Chapter OneSESSION ONE
Is the Old Testament Worth the Effort?
Apart from the Old Testament, we will always have an impoverished
view of God. God is not a philosophical construct but a Person
who acts in history: the one who created Adam, who gave a
promise to Noah, who called Abraham and introduced himself by
name to Moses, who deigned to live in a wilderness tent in order
to live close to his people. From Genesis 1 onward, God has
wanted himself to be known, and the Old Testament is our most
complete revelation of what God is like.
Questions to Think About
1. When you hear the words "Old Testament," what thoughts and feelings
come to mind?
2. What personal challenges have you faced when you have tried to read
and understand the Old Testament?
3. What have you enjoyed about your ventures into the Old Testament,
and what might be some of the benefits of becoming more familiar
Video Presentation: "Is the Old Testament Worth the Effort?"
God wants us to know about him
What Jesus read
Why read the Old Testament?
Discomfort is not bad
1. If the New Testament doesn't give a complete picture of what God
wants us to know about him, what do you hope to learn from the
Discovering the Old Testament
There is so much of benefit for us to discover in the Old Testament.
If only we would read it, we would:
Gain a better understanding of the Old Testament concepts and
allusions found in Hebrews, Jude, Revelation, and other New Testament
Begin uncovering the layers of richness in the Epistles and
Gospels that shed light backward on the Old Testament.
Understand more about what God is really like and how he has
worked-and is working-in the lives of his people.
Benefit from the lessons of faith discovered by ancient Old Testament
Have a richer, deeper understanding of the redemptive love story
between God and his people that continues to unfold today.
Begin to grasp the degree to which what we say, how we behave,
and even what we think and feel influences God and how much
he delights in us.
Learn the lessons of faith-faith that is entirely human, yet rock-solid-that
sustained so many Old Testament characters and can
sustain us when we face life's challenges.
2. Which thoughts and emotions began to surface as you watched this
video? What surprised you or stood out above the rest?
3. Philip Yancey spoke of the relevance and realism of the Old Testament.
What hope does the graphic realism of the Old Testament offer
you in relationship to your walk with God?
Large Group Exploration: Why Read the Old
Years ago most people knew at least something about the Old Testament-the
story of David and Goliath, some of the Ten Commandments,
or the story of Noah. Today, however, knowledge of the Old Testament
is fading fast among Christians and has virtually vanished in
popular culture. Let's consider some of the challenges to and benefits
of reading the Old Testament.
The Old Testament is not, as one theologian suggested, "reading
someone else's mail"; it is our mail as well. The people who appear
in it were real people learning to get along with the same God that I
worship. I need to learn from their experience even as I try to incorporate
the marvelous new message brought by Jesus.
1. It's easy to think that we ought to read the Old Testament and therefore
lump it into the same category as other things we should do-floss
our teeth, exercise regularly, eat right, or listen more attentively to a
spouse. In what ways have you felt obligated to read the Old Testament?
If you have ever attempted to read through the Bible, such as
in a "Read the Bible in a Year" program, how did it work out?
2. From the reading or study you have done, describe the ways in which
you have found the God featured in the Old Testament to be similar
to or different from the God featured in the New Testament.
3. As he walked along the road to Emmaus, Jesus explained to two of
his grieving disciples "what was said in all the Scriptures concerning
himself" (Luke 24:27). What does this tell us about Jesus' view of the
Old Testament Scriptures? What does it reveal about his love for,
commitment to, and understanding of the Old Testament?
4. What unique perspectives on our relationship with God-including
our doubts, struggles, and pain-might the Old Testament provide?
Jesus Knew His Bible Well
Jesus often referred to the Old Testament writings and pointed out
important facts about himself and his mission. The following chart
reveals some of the times when Jesus quoted directly from the Old
Situation What Jesus Said
Matthew 13:13-15; Mark 4:12 Isaiah 6:9-10
Mark 7:6-7 Isaiah 29:13
Mark 7:10 Exodus 20:12; 21:17;
Leviticus 20:9; Deuteronomy 5:16
Mark 9:48 Isaiah 66:24
Mark 11:17 Isaiah 56:7
Luke 4:4 Deuteronomy 8:3
Luke 4:8 Deuteronomy 6:13
Luke 4:10-11 Psalm 91:11-12
Luke 4:12 Deuteronomy 6:16
Luke 4:18-19 Isaiah 61:1-2
Luke 7:27 Malachi 3:1
Luke 10:27 Deuteronomy 6:5
Luke 18:20 Exodus 20:12-16;
Luke 20:17 Psalm 118:22
John 6:31 Exodus 16:4; Nehemiah 9:15
John 13:18 Psalm 41:9
Small Group Exploration: Opening the Curtain
on a Bigger Picture of God
The Old Testament reveals a rich picture of what God-the personal God
who loves us and wants to be in relationship with us-is like. Let's break
into groups of three to five and look at a few "snapshots" of what the
Old Testament reveals about God and his relationship with us.
1. What imagery did David use to describe God's care for his people?
In what ways is this like or unlike the New Testament image of God?
(See Psalm 17:8-9; 57:1; 91:1-4.)
2. What does Isaiah 62:2-5 reveal about God's desire and love for his
people? To what does he compare his relationship to his people?
