What the Old Testament Is About [An Intro Guide]
The Old Testament is the first section of the Bible and makes up about three-quarters of its material. It lays out the story of Creation, humanity’s fall into sin, and God’s promise to rescue us from sin.
While it details the ups and downs of humanity, the core of the Old Testament is ultimately the love God has for each of us. He demonstrated this love when He created us with freedom of choice. He didn’t want us to be robots. And even though we chose against Him in the Garden of Eden, He still made sure to have a plan of salvation to rescue us.
Let’s answer some key questions about the Old Testament by digging into:
- Its purpose
- Its authors
- Its books
- Its major themes and lessons
- How God is described in the Old Testament
- How Jesus and the plan of salvation are revealed in it
- Bible promises we find in it
To walk you through what the Old Testament is about, let’s begin with why the Bible contains it.
The purpose of the Old Testament
You may be wondering: Why two testaments? Is it necessary for Christians to read the Old Testament and follow its teachings since we now have the New Testament?
And here’s why.
Have you ever read a sequel before reading the book it is based on? If you did, you probably missed details that helped set the stage for the second story.
The New Testament is like a sequel to the Old Testament in the biblical narrative. The Old Testament provides the backdrop for the events in the New Testament—namely, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and the fulfillment of God’s promise to His church.
So how does it provide that backdrop?
- It shows us our origins
- It helps us understand the beginning of the battle between good and evil
- It foreshadows God’s plan of salvation
- It gives an overview of God’s people from the first humans to the time of Jesus
Here are these four ways in more detail:
It shows us our origins
Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament, begins by walking us through God’s creation of the world.
It shows the care and value the Lord has for humans, whom He created in His image (Genesis 1:27).
He placed the first couple in a paradise, known as the Garden of Eden, intending that they would enjoy its bliss, rule over the earth, and populate it. Like a loving Father, He never wanted them to experience sorrow, pain, or death.
Everything was “very good” (Genesis 1:31, NKJV). Adam and Eve spent time with their Creator face to face.
So what changed?
A battle entered our world. We’ll look at that next.
It helps us understand the beginning of the battle between good and evil
Because God is love (1 John 4:8), He created us with the capacity to love as well.
And true love respects freedom of choice.
At the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 3:1–19), Adam and Eve first encountered the choice between trusting God’s way and giving in to doubt.
They were confronted and tempted by the devil in the form of a serpent. They could either choose to continue on God’s path or believe the serpent and eat the fruit of the tree, which would make them “like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5, NKJV).
What did they choose?
Sadly, they believed the devil’s lies and doubted the character of God. And any human being in their place would have done the same.
Genesis shows us how this decision led down a very difficult path. They indeed began to “know good and evil.”
Today, we still have to live with those results, in a world full of both good and evil. This tug-of-war between good and evil has played out over and over again since the time of the Old Testament:
- The people in Noah’s time became so evil that God had to destroy the earth with a flood (Genesis 6–8).
- People built the Tower of Babel in their attempts to outsmart God (Genesis 11).
- During the time of the judges, the Israelites repeatedly rebelled against God. They did whatever seemed best for their own selfish interests (Judges 1-21).
- David, God’s chosen king, fell into adultery and murder (2 Samuel 11).
And the list could go on.
But all was not lost!
God had a plan for His people to overcome evil.
It foreshadows God’s plan of salvation
As soon as the first couple had sinned, God gave them a glimmer of hope through His words to the serpent:
“And I will make enemies of you [the serpent] and the woman, and of your offspring and her Descendant; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise Him on the heel” (Genesis 3:15, NASB).
Adam, Eve, and their descendants knew this promise was about the coming Messiah. God would send a Deliverer to gain the victory over the serpent (bruise its head)!
In the process, He also would suffer (have His heel bruised).
The promise was the first hint of a plan to rescue humanity from sin. Adam and Eve’s decision had plunged humans into a war between good and evil, but the Messiah would be the ultimate winner of that battle and bring an end to it.
