Christian Living

5 Simple Tips for Studying the Old Testament

March 23, 2017

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Many Christians linger in the New Testament, missing out on the incredible riches of the Old Testament – the very Scriptures Jesus Himself referenced.

Do not let the symbolic, dense, or historical nature of this Scripture intimidate you! God’s supreme nature and beautiful redemptive plan are on display, and speak to our Christian walk today.

The OT tells us foundational truths about:

  • our origins
  • marriage
  • family
  • obedience
  • repentance
  • righteousness by faith
  • judgment

…and the list goes on!

Don't let the complex nature of the Old Testament stop you from reading God's Word in completion. Click To Tweet

With that said, here are different strategies for learning from the Old Testament:

1. Highlight statements mentioning God in the text. 

As you read a passage, underline where the Lord speaks, acts, or responds. Also mark when someone speaks about Him, or when He is referenced. Use these identifiers to study God’s wondrous character. Sometimes He isn’t directly mentioned, but read between the lines!

QUESTIONS TO ASK:

What attributes of God are on display? (i.e. compassion, holiness, grace, faithfulness, sovereignty, watchfulness) 

What did God say or do? Why? (i.e. to encourage, to instruct, to command, to rebuke, to explain, to bring about repentance)   

If it is not God speaking or acting, why is He mentioned? (i.e. to give Him praise, to seek Him in prayer, to align someone or something with God, to refer to God’s previous, present, or current actions, to explain about God) 

2. Hunt for examples of rich or poor faith. 

In Hebrews Chapter 11 there is what is known as the “Hall Of Faith”—figures who displayed tremendous trust or growth in God. All of these individuals are in the Old Testament, and their testimonies illustrate insightful pictures of worship, prayer, obedience, devotion, and more, inspiring us to follow in their footsteps and pointing us to Christ.

Illustrations of lack of trust or disobedience are also plentiful, even from individuals in the Hall of Faith, for no one was perfect except Christ. Take note of those as well, because the Holy Spirit uses them to convict and grow our hearts.

Instead of rushing through these “biographies”, observe them critically, praying to God for understanding. As you break down their lives, practical applications will emerge.

QUESTIONS TO ASK:

How do the persons respond to their circumstances? 

i.e. How did Abraham react to the three visitors at his door? Answer: He showed earnest and gracious hospitality that went above and beyond, a model for us. 

Is there a good spiritual discipline or specific sin on display?  

i.e. After the decree to worship the king only, Daniel still prayed to the Lord, and was willing to face persecution through trust in God.   

i.e. David succumbed to the temptation of lust, and it led to actual adultery. 

i.e. The Israelites not only turned to idolatry by worshipping pagan gods, but in doing so they disregarding God’s blessings in their heart and lost admiration of His holiness. 

How does God show grace and truth to the individuals or groups in focus? 

i.e. The Lord uses Jeremiah to call the people to repentance before His planned destruction of Jerusalem. 

3. Refer to others resources to understand the historical context. 

Since Old Testament events occurred thousands of years ago, there are many traditions, geographical regions, and names that are unfamiliar. Don’t let this discourage you, or cause you to skip over content!

Several pastors and scholars have studied the Word extensively and have reliable, sound teachings that completely change the way you approach the text. Knowledge of the Bible also will help you answer the questions we’ve previously shared.

For genealogies specifically, research if any of the mentioned people(s) have historical significance. i.e. the list of Esau’s descendants shows the rise of the nation of Edom, fulfilled part of God’s prophecy that Isaac’s older son would serve and contest with the younger 

RESOURCES I USE:

John MacArthur Study Bible – His commentaries and book introductions include explanations about the historical, geographical, and cultural aspects of the Biblical accounts.

gotquestions.org – Wondering about a specific battle, ceremony, or country mentioned in the chapter you’re reading? This website most likely has an answer, or if it doesn’t, you can submit a question for review!

Sermons – Preaching by exegetical pastors like John Piper, Steve Lawson, John MacArthur, Matt Chandler, or perhaps your own local church pastor, could shed light on what you’re reading.

If you don’t have time to sit and read commentaries, as you’re going throughout the day listen to sermons on the passage you’re reading through ministries’ online archives.

4. Consider how the passage points to Jesus and the Gospel. 

This may be directly or thematically.

QUESTIONS TO ASK:

Is there a prophecy, symbolism, or reference to the coming of the Messiah (Savior)? 

How does this fit into God’s redemptive plan

i.e. promises made to Abraham, directions for the Jewish Tabernacle or temple, explanations of Christ’s nature by prophets like Isaiah, imagery of forgiveness by grace in Hosea

How do these events reflect our need for a Savior? 

i.e. Israelites unable to keep the Law, blood sacrifices at the temple needing to be repeated, good people falling into sin, broken world of suffering 

5. Apply the answers to the above questions to your own life. 

As it says in 1 Corinthians, “Knowledge puffs up.” We can become master scholars of the Old Testament, knowing every story and person, and completely miss out on opportunities to grow and be sanctified. Don’t become prideful with your newfound knowledge of the Word, but let it settle in your heart through meek wisdom.

QUESTIONS TO ASK (after completing the above steps):

Considering this passage, what can I praise God for today? 

What sins identified in this text do I also need to confess to God and repent from? 

How can I emulate these examples of faith in my life? 

Are there final takeaways I can share with friends, family, and other believers joyfully? 

What are ways I can bring these insights before God in prayer? And then pray! 

Final notes: Sometimes you hit sections of Scripture that are facts and information, plain and simple. There isn’t always an in-depth spiritual lesson, so don’t feel pressured to read beyond what the verse implies.

There’s always potential for learning, but we don’t want make up meaning either! Sometimes we just need to enjoy being in God’s amazing Word, knowing that every section of it has a purpose over the span of mankind’s time and culture.

So go forth, my friend, and read the Old Testament with fresh eyes!

Sign up below to access your FREE 5-step OT study guide printable to put these questions into practice!

  1. Dani, you have some great tips listed here! My favorite (can you guess it from my posts?) is #5. Studying the Bible is great and necessary, but it’s all pointless if we do not take the time to apply it to our lives. Thanks for writing such a quality post.

    1. Totally agree! We can learn so much, but ultimately we must exercise our faith by putting it into practice. Thank you for reading!

  2. Dani,
    WOW! This is gooood stuff. I love how you outlined this. This is super practical for those who feel stumped by the Old Testament. I was so “bored” by the OT until I did a study on the Tabernacle and now I LOOVE the OT. But like you said, it’s not enough just to be a scholar of the Word, by continually allow God to sanctify us through it. Thank you for this!

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Kaitlin! The OT is so worth diving into – I love it too! That’s neat you did a study on the Tabernacle, it’s really interesting how the Temple system in Israel points to what Christ truly accomplished in giving us access to God. God Bless!

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