One Simple Rule for Applying Old Testament Narratives

There is one simple rule to help you apply all Old Testament stories: let them help you fix your eyes on Jesus. Here’s what I mean:

2 Timothy 3:16–17 (ESV)

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

When we are reading the Old Testament, especially the narratives, it can be hard to know immediately in what way the story is useful, how it is supposed to equip us for every good work.

There Is No “Moral of the Story”

In fact, a lot of interpretive mistakes are made here, and typically in evangelicalism, we tend to moralize or allegorize: We read the story of David and Goliath and conclude that we should Pick out our “five smooth stones”, figure out what our “giants” are, and face them, (with God’s help). or we read the story of Abraham and Isaac and ask: What is it that you need to “lay on the altar” and (almost) kill (though God will probably give it back to you if you are willing to kill it).

Unless the narrator of the passage explicitly gives a moral to the story, or the Apostles give us an allegorical key to the passage, this approach is incorrect, and will give you a wrong understanding of the significance of the narrative for your life.

They Were Written To Give Us Hope

Romans 15 gives us another key to understanding how to apply the Old Testament:

Romans 15:4 (ESV)
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

The purpose of these narratives is to give us hope through the encouragement they give us. How do they bring us hope? Hebrews 11 and 12 tells us.

Hebrews 11 is the classic text on the definition of faith:

Hebrews 11:1 (ESV)

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Faith in God’s promises is being sure of what you hope for (His promises) and certain of the things you can’t see (again, His promises).

Hebrews 11 also gives us great examples of faithful people (sometimes called “The Hall of Faith”) throughout scripture.

They Give Us Examples Of Faith In Action In Specific Situations

It is typical to read through this text, find one of the men or women discussed, then leave Hebrews to go see how we can imitate them. This approach will come up short, every time.

We see that Hebrews 11 mentions Joseph as an example of faith, so we jump back to Genesis to try to find out things about Joseph, his actions, his character, etc, to try and figure out how we can “imitate his faith” and we find things about resisting temptation, so we tell ourselves to resist temptation, etc… (all the while skipping over other things he does that we don’t easily know how to imitate.)

But this is not what Hebrews 11 says to do.

They Give Us Hope and Encouragement to Run OUR Race

Hebrews 12 (an artificial break in the text) begins with a gigantic therefore

Hebrews 12:1–2 (ESV)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Because of the example of the heroes of the “hall of faith” we are therefore to repent of our sin (in the context, fear that God will not be faithful to His promises), and run with endurance the race that is set before us.

Do you see how this ties to Romans 15:4? The scriptures give us hope to run our race with endurance.

So as you read the Old Testament narratives (stories), don’t get caught up in trying to find parallels between their situation and yours. Instead see how they reacted to their situations out of faith in God’s promises. See God come through for His people every time. See people die in faith, and later be vindicated.

What is God’s core promise to us in the New Covenant era we live in? Jesus Christ. All the promises of God find their Yes in Him (2 Corinthians 1:20).

This is why Hebrews says, when you read the Old Testament, let them help you “Fix your eyes on Jesus”.

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