This plan was already in place during Old Testament times. The apostle Paul writes that this good news had been “promised before through His prophets in the holy Scriptures” (Romans 1:1–2, NKJV). The only Scripture available to Paul was the Old Testament.
In the book of Exodus, God outlined a sanctuary (temple) to be an object lesson of this plan (Exodus 25). In the sanctuary, the Israelites sacrificed animals as symbols of the ultimate sacrifice the Messiah would make.
Jesus came and fulfilled these sacrifices through His death on the cross for sin.
He lived out the plan of salvation foreshadowed in the Old Testament.
It gives an overview of God’s people from the first humans to the time of Jesus
The Old Testament tells the story of the ancient Israelites, people chosen by God to represent Him to the world. It highlights major historical and spiritual events and the lessons we can learn from them (1 Corinthians 10:11).
Abraham was the great patriarch of this nation. God promised to bless him and make him a blessing through his innumerable descendants (Genesis 12:1–3; 17:2). This was the first covenant, or contract, God made with the people of Israel.
A couple generations later, a famine forced Jacob (the grandson of Abraham) and his sons to sojourn in Egypt. Unfortunately, they became enslaved there (Exodus 1).
But with God’s direction, Moses led the Israelites from Egypt and brought them to Mount Sinai. There, God renewed His covenant with them (Exodus 19–24).
Testament is actually another word for covenant, which is like an agreement or a contract.
At Mount Sinai, God spoke the Ten Commandments to the Israelites together with an exhibition of thunder, lightning, and smoke. The powerful display helped the Israelites understand that they were entering into a solemn agreement.
The Ten Commandments were the conditions for this covenant between God and His people.
Moses took the “book of the covenant,” which contained the agreement, and read it to the Israelites. In response, the Israelites said, “All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient” (Exodus 24:7, NKJV). This began what was known as the “old covenant.”
Unfortunately, this covenant soon failed.
And it wasn’t because of any problem on God’s part!
The problem was with the people: They had relied on themselves to obey. They forgot that they needed to rely on God.
As they later realized this, God gave them a new promise—that He would write His law in their hearts and minds (Ezekiel 36:26–27). This is known as the “new covenant.”
The Old Testament, on the other hand, shows us the weakness of the old covenant.
It documents the history of the Israelite nation and how they tried to obey the covenant in their own strength and failed. Many times, they walked away from God.
As a result, foreign nations came and invaded their land. Finally, the Babylonians besieged Jerusalem and destroyed it, taking the Hebrews into captivity.
Not until the end of the Old Testament (the book of Malachi) does the Hebrew nation fully come out of Babylonian captivity.
But the whole time before this, God’s people expressed their longing for the Messiah through:
This longing builds to the end of the Old Testament and then finds its fulfillment in Jesus and the New Testament.
Who Wrote the Old Testament of the Bible?
The Old Testament, also known as the Hebrew Bible, was written by at least 40 different individuals. Scholars deduce that its writing process occurred over a large span of time, sometime between 1200 and 165 BC.
Moses is credited as the author of its first five books (Torah), which were probably compiled after his death.
The Bible stories were shared verbally and passed along through oral tradition, which was the common form of “documentation” at the time. Eventually, the words were written on scrolls in ancient Hebrew.
Some of its authors are:
- Various scribes
- Various prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, etc.)
Some Old Testament books may have had more than one author and were developed over a long period of time. (It took a lot longer to gather and verify information back then!)
Like Moses being credited with the Torah, David was assumed to have written the Psalms.
But here’s what’s most important to remember:
God inspired all Scripture. He called these authors to share their observations and spiritual revelations.
Early in Scripture, Moses identified God as the ultimate author:
“And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and rules, that you might do them in the land that you are going over to possess” (Deuteronomy 4:14, ESV).
Ezra was also very aware of who the real author of Scripture is.
“This Ezra came up from Babylon; and he was a skilled scribe in the Law of Moses, which the Lord God of Israel had given. The king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the Lord his God upon him” (Ezra 7:6, NKJV).
