The Role of the Old Testament – The Righteous Live by Faith

Throughout history, under both the old and new covenants, the righteous live by faith.  The faith of the Old Testament saints is a quality that we, as New Testament believers, are to emulate.  The New Testament reminds us of their example and of the critical need to live by faith no matter what era we inhabit.

Despite their often public shortcomings, the faith of our Old Testament forebears is to be celebrated and followed.  Their faith was demonstrated by simply believing and acting upon the promises of God.  Hebrews chapter 11 highlights the various situations where the faith of the Old Testament saints was put to the test and they passed with flying colors.  And they believed even when the promises were yet to be fulfilled.

Hebrews 11 ends with, “And all these [heroes of the faith], having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised” (Heb 11:39).  Why?  Because it was still coming in the future; in the salvation of Jesus Christ.  The faith of God’s people in the Old Testament was forward-facing.  They were looking forward to the coming of the kingdom of God and the coming of His king, the Messiah.

Today, as citizens of that kingdom and servants of the King, we exercise a faith that is past, present, and future.  Facing backward, we see Jesus arrive on the scene 2000 years ago.  By faith, we believe that He indeed is the Promised One, the Anointed One, the Messiah.  By faith, we have embraced His message and His sacrifice.  “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph 2:8).  We have been saved through faith in Jesus.

In the present day, we walk by faith.  Just like the Old Testament believers, our present day faith is in the promises of God.  We believe that He has given us a new identity, even if we do not feel it.  We believe that we are indwelt by His Spirit, and we walk accordingly.  “Now those who belong to Jesus Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Gal 5:24-25).

And our current “walking by faith” connects us to the faith of the Old Testament saints.  Listen to Paul make the connection in Galatians chapter 3.  “Does God then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?  Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.  Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith that are sons of Abraham” (Gal 3:5-7).

Finally, our faith is also facing forward into the future; believing in the promise of Christ’s return.  “Looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus; who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:13-14).  The righteous indeed live by faith.

The Role of the Old Testament – The Wisdom Literature

In addition to the fulfilled prophesies, the priesthood and the sacrifices, and the warnings, another high value lesson of the Old Testament are the timeless truths of the wisdom books.  Their influence on our parenting is especially powerful.  In fact, like many parents before us, we found the book of Proverbs to be a valuable guide as Rhonda and I navigated the child-training years.

The wisdom books of Job, the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon are filled with life lessons, sometimes in just a sentence or two.  Lessons about:

Diligence – “Do you see a man diligent in his work?  He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men” (Pr 22:29).

Speech – “A healing tongue is a tree of life, but perversion in it crushes the spirit” (Pr 15:4).

Tattletales – “For the lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no talebearer, strife quiets down” (Pr 26:20).

Friendships – “Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man, lest you learn his ways, and find a snare for yourself” (Pr 22:24-25).

Wealth – “Wealth obtained by fraud dwindles, but the one who gathers by labor increases it” (Pr 13:11).

And there are literally hundreds more.  These lessons almost always revolve around an action and a consequence; either for good or for bad.  While these consequences are important warnings and blessings that we need to teach to our children, it is important to remember that they are not promises.

The Book of Proverbs is just that: proverbs.  Wise sayings with “most likely outcomes”.  That is, “If you act this way, this is most likely the result.”  When I say “most likely” am I in any way diminishing the teaching?  No. the teaching is powerful and we do well to follow the wisdom contained in these books.  But they are proverbs, not iron-clad promises.  Why is this an important distinction?

It goes back to the formula method of parenting where we falsely believe that if I do A, B, and C, my kids are guaranteed to turn out like D.  It is not that simple.  Real life includes lazy people who get rich through fraud, diligent people who work in obscurity, good friends who turn fickle, and children who do not follow the path they were trained in.  The world does not always go the book of Proverbs way.

