Reading the Old Testament in our Devotions

  • All the Bible is God’s Word, and is beneficial, but different parts have different purposes.
  • Some parts are more suitable for study than devotional reading and we can get discouraged if we make this mistake.
  • Here is a way of deciding where to read.

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Video cover image by ArturWilk1981 Pixabay License


To help us all to read the Old Testament in a way that blesses and encourages us.
We want to have an “Emmaus” experience

Luke 24 (after the resurrection)

  1. Now that same day two of them were on their way to a village called Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem.
  2. Together they were discussing everything that had taken place.
  3. And while they were discussing and arguing, Jesus himself came near and began to walk along with them.
  4. But they were prevented from recognizing him.
  5. Then he asked them, “What is this dispute that you’re having with each other as you are walking?” And they stopped walking and looked discouraged.

Luke 24 cont’d

  1. He said to them… Wasn’t it necessary for the Messiah to suffer these things and enter into his glory?”
  2. Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted for them the things concerning himself in all the Scriptures.
  3. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight.
  4. They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts burning within us while he was talking with us on the road and explaining the Scriptures to us?” CSB
  • The question is then, how do we have an Emmaus experience?
  • Typically what happens is:
    • You decide you are going to read through the O.T. for your daily devotions.
      • But reading through Leviticus is not blessing you at all!
    • It’s all God’s word, so it must all be of equal value, right?
    • Yes, true, but not in the same way.



Image source: “Nicholas Eckhart”

  • For example, if I decide I am going to spend a year eating through all the edible things available at my local ...
  • It’s all food, so why not?
    • A month on milk, cream & dairy
    • A month chips and snacks
    • Then I reach the medications aisle, and have a month on only vitamins & supplements
    • Not good eh?
  • Just as there are different kinds of physical food, there are different kinds of spiritual food in the Bible.
  • I am going to suggest that there are two kinds of Bible meals we need to eat

Feeding from the Bible

  1. Devotional Reading – regular times of Bible reading that are not intellectual exercises, but for connecting with God
  2. Bible Study – Intentional times of going deeper, either individually or in a group
  • I want to argue that not all of the Bible is suitable for A.
  • Let me explain:
    Just as in a supermarket we have different aisles, like meat, cereals, canned food, etc.
    So in the Bible we have different kinds of food. We call these genres.
  • If you’re browsing books in a library/bookstore or online, you’ll see division into categories called genres
    Self Development
    and several others
  • So different parts of the Bible are different genres and are suitable for different things.
  • In Jesus’s time they often used a shorthand for the O.T. calling it “the law and the prophets”
    • The law was the first 5 books, written by Moses. The prophets were the rest.

How the Jews in the time of Jesus identified O.T. books

  • The Law Torah (first 5 books)
  • The Prophets Neviʾim
  • The Writings Ketuvim
    (Poetic books, and Wisdom)
  • Often they would make a third division: the Writings
  • If we are going to look at the different kinds of genre, here is a chart


  • I find this chart a useful way to sum it up:
  • The RED are historical books, Genesis – Esther (The first 5 books are included)
  • The Green are Poetry & Wisdom, just 5 books: Job through Song of Songs
  • The from Isaiah to the end are blue (2 divisions)
  • I am going to give you an example from each that can bless your heart

Reading the Old Testament in our Devotions

  1. Historical Books
  2. Poetic Books and Wisdom
  3. Prophetic Books

1. Historical Books

Reading the Old Testament in our Devotions

  1. Historical Books
    • History
    • Law


  • Very bad things happen
  • Does God condone the bad things?
  • God’s angry retribution
  • Lists or details that seem to have no point
  • Weird stuff


  • Quoted O.T. extensively
  • “It speaks of me!”
  • “It was said... but I say to you
    %The law of Moses allowed this kind of divorce but it does not represent God’s heart%
  • I am the full revelation of the God of the O.T.
    %The O.T. is partial, and provisional%

The Cultural Context

  • Anne will give us some help in understanding the context

Abraham’s Clothing

Abraham's Clothing
  • How did Jesus show the disciple that he was in the historical books
    • Here is an example:

Num 21: The Bronze Serpent

  1. From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way.
  2. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.”
  3. Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.
  4. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
  5. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.”
  6. So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. ESV
  • Jesus told us that this is a wonderful picture of him

Reading the Old Testament in our Devotions

  1. Historical Books
    • History
    • Law
  • Very often the laws are not that useful for devotions, e.g.


Deuteronomy 22

  1. You shall not wear cloth of wool and linen mixed together.
  2. You shall make yourself tassels on the four corners of the garment with which you cover yourself.
  • There is a purpose for all these laws, but finding the answer requires study, and for some of them we are still not completely sure.
    • I plan to do another sermon on exactly this problem
  • So, read history, but don’t feel bad about skipping over parts that are just laws

2. Poetic Books and Wisdom



Reading the Old Testament in our Devotions

  1. Historical Books
    • History
    • Law
  2. Poetic Books and Wisdom
    • Devotional (Psalms)
    • Wisdom

Devotional Books (mainly Psalms)

Psalm 3

A psalm of David when he fled from his son Absalom.

