God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. He is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. Before time came into being: I AM. After the world has passed away and Satan is cast into the lake of fire: I AM. God will never change, never be imperfect, never sin. He is the Creator, Ruler, Judge and Savior of all creation.
Yes, yes, you say. I am a Christian. I know all of that.
Yet our reading of the Bible often does not reflect this knowledge. Many of us read the New Testament over and over again, and stay clear of the more ancient books. If we do read from the Old Testament, we read books like Genesis or Esther or Psalms—maybe even Job or Ecclesiastes. Not the prophets; not Lamentations; certainly not Leviticus or Numbers. Those books seem to contain nothing but doom, gloom, instruction and destruction. The excuses we list to get out of reading and studying these books are endless: They are boring. I do not understand the intricacies of ancient Jewish culture. I cannot pronounce that Hebrew name. I am not an Israelite. Is God seriously telling them they are forbidden to eat bacon?!? And the real kicker excuse: They were written before Christ, so they are not relevant to me as a Christian.
Wrong! Even in these books, the boring books, the ones we skip over because they are long and tedious and sad and scary, we can still find the “New Testament” attributes of God. He is still good, merciful, loving, patient. He is not different from the God who sent down his Son to die for our sins and save us from eternal death. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. If this is true—and it is—we should be able to find the awesome power of his love and mercy in any book of the Bible. There are amazing lessons for Christians to learn from the Old Testament, if only we will look.
I have recently been reading through Isaiah, Jeremiah and Lamentations. Not happy circumstances—God warns Israel and Judah of the coming destruction and exile due to their sins, and when they refuse to listen, he follows through on his promises. Israel falls to Assyria; Judah falls to Babylon. Yet in the midst of reading about war and death, I was in tears while reading a portion of Jeremiah because of the love and mercy God shows to a single family as a result of their trust and obedience. God’s punishment is not cruel or uncompassionate; his mercy moves beyond justice. He is patient with Israel and Judah, even when they have rebelled against him for hundreds of years.
Far from being irrelevant to Christians, the Old Testament books shadow the cross. Israel’s cycle throughout the Old Testament is always the same. They make a covenant with God, they break their covenant—they sin, worship idols, intermarry, etc. God sends warnings through the prophets, asking, entreating, wooing Israel to return to him. They do not listen. God punishes them through destruction, exile, plague, pestilence and the sword. The people return to God, ask for mercy, and beg Him to deliver them from their dire circumstances.
The amazing part is that he does. Even knowing that the stubborn and unfaithful heart of Israel will turn away again, he still delivers them. This cycle repeats over and over, seemingly hopeless, until one day a star appears over Bethlehem and God sends his only Son to end the cycle and redeem the faithful once and for all. This is the great story of humanity. And the difficult Old Testament books are part of it.
I realize that this Old Testament aversion does not apply to every Christian—there are many of us who do study the law and the prophets. I also realize that the New Testament speaks more directly to us, because it was written after Christ’s birth. I am not suggesting we abandon the New Testament and study only the Old. I have read through Matthew, Mark, Luke and John many more times than Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, and that is probably correct. Yet as Christians, we should not ignore the first part of God’s epic story. Christ’s victory on the cross does not nullify the importance of those who waited eagerly for that victory.
So go read some Deuteronomy, 1 Chronicles and Habakkuk. Look for hints of the perfect character of God—the coexistence of his justice and mercy, destruction and restoration, love and anger. You will be amazed at what you find.