Is that because God is unfaithful to His promises?  No, it is because “the most likely outcome” of these wise sayings are sometimes circumvented for a variety of reasons.  The evil actions of Satan can bring suffering and loss instead of prosperity even among the most faithful.  The actions of others can interrupt the flow of God’s blessing.  The discipline of God can change an expected outcome.  And the free will of adult children to make up their own minds may lead to disappointing surprises.

So I guess what I am saying is…please teach these lessons to your children.  The wisdom contained in these Old Testament books is timeless.  And by teaching and living out these truths, you will have a huge influence on your children.  The outcomes are not random.  They generally follow the Proverbs way.  But recognize the limitation of a proverb.  Don’t let your faith be rattled when things don’t turn out as the book of Proverbs predicted.  And help your children navigate their own faith journey when what might be assumed as a promise did not come true.

So teach the Proverbs.  But keep them in the context of the Christian life is lived by faith.  And trust God, that even in the midst of surprising outcomes, He is good and He is in control.

The Role of the Old Testament – The Warnings

The apostle Paul, in I Corinthians chapter 10, outlines one of the purposes of Israel’s travails in the Old Testament; they are examples of sin and unfaithfulness for New Testament saints to avoid.  After summarizing their wilderness journey, Paul writes concerning the children of Israel, “Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.  Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.’  Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day.  Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents.  Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.  Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (I Cor 10:6-11).

Paul begins and ends this passage with the reminder that Israel’s sins instruct us in what not to do.  In between, Paul lists Israel’s craving evil things, idolatry, immorality, trying the Lord, and complaining as examples to learn from and avoid.

Now you may recall that we started these Old Testament posts as an offshoot of our parenting discussion and I would like to return to the topic here.  In our family, we found these Old Testament stories of warning to be very powerful in teaching our children about the attitudes and actions that displease the Lord.

For example, here is a story we read and discussed on more than one occasion with our children.  It is a story about complaining, and the lesson begins in Numbers chapter 11 with, “And the rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, ‘Who will give us meat to eat?’ ” (Num 11:4).  The people then reminisce about the days of free fish in Egypt.  But here in the wilderness, their appetite is literally “dried up” since “there is nothing at all to look at except this manna” (Num 11:6).

To fast forward the story, Moses appeals to the Lord on behalf of the people’s desire for meat.  The Lord responds that He will give them meat every day for a month.  In fact, God promises to send so much meat that “it will come out of your nostrils and become loathsome to you because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have complained before Him saying, ‘Why did we ever leave Egypt?’ ” (Num 11:20).  As Moses contemplates where this much meat will come from, God sends a wind from the sea.  Upon the wind are enough quail to cover the camp three feet deep in birds.  And the children of Israel rush to gather up hundreds of bushel of quail (Num 11:31-32).

But in a plot twist more stark than any Hollywood ending, something strange happens when the people begin to eat.  Let Moses finish the story himself, “While the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord struck the people with a very severe plague.  So the name of that place was called Kibrothhatta-avah, because there they buried the people who had been greedy” (Num 11:33-34).

This story is a powerful lesson about complaining that we and our children took to heart.  And it is one of many stories of warning for our benefit in the Old Testament.  But as we share these lessons with our kids we need to remember an important balance.  As New Testament believers, we are not destined to follow Israel’s example.  We are not doomed to repeat their mistakes.  Having been set free from the power of sin by the provisions of the new covenant, Israel’s folly is not our destiny.  Albeit, we can choose to act like we are doomed to failure, but that would be ignoring what our Savior has done in us!

Paul says it this way as he ends his passage on Israel’s example with, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (I Cor 10:13).  The promise of the new covenant is victory over sin.  So while we sound, use, and explain these Old Testament warnings about sin, we also teach our believing children about who they are in Christ and the promise of victory that is theirs.

This is how we use Old Testament warnings without falling into a “parenting with fear” mentality that we have written about here.  By the promise of who we are in Christ, the promise of power over sin, we can overcome Israel’s example.  Teaching our children these two great truths together – the example of the sins of Israel to avoid and the power for good inside you by God’s Spirit – brings a balance into your parenting that will serve you and your children well.  It is deeply hopeful, positive, empowering, and Christ honoring!