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It makes up over half of your Bible, but what does the Old Testament really have to do with you now? It’s unlikely you’ve done a devotional from the book of Numbers lately. Even if you’ve read through the whole Bible, you can admit that things start to feel less applicable to daily life in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. So, should you still pay attention to the Old Testament?
Jesus didn’t disregard or reject the Old Testament law. He said pointedly, “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.” Since Jesus fulfilled the law, he made it possible for the Old Testament to accomplish its intended purpose: to point us to the kind of life that God always intended us to lead. Jesus came to bring into reality that kind of life.
The intention was not a life lived in strict obedience to the rules, because following the rules doesn’t make us righteous. It might seem strange to say, but God doesn’t want people who always follow the rules…He wants people for whom the rules aren’t necessary because the life to which the rules point is flowing out of us. Like the Pharisees, the kind of people who meticulously follow the rules often ends up missing the point of the rules in the first place. Instead, God wants us to learn to live by the principles that the Old Testament laws reveal.
So, what are some of these underlying principles? We see three in the messages of the prophets who sought to call God’s people back to obedience to the law’s principles, not to rote religious ritual.
The book of Hosea details an allegorical relationship between the prophet Hosea and his unfaithful wife representing the relationship between God and unfaithful Israel. Hosea writes, “Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites because the Lord has a charge to bring against you who live in the land: ‘There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land.’” He calls Israel back to love and devotion to the one and only true God.
Isaiah message for God’s people condemned their lack of concern for the well-being of others, especially the needy, despite their religious acts. Isaiah declared on behalf of God, “When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening…Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:15-17)
The prophet Amos strongly rebukes God’s people and their religious acts, declaring on behalf of God: ‘I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me… Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.’ Instead he calls for them to pure lives and demands them to “let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:21-24)
These are the principles of the Old Testament Jesus had in mind when he was able to summarize the Old Testament by declaring, “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’”