised Land;
  • Samson and Delilah
  • David and Goliath;
  • The incredible stories of the kings of Israel, particularly the life of King David;
  • The amazing life and wisdom of King Solomon, perhaps the wisest person ever to live;
  • The severe trials of Job and how they teach us about suffering and the sovereignty of God;
  • The amazing historical accounts of Daniel and his friends (in the lion’s den, before the massive gold idol of Nebuchadnezzar and in the fiery furnace) and the power they exercised in the neo-Babylonian and Medo-Persian empires;
  • God’s miraculous provision of His people in Babylonian captivity through the prophet Daniel;
  • His rescuing the Jews from genocide through Queen Esther and Mordecai;
  • The character and great deeds of the biblical prophets from Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Jonah to Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Zechariah, and others. For example, the dramatic story of Elijah on Mount Carmel against the evil prophets of Baal.

Each of these episodes has critical spiritual impact and echo lessons to teach us. But if we don’t know and study them, how can we learn and be blessed by them?

Sixth, we should read the Old Testament because the vast majority of the Old Testament is about the nation of Israel. How does this relate to us? Because we can learn many important and compelling lessons about our Christian life through learning how God dealt with the nation of Israel and her people. The Assyrian and Babylonian judgments are only two of many examples.

Seventh, we should read the Old Testament because of the unparalleled importance of the first book of the Bible. The book of Genesis lays the foundation for
every major Christian doctrine in the Bible. (If you want to get excited about a book of the Bible, see Dr. Henry M. Morris’ outstanding 700 -page commentary, The Genesis Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Book of Beginnings)

Eighth, we should read the Old Testament because it’s apologetic or evidential value is immense through specific, detailed messianic and geopolitical prophecies that prove its divine inspiration, as numerous books have documented.

Ninth, both Testaments reveal a loving and holy God. For example, the wrath of God is revealed by Jesus in the book of Revelation and the love of God is revealed throughout the entire Old Testament in relationship to His people and his mercy to Gentiles. But the Old Testament also demonstrates, perhaps more powerfully than the New, how holy God is and how seriously He takes sin, and the consequences of sin. If we want to be encouraged to live holy lives, we should read the Old Testament. Otherwise, we will have to pay the inevitable consequences of our sins (Galatians 6:7). In other words, as important as the New Testament is for sanctification, or Christian growth in holiness, the Old Testament is equally as important. To cite one example, the apostle Paul writes:

:”Now these things [in the Old Testament] occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did” (1 Corinthians 10:6, emphasis added).

Tenth, even non-Christians recognize the importance of studying the Old Testament as an article at the FreeRepublic.com illustrates, “Why Should I Study the Old Testament?” If non-Christians can recognize its importance, how is it that some Christians can’t?

Eleventh, a study of the Old Testament reveals how much God loves the Jewish people and therefore prevents anti-Semitism. Again, without the Jews, Christians wouldn’t have anything – not salvation, a Bible, a Messiah or a Church. If we have received so much from them spiritually, the least we can do is learn about them historically, if not much more. The apostle Paul warns us “You do not support the root [Israel], but the root [Israel] supports you… Do not be arrogant [toward the Jews], but be afraid [because God can’t judge Gentiles disobedience just as he did the Jews.]” (Romans 11:18). Indeed, “As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable” (Romans 11:28, emphasis added). Christians who are anti-Semitic are an oxymoron and need to repent.

Twelfth, Christian should study the Old Testament…

I’ll leave this for you to fill in. There are actually many more reasons why Christians should study the Hebrew Bible – can you name just one?

Part Two: One Stellar Performance: Robert Dick Wilson

“I have made it an invariable habit never to accept an objection to a statement of the Old Testament without subjecting it to a most thorough investigation, linguistically and factually.” – Robert Dick Wilson[5]

Noted Princeton academic Robert Dick Wilson (1856-1930), PhD, DD, LLD, learned at least 26 languages and dialects – the number 45 is also cited as authoritative; regardless he fully understood any and every language related to the Old Testament. Personally, I can hardly imagine learning three or four languages sufficiently well to engage in scholarly studies, let alone 26 or 45. I’m not sure anyone has ever learned that number of languages.

