When we read from the Old Testament as Orthodox Christians, it can be a bit confusing at times. Maybe it is because it was written so long ago that we have forgotten the context in which the books were written. Maybe it is because it was written in a language we do not speak, then translated into a language we do not speak, then handed down for generations using hand-written scrolls that were often lost. These are all true, but they lie beyond our control, so I think there is a more significant reason because it is in our total control. I believe harder than any language or lost hand-written copy, is the fact that we read the Old Testament from the wrong perspective.
Today the Orthodox Church commemorates the Holy Prophet Moses, the giver of the Law, the first five books of the Old Testament. In his honor today, I thought I would write a few words about reading the Old Testament as an Orthodox Christian. The Old Testament is no longer read daily, except during Great Lent, as part of the Orthodox Lectionary, which I believe is unfortunate since it causes us to lose perspective. The New Testament is central to Orthodox Christian life for sure, but it doesn’t stand alone. The Old Testament prepared the Church for the New Testament, and we benefit from being reminded of this truth.
One example of our lost perspective is the story of the Holy Prophet Moses, whom the Church considers to be a ‘typos’ of Christ. As an infant his life was in danger because an edict to kill all male children of the Hebrew women in Egypt. As a young man he lived in a foreign land with the people he was going to eventually save, but some rejected him. If you have time today, go back and read the story of Moses, from the perspective of him being a ‘typos’ of Christ, and you will be inspired to read more. You will be inspired to see that God had a plan for a long time, long before Christ took on flesh, to save us from the slavery of death. During this time of year, in preparation for the Feast of the Holy Cross, the Church even sings a hymn during the Katavasies of Orthros that references Moses.
Moses prefigured the Cross. Lifting up the rod, he stretched out his hand and split the Sea for Israel to cross on land. Then he stretched it out again, and the sea returned and covered Pharaoh’s chariots. The Cross was thus portrayed as our invincible armor. So let us sing to the Lord, Christ our God, for His is greatly glorified.” From the Katavasies of the Cross
These are just a couple references from the Old Testament that can inspire us to understand the New Testament and our salvation. There are more, but I believe it is the perspective that matters most. If we just read the Old Testament as a story about people that God interacted with on the Earth, then we lose the point that the Old Testament is preparing us for Christ.
Some people read the Old Testament as the story of the People of God, Israel. This is only partially true, as they are the main characters for sure. The real perspective is, the Old Testament is the story of the Messiah, and God’s plan to save all of humanity. It isn’t about the people of God, but about the ‘lineage of God the Savior.
Ever since Adam and Eve were saved from eternal death, by being removed from the Garden, God has been preparing to save humanity from death. If you read the Old Testament form the perspective, you see that God has been preparing us to be saved from the very beginning. Even the stories of the Great Flood and the Tower of Babel are stories of God’s plan for salvation. In short, every time it was about to be too late for us to be saved, God intervened. He didn’t intervene to punish, but to save. So long as there was at least one righteous family left on Earth, He would be able to take on flesh as our Savior and save us.
That is the perspective that matters. Life can seem totally overbearing at times, but God is always ready to save us. We just need to remember to maintain the perspective. Over and over again, every time it seems like it is too late, God saves us from ourselves. The Old Testament reminds us just how many times He has saved us, so we should enjoy reading it more often.