The Merciful God of the Old Testament

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Sadly in American Evangelical churches we have created a schizophrenic God who is harsh and cruel in the Old Testament and pitted Him against a merciful and loving God in the New Testament.  The purpose of this post is to show the continuity of God’s character both in the Old Testament and the New Testament.  Time does not permit me to go into God’s covenants with His people and how salvation has always been through His gracious covenant although that would be a worthwhile study.  Rather I intend to highlight Gods mercy throughout Scripture and show that God’s actions and character are the same both yesterday, today, and forever.

It is common today to hear Christians refer to the Old Testament law as barbaric and to God’s dealings with people in the OT as harsh while viewing the New Testament as being all about God’s mercy, love, and grace.   Some even take this so far as to portray God as the angry father character with Jesus as the  loving son who is pitted against the Father of the Old Testament in saving us.   The problem with doing this is that it is not only a wrong portrayal of what the Bible actually teaches, it is also an attack on the character of God.

The primary way this attacks God’s character is that it accuses God of acting unjustly in His judgment.  When we say the law of the Old Testament is cruel or barbaric we are saying God is cruel and barbaric and that He ought not have given such laws nor made such judgments on people.  We basically take our modern standard of what is just and hold God on trial against our “enlightened” understanding of what is right and just.

The second way we attack God’s character is that we undermine His immutability.  God has revealed to us that He is unchanging and not given over to the passions of men.  So if God is a God of love and mercy in His dealings with people in the New Testament then He necessarily is a God of love and mercy in the Old Testament since He cannot change or go against His nature.  Likewise if God is just in His punishments in the New Testament He also necessarily is just in His punishments in the Old Testament.  The other issue with this sort of teaching is that it creates conflict and disunity within the Trinity.  Jesus said that He came to do the will of the Father.  So when we see that Jesus is merciful, loving, and gracious we are seeing that the Father is merciful, loving, and gracious.   The Persons of the Trinity are in complete unity and never pitted against each other.

One thing I find beautiful is to be reminded of the gracious and merciful things God has done for His people because I know I am one of His people. When I see how He was gracious and loving to His people throughout history I am reminded of how He deals with me and my family and my church.  So remember with me that we are adopted children of the same God who out of mercy was willing to save Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of a handful of righteous men.  He is the God who saved Lot and his family when it was shown that the city was completely full of wicked men.  It was this same God who showed mercy and grace to the Jews when they were captive in Egypt by freeing them from the hand of Pharaoh.

The same God who is our Father is the God who spared the Jews from the wrath they deserved in the desert on the way to the promised land after they had created a false idol and after they grumbled and complained against Him time and time again.  This God we serve is the One who showed mercy to Rahab the harlot when the Jews sacked and destroyed Jericho and who saved the wicked city of Nineveh from destruction.  This is the God who restored the Jews to Jerusalem through Nehemiah when they had been in captivity.   

This is the God of whom David writes in the Psalms “For You, Lord are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon you” and “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever. He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.”  This is the God of whom Jeremiah wrote “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.”

I have only scratched the surface of the passages that show God’s great mercy in the Old Testament.  So let us then remember when reading passages of God’s dealings in the Old Testament that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  His love and mercy never end.  His judgments were true and good then as they are now.  Let us not speak negatively of God’s laws nor of His wrath and punishment of evil.  Let us remember that our perception is flawed and that it is not our standard that we hold God to but rather we hold ourselves and our standards up against what God has revealed to us about who He is and what His standard is.  Let us rejoice that while we deserved His just wrath He has given us mercy and  grace according to His loving-kindness. Let us praise and worship Him in response!

 

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