Salvation in the Old Testament
In both the Old Testament and the New Testament, salvation is offered to all. Christ is the object of salvation in the New Testament, and He exemplifies that with His death on the cross. Christ became the living sacrifice for all when He died on the cross, but where do those who lived and died before Christ’s time receive their salvation? Furthermore, God specifically chose the Israelites to be His people, but what did they do to receive salvation? Salvation has to be accompanied by faith. Faith requires someone to believe in something even when there is no logical reason or explanation.
What meaning did salvation have to those in the Old Testament? God created man, and man fell. As sin entered into the world, a need was presented for someone or something to provide a sacrifice for sin. God did not create man to watch him fall into non-existence. He desired for men to spend their eternity with Him when their life on this earth was over. So God promised Adam and Eve that He would provide that salvation in the form of His son as a sacrifice for sin. This promise is made in Genesis 3:15,
- “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed;
- it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”
However, this was a promise of something to come, therefore how would that provide salvation for those who came before that time? Faith is in essence the only thing that could provide their salvation. God knew their hearts and the root of their faith, but He gave them examples of ways to demonstrate their faith by way of sacrifice. Sacrifice was merely a demonstration of their faith; it was not a form of salvation. God took these sacrifices very serious as seen by His acceptance of Abel’s sacrifice and rejection of Cain’s sacrifice. Sacrifice is not a way to show who has better things to offer. It is a time when you give the best of what has been asked of you.
Noah was a man who lived his life by faith, and God literally saved him from destruction. He actually removed all mankind save Noah and his family. Noah’s faith is evidenced by several things. Noah was known as a man of God, so he had lived his life by faith. When God chose Noah, He told him to build an ark because the world would be destroyed by a great flood. No one to this point had ever seen rain, and now God was promising to destroy the world by it. Noah had to believe God would do what He said. Thus Noah built a big boat and was criticized for it, but he did what God told him to do anyways. Noah had faith in what God said, and was saved from the coming flood. He had extreme faith in God to suffer mockery and reproach.
Abraham is considered to be the father of many nations. In states in Genesis 15:6,
- “And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.”
Abraham believed that God would do all that He promised, and God accepted Abraham’s faith. However, God did not leave it there. He brought about many tests in Abraham’s life. The first step that Abraham needed to take after believing God was to carry out what God had told him to do. Abraham left his home not knowing where God would lead him, but God did lead him. How hard would it be for someone to pick up and leave everything they have ever known? God told him to search out the land He wanted him to go to, but He did not tell Abraham which way to go to look for this place. What an excellent example of walking by faith and not by sight. God led him through many things where Abraham did not always completely pass the tests God put him in, but God kept guiding Abraham along. God promised to make a great nation from Abraham and his family, but Abraham did not have any children. He was also getting very old, and so was Sarah his wife. However, God proved His awesome power by allowing Sarah to bear a child even after her natural time was passed. The Bible says in Genesis 21: 2-3,
Through this God was still preparing Abraham for more tests. God did give Abraham a son by Sarah, and soon after receiving Isaac, God asked Abraham to give Isaac back to God by sacrificing him. Abraham had to exercise great faith by following God’s request. It was truly a test of faith for someone who had been promised to be made the father of many nations to give up the one visible beginning to that promise. Abraham had to not only trust God knew what He was talking about, but he also had to believe if God would take Isaac from him then He would provide another son. God did not let Abraham fulfill the sacrifice but provided a substitute for Isaac in the form of a ram. Abraham was justified by his faith, and his faith is the key to his salvation. Works are not a key to salvation, but they are an indication of one’s faith.
