The Use of Old Testament Scripture (I)
Billy W. Moore
"No prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men: God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." (2 Peter 1: 20-21). The Old Testament scripture is indeed the inspired word of God. At a time when many misunderstand and misuse the Old Testament, we need to understand the proper use of that scripture. Paul charged Timothy to study to show himself approved unto God ... "rightly dividing the word of truth." (2 Tim. 2:15) We too must rightly divide, or handle aright, the word of truth.
The Old Testament Is Not For
1. Doctrine or Law. It is true that the Old Testament scripture is inspired. It was Gods message to the fathers (Heb. 1: 1-2), but it is not to be used for doctrine today. Some in the apostolic days used parts of the Old Testament to authorize their teaching concerning circumcision. Unto the Gentile men they said, "Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved." (Acts 15: 1) This caused no little stir among brethren. The apostles had a meeting regarding this false teaching and a letter was sent forth unto the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia to correct the teaching. (Acts 15:23-29). These false brethren went into the region of Galatia with their doctrine and Paul rebuked them, and pronounced the condition of those who would be justified by the law: "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace." (Gal. 5:4)
Today, when men appeal unto the law of Moses to justify a teaching or practice, they declare that they have not learned that the law ended when Christ died on the cross. It had stood as a wall of partition between the Jews and Gentiles, but that wall was broken down when Jesus died on the cross. (Eph.2:12-16). That law had been given unto the People of Israel (Jews) as a schoolmaster to bring them unto Christ that they might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come they were no longer under it schoolmaster. (Gal. 3: 16-25) Thus, the Jews no longer under the Law of Moses, for Christ has become the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises (Heb. 8:6-13). The Gentiles were never under that law, thus, could not be under it today. Surely we are safe in concluding that the Old Testament is not to be used for doctrine.
2. A Source Of Authority. Moses was the lawgiver -a man of authority. God had chosen him for the job, and he served faithfully. But he was a source of authority only for that dispensation, i.e., for the Jewish age. While Moses was the authority among the people of God, God punished those who would dare to rebel against that authority. (See the punishment of Miriam, the sister of Moses, Numbers 12; and the punishment of Korah, Dathan, Abiram and On, Numbers 10.) But that authority is no longer Moses, for Jesus has all authority in heaven and earth. (Matt. 28: 18)
3. It is not Gods Message to us. It is true that the Old Testament was the message of God unto some men in ages past, but Moses spoke of another prophet whom God would raise up front among his brethren. "And the Lord said unto me. They have well spoken that which they have spoken. I will raise them up a Prophet front among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his month; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which lie shall speak in my name I will require it of him." (Deut. 18:17-19). Bible students know that Jesus was that Prophet. Just a few months before the death of Christ, at the mount of transfiguration, Moses and Elias (Elijah) appeared and talked with Christ. Peter, James and John witnessed that scene. Peter said, "Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let its make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias." While he spoke, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him." Matt. 17:1-5) The God of heaven and earth declared that men should no longer hear Moses, that great lawgiver, or Elijah, the courageous prophet, but must now hear his Son. It was Peter who proclaimed unto the Jews that Jesus was that prophet of whom Moses spoke in the long ago, and that all must hear him. (See Acts 3:22-23)
Whatever the proper use of the Old Testament may be, it is not for doctrine; it is not the source of authority for Gods people; and it is not Gods message to its. In the balance of this article, and others to follow, we shall note some things for which the Old Testament may be used.
God Will Keep His Promises
One of the great lessons we can learn from the Old Testament is the fact that God will keep his promises. This lesson we need to learn, for as Christians we are the recipients of "exceeding great in precious promises" from God. (2 Peter 1:4). While Peter assures us that "the Lord is not slack concerning his promises, as some men count slackness" (2 Peter 3:9), and the writer of Hebrews declared "he is faithful that promised" (Heb. 10:23), we can learn through Gods dealings with men in ages past that his promises are sure. (It should be remembered that in Old Testament days God was dealing with men in a physical way, whereas, today he deals with us spiritually. We need to learn from Gods dealings with men in a physical sense, when they could see and take hold of his promises fulfilled, that he is faithful to keep his promises, and when he makes a promise regarding our spiritual well-being we can be sure he will keep it.)
