Throughout the years I’ve heard a variety of opinions about what’s important to study in the Bible. One mindsets that has always disturbed me is the opinion that the Old Testament is no longer relevant to today’s church and that we don’t really need to bother reading it. Skipping over the Old Testament as Christians, however, I think is very detrimental to our understanding of the New Testament.
For instance, I came across this passage the other night while reading which seem harsh and confusing until considered within the context of the nation of Israel’s history, then all of the sudden it read very differently.
Jesus has been teaching and healing people all over the place, and this one particular afternoon His disciples ask Him about the way He’s teaching the people. “Why do You speak to them in parables?” Jesus answers His disciples, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” Matthew 13:10-12
Now just reading this, it sounds kind of like Jesus is very bias toward His few chosen disciples and that He thinks they are the only smart people who will understand what He’s saying and that the rest of the population just won’t get it, therefore He’s not going to bother trying to tell them it at all. But is that’s actually what’s happening and what He’s saying? No! Jesus isn’t saying His disciples can grasp this and no one else can; rather, Jesus is putting the situation into the larger context of the history of Himself and this nation, a context we can find in the Old Testament.
Now, it’s interesting because Matthew the scribe of the passage and one of the disciples does try to take us to the context of this. Mat 13:14-15 “ . . . the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.’” (This passages that Matthew quotes comes from Isaiah 6:9)
Now what’s interesting is, if you go and just read that one chapter in Isaiah you might still be confused about God’s mindset on this. Because even here it almost sounds like God doesn’t want to save the people, and you might still be asking, “Why is He being so harsh?” because all we have is God’s response to the people. Let’s add a bit of the fuller view though on what’s happening in this period when Isaiah is hearing from God and what the context actually is to God’s statements, shall we?
Isaiah 30:1 “Woe to the rebellious children,” says the LORD, “who take counsel, but not of Me, and who devise plans, but not of My Spirit, that they may add sin to sin”
Isa 30:8-11 “Now go, write it before them on a tablet, and note it on a scroll, that it may be for time to come, forever and ever: That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children who will not hear the law of the LORD; who say to the seers, ‘Do not see,’ and to the prophets, ‘Do not prophesy to us right things; speak to us smooth things, prophesy deceits. Get out of the way, turn aside from the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us.’”
Little bit of a different perspective, right? Israel has actually asked to not be told the truth. They asked for God (The Holy One of Israel) to cease from being before them. At that point, God would have had every right to be done with them and walk away, which would have meant no Jesus showing up and teaching and healing or dying for our sins. But what is God’s response, even way back in the time of Isaiah the prophet?
Isaiah 30:18 “Therefore the LORD will wait, that He may be gracious to you; and therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for Him.”
Now let’s go back to Matthew. What does Jesus says next to His disciples?
Matthew 13:16 “But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”
God waited all that time, far longer than anyone expected, so that He might yet save all of us rebellious people by sending Jesus, who in His death and resurrection fully revealed the gracious justice of God.
There is a lot for us to learn by knowing the Old Testament context to the New Testament passages.
Challenge: Read the whole Bible!