Christians have a tough time understanding the Old Testament. We focus on Jesus and the Epistles, and view the OT as tacked on background information. It’s the prequel that really adds nothing to the story.
There are a couple things to keep in mind when reading the OT that I think really help. Here they are, for your convenience:
1) The Law is not about salvation.
Most of the OT is made up of what is called The Law. From Exodus 20 through Malachi is the reign of The Law. The Law, as given by Moses, was not a system to get people saved.
The Law was given as the covenant responsibilities to Israel. Read Deuteronomy and notice how often it says keep this Law to stay in the land. The punishment for breaking the Covenant is not hell; the penalty was getting kicked out of the Promised Land.
People have always been saved by grace through faith, there is no other way. Saved people in the OT would desire to keep The Law, since that is what God said He wanted done–faith comes by hearing the word of God–but keeping The Law is not what saves, never has, never will.
2) Most people under The Law were not saved.
Since The Law was given as the covenant responsibility of Israel to stay in the Land and not as a means of being saved, you should not assume you are reading about saved people in the OT.
As the kings of Israel demonstrate–the OT is a mixed bag. When God judges people in the OT, He is not judging believers–He is judging rebellious violators of the covenant between God and Israel. As Paul later explains, “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.”
3) Israel thought they were saved.
Since Israel had the Law, the covenants, the prophets, and so much more, they were “God’s chosen people,” they assumed they were in automatically.
This lead them to believe that since they were circumcised, kept the Sabbath, and killed an animal here and there that God was happy to have them. This mindset lead to the Pharisee mentality. It leads to what Paul explains in Romans 10, “being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.”
They followed the traditions of men more than God’s commands. They self-righteously assumed they were IN because they were of Israel. Not the case. Just as it’s not the case that you sitting your hinder in the right church gets you to heaven today.
Those three points are key in understanding what’s going on back there in the OT. It helps to have other things figured out too, but I’ve seen these three things misunderstood many times by Christians.
Remember, there is a reason all that stuff is back there. Israel is a warning to us. One-time religious acts don’t save. Religious works don’t save. Self-righteousness leads to judgment. Following The Group is a broad path to destruction. Each person must come to a point of faith.
Be careful out there; we’re messing up the exact same way Israel did, much of this is due to the fact that we don’t understand what Israel did.
“Now all these things happened unto them for examples: 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.“