The Old Testament

Advanced Bible Studies, Lesson 2 of 8

"Ye search the scriptures, because ye think that in them ye have eternal life; and these are they which bear witness of me" (John 5:39).

In the statement above, Jesus was referring to the Old Testament. This is a very important part of the Bible. In fact, three-fourths of the Bible is in the Old Testament, and only one-fourth of the Bible is in the New Testament. In order to properly understand the Old Testament, it is necessary to study both the Old Testament and what the New Testament says about the Old Testament. This lesson will serve as a brief introduction to this part of God’s Word.

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1).

This is the way the Bible begins. The Bible teaches us that in six days God made the heaven and earth and all that is in them, that He created man and woman in His own image, and that He placed them in a garden of delight. The Patriarchal Dispensation is a system of religion in which God made known His will to the families of the earth through their fathers.

That old serpent, which is the devil and Satan, entered the garden and beguiled the woman so that she sinned against God by violating His law. After the man followed her into sin, God cast them out of the garden, but unto the serpent He said:

"...and I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: he shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel" (Genesis 3:15).

At the time, the meaning of these words was a mystery, but hidden in them was the hope of an atonement for sin through a conflict between the man-child of woman and the work of Satan.

It came to pass that the wickedness of man became so great that God covered the earth with water, destroying the world with water, sparing only Noah and his family. After the children of Noah were scattered unto all the earth, God said unto Abraham:

"...and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and be thou a blessing; and I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse: and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (Genesis 12:2-3).

This was part of the mystery. Abraham had no children at the time, but later there was born to him a son by his wife’s handmaid, and his name was Ishmael. But, God appeared to Abraham and said:

"...Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his seed after him" (Genesis 17:19).

Isaac had two sons, Jacob and Esau, and the promise passed to Jacob. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, and through God’s providence Israel and his twelve sons came to live in Egypt. This was the beginning of the twelve tribes of Israel. Before Jacob died, he blessed each of his sons, and to his son Judah, he said:

"The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh come: And unto him shall the obedience of the peoples be" (Genesis 49:10).

The children of Israel grew into a nation in Egypt and were made to serve Egyptians with bitter and hard bondage. God raised up Moses to deliver them and to lead them to the foot of Mount Sinai in the wilderness. Here God gave this nation a special law. This was the beginning of the Mosaic Dispensation, a system of religion in which God made His will known to the nation of Israel through Moses and the prophets.

After the death of Moses, Joshua led the Israelites into the land of Canaan. For a time they were ruled through judges, but the people desired a king like the nations around them; so God had His prophets anoint first Saul, then David, then Solomon to be king. After the death of Solomon, the nation divided and there were two lines of kings, northern and southern. Under the leadership of these kings, the nation forsook God, rebelling against Him. They were carried away into captivity and seventy years later returned under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah.

Through the history of this rebellious people, God sent prophets among them to warn them to repent and to hold forth the promise of a Savior to come, saying:

"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of Jehovah of hosts will perform this" (Isaiah 9:6-7).

The immediate purpose of the Old Testament was to keep the nation of Israel separate and apart from all other nations. This was necessary because it was through this people that God was going to fulfill the promises made unto the fathers of a redeemer to reconcile the world to God. Thus, the law of Moses was never intended to be an everlasting law for all the world, but a temporary law for Israel only. This old law is spoken of as being blotted out, taken out of the way, and nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:14). The law to which the world is now subject is the law of Christ, the New Testament. As Paul explained, " that the law is become our tutor to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith is come, we are no longer under a tutor" (Galatians 3:24-25). A failure to understand this difference between the Old and New Testaments has led to much confusion in the study of the Bible.

However, the Old Testament does have an ultimate purpose for all the world. The apostle Paul wrote of the Old Testament, saying:

"For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that through patience and through comfort of the scriptures we might have hope" (Romans 15:4).

There are many things we may learn from studying the Old Testament. The Old Testament gives us "shadows" and "figures" of the great truths that are more fully revealed in the New Testament. It served the purpose of teaching man the exceeding sinfulness of sin and enabled man to realize his need for the grace and mercy of God. The things which happened to the men and women of the Old Testament serve as examples for us. And the Old Testament prepares us for Christ. Jesus said:

"For if ye believed Moses, ye would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words" (John 5:46-47)?

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