Understanding the Old Testament
by Ryan Duncan
The Almighty--we cannot find him; he is great in power; justice and abundant righteousness he will not violate. – Job 37:23
Like many Christians, when the New Year started I resolved to spend more time reading my Bible. I had already spent most of the previous year combing through the New Testament, so I decided to start at the very beginning and make my way through the Old Testament. Maybe it’s a sign of how little I’ve read my Bible lately, but I had forgotten how brutal the Old Testament could be. In particular, I spent a lot of time going over the Old Testament laws and the punishments for breaking them. It baffled me that the smallest infraction on the most obscure law could often lead to exile, or even death.
If you’re like me, you probably found yourself questioning these pages of the Old Testament. After all, how could a loving God condemn someone so harshly for eating pork or working on the Sabbath? This is a question I still struggle with, but a verse in Deuteronomy helped me toward understanding it more.
"Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, 'It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,' whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. "Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.” –Deuteronomy 9:4-6
I think our problem is that humanity likes to look at the Bible (and history) through rose-colored lenses. We forget that back then there was no electricity, no internet, no police, no hospitals, and the ruling governments weren't all that interested in things like free speech or trial by jury. The Old Testament law was a harsh and rigid guideline because the Israelites lived in a harsh and brutal world. God knew that telling the early Israelites to "turn the other cheek" would eventually lead to their destruction, so he took measures to protect them until the world was ready to receive the Gospel of Grace through his Son. The Old Testament will always be difficult to understand, but that does not make God’s love for us any less true.
Intersecting Faith and Life: If there is something in scripture you do not understand, ask a pastor or bring it to your small group.