Give me that Old [Testament] Religion.

Confession: I don’t really like the New Testament.

I mean, obviously I love it, because I love Jesus and I love the New Covenant and all that. And obviously, I find it valuable and important to study because it clearly lays out so many truths that we are to live by and stuff. But if I had my druthers (one of my favorite phrases ever), I would always, always, ALWAYS choose to read or study something from the Old Testament, from that intimidating first two thirds of the Bible that we so often ignore and misunderstand.

I partially blame my dad for this, as he is an OT scholar and so we grew up spending more time in those first books than most kids. But I also credit it to my love of stories, of heroes, of romance, and of sweeping epics. The Old Testament – or as my friend Philip once termed it, the Old Bestament – is brimming over with good stories. Not just the ones we all learn from flannel-graph boards growing up, but weird ones, spicy ones, ones that made my eyes grow wide and think “Do my parents know that the Bible is full of CRAZY SHENANIGANS???” as I flipped through pages as a kid.

I understand why we too often ignore it though, really I do. It gives God the bad rap of being an angry God, one who opens up the earth and swallows people whole when they disobey him, one who rejects people for seemingly minor offenses, and one who appears to only give love to a limited and chosen few. It can be confusing, obscure, and unsettling. Sometimes I hear people, Christian people, talk about the “God of the Old Testament,” and I understand why they want to distance their loving New Testament selves from this terrifying, powerful, and often angry God.

But I think they are wrong to do so, think it is dangerous to discount over half of the Bible as “not part” of the God we serve today. It is problematic to love the God of the New Testament without realizing and accepting that he is one and the same as the God of the Old Testament. Yes, God as we get to know him in the Old Testament is sometimes angry. He is angry at sin, at disobedience, at the neglect of widows and the abuse of the poor. He is angry at those who kill or abandon their children, those who steal and lie and murder. When you look at his anger and work backwards, you find a God that is a tireless advocate for women, slaves, children, the poor, orphans, the lost, and the downtrodden. In short, he is angry at all the things we should be angry at, righteous anger that burns you up until you stand up to defend those who can’t defend themselves.

And beyond being angry, he is often heartbroken, saddened that a beloved people continue to wander in a way that harms them. More than being an angry God, a close reading of the Old Testament shows you a heartbroken God, one who is constantly trying to woo his people back, offering grace afresh.

But beyond all that, I love the total basket cases that make up the Old Testament faithful. Sometimes I read the New Testament, where members of the early church are hanging out, “having everything in common,” sharing everything, singing songs, and strumming those proverbial guitars around ye old bonfire and I gag a little. I realize that we all aspire to the peace and unity of which the New Testament gives us glimpses, and I know that we all dream of the unwavering faith that made martyrs of so many early Christians.

But me? Sometimes I feel more in line with the motley crew of that Old Testament, the ones who have absolutely no clue what they are doing. I read of them wearing sackcloth and yelling angrily at the sky, of them crying out for help and getting no answer, and I think of the times when my faith has felt like that. I read of hopeless and flawed sinners who are said to have walked with God, and it gives me hope. I read of people boldly asking for a sign, holding on for a blessing, asking to see God’s face, and I resonate with them. They do not have the peace of the Holy Spirit, the confidence of the resurrection. They are a mangy bunch of liars and murders, thieves and cowards, prostitutes and barren women. And they are following a God they often don’t understand. When I read the Old Testament, I am reminded that you can be confused, angry, depressed, unsure, alone and still deeply in the will of God. Nothing is more comforting than knowing that the Body of Christ, that happy community we get from the New Testament, is made up of complete wrecks.

Because I can do that, I can be a part of that, and so can you.mg_0106

Of course, the Old Testament is also full of CRAZY SHENANIGANS and foreign contexts, so I highly recommend some learned sources to guide you through.

If you are really diving in for the first time, or need an overview of what is happening, when, and why: The Epic of Eden by Sandra Richter. Structures an understanding of the Old Testament in light of the New Testament covenant. Excellent answers to those questions that trip so many people up about that OT.

If you really want to study an individual book: Get yourself a commentary. I recommend you start with the New Living commentary of Judges (the Ruth section is also awesome!), and not just because it’s written by my favorite theologian and Biblical scholar ever (who you might remember from here). It gives you a chunk of text, notes, and then a page or so that I like to label “So…why does this matter to me?” (See one of my favorite quotes here.)

