Some professing Christians do not believe the Old Testament has any value for us today. They believe it is “done away.” Yet, Jesus said: ” . . . It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Jesus quoted these words from the Old Testament (Deut. 8:3). When Jesus made this statement, there was no New Testament. The only Scriptures available were those of the Old. They are the Words of God we are to live by, as well as the New Testament Scriptures.
There are many lessons we can learn from the Old Testament. The Apostle Paul tells us this about the Israelites of the Old Testament period: “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Cor. 10:11). These Scriptures have been preserved and are there to teach us God’s Way of life-what to do and what not to do.
What did God say about Israel of old? “But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (1 Cor. 10:5). Why was God not well pleased with them? “Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted” (v. 6). Paul continues by saying: “Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer” (vv. 8-10).
This kind of behavior is not new to mankind. Disobedience toward God goes back to the very beginning. The first example is that of the first human beings-Adam and Eve. Let us go back to the book of Genesis. There are some valuable lessons we can glean from it.
“And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17). Did Adam and Eve take God seriously? Not really. Satan came along and deceived Eve by telling a half-truth. He knew they would not immediately die, and convinced her that God was really withholding secret knowledge. She gave in to her lust, and Adam went along with it. “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (Gen. 3:6).
What was the consequence?
And unto Adam he [God] said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. (Gen. 3:17-19)
This example illustrates that the same continuous pattern of rebellion against God continues to this day. Like the Israelites of the Old Testament period, many today place the lusts and desires of the flesh ahead of God’s instruction. Here is how the Bible describes the condition of the world near the time of the end.
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. (2 Tim. 3:1-5)
Yes, they are “religious” people, but their religion is only a facade. They refuse to really fear and obey God. They give lip service to God and to the Bible, but refuse to obey His laws. Like Israel of old, their religion is pretended.
Also, thou son of man, the children of thy people still are talking [of thee-margin] by the walls and in the doors of the houses, and speak one to another, every one to his brother, saying, Come, I pray you, and hear what is the word that cometh forth from the LORD. And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness. And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not. (Ezek. 33:30-32)
The struggle from the beginning of Creation has been the physical against the spiritual-the desire to satisfy the lusts of the flesh as opposed to the benefits of the Spirit. Paul describes it as follows: “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (Gal. 5:16-17). However, with God’s help we can. Jesus said: ” . . . The things which are impossible with men are possible with God” (Luke 18:27).
Consider Adam and Eve. They violated a number of God’s commandments. What did they violate? They placed Satan ahead of God, thus committing idolatry. They dishonored their parent-God. They lusted after that which God had forbidden, which is coveting. And they were guilty of theft by taking that which God had not given them. Paul said they sinned (Rom. 5:12). The Bible defines sin as the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4).
Those with a physical orientation desire physical satisfaction-much of it contrary to the Law of God. “For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:5). The physical orientation has no interest in God and His Way of life. Little do such people realize that the Law of God was given for man’s benefit, to protect them from all the harm and evil that results in disobedience.” Ye shall walk in all the ways which the LORD your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess” (Deut. 5:33). “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:3).
As a result of Adam and Eve’s sin, mankind was placed under the penalty of death. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12). Through Christ this penalty can be removed and man set on the course for salvation. How? ” . . . Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy [Spirit]” (Acts 2:38). “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you” (Rom. 8:11). This text promises that those who have the Holy Spirit will be resurrected from the dead. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (v. 2).
What happened to Adam and Eve demonstrates the consequences of sin-the results of taking God’s instruction lightly. It shows what aftermath befell mankind because of disobedience to God. It is an object lesson for us today. Man is a free moral agent. This gives him the right of free choice-to obey or disobey God-but it does not give him the license to determine right from wrong. God has already done that. He has set an inexorable law in motion by which we will be judged. We would do well to learn what this law is all about and to take heed to it.
Another example of the consequence of sin is seen in Genesis, chapter four. Adam and Eve had two sons-Cain and Abel. “And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell” (Gen. 4:3-5). What was Cain’s problem? It is the same problem found in many people today. Cain refused correction and felt God was unfair. The Bible refers to this “as the way of Cain” (Jude 11). Since he was the older son, he must have felt he had been made the underdog. “And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door . . . . ” (Gen. 4:6-7). In essence, Cain was told he needed to control the sinful impulses within. God told him that sin desired to control him, but he had to overcome it.