His divine calling to study linguistics and related fields was for the reason that, with the best of scholarship, he could defend the Old Testament as the literal, inerrant Word of God. In fact, as a linguist he won international fame as a defender of the authority and accuracy of the Old Testament – and the critics have never refuted him. Indeed, he specifically challenged anyone to make a charge against the Old Testament that he couldn’t personally investigate and refute. Before he graduated from Princeton as an undergraduate he could read the New Testament in nine different languages. (On a personal note, as a seminary student, I found his two-volume Studies in the Book of Daniel (1917) and A Scientific Investigation of the Old Testament (1926), both seminal works, relevant and important and continue to find them useful today. His “Is Higher Criticism Scholarly?” (1922) is also noteworthy. To be sure:

“These two [former] works should be on the shelf of every pastor and seminary student who has a desire to grasp the truth contained in the Hebrew Scriptures. The liberal higher critics do not have an answer to these books and so rather than attempt to address the issues raised within their pages, they would rather just ignore them and hope they “go away.”

And,

“Very few men have had the scholarly impact on the veracity of the OT that Robert Dick Wilson had. The impact of many others has been questionable because of their insistence on a new and creative way of interpreting the OT to discount the historicity of the Hebrew text. Robert Dick Wilson clung to the belief that God’s Word is inspired, inerrant, and authoritative—that is what makes him unique among the great Hebrew scholars from the turn of the century into the early twentieth century.”[6]

“By the time Wilson entered seminary, he was able to read the NT in nine languages. Prior to entering seminary, an old gentleman gave him a Hebrew-Latin dictionary, a Hebrew grammar, and an old Hebrew Bible. He learned Hebrew on his own and, going into seminary, took all the prizes in Hebrew. When asked how he did it, he replied, “I used my spare time.” He would take a Hebrew grammar with him when he went for walks and would read for about 15 minutes, or until he completely understood everything taught on that page…. He utilized this method to master Latin, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, biblical Aramaic, Syriac, Arabic, and others, twenty-six languages and dialects in all.” (Brian Nix, “Life and Work of Robert Dick Wilson,” The Masters Seminary Journal 19/1 (Spring 2008) 93; http://www.tms.edu/tmsj/tmsj19e.pdf)

“I decided that I would give my life just to that one thing, the defence of the Old Testament…. I divided my life into periods of fifteen years. I gave myself the first 15 years to study languages, … every language which threw light on the vocabulary or the syntax of the Old Testament…. Secondly, I would learn all languages that threw light on the history of the Old Testament…Then, thirdly, I would learn all languages that threw light on the text of the Old Testament, down to the year 600 after Christ. . . . . The second part of my life I would devote to lower Criticism, . . . The last 15 years, … I would tackle the subject which is called the Higher Criticism of the Old Testament, including all that the critics have said, and so be able by that time to defend the history, the veracity of the Old Testament. . . .”[7]

He went on to memorize large portions of the Old Testament in Hebrew. For those interested, his papers can be found at: http://www.pcahistory.org/findingaids/wilson/index.html) He spent almost his entire postgraduate life studying the Old Testament, including every single consonant in the Old Testament, about 1.25 million of them (the Old Testament has no vowels). To no one’s surprise:

“Having done this I claim to be an expert. I defy any man to make an attack upon the Old Testament on the ground of evidence that I cannot investigate. I can get at the facts if they are linguistic. If you know any language that I do not know, I will learn it.”[8]

“When asked, on one occasion by Mr. Philip E. Howard, Publisher of the Sunday School Times, — ‘Professor, what do you try to do for your students?’ He instantly replied, ‘I try to give them such an intelligent faith in the Old Testament Scriptures that they will never doubt them as long as they live. I try to give them evidence. I try to show them that there is a reasonable ground for belief in the history of the Old Testament. Whenever there is sufficient documentary evidence to make an investigation, the statements of the Bible, in the original texts, have stood the test.’”[9]

“Wilson was able to mount one of the most successful attacks on Higher Criticism, astutely defending the conservative, orthodox position on many of the most critical issues in the forefront of OT scholarship during the first third of the twentieth century.”[10]

Part Three: An Example of Old Testament Importance: Benjamin Rush & Jeremiah 13-23

