If you are wanting to get to know your Old Testament but don’t know where to start here are a few things to consider that will help you get a better handle on the Old Testament that will result in a better understanding of the New. The idea here is that the Jewish people had a solid understanding of their story and of their scriptures. There are various themes that come up over and over again through the Old Testament and these same themes are repeated and often fulfilled in the New Testament. This is why is pays to know your Old Testament if you are going to understand the New Testament. Obviously, reading the whole Old Testament would help but if you want to get to the most helpful areas here is where I would start.
Creation & Fall (Genesis 1-3) – This is essential reading on the nature of creation, humanity in relationship with God, sin and the broken human condition.
Abraham – (Genesis 12-17) – This isn’t the first covenant made in the Bible (that was done with Noah to never flood the earth again) but this is one of the most significant covenants in the Bible and that is God’s promise to Abraham that he would have numerous descendants and that through those offspring (seed) the entire world would be blessed. This ultimately points us to Jesus as the fulfillment of the covenant promises of Genesis 12, 15 & 17.
Moses – (Exodus-Deuteronomy) – This tells of a new sort of creation through water and that is the solidification of the descendants of Abraham as God’s holy people. Understanding the Mosaic covenant is essential to understanding much of what Jesus said and did.
David – (1 & 2 Samuel) – David is essential reading because of a third covenant, that although David wanted to build a house for God, God was going to build a house for him and this would be a royal house (2 Samuel 7). This house was a covenant promise that David’s descendants would have an eternal kingship that, like the covenants with Abraham and Moses, was also fulfilled through Jesus who was not only Abraham’s descendant but also David’s (Notice how Matthew makes that connection in the opening words of his Gospel).
The exile & Return – (both 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles end with the fall of Jerusalem and Ezra and Nehemiah pick this story line up. This is also found throughout the Prophets and in a few places in the psalms). This is essential reading to understand the Jewish people’s self-understanding in Jesus’ day as even then they were “home” but still living under foreign occupation.
The psalms – The psalms are helpful for our spiritual formation. What you will also pick up on is that the psalms are familiar with all of the story lines already outlined above. These themes are brought up over and over again as the context and content of various psalms. This shows us further just how well the Jewish people knew these stories which makes sense out of why these stories form the backdrop of much of what we have in the New Testament. If you want an interesting activity to show how this plays out, read through the entire book of Psalms with these main areas in mind and see how often they are mentioned.