This is confirmed in the New Testament, which reminds us:
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17, NKJV).
Continue to the next section for an overview of each book of the Old Testament and its key message.
What are the books of the Old Testament?
The Old Testament of most Christian Bibles contains 39 books. This is the case with the one used by Protestant Christians.
On the other hand, Jews in Judaism have just the five books of the Torah.
And the Septuagint, which was a Greek version used by Greek-speaking Jews in Egypt in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, has extra books, including the Apocrypha. It was used by the early Christian church in that era.
The Catholic Bible’s Old Testament also has those extra apocryphal books.
But here, we’ll just look at the 39 books in most Christian Bibles. They’re divided into four major sections:
- The Law (five books)
- History (twelve books)
- Poetry (five books)
- Prophecy (five major prophets and twelve minor prophets)
The first five books of the Bible are known as the Law, the Pentateuch, or the Torah. They are all written by Moses.
Genesis is a book of beginnings. It outlines Creation, the fall into sin, and important events in the early days of the earth (the Flood, the Tower of Babel, and more). After these accounts, we find the stories of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) and the events leading up to the start of the Israelite nation.
God sets the Israelites free from Egyptian slavery and establishes them as His special people. He reveals His name, His law, and His covenant to them.
Leviticus means “concerning the Levites” (the Israelite priests). It gave the Israelites guidance in worshiping God and becoming holy like Him.
Numbers documents the journey of Israel in the wilderness before they entered the land of Canaan. We see their rebellion and God’s judgment, mercy, and guidance.
In Deuteronomy (“repetition of the law”), Moses reiterates God’s law and covenant with His people.
The history books trace major events in the nation of Israel from its establishment in Canaan until its release from Babylonian captivity.
Scholars believe that scribes played a significant role in recording these accounts. Jewish tradition also credits 1 and 2 Kings to Jeremiah, and 1 and 2 Chronicles to Ezra.
The book of Joshua, possibly written by Joshua himself, tells the story of the Israelites taking possession of the promised land (Canaan) and dividing it among their tribes.
Judges shows the sin cycle of the Israelites: They turn from God and are conquered by a foreign nation. While in captivity, they repent, and the Lord sends a judge to deliver them.
Ruth is an account of a young woman who had true faith in God during the period of the judges. Though she wasn’t an Israelite, she joined God’s people and became part of the lineage of Jesus.
9. 1 Samuel
First Samuel documents Israel’s demand for a king and Samuel’s anointing of Saul, who later turns from God. It shows how Samuel then anointed David and how David rose to the pinnacle of his reign.
10. 2 Samuel
With David as ruler, God prospers the nation of Israel and confirms His promises.
11. 1 Kings
First Kings shows the rise and fall of rulers within Israel and the involvement of God through the prophets. It begins after David’s death with Solomon’s rise to kingship.
12. 2 Kings
Second Kings continues the history of God’s people who have divided into separate nations: Judah and Israel. Both struggle with faith and obedience and are eventually forced into exile.
13. 1 Chronicles
First Chronicles is a retelling of Israel’s history during the time of the kings.
14. 2 Chronicles
Second Chronicles continues Israel’s story and tells of the return of the Jews from captivity.
The prophet Ezra records the return of God’s people from captivity and their rebuilding of the temple.
Nehemiah tells of the struggles he and Israel faced in re-establishing Jerusalem.
Esther, a Jew, becomes queen of Persia and saves the entire Jewish nation.
Job, a faithful servant of God who lived around the time of Abraham, suffers at the hand of Satan but never loses faith in God, who rewards his faith by restoring his health and life. This account may have been written by Moses.
The Psalms are sacred poems and prayers to God, written for the purpose of worship. King David of Israel wrote the majority of them, though Moses and various scribes contributed also.
Proverbs, the wise sayings of king Solomon, guide people in practical ways to live for God.
Solomon looks back on his life and mistakes. He shares the keys to faith and contentment, as well as the pitfalls that can cause us to stumble.