Benjamin Rush

Since there are clearly some Christians who, for whatever reason, believe the Old Testament isn’t “that” important, I thought one simple illustration might help showing its importance to our nation. Consider Benjamin Rush and a few facts surrounding the founding of America. Benjamin Rush (1746-1813) among other things, was one of the ratifiers of the United States Constitution, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, a member of the Continental Congress, the Surgeon General of the middle department of the Continental Army, Treasurer of the United States Mint; was “the most celebrated physician in America” and is considered both the “Father of American Medicine” as well as the “Father of Public Schools under the Constitution.”[11]

Benjamin Rush was convinced that the Old Testament was a critical document because it fostered both individual liberty and equality, e.g. “The Old Testament is the best refutation that can be given to the divine right of kings, and the strongest argument that can be used in favor of the original and natural equality of all mankind.”[12]

In his personal Bible study notes he collated various Scriptures to various topics; for example he listed Genesis Ch.18 and 21:17, 21 under the title “Efficacy of Prayer” and Leviticus 19:33, Exodus 12:49, Deuteronomy 23:7 and other verses under the heading “Kindness to Strangers.”[13]

Of course, he never neglected the importance of the New Testament. On a personal level he observed: “My only hope of salvation is in the infinite, transcendent love of God manifested to the world by the death of His Son upon the Cross. Nothing but His blood will wash away my sins. I rely exclusively upon it. Come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly.”[14]

Benjamin Rush is but one example of the influence of the Old Testament in America’s founding. According to an internationally known biblical authority and one of the leading Bible historians of the 20th century, Jeffrey Donely PhD, (he can translate 17 different languages) “Ninety-four percent of all quotes by the founding fathers were based on the Bible.”[15] Indeed, “It is widely believed that the idea for three separate branches of the government of the United States of America comes from Isaiah 33:22, which says, ‘For the Lord is our judge [judicial], the Lord is our lawgiver [legislative], the Lord is our King [executive].”[16]

How many Christians today understand that our very unique form of government was based in a single Old Testament Scripture? Indeed, how many of our history students even know this?

The fact is you can turn to any place in the Old Testament and learn important truths and be spiritually blessed — even in “difficult” books such as Leviticus, although for those reading it the first time, a good commentary would certainly be recommended.

Leviticus is perhaps one of the most neglected books in the Bible and yet it is also one of the most important because its central message is that God is holy and that he requires His people to be holy (e.g. chapter 19). It is also a powerful “pre-apologetic” for Christ’s atonement since it institutes the animal sacrificial system and the Day of Atonement (chapter 16), showing that God, in pure grace, provides atonement for sin through the shedding of blood. As Hebrews 9:22 observes (referencing Leviticus 17:11) “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” But, in fact all of the Levitical holy days, civil and criminal laws, moral exhortations, health laws, feasts, the Year of Jubilee, etc. have direct or indirect application for today.

Jeremiah 13-23

Nevertheless, consider the example I wish to cite. In devotions this morning I happened to turn to Jeremiah 13 and as I began reading, it illustrated the relevance of the Old Testament for us today.

I just finished writing a brief article on abortion, documenting that we have murdered some 40 times as many of our own children (in the womb) as have died in all US wars throughout its history. That’s like having Argentina, Canada, or Spain simply disappear. And yet, I forgot to mention the logical extension of abortion, infanticide, the calls for which actually are now found in at least one medical Journal and practiced in various places throughout the world.

Here is the actual abstract from the Journal of Medical Ethics, one of over 40 medical journals published by the BMJ, the prestigious flagship British Medical Journal.[17] The article was first published online February 23, 2012. Even the title of the article is horrifying: “Afterbirth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?” The article is authored by Alberto Giubilini of Monash University in Melbourne and Francesca Minerva at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne.

Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus’ health. By showing that (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue that what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.[18]

In the Old Testament, certain things were sure to bring divine judgment sooner or later — worshiping false gods, killing babies and children, turning from the Lord, widespread corruption and injustice and similar items; all were the cause of divine judgment. Of course, judgment belongs to the Lord alone and only He knows when it’s necessary; we can simply observe the signs of the times and the warnings in His word and make the best application we can.

