Summary: The Old Testament tells us about God’s love and faithfulness, his holiness, and his punishment for rebellion. When we read it, we learn a lot about how—and how not—to approach God.

Summary: The Old Testament tells us about God’s love and faithfulness, his holiness, and his punishment for rebellion.

What is the Old Testament?

The old Testament contains history, the law, prophecies, poetry, proverbs, and psalms

 

 

 

Doug Britton, MFT
www.dougbrittonbooks.com

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Part three of a five-part series on “Understanding the Bible”

The Old Testament — Introduction and importance

The thirty-nine books of the Old Testament contain history, the Jewish laws given by God (often referred to as “the law”), prophecies about the future, promises of the coming Savior (Jesus), poetry, proverbs (advice for daily living), and psalms (the words of songs).

We are not under the law the same way the Jews were before Jesus came, but we still can learn much about God and how to live from the Old Testament.

The Old Testament tells us about God’s love and faithfulness, his holiness, and his punishment for rebellion. When we read it, we learn a lot about how—and how not—to approach God.

We also learn how rebellious human nature is, for the Israelites frequently ignored or rebelled against God’s word. When he punished them, they would repent, but after a while they would rebel again.

Make it personal

1. How many books are in the Old Testament?

2. Have you read the Old Testament, either all of it or part of it? If so, what did you learn? Was it helpful?

Brief description of the books in the Old Testament

The first five books

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are sometimes referred to as the Pentateuch. They record the early history of mankind and the Jewish people. They also contain the law God gave the Jews.

The next twelve books

These are historical books. Some of them overlap, covering the same time periods from different perspectives.

The next five books

Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs (also known as the Song of Solomon) include history, poetry, instructions, and guidelines for living.

The following five books

Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel include both history and prophecies. They are often referred to as the “Major Prophets” because they are longer than the next twelve books. They deal with events that are also described in the historical books mentioned above.

The last twelve books

These books include both history and prophecies. They are often referred to as the “Minor Prophets” since they are smaller than the five “Major Prophets.”

Does the Old Testament apply to us?

We are not under the law the same way the Jews were. For example, we no longer sacrifice animals to be forgiven for our sins since Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is the only sacrifice we need. As Paul wrote to the Galatians:

So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. (Galatians 3:24-25)

We can learn a lot about God and how to live by reading the Old Testament.

Although we are “no longer under the supervision of the law” (Galatians 3:24-25), it’s still important to read the Old Testament, for in it we learn much about God, his interactions with humankind, the coming Messiah (Jesus), the way God looks at different types of behavior, and much more.

Jesus quoted the Old Testament.

Jesus quoted the Old Testament, read from it, or referred to it on several occasions. For example, when he said, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Matthew 4:7), he was quoting from the following verse in the Old Testament.

Do not test the LORD your God as you did at Massah. (Deuteronomy 6:16)

Here’s another example: When Jesus said, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4), he was quoting from the Old Testament.

He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:3)

Jesus’ apostles also quoted the New Testament.

The early Christians were students of the Old Testament, and they quoted it often. The following New Testament verse encourages us to recall the words from the past as well as the command given by our Lord and Savior.

I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles. (2 Peter 3:2)

What do you think?

3. Why is it important for us to read the Old Testament?

4. Did Jesus quote the Old Testament? Why did he?

5. Does the Bible apply to us today? If so, how does it apply?

Understanding Proverbs

Proverbs, one of the books in the Old Testament, deserves special mention. Its thirty-one chapters are packed full of guidelines for life—guidelines that help us interact with other people and grow in wisdom and the knowledge of God.

Some of the verses in Proverbs are written along the lines of “if you do …, the results will be ….” When you read these passages, remember that they are proverbs, general guidelines for living, and that they are not intended as absolute promises of success in everything you do.

For example, Proverbs 16:7 says, “When a man’s ways are pleasing to the LORD, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him.” When our ways please the Lord, the results are often incredible. Yet this verse is not meant as an absolute guarantee. As you can see in Acts 7:57-60 and Acts 12:2, godly people have sometimes been persecuted or killed for their faith.

Along the same lines, we read in Proverbs that “a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). This verse tells us how to respond to an angry person, advice that often gets amazing results. But a gentle answer does not always turn away wrath. It’s possible to respond gently to wrath, yet be injured or killed.

Make it personal

6. How can we take Proverbs seriously since much of it is general guidelines, not absolute promises?

7. Have you ever felt encouraged, guided, or challenged by a Proverb? If so, what was the Proverb? How did it encourage, guide, or challenge you?

Digging deeper

Read Galatians 3:24-25. Notice that “the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.” What does that mean? How could the law “lead us to Christ”?

Memory verse

I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles. (2 Peter 3:2)

Personal application

1. What are the different types of books in the Old Testament?

2. Does God expect us to follow all the laws in the Old Testament? Why or why not?

3. Why is it important for us to read the Old Testament?

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Doug Britton, MFT

Doug Britton, MFT

Doug Britton, Bible-based Marriage and Family Therapist, has helped hundreds of thousands of people as a therapist, clinical director of a treatment center, seminar speaker, radio cohost, and author of over twenty books that show how to apply God's truths in your daily life. (Visit www.dougbrittonbooks.com.)

Copyright © 2020 Doug Britton. Permission granted to print for personal use. (Scripture verses are from the New International Version, copyright © 1984.) See reprint policy.

Visit www.dougbrittonbooks.com for practical, biblical, cross-cultural books, Bible studies, and ebooks.

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