How did Cain handle the matter? “And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him” (Gen. 4:8). What motivated this act of murder? “For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous” (1 John 3:11-12). Murder is a violation of the fifth commandment. “He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil” (v. 8).
Cain had drifted so far into a wrong attitude and spirit that he came under the influence of the Devil. Many have this problem today. In Christ’s day, the religious leaders were under the influence of Satan. Jesus told them: “Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:43-44). Clearly, Satan’s influence led Cain to murder his brother. God has allowed Satan to be the present god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4, Eph. 2:2). Hatred, murder, bloodshed, and war are so rampant that in many areas of the globe no one is safe even in his own home. But this is the way we should expect it to be.
What was the consequence of Cain’s act?
And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper? And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground. And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand; When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth. And Cain said unto the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me. And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him. (Gen. 4:9-15)
In that day God removed all of Cain’s blessings, and he was exiled to another land. What is the consequence of murder today? While there can be the state imposed physical punishment of death or imprisonment, the penalty from God is much more serious. “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (Rev. 21:7-8).
Lot’s wife is another example for us to consider. Lot and his family lived in Sodom. In the eyes of the Lord, the people of this city were exceedingly sinful. God had determined to destroy it. Two angels brought Lot and his family from the city. “And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that he said, Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed” (Gen. 19:17).
But what happened?
“Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven; And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground. But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt” (Gen. 19:24-26).
Lot’s wife, like many today, did not really believe what God said. This is due to the tendency to interpret God’s words to suit oneself rather than to take them at face value. For example, consider the statement in the New Testament, “For the wages of sin is death . . . ” (Rom. 6:23). Do people really believe this? Of course not! They believe that the wages of sin is eternal damnation in hell fire. So, they do not believe they are really going to die, but merely continue to live on in torment. Death means the cessation of life. It does not mean separation from God as we are told today. Gesenius’ Hebrew-English Lexicon to the Old Testament, page, 562, says the word used for “pillar” in Genesis 19:26 means a salt fossil. Lot’s wife was immediately struck dead and rendered into a fossil of salt.
When Lot’s wife “looked back from behind him” she did not merely look back. The word for “looked back” means to “pay attention to,” “to show regard to,” “to respect,” “to hope in.” Lot’s wife not only looked back, she longed for the society she had just been forced to give up. In reality, she did not accept what God said about Sodom and Gomorrah. In her heart she desired that society. This is why she was changed into a pillar of salt. She did not really believe God what God said about Sodom and Gomorah. Jesus warned: “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32).
Another example to consider is that of Esau. He was the son of Isaac, the twin brother of Jacob. The Bible says that he was profane (Heb. 12:16), that is, he had no spiritual orientation. This was demonstrated when he sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of pottage.
And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint: And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom. And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright. And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me? And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright. (Gen. 25:29-34)
The birthright had tremendous value. Not only did it convey immense physical blessings, but also the promise that the Messiah would come through the line of the possessor. Esau was the original possessor because he was the firstborn. It rightfully belonged to him. The birthright is referred to as the promise of race and grace. Eventually these blessings were given to the descendants of Jacob. The Bible tells us Esau “despised” his birthright. What does this mean? Despise means “to hold in contempt.” Esau had no sense of the value of his birthright. He had no appreciation for what had been given him. He lived for that moment only; his only desire was to satisfy his immediate needs. He had no foresight and had little regard for his descendants. Jacob did. Esau sold the birthright to Jacob for a pittance. Later, when he realized his mistake and wanted it back, it was too late. “For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears” (Heb. 12:17).
Much could be said about this incident. A parallel can be drawn between this and the Kingdom of God. Jesus related the example of the pearl of great price. He said: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it” (Matt. 13:45-46). Jesus told His disciples: ” . . . Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them” (Mark 4:11-12).
Like Esau, who was rejected, the Bible states: “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy [Spirit], And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame” (Heb. 6:4-6). “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31).
We are admonished: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (1 John 2:15-17). And again: “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God” (Heb. 3:12).
The examples in this article are but a small number of the many found in the Bible that help us realize the value of the Scriptures. We can learn and profit by what happened to them. “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Cor. 10:11). “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4).