If you want to memorize some of those awesome Old Testament verses: This app is pretty great for having all sorts of verses and memory tools at your fingertips.

* That photo was taken by my friend and former roommate Liz, way back when we were in college. I know I’ve used it on here at least twice before, but I just love it so I’m trotting it back out once again.

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21 Responses to Give me that Old [Testament] Religion.

  1. Amy says:

    Great thoughts! Thanks for sharing!!

  2. Heather says:

    Thanks for your thoughts! I’m a part of an Isaiah study right now, and it’s awesome and hard! I like what you said about being messed up but still deeply in the will of God. What a good and true reminder.

  3. Loved this. I always find myself turning to the OT vs NT as well. So I’m stealing that “Bestament” line 🙂

  4. Karla says:

    “When I read the Old Testament, I am reminded that you can be confused, angry, depressed, unsure, alone and still deeply in the will of God.”

    So encouraging — thank you! I’ve always preferred the Old Testament and felt a little bad for it (as if I’m rejecting Jesus and all that). Thanks for sharing!!

  5. Ashley Smith says:

    My personal favorite is Elijah’s penchant for calling down fire from heaven to consume people. How extreme is that? But you know what, the terrified, stiff-necked people listen to that kind of stuff. And you know, I would too!! Pass on the fire. Whatever it takes to call people back to the Lord, amIright?

  6. This resonates so much. My dad is an OT scholar too, so I was raised on a healthy diet of the Bible as one big cohesive story, and loved it. (And still do!) And then I grew up and met other grown-up Christians with different backgrounds and it took me years so realize that most people don’t feel the same way about the OT as I do, and I’m so often at a loss as to how to share just how beautiful it is. Thanks for this. 🙂

  7. Miz Liz says:

    Well, my oh my!!! Young Lady, at 79 years on this earth, I am not easily impressed. Less easily captivated. And, almost never thrilled with writing produced by young’uns. The highest compliment I can give is to (fear & trembling what am I doing) subscribe to your blog. Darlin, not only are you wise beyond your years, you are witty and obviously most comfortable in your own skin(as my grands say) and in the Word of our amazing God. Just love it. Soon as I get a break from 24/7 watchful care over my adult special needs daughter and my beloved 92 year old husband, I will indulge in an afternoon binge-reading your posts.

  8. kelsey says:

    This is so great. Thank you.

  9. Haylie says:

    This. This is why I keep coming back to your blog! Thank you for being serious about the important things, but also not taking yourself too seriously. (Because I super need to see people out there like that!! Aka I need to be that way myself.) I feel the same way about the OT. It thoroughly irks me when people stop short of the fullness of it with comments about the “God of the Old Testament” or talk of how angry he is. It seems obvious that if he’s angry, shouldn’t we endeavor to figure out WHY? (Which you articulated already… I’m just over here all excited about that being put into words.)

    And I never thought about the basket cases of the OT quite in those terms, but you’re SO right! Although, there are some decidedly basket-y cases in the NT, too. I mean, the early church, along with having “everything in common” still managed to deal with their share of confusion and turmoil and people who made toxic, crazy choices… I’m thinking of how the epistles talk about false teachers of the time, or straight up janky things that were going on in those communities. (It gives me hope, because it reminds me that the church never looked “perfect” because it was/is for broken people who live in the hope of Christ’s perfection.)

    Also, super excited to look into that app! Thank you for sharing. 😀

    • Hannah says:

      Yayyyyy for OT love! It’s just the best. And true…. I guess the early church was probably full of crazies too… we just don’t get as many crazy stories and I am a sucker for those!

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  11. 2presblogger says:

    As I’ve read your blog for years but never posted–until now! Love this post and your points. I too love these “old testament” scriptures. We forget they were Jesus’ storybook!

    I’m a pastor and I almost always prefer preaching from the stories of Old Testament bc they are just so rich and fascinating (though, letsbehonest, Mark is a genius at the odd–and oddly compelling–asides also). Esther was my fav growing up.

    When I worked with youth, I would joke about dropping some of the crazy Old Testament stories–ie: she-bears–on those middle schoolers just when they thought they had the whole Bible figured out. Kept them engaged.

    While I do looove the stories of Jesus (there’s a theme here. Yes I’m an English major), it’s good to shake things up and the Old Testamentstament def keeps us on our toes! Thanks for giving me the chance to nerd out! 🙂

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  13. Liz says:

    Isaiah is still kicking my butt!! (comment spree cont.)

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