I once heard a preacher make the statement, “The reason that here are no Gospels in the Old Testament is because Gospel means Good News, and there is no good news in the Old Testament.”
That man, to put it delicately, is an idiot.
Let’s ignore the fact that “Gospel” is a Hellenistic literary form that wouldn’t emerge until after the last Hebrew prophet is recorded. That’s like saying nothing funny happened before 1989 because “Seinfeld” hadn’t been invented yet.
To understand the Good News of the Old Testament, it is important to define what the good news really is. What is the essence of the Gospel Message that found its fulfillment in Christ? Playing off the theme of my last post, I believe it is this: God provides a means by which we can be reconciled to Him.
The Old Testament, the collective record of Hebrew spiritual experience and truth, is rife with good news. From the opening verse of Genesis, to the last encouragement/warning of Malachi, God is letting us know He loves us, and working things out to get us back. In the Restoration Plan of Genesis 3, God’s immediate response to the Fall, He hints at the death of Christ. With Noah and the Ark, we see that even when we deserved it, God refused to completely destroy humanity. Time and time again, God shows the lengths He is willing to go in order to keep us afloat (sorry for the pun), until the window for Christ’s Advent arrives.
Even The Law, those obscure passages of Scripture that Protestants run away and hide from, communicates the Good News. Remember that the Fall of Man left creation in a chaotic, primal state, where man committed abominations towards God and atrocities to each other. Into this chaos God brings the Hebrew tribes, and gives them simple laws. Keep your camps clean, so I can dwell with you. Don’t take anything that doesn’t belong to you, simply because you’re more powerful. Don’t murder anybody. Take care of your parents as they get older, don’t leave them on a rock to die, or kill them for your inheritance. It’s pretty basic stuff now, but revolutionary for the day.
The Law of Moses fences in man’s primal state and his basest urges. Without these basic laws, the ancient world was a brutal, violent, and harsh reality. God’s commands, which we often deem as legalistic and cold, elevated the dignity of human being and began to teach them that life could be enjoyed, not just survived. Women had rights; oppressed ethnic groups had hope. Later violations of God’s social justice provisions towards the fatherless and the widow brought judgment on Israel.
God wanted Israel to reflect the reconciliation that He had created for them. The death of the animals at the altar taught them of a truth that would become universal in Christ. God was willing to provide a scapegoat, a proxy for our sin wage. Eventually, that scapegoat would be His only begotten Son.
For me, the stellar example of the Old Testament Gospel is found in Jeremiah 31. After the judgment of Babylonian conquest and Exile, God speaks to His people to remind them of the ultimate plan of reconciliation. Jeremiah 31:33 (ESV), “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
The Good News is there. We will be His and He will be ours. We will be a community of grace, given the gift of relationship with our Creator, and the damage done by sin and failure will be restored once more.