America and the West today are filled with such things as worshiping false gods, killing babies and children, turning from the Lord, and widespread corruption and injustice, so it’s hardly surprising that many books and articles exist today on the issue of God’s judging America. Many of them observe that, in the sense of Romans 1, an indirect divine judgment has been taking place for some time, where God increasingly permits us to suffer the consequences of our sins without graciously intervening to spare us. But, because of our unrepentant hearts, many of these books and articles point out that that we are headed toward a more severe form of divine judgment — divine wrath and sustained national calamity, even as happened to ancient Judah in the Babylonian judgment, the story of which is openly and frightfully displayed so very powerfully in the book of Jeremiah. Consider one section in particular, Jeremiah 19:4-12:

For they have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods; they have burned sacrifices in it to gods that neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah ever knew, and they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent. They have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as offerings to Baal — something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind. So beware, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when people will no longer call this place Topheth or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter.
“‘In this place I will ruin the plans of Judah and Jerusalem. I will make them fall by the sword before their enemies, at the hands of those who seek their lives, and I will give their carcasses as food to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth. I will devastate this city and make it an object of scorn; all who pass by will be appalled and will scoff because of all its wounds. I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and daughters, and they will eat one another’s flesh during the stress of the siege imposed on them by the enemies who seek their lives.’
“Then break the jar while those who go with you are watching, and say to them, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I will smash this nation and this city just as this potter’s jar is smashed and cannot be repaired. They will bury the dead in Topheth until there is no more room. This is what I will do to this place and to those who live here, declares the LORD.

The warnings of Jeremiah to ancient Judah are applicable to modern America, because the US has so many similarities to ancient Judah: abundant divine blessings historically, widespread knowledge of the LORD, national turning from the LORD to false gods (whether religious or other forms of idolatry such as money and self), widespread involvement in the occult and other forms of demonic religion, proactively tossing God out of civil society, the slaughter or ruin of innocent children through abortion, sexual slave trafficking and child pornography, and divorce, to name a few items. Therefore, it would be easy to argue that the warning of Jeremiah to ancient Judah would be applicable to modern America:

“Give glory to the Lord your God before he brings darkness”; “you have forgotten me and trusted in lies” and “but if you will not listen, my soul will weep in secret for your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly and run down with tears…” (Jeremiah 13:16-17, 25). These verses tell us that God does not want to bring judgment but there is a line which can be crossed when it will be too late.

As another example, today we have an increasingly influential “prophets and apostles” movement within the broadly defined evangelical church today which is only one example of a dozen additional questionable or unbiblical practices and movements found within evangelicalism (including the Emergent Church movement, the health and wealth teachings, materialism and worldliness, lack of emphasis upon biblical theology, and flat out rejection of biblical authority and inerrancy. As to the prophets and apostles movement consider the critique, Wandering Stars, by pastor Keith Gibson, Kansas City director for the Apologetics Resource Center. We discover that not one of the many claimed prophets studied has a 100% prophetic accuracy record which the Old Testament demands for a biblical prophet. Further, the alleged apostles and prophets are involved in questionable or unbiblical practices and doctrines. In considering this movement, where is the equivalent of a Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, or apostle Paul or apostle Peter? No one has appeared in this prophetic/apostolic camp to equal these prophets and apostles since, while claiming to be true prophets and apostles they prophesy errors and biblical falsehoods. In sum, “members of this new movement claim to be the greatest apostles and prophets who have ever lived while at the same time demanding to be given a pass when their prophecies fail and their doctrines prove to be a biblical.” And, “the modern prophetic movement is undermining the church’s [historic] understanding of the nature of God.”[19]

Perhaps if Christians were more informed on the Old Testament, there would not be literally millions of them involved in the false health/wealth and apostolic/prophetic movements? For example, concerning the latter, this is just what Jeremiah the prophet warned Judah about: “the prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds” (Jeremiah 14:14).

Jeremiah also refers to “the false gods of the nations” which had spiritually and morally corrupted Judah (14:22) – and today in America we see false gods who are worshiped from every major world religion (Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam) and hundreds of false new religions and cults. If worship of these false gods are said to be a direct cause of divine judgment for Judah – how could it not be a warning to modern America?