22. The Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs)
Song of Solomon, also authored by King Solomon, celebrates the joys of love, marriage, and sex. It illustrates Jesus’ love for His bride (the church) too.
The prophecy books can be divided into two sections. The major prophets consist of five books that are fairly large and apply to a broad audience. They are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel.
The minor prophets consist of twelve books that are shorter and more specific in their messages: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.
Each book carries the name of its author.
The prophet Isaiah warns of the coming judgments and the Assyrian captivity. He also includes poetic prophecies that point to the Messiah and God’s restoration of the earth.
Jeremiah warns of the coming captivity of Judah to the Babylonians. Despite the exile, Jeremiah urges the people to seek God and prophesies that they will return to their land.
Jeremiah grieves over the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC while offering hope in God for the future.
The prophet Ezekiel teaches God’s authority over creation and history, providing insight and comfort to Israel while in captivity.
Daniel presents the hope God provided His people while they were in Babylonian captivity. It contains prophecies of future events down to the end of history, showing how the Lord will ultimately triumph over evil and set up His kingdom.
The book of Hosea was written right before the Israelite nation came to its end through Assyrian captivity. Despite Israel’s disloyalty, Hosea displays God’s loyalty and great love for His people.
Joel alerts Judah to God’s coming judgment and His promises of mercy to those who seek it.
Amos wrote this message when Judah was under the reign of king Uzziah and Israel under king Jeroboam II. He tells of judgments that are coming to Israel.
The prophet Obadiah urges the people of Edom to repent.
The prophet Jonah preaches to the city of Nineveh about the judgment coming upon them. They listen and repent, asking forgiveness for their sins. God forgives them while also trying to teach Jonah to have a spirit of mercy.
Micah predicts the devastation of Judah and foreshadows the coming Savior.
Nahum’s name means “comfort.” This prophet brings comfort to Nineveh despite God’s necessary discipline.
Habakkuk is the prophet’s monologue to God about unfairness and misery in the world.
Zephaniah announces God’s judgment and offers hope of restoration for those who seek Him.
When people put God first, they are blessed. These prophecies talk about the rebuilding of the temple after Judah’s captivity under Babylon.
Zechariah encourages the Jews in their work of rebuilding the temple after the Babylonian exile.
Malachi spoke to the Israelites after their return from captivity. He calls for repentance and points them to the coming Messiah.
Major themes and lessons in the Old Testament
The Old Testament is not just a document of events. It’s a story that shows us many themes and lessons, including the following:
- The core of God’s character and law is love—love toward Him and toward others
- Relying on mere human ability, or human-made idols, is pointless
- Things get messy when people turn from God
- God comes through for those who have faith in Him
Let’s expand on these lessons:
The core of God’s character and law is love
One key theme throughout the Old Testament (and the whole Bible) is God’s character of love. When the serpent tempted Eve, he insinuated that God was selfish—the very opposite of who God actually is.
The battle between good and evil on this earth is a battle over whether to trust God and His character or the devil and his character.
The Old Testament shows us God’s character of goodness, love, and mercy (Exodus 34:6).
And the law we find there is also a reflection of who He is. Many words that describe His character also describe the law:
- Perfect (Psalm 18:30; 19:7)
- Pure (Psalm 18:26; 19:8)
- True (Psalm 19:9; Jeremiah 10:10)
- Righteous (Exodus 9:27; Psalm 19:9)
- Holy (Leviticus 11:44; Romans 7:12)
The first four of the Ten Commandments are principles of love to God. The last six are principles of love to humanity (Exodus 20:1–17). Jesus Himself confirmed this (Matthew 22:34–40).
God wanted these principles to be in the hearts of His people. To keep them is to love Him:
“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?” (Deuteronomy 10:12–13, NKJV).
Relying on mere human ability, or human-made idols, is pointless
Because Adam and Eve chose to doubt God’s way, they brought a cascade of evil to all humanity.
In their power, humans cannot overcome this evil.
