A New Guide to the Old Testament – Purpose

A New Guide to the Old TestamentAs we continue our journey in understanding the Old Testament, we now turn to the purpose of the Old Testament. Who was the original audience of the Old Testament? Why was it written?

Who is the original audience?

The intended audience of the Old Testament was the people of Israel. Parts of the Old Testament were for those about to enter the Promised Land (Pentateuch), other parts for those living in the kingdom in the Promised Land (Psalms), and still others recounted history for those exiled from the Promised Land (Chronicles).

Why was it written?

There are several reasons for why the Old Testament was written and compiled for Israel. Jason DeRouchie has developed a compelling list of purposes, each based on a portion of the Hebrew canon:

1. Mosaic Law Established (Law)
2. Mosaic Law Enforced (Prophets)
3. Mosaic Law Enjoyed (Writings)  ((From What the Old Testament Authors Really Cared About, p. 46.))

While this view is concise and memorable, I see a need to expand the purpose just a bit more.

The main purpose of the Old Testament is to describe the covenantal relationship between God and his people. The nation of Israel was God’s treasured possession (Deuteronomy 7:6); they were the people on whom God would shine his blessing, for the whole world to see.

God uses the Old Testament to describe the covenantal relationship with Israel in several ways:

1. Provide Practices for Worship and Life

For the Israelites, portions of the Old Testament were prescriptive. This includes the Mosaic laws (Torah) and the warnings of the prophets. And if we look at the Psalter as containing songs used in worship practices, then the Writings contains the hymnbook of the covenant.

2. Theological Retelling of Covenantal Journey

The Old Testament narrative recounts God’s historical relationship with Israel, from the first promise to Abraham all the way to the renewed promises to the returning exiles. It’s more than just retelling history; the narrative is theological history, demonstrating God’s faithfulness to His covenant people throughout generations.

The narrative also recounts how the repeated failings of the people led to exile. For the Israelites in Babylon, they could trace the nation’s slide into idolatry, in spite of the constant warnings from the prophets of God.

3. Comfort During Exile

The final purpose for the Old Testament is to provide comfort to those exiled in Babylon, those who are crying for Jerusalem (Psalm 137). For them, the stories of the Old Testament would highlight the faithfulness of God, the same God who would once again be faithful to His people.

So What?

For us 21st-century Christians to fully understand the Old Testament, we must first understand the meaning and purpose the text would have for the original audience. It is only after we see what God was originally communicating that we can then see what He has for us today.

Brandon Schmidt

I am Brandon Schmidt: writer, husband, father, brother, reader, and laugher.

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