Why do we have the Old Testament of the Bible? Is it, as some mistakenly believe, merely a remnant reminder of ancient Judaism? It certainly is rich, replete with accounts of not only creation and the flood, and amazing miracles and divine interventions, but also of harsh judgment first on other pagan nations and subsequently on Israel and even Judah when they became idolatrous—as well as the Psalms of David, evidencing great love for God and trust in Him; Proverbs, recording the greatest human wisdom given man; and Ecclesiastes, proclaiming the futility of life without God. But is there a more significant reason why we have the Old Testament? Yes, there is.
“For, as many things as were written before, for our instruction were written before, that through the endurance, and the exhortation of the Writings, we might have the hope.” (Romans 15:4 YLT1898)
We rarely quote Young’s Literal Translation of the Bible, published in 1862. It is a somewhat odd translation—literally translating word for word, instead of rearranging them for a more normal flow in our own language. Yet there are times when it’s strangeness actually helps us understand what is being said better.
The writer of the New Testament letter to the Roman Christians explains why we should pay attention to “the things that were written before,” elsewhere translated “Scriptures;” so, “that through the endurance and exhortation we might have hope.” The NIV is less awkward, saying, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4 NIV)
The point is that God gave us—He allowed to be retained as part of the Holy Bible—everything in what we now know as the Old Testament “to teach us, so that through the endurance taught,” and through “the encouragement they provide, we might have hope.” What endurance is it talking about? And why do we need encouragement?
You see, to our sensibilities in our postmodern lifestyle, this seems nonsensical, unnecessary. We just live. We get up in the morning, go to work or school, do what we’re supposed to, come home and eat, relax—watch some Netflix or YouTube or TikTok or play a game—then do some homework and go to bed only to repeat the next day; in the off chance we still believe in God, we may read a Bible verse or two, and say a prayer before we eat or fall asleep. Sure, we need physical endurance to get up every morning, and yes, there are times we can use some encouragement from friends or family, but this isn’t what God is talking about.
No. What God is referring to here is the endurance His people need to persevere in the faith—in their faith—regardless of the challenges such a perseverance requires; and the encouragement the examples of those who came before provides us. I don’t mean to be harsh or imply we can lose our faith, but this is meaningless if we basically aren’t, for all intents and purposes, even in the faith anymore—if we’re not making an effort to live lives pleasing to Christ anymore; if we’ve already essentially abandoned Him, for whatever reason.
Remember, we don’t have to consciously or intentionally deny Him—we can simply overburden ourselves with too much “other stuff” to have anything left for God. Jesus warned those of us who want to follow Him that there are many ways God’s Word might not be fruitful in our lives:
“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13:18-23 NIV)
Some people never get it to begin with. Others believe, but not sufficiently—they don’t trust or know Jesus enough to really believe He is worth whatever trouble or persecution comes their way because of Him. Others believe, but they get distracted or waylaid—they become preoccupied with various issues of life; with earning a living or acquiring wealth or whatever other pursuits or distractions, even inherently good ones, present themselves, and their attention is diverted away from Jesus Christ and God’s purposes.
The Old Testament is there to encourage us to endure, and exhort us—to urge us on to not swerve away from a pure and sincere trust in Christ or be distracted away from the pursuit of His kingdom; to give examples of faithful saints who persevered in the face of unbelievable obstacles and of the supernatural acts God did to strengthen their faith and protect them, as well as of what wickedness is and the terrible judgment it brings down on itself; so, “that through the endurance, and the exhortation of the Writings, we might have the hope.”
What’s the purpose of endurance in our faith through the exhortation of the writings of Scripture? I like Young’s translation—“that…we might have the hope.” What hope? The hope—of forgiveness, of acceptance in Christ, of eternity with Him!
We will all die—some of us sooner than others; the coronavirus pandemic has starkly brought that to light—and face Him. Will we be afraid because we ignored and rejected Christ? Will we be ashamed, because we wasted our earthly lives on insignificant pursuits? Or will be embrace Him with a pure conscience clothed in the righteousness of Christ; will will we have a crown to lay at His feet because we were fruitful in our faith?
That’s what we get to decide right now; it’s what we are deciding at this very moment—by changing something as a result of what we know, or obstinately refusing to. Eternity is being determined now!
Dear Lord Jesus,
Help me endure faithful in my faith because of the exhortation of Scripture, that I may have the hope! Amen.