The Old Testament illustrates this idea through the physical enemies of the Israelites. Whenever the Israelites would reject God and turn to idols, they would lose the battles against their enemies (both external and internal).
The same would happen when they trusted in their own abilities instead of trusting God.
The following stories show the emptiness of trusting idols and human ability:
- When the Israelites went to battle against a small town called Ai, they thought they had an easy win ahead of them. But they had failed to consult God first. Otherwise, they would have found out about the defiance and disobedience in their camp that resulted in their defeat (Joshua 7).
- During the time of the judges, the Israelites often let themselves be influenced by the nations around them, which led them to worship those nations’ idols. By turning their allegiance away from God, they became vulnerable to their enemies (Judges 2:12–15).
- King Saul took matters into his own hands and trusted in himself instead of waiting for God’s instructions through the prophet Samuel, as he had been told to do (1 Samuel 13:1–12). This choice eventually led to king Saul’s demise (1 Samuel 13:13–14).
Isaiah 42:17 summarizes this lesson:
“They will be turned back and be utterly put to shame, who trust in idols, who say to cast metal images, ‘You are our gods’” (NASB).
Things get messy when people turn away from God
The serpent in the Garden implied that God’s parameters were overly restrictive and unnecessary to a happy life (Genesis 3:5).
He couldn’t have been more wrong.
Sin is breaking God’s law of love. In short, it’s selfishness that occurs when God is pushed away.
And after Eden, now with a weakness toward sin, humans can’t stop the selfishness in their hearts without the help of God.
The history of the Old Testament proves it. Human nature is relentless.
Before the Flood, people tried to live free of God’s principles. They wanted ultimate control.
It became so bad that every thought of their hearts was evil, and God had to destroy the earth before they destroyed themselves by violence (Genesis 6:5, 11).
Likewise, the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were on the brink of destruction because of their evil practices—including rape and sexual immorality (Genesis 18–19).
Things didn’t get much better during the time of the judges.
The writer of Judges records that the people began to set their own standards for right and wrong (Judges 17:6). And when selfishness is the motivating factor, immorality reigns (Judges 19).
Sadly, the same story repeated itself throughout the rest of Israel’s history. Whenever they turned from God, they didn’t improve—they degenerated.
The battle between good and evil was playing out.
God comes through for those who have faith in Him
In the words of Isaiah, “The Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save” (Isaiah 59:1, ESV).
God has the power to deliver His people—both from sin and their enemies—if they are willing to depend completely on Him.
Faith was, and still is, the key.
When the Israelites fled Egypt and came to the Red Sea, God parted it for them (Exodus 14).
All they had to do was trust Him.
The same was the case when the Israelites were preparing to enter the land of Canaan. They were going to face enemy nations, but Moses assured them:
“The Lord your God is He who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory” (Deuteronomy 20:4, ESV).
When God’s people had faith in His power, He came through for them as we notice in the following stories:
- Gideon defeated the Midianites with an army of only 300 (Judges 6–7).
- The Israelites under king Jehoshaphat went into battle singing. They were victorious over their enemies without having to even engage in combat (2 Chronicles 20).
- God influenced the Persian king to release the Israelites from captivity (Ezra 1; Nehemiah 1).
And today, He still wants to empower us in our battles against sin.
Is the God of the Old Testament the same as the God of the New Testament?
According to the New Testament, Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8, NKJV). But this idea isn’t new; the Old Testament expresses God’s unchanging nature too.
The book of Malachi records God speaking about judgment against sinners (Malachi 3:5). In the same breath, He promises that He will return to those who choose Him again (verse 7).
The verse in between?
God says in Malachi 3:6, “I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed” (NKJV).
Here, He is declaring His steadfast patience and compassion, even toward those who have walked away from Him and deserve judgment. His character of love does not change.
But how do we understand His love when He seems to be a stern judge in the Old Testament? What about His wrath?
We’ll see how God expresses these qualities.
Some of the stories in the Old Testament can give us the sense that God is harsh and dictatorial toward His people—that He will strike them dead if they don’t obey every little detail.