In Jeremiah 15:8 God says “I am weary of relenting.” Time and again He forestalled His judgment out of mercy, hoping the nation would repent — that it would listen to the prophets He sent them in loving warning. Through the prophet Jeremiah, He told Judah that her time was up – that He would relent no more. “I have made anguish and terror fall upon them suddenly.” (Jeremiah 15:8) Is the word of God any less relevant for us today? Are the words of the prophets no longer God’s words for us today in America? How long will it be before God ceases to relent of His coming judgment on America? God tells Jeremiah to no longer lament or mourn or grieve for Judah because “I have taken away my peace from this people, my steadfast love and mercy, declares the LORD. Both great and small shall die in this land.” (Jeremiah 16:5-6)

Perhaps most surprisingly is the fact that the OT people of God didn’t even realize that their sins had so separated them from their God: “And when you tell this people all these words, and they say to you, ‘Why has the LORD pronounced all this great evil against us? What is our iniquity? What is the sin that we have committed against the Lord our God?’ then you shall say to them: ‘Because your fathers have forsaken me, declares the Lord, and have gone after other gods and have served and worshiped them, and have forsaken me and have not kept My law, and because you have done worse than your fathers, for behold, every one of you follows his stubborn, evil will, refusing to listen to me.” (Jeremiah 16:10-12)

How is this applicable to America today? In the 1960s a cultural revolution began with resistance to authority, an incalculably consequential sexual revolution, a turning away from the God of the Bible to all kinds of false religions and cults, the practice of the occult, women’s liberation, and what is broadly now termed the culture wars. But that 1960s generation has now spawned a generation of children who have refused to keep God’s law and gone after false gods to an even greater degree – even tossing it out of the public square almost entirely; it also has clearly “done worse than [its] fathers” and yet seems unaware of the fact. As with ancient Judah, this could indicate that America is ripening herself for more severe judgment.

But how would anyone know this or be able to act upon the information in repentance and prayer, if they had never studied the Old Testament? True, America and Israel/Judah aren’t exact parallels – but no nation on earth has been given more Christian light than America and so these warnings have a significant degree of applicability. No nation has had such Christian influence in its founding and history and yet has turned from the light so dramatically. Even in the church there is increasing turning from biblical authority, teachings and outright apostasy. Is the following verse from Jeremiah any less applicable to America today than it was to Judah? “For my eyes are on all their ways. They are not hidden from me, nor is there iniquity concealed from my eyes.” (Jeremiah 16:17)

Consider just a few basic scriptures from Jeremiah that are important for Christians today to know:

“Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil” (Jeremiah 13:23).
“Thus says the LORD, ‘cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh is strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD.… Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is in the LORD” (Jeremiah 17:5).
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, and give to every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds” (Jeremiah 17:9-10). This warning is the equivalent to that found in Galatians 6:7 which tells Christians not to be deceived because God is not mocked – every Christian will reap what he sows, whether good or bad.

A very relevant passage to modern America is found in Jeremiah 18:7-10 where it tells us that “if at any time” God decides to bring judgment upon a nation and “that nation… turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it.” Conversely, “if at any time” God intends to do good to a nation – to build it up and plant it (as he certainly did America) “and it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it.” Both of these are general principles for all nations, not just Israel and Judah.

In Jeremiah Chapter 21 we find the prophecy that Jerusalem will indeed fall to King Nebuchadnezzar and that the judgment will be so severe (famine, war, pestilence: 18:20-21) that “I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and their daughters, and everyone shall eat the flesh of his neighbor in the siege and in the distress with which their enemies and those who seek their life afflict them” (Jeremiah 19:9; cf. 14:15-16).

And yet, from Jeremiah we also learn another principle that is important for us today in America – that even in the midst of the most severe of judgments, there is mercy from God as well. For example, despite the Babylonian captivity, after 70 years, once the judgment is finished, “I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to the fathers” (Jeremiah 16:15), just as happened historically as noted by the prophet Daniel (9:2-19), displayed in the book of Esther and fulfilled in the book of Ezra through the divinely initiated decree of Cyrus king of Persia. Further, not only will God bring His people back into their promised land, in Jeremiah 23:5-6, by the mouth of the same prophet who is decreeing terrible judgment, God promises the coming of the Messiah.

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“When I will raise up to David a righteous Branch,
A King who will reign wisely
And do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Judah will be saved
And Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called:
The Lord Our Righteousness.”

Again there is application to America: should the most severe judgment come upon this land, God’s people can know and understand that there will also be mercy and that a promise such as Romans 8:28 will always remain true. In addition, observe that in Jeremiah 23:6 we have a clear foreshadowing of the critically important doctrine of justification by faith alone – the coming Messiah (Jesus) has a name by which he will be called, “the Lord Our Righteousness”. Thus, we read in the New Testament:

“It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God — that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21, emphasis added).

