The Old Testament

From Issue: Discovery 3/1/2016

When you open your Bible, the first thing you notice is that this wonderful book is divided into two major parts. The first of these is called the “Old Testament.” Why does it have this title?

In our language, a “testament” usually refers to a “will” that someone makes before he dies, so that after his death, his property can be divided according to his wishes. In the Scriptures, however, the word “testament,” “covenant,” or “will” means much more than that (read Hebrews 9:15-17 and 10:10 where “covenant,” “testament,” and “will” are used to describe the religious system given by Christ).

The word “covenant” was very important in the ancient world. Covenants (contracts or agreements) were made between countries (1 Samuel 11:1) and between people (Genesis 31:44ff.). A very important “covenant” was made by God with the nation of Israel when the Hebrew people came out of Egypt and camped at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:1-8; 24:1-8). Most of the Old Testament is about this covenant.

Very often we use the word “covenant” to mean an agreement between two people where both of these give certain conditions that must be accepted. You may enter into a “covenant” with your friend. You will let him borrow your skates, if he will let you use his bicycle. Each of you gives and takes.

According to the Bible, though, God, because of Who He is, has a right to set all of the conditions of any covenant He makes with human beings. It is our obligation to obey these conditions. Because humans have sinned against God, they do not have the right to demand anything from Him.

There are important differences between the two major covenants of the Bible. One is called the “old” covenant (testament) because it existed for 1,500 years before the “new” one was given (after Jesus died on the cross). The covenant of Christ also is “new” because it remains effective, while the covenant of Moses has passed away (Colossians 2:14; Hebrews 8:8,13; 9:15). Jesus’ teaching also is called a “better” covenant (Hebrews 7:22), or the “second” covenant (Hebrews 8:7). These words show the greatness of Christ’s system compared to that of Moses. This does not mean that Moses’ covenant was faulty in its design; rather, it just never was planned to be permanent. God always intended that it would be temporary in the way it worked.

To make things easier to understand, we refer to the two major divisions of the Bible as the Old and New Covenants, or the Old and New Testaments.

The Old Testament, which has 39 books, deals with the history of man from the Creation (Genesis 1), until a time about 400 hundred years before the birth of Jesus. From Genesis 12 onward, it mainly is about how God used the Israelite people to prepare the world for the coming of His Son.

While we do not live under the Old Covenant today, there still are many great lessons we can learn from it. For example, we must always obey God. Also, the Lord is faithful to keep His promises.


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