But that idea misses the big picture.
How about all the times He was merciful with them when they rebelled against Him?
The prophet Nehemiah looked back on the Israelites’ journey from Egypt and said:
“They refused to obey,
And they were not mindful of Your wonders
That You did among them.
But they hardened their necks,
And in their rebellion
They appointed a leader
To return to their bondage.
But You are God,
Ready to pardon,
Gracious and merciful,
Slow to anger,
Abundant in kindness,
And did not forsake them” (Nehemiah 9:17, NKJV).
God treats us so much better than we deserve (Psalm 103:10)! He is known for His mercy (2 Samuel 24:14).
And even what seems to be stern enforcement was God’s desire for His people to understand the consequences of sin.
Think of God as a parent who wants the best for His children.
If a mother or father notices that their child is about to run across the street in front of a car, they will yell to stop the child. Yelling may seem harsh, but it is necessary for the urgent circumstances and the child’s level of maturity.
It’s similar with the Israelites.
Having just come out of Egypt, they were a primitive nation that had some maturing to do.
To get their attention, God sometimes had to instruct them in ways that might feel harsh or abrupt to us. But He did so to keep them from hurting themselves or others.
This is why Proverbs 3:11–12 says, “My son, do not despise the Lord‘s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom He loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (ESV).
Then, there’s the question of the destruction of the wicked. God destroyed everyone on the earth through a flood. He directed the killing of whole nations—including women and children.
How were those fair?
If you saw someone abusing a child, would it make you angry? Would you want to defend that child?
No doubt you would!
And your anger would be justified!
God had reason to be angry with the Canaanite nations. They had engaged in incest, bestiality, and other sexual sins. They were even sacrificing their children to their gods (Leviticus 18:2–30).
God had reason to be angry with the people before the flood too. He knew that they would destroy others and themselves if allowed to continue their violence.
It grieved His heart (Genesis 6:6).
But He didn’t destroy them without warning. He sent Noah to be a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5, NKJV) so that everyone had an opportunity to escape the Flood. People were able to choose whether to enter the ark or not. If they refused to enter or allow their children to enter, who was at fault?2
When God was ready to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham pleaded with Him.
Wouldn’t God save the city if there were even ten people who honored Him? He said He would (Genesis 18)!
God is all about giving people the opportunity to choose Him instead of choosing selfishness and evil.
When speaking of the Amorites, a heathen nation during the time of Abraham, He said that “the iniquity [rebellion] of the Amorites is not yet complete” (Genesis 15:16, ESV). They had not rejected Him so completely that there wasn’t still an opportunity to live for the true God instead of their own gods.
Remember, this same God in the Old Testament was the one who promised a Messiah to save His people. He knew that His Son would die (Isaiah 53).
And He chose to go through with it.
Ultimately, He wants everyone to accept the salvation He offers.
But sometimes, there comes a point where God can’t do anything more because people have rejected every last offer to change. Then, out of love, He respects their choice and allows them to experience the consequences of evil.
All the while, it pains His heart.
When God’s people accused Him of being unfair, He pleaded with them,
“For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies. Therefore turn and live!” (Ezekiel 18:31–32, NKJV).
To understand more of the heart of God for all of humanity, read this article on God’s plan to save us.
Can we find Jesus and the plan of salvation in the Old Testament?
Yes, we do find Jesus in the Old Testament. Jesus Himself said that all the Scriptures speak of Him.3
Jesus is a member of the Godhead. For this reason, His presence is implied in the first words of the Old Testament (Genesis 1:1). He was with the Father and the Holy Spirit for the creation of the world, as the New Testament later attests (John 1:1–3).
In John 8:58, Jesus calls Himself the I AM, which was a special name used by God in the Old Testament to describe His infinite existence. By taking this name, Jesus identified Himself as the one who spoke to Moses in the burning bush (Exodus 3:4–14).
He was also the one who was with Israel as they traveled to Canaan (1 Corinthians 10:4).
