The Old Testament
The Old Testament is a collection of writings of the history and activities of a people who came to be known as Israelites, or Hebrews or Jews. They were the descendants of Abraham through his son Isaac, and through Isaac’s son Jacob who was re-named Israel. (Exodus 3:6) The books of the Old Testament are of three major types: (1) the five books of Moses; (2) the major and minor prophets; and (3) the general writings, including poems, songs and personal accounts. These books contain the best of the higher thoughts and longings of the Jewish people and are the best collection of religious wisdom and spiritual truth to be found in the world at the time.
The books of Moses provided the Jewish people with their law code and its associated rituals. At the time of Moses, the Jewish people were an oppressed, downcast, and uneducated bedouin tribe. But they were the offspring of the patriarch, Abram, later named Abraham, who demonstrated faith in the one God taught by the high priest Melchizedek. (Genesis 14:18-20) As a result, Abraham received a special blessing:
“The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
– Genesis 12:1-3
During the passage of time between Abraham and Moses, the Jewish people had largely forgotten the one God and developed a form of worship similar to the surrounding nations where they worshiped many different Gods. But the time had come for the promise to Abraham to return to the forefront. Moses, being aware of this promise, accepted the heroic challenge of uplifting these dejected people and turning them back to the worship of the one God of Abraham.
Moses himself was an extraordinary combination of military leader, social organizer, and religious teacher. He was arguably the most important teacher on the world scene prior to Jesus. As such, he was no doubt aware that the challenge of educating and uplifting these ignorant and illiterate people would be a gradual process that would develop over time. Thus, he set in motion the beginning stages of their spiritual upliftment.
After leading them out of Egypt, we read:
“Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”
– Exodus 19:3-6
The elementary human mind responds more effectively to fear than to love. Think of how a parent teaches a young child. The child is given many rules of behavior with associated punishments and disciplines. The child responds, not out of love for the parent, but out of fear of the punishment, for godly love based on faith is the possession of only a mature spiritual mind. (2 Thessalonians 3:2) Therefore, when Moses introduced the people to the one God, he presented God as great and fear-inspiring. And to keep them focused on the one God, Moses presented God as jealous and wrathful. (Exodus 34:14; Deuteronomy 29:22-28) The aspect of God that was most appreciated by these simple people was not God’s love, but His justice.
Moses’ successors continued to teach a concept of God that was in accordance with the light of their day. The books of the prophets contain counsel and correction for the people when they strayed from the teachings of Moses, and foretold a time when life on earth would be truly peaceful. The remaining writings were words of wisdom and various experiences that we can learn much from.
As time progressed, their concept of God matured, such that by the time of the latter prophets, God had become a loving Father of the nation. (Isaiah 63:16; Jeremiah 31:9) God had not changed; man had changed. Man progressed in his ability to comprehend more fully the true nature of God. And that explains why the God of the Old Testament appears different from the God of the New Testament, as taught by Jesus. Even the prophet Jeremiah told the Jews to expect a change in their understanding of God:
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
– Jeremiah 31:31-34
The Old Testament served as a teacher or tutor that was preparing the Jewish mind for a better and greater revelation of God, accompanied by a better and greater relationship withGod as contained in the New Testament. As Paul wrote:
“Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.”
– Galatians 3:23-25
So if we ask, Who is the author of the Bible? we can confidently say that the Old Testament was inspired by God, because the men who penned the 39 books were writing according to best of their understanding of God, according to what had thus far been revealed to them. Yet at the same time, we must say that the Old Testament does not contain the final, infallible, absolute word of God, for if it did, why would Jesus say:
“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
– Matthew 11:27
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
– Matthew 5:17
And why would the Apostle Paul write:
“By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.”
– Hebrews 8:13
“For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”
– 1 Corinthians 13:9-11
“The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still functioning. This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order."
– Hebrews 9:8-10
There was a greater understanding of God waiting to be revealed at ‘the appointed time.’ This further revelation is contained in the New Testament.