  1. Lord, how my foes increase!
      There are many who attack me.
  2. Many say about me,
      “There is no help for him in God.” Selah
  3. But you, Lord, are a shield around me,
      my glory, and the one who lifts up my head.
  4. I cry aloud to the Lord,
      and he answers me from his holy mountain. Selah
  5. I lie down and sleep;
      I wake again because the Lord sustains me.
  6. I will not be afraid of thousands of people
      who have taken their stand against me on every side.
  7. Rise up, Lord!
      Save me, my God!
    You strike all my enemies on the cheek;
      you break the teeth of the wicked.
  8. Salvation belongs to the Lord;
      may your blessing be on your people. Selah CSB
  • This is a good example because if could really encourage you if you read it one day whey you were going through problems
  • But it does indicate one issue that sometimes comes up in the Psalms
    • what about wanting the “teeth of the wicked” to be broken?
    • This was written before a full revelation of God’s grace
    • When verses like this are quoted in the N.T., something positive is added, like “so that they may turn to you and be saved”
  • Many of them have references to Jesus, which he frequently quoted in his teaching

Reading the Old Testament in our Devotions

  1. Historical Books
    • History
    • Law
  2. Poetic Books and Wisdom
    • Devotional (Psalms)
    • Wisdom

Wisdom Books

  • Job
  • Proverbs,
  • Ecclesiastes
  • Song of Songs (Solomon)
  • Some of the Wisdom books are like Proverbs, which are easy to be blessed by
    • E.g. Proverbs devotional
  • But the other three can be a bit harder to read devotionally, like Job

3. Prophetic Books



Reading the Old Testament in our Devotions

  1. Historical Books
    • History
    • Law
  2. Poetic Books and Wisdom
    • Devotional (Psalms)
    • Wisdom
  3. Prophetic Books
    • Positive (suitable for devotional reading)
    • Negative (much harder)
    • Apocalyptic (needs focused study)
  • This is probably the hardest genre to read devotionally.
    • I have divided it into three categories

Positive Prophetic

Isaiah 42

  1. “This is my servant; I strengthen him,
    this is my chosen one; I delight in him.
    I have put my Spirit on him;
    he will bring justice to the nations.
  2. He will not cry out or shout
    or make his voice heard in the streets.
  3. He will not break a bruised reed,
    and he will not put out a smoldering wick;
    he will faithfully bring justice.
  4. He will not grow weak or be discouraged
    until he has established justice on earth.
    The coasts and islands will wait for his instruction. CSB
  • Isaiah is probably the most positive of the prophetic books, particularly the second half
    although some of the shorter ones, like Hosea, have encouraging story lines.
    And of course Jonah has a great story line

Negative prophetic

  • is where there are long and detailed judgments on the Nations
  • They are important historically because if you do the research you can find places where very unlikely prophecies,
    like those in Nahum about Tyre & Sidon, came exactly true, and prove the supernatural character of the Bible
  • But they are more for study than your daily devotions


  • We can divide the N.T. into exactly the same genres as the Old, and the Greek name for what we call Revelation is The Apocalypse

Daniel 7

  1. Daniel said, “In my vision at night I was watching, and suddenly the four winds of heaven stirred up the great sea.
  2. Four huge beasts came up from the sea, each different from the other.
  3. “The first was like a lion but had eagle’s wings. I continued watching until its wings were torn off. It was lifted up from the ground, set on its feet like a man, and given a human mind. CSB
  • Great stuff, and there is very good scholarship on what it all means, but probably not what you want to start your day with!




Reading the Old Testament in our Devotions

  1. Historical Books
    • History
    • Law
  2. Poetic Books and Wisdom
    • Devotional (Psalms)
    • Wisdom
  3. Prophetic Books
    • Positive (suitable for devotional reading)
    • Negative (much harder)
    • Apocalyptic (needs focused study)
  • Problems and Pearls

Problems are helped by:

  • Understanding the context
  • New Testament quotes that explain it
  • The context of the Big Story:
    • progression of covenants
    • coming of Jesus
    • new creation


  • Examples of faith
  • God’s grace, patience and forgiveness
  • Beauty in songs & prophecies

Roots and Trees

Roots and Trees

Image source: “CC0 Public Domain”

  • The first Psalm is about having our roots in the nourishment of the Word
    • When it was written, all that was available was part of the O.T., so we should be encouraged to read the O.T. as well as the New

Psalm 1

  1. Blessed is the one who does not
    walk in the advice of the wicked,
    or stand in the pathway with sinners
    or sit in the company of mockers!
  2. but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.
  3. He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
    that bears its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
    In all that he does, he prospers.
  4. The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
  • Generally speaking the N.T. is clearer to understand than the Old, but my goal today is that you should not neglect the Old
    • Be like this tree!
  • Would you like to have that description over your life?
    • I hope I have encouraged you today to read the O.T.
    • Don’t feel guilty about skipping over books or parts of books that you are finding hard work
  • Story in Genesis 14 of Lot / Melchizedek
    • v.20 the God most high “who has delivered your enemies into your hand”