Old Testament Illustrations

By Ron Courter (Excerpt from Article originally printed March 14, 1976)

One of the things enjoyable about reading the Old Testament and the New Testament is to learn that practically every lesson of spirituality in the New Testament is illustrated in the Old Testament. You don’t think up illustrations as good as the Old Testament ones. This is probably related to the words of Paul in Romans 15:4 where it says, “For whatever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” Again, in Hebrews 12:1 we find the Old Testament characters forming a great cloud of witnesses urging us on in the faith.

Some of the illustrations are probably more in context than others, but lots of rewarding thoughts await the reader who reads the Old Testament with the idea of looking for good illustrations of New Testament truths. This should not surprise us, when we recognize how frequently the Holy Spirit suggested or selected an Old Testament occurrence to press home a New Testament truth. There are several that come to mind, but think of 1 Corinthians 10, where Paul mentions several Old Testament occurrences and in verse 11 says, “… they are written for our admonition…” Of course, the one that always pops into everyone’s mind is John 3:14. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” How the smitten of Israel had to look at that old serpent to be rescued. One would have declared there is no earthly good in looking there for a cure. How right they would have been, for the good was heavenly. Today, man smitten by sin must look at the crucified Savior on the cross to be rescued. Again, men say, “There is no earthly good looking at a man on a cross to save from sin.” How true it is, for the good is heavenly and not earthly. Oh, what faith can do through Jesus Christ!! What relief when the sick spirit is bathed in the blood of the lamb and made free from sin. These many references in the New Testament using Old Testament references to teach valuable lessons should make us look for illustrations to teach ourselves and to aid in the teaching of others. All of the illustrations in the Old Testament have not been specifically mentioned so with careful study we can find many for our edification.

God The Discerner

One of the things we always watch for in the Old Testament is God’s discernment of man’s behavior. It is very typical to find men using the Old Testament illustrations that manifest the wrath of God in relation to the rejection of His authority. We have no argument with this certainly; in a day when we have become so secular and earthy that it appears many believe they can mock God (Galatians 6:7,8), such lessons are well taken. The Hebrew writer leaves no doubt that God’s judgment will not be escaped and used the Old Testament to buttress his teaching (Hebrews 2:2). People filling the word with “cheap grace” today, might be benefited by inquiring if Hebrews 2:2,3 teaches grace eliminates God’s discernment of faithfulness and unfaithfulness in a man’s life.

Since, we do use the Old Testament so often to establish God’s judgment and wrath, we find it very important to observe God was and is very discerning in His pronouncements. An excellent example of His discernment is found in the 9th chapter of Numbers. The Israelites were to observe the Passover according to all of the Lord’s directions. There were some men due to circumstances beyond their control that were defiled and forbidden to participate in the Passover. Their diligence cannot be questioned because they sought of Moses and Aaron an answer to the problem. Moses said, “Wait, while I see what the LORD prescribes in your case.” (The quotation is from the New Berkley version, as I am reading through it this year. One of our elderly sisters and a faithful Bible student has told me for years how she enjoys reading the Berkeley, so we thought we would give it a try). The answer given by the Lord reveals his discerning ways, even in the Old Testament where his authority is so very dominant. He established a time for them to observe the Passover. He recognizes the case where defilement was not due to the person’s neglect. Clarke states, “It is probable that the defilement mentioned here was occasioned by assisting at the burial of some person- a work both of necessity and mercy.” Jesus classified such situations by saying, “I will have mercy and not sacrifice.”

The Lord’s discernment is revealed beyond the people that were hindered by circumstances beyond their control or in response to charity. Evidently, he anticipated that his judgment on this matter would lead people responsible for their condition, to try and excuse themselves from the responsibility to eat the Passover. He states, “On the other hand, if any individual who is clean and not traveling fails to observe the Passover, that person is to be cut off from his fellowmen because the sacrificial gift for the LORD was not presented at its proper time; that individual must pay for his sin.” Yes, God was and is a discerner of the intents of the heart. He is just and aware.

God’s anticipations should never be overlooked. Men continue to take the exceptions and accidents of life to negate the general ordinances of God. God was discerning and made allowances for the circumstances beyond the individual’s control; although, he would not let the individual over generalize to make God’s word of non-effect. What do we think he will do today??

How many times have you heard someone argue against the necessity of baptism by saying what about the man killed on the way to the river? How many times have you heard someone, argue against assembling for the Lord’s Supper by saying, “what if on the way you find someone needing to be taken to the hospital?” God has shown that he can handle your case. The question is, can you handle God’s case when he discerns the dishonesty of the heart that attempts to use the exception to annul the general rule.   God always has the ethics to handle the situation, but he never permits the situation to destroy his ethics. God’s action never annuls the concept of right and wrong, truth and error. We are to learn to be discerning like God, and his word enables us to do so when we exercise our senses (Hebrews 5:14). The twentieth century cries for more mature shepherds to aid the flock in making proper discernments of right and wrong. We must know the general principle and when the circumstances go beyond the control of the person so that, we do not erase the general principle, or violate the dignity of the faithful heart. See Romans 14:1; Jude 22.

Sin Committed Ignorantly

The fifteenth chapter of Numbers draws a clear distinction between the sin done in ignorance and the sin done in rebellion. Again, God is a discerner. We do not marvel at the discerner of spirits in the early church, when we see how, discerning God was in the Old Testament (1 Corinthians 12:10; 1 John. 4:1). The sin committed in ignorance could be forgiven but the sin committed out of rebellion brought destruction. Remember Paul’s statement in 1 Timothy 1:13, “… but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.”

This arouses our love for God, because we feel confident that he will not misunderstand the honest in heart. Also, it arouses our respect for his justness, because even ignorance does not serve to excuse sin. When the sin was realized, the person knew wrong had been elevated against right and went and offered the proper sacrifice. God did not permit ignorance to erase the principle of right, even though he did recognize the difference in the sinner who was ignorant and the sinner who was rebellious. We cannot permit sin under any circumstance to be excused, even though we see the doers of wrong in different conditions. Then and only then can we begin to be as discerning as our God and as loving as our Father.