Through Abraham’s grandson Jacob, the nation of Israel would slowly begin to take form. God would later establish twelve tribes of Israel represented by ten of Jacob’s sons and two of his grandsons through his son Joseph. Joseph was yet another good example of someone who exercised great faith. Here was a young man whom his own brothers despised. God had big plans for this young man, and through Joseph’s faith, God used him greatly. This becomes a testimony to those who look back at his life, that when a believer is willing to place their faith in God, He can use that person mightily. Joseph was cast into a pit, and then his own brothers sold him as a slave. God had not forgotten Joseph, but He placed him in the house of Potiphar. It is in Potiphar’s house that Joseph’s faith became such a credit to his testimony. Potiphar made Joseph, who was his slave, head over his household affairs. However, God continues to test our faith to make it stronger, and He allowed more tests to come upon Joseph. Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph, but his faith helped him flee from sin and its temptation. Yet the test continued when, Potiphar had to live with his wife, and thus he had to remove Joseph from his household. Joseph was then thrown into prison, but his faith continued to shine through. Joseph’s faith would eventually lead him before Pharaoh, where God had plans to use Joseph to not only save and establish Israel, but also the whole world in essence. Egypt was the strongest nation in the world at the time, and through God’s power, He revealed Pharaoh’s dream and guided Joseph to save Egypt from this great famine that would overtake them. Having done all this, Pharaoh recognized God because of Joseph. In Egypt, God chose Israel to be His children, although He would not establish them as a nation until they came to Sinai. God would then proceed to lead them out of captivity in Egypt.
Moses would be the next man on the scene who was called to show forth his faith. Before Moses’ faith can begin, his parent’s faith had to be developed. The Pharaoh at this time was ordering the murder of all Hebrew male children. Moses’ family attempted to hide him, but God had other plans. God allowed the Egyptian princess to find Moses, and furthermore she desired to raise Moses as her own child. Moses was brought to the palace and raised as an Egyptian. However, Moses’ faith begins to appear when he leaves the palace. God had instilled in Moses through his parents a faith that would reject the finest things the world had to offer to follow God and His will for Moses’ life. How many people could react relatively calmly to a burning bush that spoke? This was just one of the small signs God gave Moses to point him back to Egypt to save Israel. God then used Moses to show forth His greatness. He preformed many miracles through Moses that gave a clear picture of who the one true God was. The last plague carried an excellent picture of salvation in the death of the firstborn. God did not exclude Israel from this judgment, but He provided a means to escape it. The Israelites were commanded to kill a lamb and spread its blood over the door-posts of their house. When the angel of the Lord saw the blood, He passed over that house. When someone is saved, God no longer sees the sin of that one, but He sees the payment for that sin.
After the last plague ended, Pharaoh finally released the people, but he changed his mind very quickly. However, God would not have led His people out, only to have them taken back in again. God as a representation of salvation became more and more evident to the people of Israel despite the fact they so often failed to see it. God led them to the Red Sea where He parted the waters for them to cross over. Through all the plagues, signs, and wonders God revealed to Israel, they still struggled with their faith. Thankfully, God recognizes man’s shortcomings and loves him anyways. This is an excellent overall picture of salvation. As Christ has chosen believers today, He delivers them from sin and becomes a sacrifice for their sin. God chose Israel and delivered them from captivity. God was their salvation.
As God led them and developed them as a nation, He set up a system of law and order. In Exodus, God gave elaborate instructions for the construction of a tabernacle where He could dwell in the midst of His people. He then gave further instructions on sacrifice. Sacrifice is not in any way shape or form a substitute for salvation. However, sacrifice can be seen as evidence of faith. Sacrifice was the Israelites way of asking for forgiveness for their sins. Whereas Christians today do not offer a sacrifice every time a sin is committed, they simply ask for forgiveness. In many ways, the Israelites demonstrated more faith than believers today do. So many times, Christians take God for granted, but the Israelites feared for their lives when they took Him for granted. They still fell time and time again, but God kept taking them back as He does with believers today. Thus faith continues to be the underlying key to salvation whether it is in the New Testament or Old Testament. The Old Testament saints had to come to Him and believe Him. God promised He would one day send His son to become a propitiation for all. It was their faith that God’s son was one day coming to save them that added hope to their faith. They were called upon to believe someone was coming, but they still had to start by believing. Isaiah 53 gave that promise,
- “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed? For he shall grow up
- before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and
- when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of
- men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was
- despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we
- did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted .But he was wounded for our transgressions, he
- was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we
- are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the
- LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened
- not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb,
- so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his
- generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was
- he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had
- done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath
- put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall
- prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the
- travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify
- many; for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and
- he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was
- numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the
Those people had to believe without ever getting to see the fulfillment of that promise. Faith is evidence of things that cannot be seen. The Old Testament saints had faith that God would provide a way of salvation and they trusted in Him.