Time and again, folks tell me they are intimidated by study of the Old Testament. We all love the stories in Genesis, and certainly a few elsewhere in the OT, like Joshua (Jericho) and Judges (Samson and Gideon are favorites) and of course Daniel (the lion’s den). But wandering too far away from the Sunday school fare can feel like Bible study wilderness.
Sure, Numbers can be a little dry and Hosea can be tough to understand (he married whom?!?) but staying away from the Old Testament robs you of a deeper understanding of the Lord. After all, most of the Bible is Old Testament, so at some point we’re really going to have to buck up and give it a shot.
Here are a few tips and tools that you might find helpful in understanding the God of the whole Bible, especially as informed by the Old Testament:
Tip #1: Holy Spirit Wisdom
“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26) While this is a New Testament reference and it is Jesus speaking, the truth is biblically universal. God gave us the Holy Spirit to teach us the things He wants us to know and understand. Prayer that invites the Holy Spirit to your understanding should be your first step in any Bible study. This might seem like common sense, but it’s also very easy to forget, so don’t.
But keep praying! When you stumble onto something that you simply don’t understand, pray about it. Don’t run away to the New Testament where things seem more orderly to our current- culture brains. Stick it out. Let God do His thing in you. Jeremiah 33:3 (Old Testament!!) says: ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’ He promises to answer if you ask Him. Go ahead, don’t be shy, ask!
Tip #2: Big Picture
We are blessed, in so many ways, to be exactly where we are on the kingdom calendar. We have a unique opportunity that the faithful before Jesus didn’t have, and that’s perspective. We now have the whole story, even if that story is not yet complete. Here’s the story: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration. That’s it. So even those passages in Numbers or the blessed ‘begats’ can take on new context as we think about them in the big picture. Why did God increase the numbers (all those numbers in Numbers) of the people? To build His nation among the earth, so that all peoples could be reached and touched by the gospel story. When we see each and every person/story is a thread in the kingdom tapestry, we can savor them in a new way. When you are reading the Old Testament, center your thoughts on the four part bible story (creation, fall, redemption and restoration) and work to figure out how this particular passage fits into that big picture.
There are two things I personally love about the OT, and they’re why I often spend more time there than NT when I do my personal study time. These are going to be the basis of the toolbox today. First, the OT teaches me about the character of God. I see Him leading His people in some very tangible ways. That’s inspiring. Also He shows what matters to Him, how He thinks and will behave in a given circumstance, and most of all, He shows his mercy and love for His chosen people. There is great value there for the New Testament believer. When we know our God well, we can begin to predict His responses and understand the foundation of His will.
Ask anyone in a jam how valuable it would be for them to understand how God thinks and what He wants of them in this season. Knowing God equips us for the rough seas that we all experience from time to time. I might not always understand what’s happening in my life, but I certainly can understand the God who directs it. A favorite expression of mine is ‘Make a well worn path to the Lord so that in a time of darkness you can find your way.’ The Old Testament is a very well worn path.
My second love of the OT is how it consistently points me to my need for a Savior. I need that reminder. Sometimes I feel like I am a bigger mess than any other believer. The OT says nope, we have many messes here. Sometimes I get too big for my britches and forget I can’t do this thing without Him. The OT reminds me of all the people who felt the same way and how God brought them back to Himself-sometimes in gentle, sometimes not so gentle ways. I need that too.
Bible Study Toolbox:
Specifically in the Old Testament, here are a few questions for your Bible study toolbox:
- What does this passage teach me about the character of God?
- How does this passage remind me of my need for a Savior?
God promises to be faithful to your work in the Old Testament. There are riches in store for those who will push past the tough stuff and meet Him there.
Comment below and tell me YOUR favorite Old Testament people and events. I promise to reply and we can have a good ol’ time in the OT.
Additional resources for studying the Old Testament:
- For more on the ‘Big Picture’ approach, check out the program series called ‘How do we know the Bible,’ a three part bible study with our friends on this topic.
- Study Old Testament Themes with us, a five part radio series showing the prevailing themes of the Old Testament.
- For your devotional time or use with a group, check out our 60 Days in the Old Testament reading plan, a free, printable resource which reinforces the Old Testament Themes bible study mentioned above