When God called Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees he made two great promises unto him: (1) I will make of thee a great nation, and (2) in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. (Genesis 12: 1 -3) Though Abraham was seventy-five years old, his wife was barren, so he had no sons, yet he was "fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform." (Rom. 4:21) Over twenty years had passed and Abraham did not have that promised son, the beginning of a great nation. Would God keep his promise? At the age of one hundred years Abraham and Sarah had a son, Isaac. Isaac had twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Jacob became the father of twelve sons, who later were the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel (Jacobs name had been changed unto Israel, Gen. 32:28), and the Israelite nation became the great nation of God in Old Testament times. Truly, God kept his promise unto Abraham. However, you may read the Old Testament from Genesis through Malachi and not one time will you read of God blessing all families of the earth through Abraham, or through his seed. Two thousand years had passed since the promise was made. Would God keep that promise? Then, Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, a descendant of Abraham. Jesus died for the sins of mankind, and through him all families of the earth are blessed. Remember: it is through Jesus, this promised seed (Gal. 3: 16), that all shall be raised from the dead. When we read of Gods dealings with Abraham and his family after this, we should be impressed with the fact that God keeps his promises.
Abraham had a son by the bondwoman, Hagar (Gen. 16). He thought this was the son God had promised. But God said, "Sarah thy wife shall have a son." (Gen. 18: 10). Could God keep this promise? Sarah was now old, and it ceased to be with her after the manner of women. Even she thought, "After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also." (Gen. 18: 12) But at the appointed time she conceived and brought forth a son, Isaac. Indeed, God had kept his promise.
When God had called Abraham he promised to give unto him a land as an inheritance. By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went." (Heb. 11:8). Why did Abraham think he could inherit the land of Canaan? It did not belong to his fathers. Other peoples now possessed it. Yet, he believed it would be his because God had promised it unto him. Some years later when he was in that land God commanded him to "Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee." (Gen. 13: 14-17). On a later date God said, "Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates." (Gen. 15:18) On the day God changed Abrams name unto Abraham (which means "Father of a great multitude"), he said, "And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan." (Gen. 17:8) Abraham dwelt in that land. Thereafter his seed became bondmen in Egypt, but God heard their cry and remembered the promise he had made unto Abraham, and sent forth Moses to bring them from Egyptian bondage to inherit the promised land. (Exodus 3:7-10) While some, of our generation, deny that this promise has ever been fulfilled, and thus talk about the land promise being fulfilled at some future time, Joshua declared that "the Lord gave unto Israel all the land which he swore to give unto their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein." (Joshua 2 1:43) Truly, God kept his promise.
Upon the death of Moses, when Joshua became the leader of Israel, and under Gods instruction led them through the river Jordan on dry ground, the city of Jericho was the first to be conquered by the Israelites. God promised unto Joshua, "See I have given into thine hand Jericho, and the king thereof, and the mighty men of valor." (Josh. 6:2) Then he instructed Joshua regarding the taking of the city. They followed Gods orders and the city was taken. But before it was taken God has said, "I have given unto thine hand Jericho." Gods promise was sure.
When Joshua had sent the two spies to spy out the city of Jericho, the officials of the city were after them, and Rahad hid them. Later she asked for her life to be spared when the Israelites came to take Jericho. The promise was made, "When we come into the land, thou shalt bind this line of scarlet thread in the window which thou didst let us down by," and when the city is taken this house shall be spared. (Josh. 2: 18) God saw to it that this promise was kept. In the destruction of Jericho the two spies went into Rahabs house and brought forth Rahab and her fathers household and all that she had. (Josh. 6:25) Indeed, Gods promises are sure.
On and on we could go with this lesson. Gods promise to Noah to save him from the flood. Gods promise to King Hezekiah to add fifteen years to his life (Isa. 38:1-8). Sometimes the promise of God was not good for man, but still God kept his promise. Unto the first man God said, "Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." (Gen. 2:16-17) When Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of that tree they began to die, for they were cast out of the garden, separated from the tree of life, and from the presence of God. That day they began to die physically, and that day they died spiritually. Gods promise was sure.
There are hundreds of other examples in the Old Testament, which show that the promises of God are sure. When you read and study the Old Testament, be impressed with this lesson. Use these stories to teach others this great truth. Remember: "Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope." (Rom. 15:4)
Today the Lord says, preach the gospel to every creature, he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved. (Mark 16:15-16) When you believe and are baptized, do not doubt your salvation. The Lord has promised it. Unto us God has promised an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled and that fadeth not away (I Peter 1:4). In this life we live in hope of the fulfillment of that promise. This hope is an "anchor of the soul" (Heb. 6:18), for we know that "he is faithful that promised." And like Abraham of old we can be "Fully persuaded that, what be had (has) promised, he was (is) able also to perform." Thus, let us with great confidence look forward to eternal life with God, for he has promised such to all them that love him and serve him faithfully even unto death. From studying the Old Testament let us learn that God will keep his promises.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVII: 1, pp. 7-9