How do you approach the Old Testament? Do you find that you get lost in the details, confused by the portrayal of God, or discouraged to find little that applies to your life today? If so, it might be helpful to ask the question, "What am I looking for as I read the Old Testament?" Maybe you are opening those pages out of duty and working through them simply because you believe you should. Or, it could be that you desire to know more about the history of the faith and want to broaden your understanding of the past. No matter what you are looking for, it is likely that you spend at least some of your time trying to determine how those verses apply to your life now. While you should be asking that question, there is a good chance you have been looking for application in all the wrong places.
Take the story of David and Goliath for example. David is one of the most prominent characters in the Old Testament, but despite his fame, he had a very humble beginning. David was the weakest of his brothers; a clear underdog. When Samuel came to Jesse to anoint the next king of Israel, he asked to examine all of Jesse's sons. David, being the smallest, wasn't even brought before Samuel for consideration, but was left to care for the sheep! Similarly, when Goliath was tormenting Israel, David wasn't called on to fight. Instead, he was relegated to the position of delivery boy, providing food to his brothers on the battlefield. Nobody expected him to stand up to the giant. All who liked on would have expected to see David's lifeless body carried back in defeat. Yet, not only did David get victory, he did it in an impressive fashion. Yes, David was the unlikely victor, and hero of Israel. What an encouraging story!
But remember the question I posed above, "What am I looking for as I read the Old Testament?" I suppose a more appropriate question might be, "Who am I looking for?" Most of us are in the habit of looking for ourselves in the pages of Scripture. We approach the Bible hoping to find something we can relate to in our modern context. Therefore, we read the story of David and see ourselves in him. See if your logic might fit into a pattern something like this:
"David was left out by his own father. I feel left out all the time. David was the underdog who stood up to the giant. I feel like an underdog, too! David slayed the giant in his life. I've got giants in my life. Maybe if I stand up to those giants, I can slay them too!"
It is true that God uses the weak things of the world to confound the wise. It is true that we can accomplish all things through Christ, who gives us strength. It is true that we should be slaying the sinful desires and actions that still enter into our lives. However, if we reduce the Old Testament to a series of encouraging stories, moral lessons, or guiding principles, we've missed the point all together! Remember the words of Christ as he spoke to the disciples on the road to Emmaus:
Luke 24:25-27 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
When Jesus appeared to the disciples in their distress, He made it clear that He is, in fact, the point of all Scripture! When we read the Old Testament, we are not to look for ways to insert ourselves into the text. Instead, we are to study in such a way that we discover Jesus!
Remember David and Goliath? Where is Christ in that story? Let's take another look at the details. David was an unlikely hero. He was facing a giant who had been tormenting Israel for 40 days and 40 nights. When David stood up to Goliath, he did so as one man representing many. God worked through David for the salvation of his people. After the giant was defeated, the enemy retreated and the benefactors of David's victory were invited to join him in enjoying the spoils. Does any of this sound familiar?
When we understand the Old Testament properly, we see that God has faithfully kept His promises, despite the sinful resistance of man. We are not like David. We are more like the Israelites cowering in fear! Still, Christ defeated the enemy. One man stood in the place of many and attained victory over sin and death. Not only that, but He has invited us to join in the spoils. Now, there is some encouragement for our lives today!
Pastor, professor, and author, David Murray, has written a poem entitled Jesus on Every Page. Maybe these few words will encourage you as you look for Christ in all of Scripture!