But most importantly, He was the promised Messiah that would come to deal with the problem of evil and sin (Genesis 3:15).
When Adam and Eve doubted God’s way, they accepted the devil’s way of selfishness and evil. If it hadn’t been for God’s mercy, they would have had to face the consequences of their actions on their own.
But God had a plan already.
He would send His Son to be the Deliverer (Messiah) of His people. This Deliverer would come and live a perfect life and die the death that humans deserved to die. In this way, those who accepted Jesus’ death in place of theirs would have the opportunity to live forever without sin. We call this the plan of salvation.
In the New Testament, this plan is clearly spelled out with Jesus as its focal point.
But in the Old Testament, prophecies give hints of Jesus’ birth, life, and death.4 Scholars estimate that over 300 prophecies foretold the Messiah.
The people of that time didn’t know the name Jesus. Instead, they knew Him as God’s Son, the Messiah, or the Savior.
One of the greatest illustrations of the plan of salvation was the special sanctuary service that God set up after the Israelites came out of Egypt (Exodus 25:8). In this system, the Israelites would sacrifice animals—often a lamb or a goat—when they sinned against God (Leviticus 4:32).
This animal took the place of the sinner, symbolizing the way Jesus would come and die.
Jesus was going to become that perfect sacrificial lamb.
Isaiah 53:7 tells us:
“He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter.” (NKJV)
The Messiah foreshadowed in the Old Testament is the Jesus of the New Testament.
We find glimpses of the plan of salvation through the Old Testament’s symbols and prophecies; but in the New Testament, Jesus lives them out.
God’s promises in the Old Testament
God gave promises to His people in the Old Testament, many of which have a spiritual application for us today.
We may not need assurance of victory over enemy nations; but we need assurance of victory over sin. We may not be journeying to an earthly Canaan, but we’re looking forward to heaven.
Here are some promises you can claim:
He assures us that we don’t have to fear because He is with us:
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9, NKJV).
He says that He will give us strength:
“But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31, NKJV).
He will keep us in perfect peace:
“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You” (Isaiah 26:3, NKJV).
He has remarkable plans for our lives:
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11, ESV).
His love for us doesn’t change:
“Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you” (Jeremiah 31:3, NKJV).
The Old Testament helps us understand the character of God and is still relevant today
The Old Testament is the story of the ancient Israelites.
But it’s also the story of humanity—our story.
It shows how sin strained our relationship with God. Even so, He didn’t give up on us and promised Jesus—the ultimate sacrifice—to pay our penalty.
God longed to restore the relationship with His people, the Israelites. He wanted to walk among them and be their God (Leviticus 26:12).
And the Old Testament, together with the New Testament, points to the relationship He longs to have with us now.
As we read the Old Testament, we find encouragement, even in the darkest of stories. God’s patience is evident throughout. His love is present in the Psalms (Psalms 139). His wisdom speaks through the Proverbs (Proverbs 9:10). His authority shines in the book of Job (Job 9:1–31).
The bottom line of every story, poetry, and prophecy is to reveal the character of God. His love, His patience, and His care.
In the history of the Israelite people, we find instructions, warning, and hope. And the principles revealed in those pages are still relevant to us today.
As we learn from the experiences of men and women in the Old Testament, we catch a glimpse of the heart of God and His purpose for us.
So take some time in the Old Testament. With an open heart, read it slowly and look for ways in which you see the love of God. Keep Jesus as the focus.
You’ll be surprised at the insights you find!
To learn more about God and His plan for you from the Bible,
- Micah 5:2, Isaiah 9:6–7; Isaiah 53 [↵]
- Hodge, Bodie. “Isn’t the God of the Old Testament Harsh, Brutal, and Downright Evil?” Answers in Genesis, March 27, 2015 [↵]
- John 5:39; Luke 24:27, 53; Acts 26:22–23 [↵]
- Psalm 2:7; Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 53; Micah 5:2; Malachi 4:2–3 [↵]
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