Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 5, 1963
NUMBER 18, PAGE 3,11

"Written For Our Learning"

L. A. Mott, Jr.

After quoting Psalm 69:9 and applying it to Christ, the apostle Paul justifies his use of the quotation in the following statement: "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)

At 2 Kings 1, we have the record of what happened when Elijah the prophet became the object of the wrath of Ahaziah, king of Israel. Three times in succession Ahaziah sent forth a captain with fifty men to take Elijah. Elijah caused fire to come from heaven and consume the first two companies of men. When the third captain came he "fell on his knees before Elijah, and besought him, and said unto him, 0 man of God, I pray thee, let my life, and the life of these fifty thy servants, be precious in thy sight. Behold, there came fire down from heaven, and burnt up the two captains of the former fifties with their fifties: therefore let my life now be precious in thy sight." Whatever else may be said about this man, let it be said that he was wise enough to learn a lesson from the past. He did not simply follow the bad pattern which had been set by his predecessors.

The kingdom of Judah expressed utter stupidity in its failure to profit from the history of its sister kingdom, Israel. Judah saw Israel apostatize from Jehovah. She also witnessed the carrying away of Israel into Assyrian captivity which was the consequence of apostasy. But, notwithstanding, Judah went right ahead down the same road to apostasy, became a spiritual harlot just as Israel before her, and, consequently, suffered a similar exile. This, I say, was stupid.

Let us not be as senseless.

It is true that the Old Testament is not the "rule of faith and practice" for Christians. It is not the part of the Bible which tells us what acts of worship and service are acceptable to God in this age. We are "under the law of Christ" (1 Cor. 9:21), not under the law of Moses. But the Old Testament is not entirely without value for the Christian. It contains thousands of years of the history of God's dealing with mankind. Surely there must be many lessons in this history for us.

In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul reviews the history of Israel in the wilderness. He describes the sins which led to the overthrow of the Israelites. At verses 11 and 12 he makes the application: "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. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." Paul's point is that Israel's sins and their consequences contain a lesson for us. The children of Israel disobeyed God and "were overthrown in the wilderness." We should learn that similar disobedience on our part will result in our overthrow, and should take heed lest we fall.

The text with which we began tells us that the things "written aforetime were written for our learning." We are expected to learn something from the things written aforetime.

The Authority Of God's Word

If we learn no other lesson from the Old Testament we should learn that God means what he says. He does not speak simply to create a draft.

God promised Israel that wonderful blessings would be theirs provided they were faithful to him. But he also told them that if they did not remain faithful he would drive them off the land of promise and send them into bondage. (Deut. 28) Subsequent history relates that Israel did not remain faithful to God, and that God did drive them from the land and into captivity. Learn that God means what he says.

Again, God laid down the law that on the sabbath day no one was to work or even kindle a fire; the one who violated this law was to be put to death. (Ex. 35:2,3) Numbers 15 records that a man was discovered gathering sticks on the sabbath. "And the Lord said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp." (verse 35) The next verse shows that these orders were carried out.

God does not speak merely to hear himself. He means what he says! He will enforce the laws he establishes.

Second Thessalonians 11 tells us that the Lord, at his second coming, will take vengeance on them "that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." Verse 9 says they "shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord." God says this will be done. The individual who knows nothing of God and his dealings may be in doubt about whether this will ever be carried out. But he who is acquainted with the Old Testament should know of a certainty that he must obey the gospel or else suffer everlasting condemnation. Throughout history God has demonstrated that he means what he says. It would be the height of foolishness to go to the judgment expecting to go to heaven without having obeyed the gospel.

The same principle applies to everything else God has said. The Lord meant it when he said we must obey the will of God in order to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 7:21) and that we must either repent or perish. (Luke 13:3) He does not engage in idle chatter. This is one thing we can learn from the Old Testament.

The Meaning Of Obedience

We can also learn what it means to obey God from the Old Testament. There is no clearer explanation of obedience to God than is given in the book of Deuteronomy: "Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish aught from it that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord observe to do therefore as the Lord your God commanded you: you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left" (5:32); "What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it." (12:32) Obedience is doing what God commands, but more than that, it is doing exactly what God commands, without adding thereto or diminishing therefrom, without turning to the right nor to the left.