Why is this important? Among many reasons, it is important so that Christian may understand that both the Old and New Testaments teach the same fundamental doctrine about salvation — by grace through faith alone, the doctrine by which, according to Martin Luther and quite correctly, the Church stands or falls. The Old Testament centers on the law for the welfare of the nation of Israel and the preservation of the word of God, but nevertheless teaches salvation by grace. The doctrine of salvation by grace alone (imputed righteousness by faith) was taught to Abraham in Genesis 15:6 (“Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness”); in the Psalms (e.g. 32:1-2, “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity”); and by the prophet Habakkuk (2:4, “the righteous will live by his faith” cf. Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38, which all quote Habakkuk).

The above constitutes only a few verses from a small section of the book of Jeremiah, and yet we can see how applicable and important it is. But there are a thousand pages of verses in the Old Testament, thousands and thousands of individual verses which Christians can learn from and apply today to themselves, their families, their jobs, their church, to their nation.

But if Christians haven’t even read the Old Testament from beginning to end, how can they read, understand and apply these verses to their lives? What a wasted treasure! May each of us be reminded of what God has told us through the apostle Paul: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, emphasis added) Yes, for us today, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 has application to the New Testament – but the great apostle Paul did not have the canonical New Testament – he was primarily referring to the Bible that he had, the Old or First Testament.

In conclusion, the First Testament is just as valuable and important as the Second Testament; Christians neglect it to their spiritual, moral and other detriment.

Recommended Reading

Geisler & Nix, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction

Notes

  1. Online syllabus for a course religious studies 101 (honors) fall semester 2012: literature and world of the Old Testament Missouri State University; http://courses.missouristate.edu/VictorMatthews/courses/101syl.htm)
  2. A.A. van Ruler, The Christian Church and the Old Testament, 72 Cited in, “The Importance of the Old Testament”; http://althusius.net/theology1/Messianic_Intermezzo/node43.html
  3. His important Redating Matthew, Mark and Luke supplies evidence for an early date for the Gospels (<70 AD, if I remember) with similar conclusions to the liberal theologian John AT Robinson in his Redating the New Testament.
  4. For a listing of all 450+ verses, citing Naves Topical Bible see: http://www.biblestudy.org/beginner/how-many-times-are-old-testament-scriptures-quoted-in-new-testament.html
  5. Brian Nix, “Life and Work of Robert Dick Wilson,” The Masters Seminary Journal 19/1 (Spring 2008) 93; http://www.tms.edu/tmsj/tmsj19e.pdf) citing Young, “Introduction: The Life and Ministry,” in A Scientific Investigation 20-21, citing Christianity Today 1/2 (June 1930):5.
  6. Brian Nix, “Life and Work of Robert Dick Wilson,” The Masters Seminary Journal 19/1 (Spring 2008) 105; http://www.tms.edu/tmsj/tmsj19e.pdf
  7. Ibid, 94
  8. Robert Dick Wilson, “What is an Expert?”
  9. http://www.pcahistory.org/findingaids/wilson/3tributes.html
  10. Brian Nix, “Life and Work of Robert Dick Wilson,” The Masters Seminary Journal 19/1 (Spring 2008) 97; http://www.tms.edu/tmsj/tmsj19e.pdf
  11. See note 12
  12. “Judeo-Christian”; <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judeo-Christian#cite_ref-53>; “Signers of the Declaration of Independence: Benjamin Rush”, US History; http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/signers/rush.html; “Benjamin Rush”, Conservapedia; http://conservapedia.com/Benjamin_Rush
  13. “Benjamin Rush Personal Bible Study,” Wall Builders: Historical Documents; http://www.wallbuilders.com/LIBissuesArticles.asp?id=48
  14. “The Land of the Free: Quotes by Benjamin Rush”; http://www.thelandofthefree.net/quotationsbenjaminrush.html
  15. Jeffrey Donnelly, The Everything History of the Bible Book, 2006, p. 245
  16. Ibid.
  17. “BMJ Journals”; http://group.bmj.com/products/journals
  18. Alberto Giubilini, Francesca Minerva, “Afterbirth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?” Journal of Medical Ethics, February 23, 2012
  19. Keith Gibson, Wandering Stars: Contending for the Faith with the New Apostles and Prophets (2011) 21, 129

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