What is your response to these expressions of honor and delight?
3. What imagery is used in Isaiah 40:9-11 to show God's love for his
4. The Old Testament records times when God allowed people to exert
an influence on him as well as times when he exerted his influence
on them. Discuss what happened in the following situations, particularly
in terms of the relationship between God and his people.
a. Genesis 18:22-33
b. 1 Samuel 7:2-10
5. God wanted the ancient Hebrews to continually remind themselves
that the world revolved around God, not themselves. Look up the
following verses and describe what God commanded the Israelites to
do in order to stay focused on him.
a. Exodus 13:1-16
b. Numbers 15:37-41
I've met a lot of Christians who have only read the New Testament.
They may have tried the Old Testament here or there, and found it
a little off-putting and just gave up. I feel sad for those Christians,
frankly, because I don't think we get a full picture of how a life with
God works from the New Testament.
1. The Old Testament is a timeless, inspired message given to us by God
that tells us what God wants us to know-about him, about life, and
about ourselves. In what ways has what we have seen and discussed
together today influenced your view of the Old Testament?
2. The Old Testament gives us an advanced course in life with God and,
in so doing, expands our concept of God and helps deepen our relationship
with him. Take a few minutes to consider your personal relationship
with God in light of what you have explored today.
Personal Journey: To Begin Now
No wonder those of us who have grown up with abstract concepts of
God find it confusing to try to make logical sense out of the Old Testament!
The Old Testament presents laws and history, but it also speaks
to us in images of a God and Creator who desires to be in close relationship
Take some time now by yourself to consider what you have discovered
in this session and how it applies to your daily life.
Read Deuteronomy 6:1-12.
1. What kind of a relationship does this passage indicate God wants to
have with his people?
2. What was God's overarching concern about his relationship with his
people? What things did God want his people to do in order to preserve
their relationship with him?
3. Jesus considered the command to "love the Lord your God with all
your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength" to be
the essential commandment. What can you incorporate into your
daily life that will help you obey this commandment?
Did You Know?
Unlike many Christians today, the New Testament Christians eagerly
pursued the Old Testament Scriptures. They found in the Old Testament
a wealth of understanding about the kind of relationship God
desired to have with them. Paul, for example, constantly referred to
the Old Testament in his writings. Note the many Old Testament
connections that appear in the third chapter of Galatians alone!
Galatians 3 Old Testament Connections
v. 6 Mentions Abraham's belief Genesis 15:6
v. 8 Mentions God's promise Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18
to bless all nations
v. 10 Quotes from Deuteronomy 27:26
the Old Testament Law
v. 11 Quotes from Habbakuk 2:4
an Old Testament prophet
v. 12 References Leviticus 18:5
the Old Testament Law
v. 13 Quotes an Deuteronomy 21:23
Old Testament verse
v. 16 Analyzes several Genesis 12:7; 13:15; and 24:7
Old Testament references
Personal Journey: To Do between Sessions
Set aside at least one hour away from distractions to do the following
1. Take an inventory of what you believe about the Old Testament. List
your likes and dislikes, the things that confuse or excite you, your
favorite passages, etc. Be sure to include at least two ways in which
you might benefit from further exploration of the Old Testament.
2. Write down some ways in which you might be able to use the above
"inventory" to chart a new approach toward the Old Testament. For
example, if you tend to be bored by all the history in the Bible, you
may want to reread portions of it through the lens of a specific perspective.
Instead of focusing on the violence or trying to follow the
historic sequence, you may want to look for insight into God's character
or look for evidence of his desire for relationship.
It may prove dangerous to get involved with the Bible. You approach
it with a series of questions, and as you enter it you find the questions
turned back upon you. King David got swept up in a story by
the prophet Nathan and leaped to his feet indignant-only to learn
the barbed story concerned himself. I find something similar at work
again and again as I read the Old Testament. I am thrown back on
what I truly believe. I am forced to reexamine After spending
time exploring the Old Testament, I can truthfully say that I come
away more astonished, not less.
3. Begin reading the Old Testament. Consider how much of an investment
you want to make in exploring the Old Testament and set a goal
for yourself. If you get bogged down in a difficult area, feel free to
take a refreshing break by going to one of your favorite Old Testament
passages then approaching the more difficult passage again
later, or, choose a new passage.
Two-Week Old Testament Reading Plan
The Student Bible has a two-week Old Testament reading plan that
provides an overview of Old Testament highlights. If you are just
beginning to study the Old Testament, it's a good way to start.
Day 1: Genesis 1-The story of Creation
Day 2: Genesis 3-The origin of sin
Day 3: Genesis 22-Abraham and Isaac
Day 4: Exodus 3-Moses' encounter with God
Day 5: Exodus 20-The gift of the Ten Commandments
Day 6: 1 Samuel 13-David and Goliath
Day 7: 2 Samuel 11-David and Bathsheba
Day 8: 2 Samuel 12-Nathan's rebuke of the king
Day 9: 1 Kings 18-Elijah and the prophets of Baal
Day 10: Job 38-God's answer to Job
Day 11: Psalm 51-A classic confession
Day 12: Isaiah 40-Words of comfort from God
Day 13: Daniel 6-Daniel and the lions
Day 14: Amos 4-A prophet's stern warning