There is absolutely no substitute for this type of action. Nothing can justify refusing to do just exactly what God says to do. Some had to learn this the hard way. Notice an example: "And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord." (Lev. 10:1, 2) The priests were instructed to use fire from the altar. (Lev. 16:12) Nadab and Abihu presumptuously, substituted "strange" fire in place of that sanctified by the Lord. The consequence suffered by them ought to teach us once for all that there can be no substitute for doing exactly what God commands without alteration. That type of action alone is obedience to God.

The modern view is that strict obedience is unnecessary if the heart is right. Some seem to have the idea that one's heart can be right while he is in rebellion against God. The case of a man named Uzzah leads us to believe that this idea is just so much nonsense. God instructed the sons of Kohath to carry the ark of the covenant by means of two poles inserted through the four rings attached to the ark. The ark was not to be touched. The penalty for violating this order was death. (Num. 4:15) At 2 Samuel 6, we find the ark being carried about on an ox cart. The oxen stumbled, Uzzah took hold of the ark to steady it, and God struck him dead. No doubt Uzzah's motives were good, but good motives are no substitute for doing exactly what God says to do, nothing more nor less. This alone is obedience.

King Saul Had Good Reason, Some Might Think, For Saving Back Some Of The Animals Of Amalek Although God Had Told Him To Utterly Destroy Them. (1 Samuel 15:3) The People Planned To Sacrifice These Animals To Jehovah. (Verse 15) But Samuel Said, "Hath The Lord As Great Delight In Burnt Offerings And Sacrifices, As In Obeying The Voice Of The Lord? Behold, To Obey Is Better Than Sacrifice, And To Hearken Than The Fat Of Rams. For Rebellion Is As The Sin Of Witchcraft, And Stubbornness Is As Iniquity And Idolatry. Because Thou Hast Rejected The Word Of The Lord, He Hath Also Rejected Thee From Being King." (Verses 22.23) Again The Lesson Is The Same. No "Reason" Is Good Enough To Justify A Refusal To Do Exactly What The Lord Commands.

Conditional Blessings Another important lesson which is derived from the Old Testament is the absolute essentiality of meeting the conditions God lays down in order to receive promised blessings.

Some of God's promises are unconditional. One such promise is the one made to Noah that God would never again "destroy all flesh" by means of water. (Gen. 9:15) Another is the promise of Christ to come a second time.

But some of God's promises are conditional. Mark this down: When God promises to bestow certain blessings upon certain conditions those blessings are not bestowed until the conditions have been met. God was to give the city of Jericho to Israel. The people were to march around the city once each day for six days. On the seventh day they were to go around the city seven times, the priests were to blow trumpets, and the people were to shout. Then the walls were to fall flat and they could take the city. See Josh. 6. When did the walls actually fall? Look at Josh. 6:20: "So the people shouted when the priests blew with the trumpets: and it came to pass when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city." A reference is made to this occasion at Heb. 11:30: "By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days." God promised the city to the people upon certain conditions, namely, marching, blowing the trumpets, and shouting. It is clear that they did not receive the city till after every condition had been met.

Again, Naaman the leper was told that he would be cleansed of leprosy upon meeting certain conditions: washing seven times in the Jordan. (2 Kings .5:10) Naaman got angry, reasoned in his mind, but finally went to the Jordan and dipped seven times. Only then was he cleansed. (verse 14).

The lesson is clear: The New Testament promises salvation upon the conditions of faith, repentance, and baptism. (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38) Some may wonder whether it is actually necessary to do all these things. But he who is acquainted with the Old Testament should realize that when God promises a blessing upon conditions the blessing does not come till every condition has been met. He should know that he will not be saved till he has believed in the Lord, repented of his sins, and been baptized for the remission of sins. Doubt as to whether all of these things are necessary might be reasonable in a man who knows nothing of God's dealings. But it is altogether unaccountable that the man who knows the lessons of the Old Testament would even commence to begin to wonder about whether these conditions must be met. The Old Testament was written for our learning. People will be in hell because they did not have the good judgment to heed its lessons.