God is unchanging and while the Old Covenant is over and we are in the New Covenant the ways in which he deals with his people have not changed. One of the great benefits from reading the Old Testament is that we can learn from the lives of the Old Testament saints how God deals with us today. Their faith looked forward to the 1st coming of Christ, our looks back to it and forward to the 2nd coming but they were still human and God was God and really the thousands of years that have passed since their times has changed nothing in the basic principles of how God deals with his children.
Lesson 1: Predestination
In the Old Testament there is not a single recorded case of a man approaching God of his own accord. Always it is God who takes the initiative. God came to Abraham in a vision, Moses in a burning bush, Gideon in the person of Jesus Christ, David through his prophet Samuel, the Jewish race out of all the other nations of the earth and so on. The history of the Old Testament is the history of God choosing his people not for any good in them but for his own will and purpose.
In Romans 9 Paul summarizes this doctrine using the example of Jacob and Esau: “Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9 v 10 – 13)
As it was in the Old Testament it is today. God has his elect, his chosen people, and he will save them and make them his. And yes, his people come willingly, gladly and with great joy but they come to him only because God first enables them to come. God does not choose because he sees we will first say yes, no, he chooses and so enables us to say yes. Paul stresses in the above passage that it was not done based on anything Jacob and Esau were going to do but that it would not be by works but by God who calls.
Lesson 2: The grace of God in stark contrast to the sin of his people
Noah was a drunkard, Abraham a liar, Jacob a deceiver, Moses disobedient, Gideon a coward, Samson had anger issues, David a murderer and adulterer, Solomon married over five hundred women, etc, etc, etc. Even a cursory glance over the Old Testament reveals that our heroes of the faith are broken, wretched and sinful and there’s not a low one of them hasn’t stooped to. We then, are in excellent company, sinners to the core, the evil we do not want to do that is what we do.
But wonderfully, we see a greater truth still that refreshes the soul: where sin abounded God’s grace super abounded. Truly does God declare himself: “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” (Psalm 103v8). This is a central story of the OT and our own lives: God’s grace, compassion, gentleness and patience with a sinful and rebellious people.
Lesson 3: God’s sovereign plan over everything both good and bad
This lesson can be seen time and time again in the OT from Abraham to Esther to Jonah but we see it perhaps the clearest in the life of Joseph. His brothers are worried that he’ll take revenge on them because they sold him as a slave and he says: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50v20). What man intends for evil God will use for good for he is sovereign over all things and over all people. How encouraging it is to know that in our own lives whatever may come our way: good or bad, happiness or sorrow, God is in control over it all and he will use it for the good of his people and the glory of his church for he has promised to do so.
“Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?”
Lamentations 3 v 37 - 38
Lesson 4: The Fatherly discipline of his people
“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
Hebrews 12 v 7 – 11
We see this principle illustrated again and again in the lives of Old Testament Saints, God in his providence sends hard times upon his people in order to discipline them, indeed, as the above passage says the very discipline they underwent proved them to be genuine children of God. We see this on a national scale when God disciplines Israel for their sin by sending them into captivity and we see it on the individual level in many incidents. Take Jacob, for example, who had a favourite son, Joseph, but then he was told that Joseph had died. This was a hard discipline but we see later on in Jacob’s life the fruit of it as he becomes more willing to trust God.
Such is it with our lives, hardships come, dark times descend and these, in God’s love, discipline us for sins and in time if we are trained by it they produce a harvest of righteousness.
Lesson 5: God always brings his people safely home
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”
John 10 v 27 - 29
Now this is a lesson to warm our hearts and fill us with fresh courage and hope for Jesus has promised that not a single one of his sheep will perish, all will gain eternal life, all will be held safe in his hands. And we see this in the lives of the Old Testament Saints, every single one brought safely home to glory, not one perished for God having chosen them was not about to let them go.
Think of Samson who after a lifetime of spiritual decline and sin said: “Sovereign LORD, remember me.” (Judges 16v28) before he died and then his name crops up in Hebrews 11 “And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.” (Hebrews 11v32-34). If God can see Samson home and if his name is placed right next to David and Samuel then we should have a certain hope that God’s grace outweighs our sin and he will not let us go.
“I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me.”
Jeremiah 32 v 40