Last night at our church bible study, it came up again. The God of the Old Testament is different than the God of the New.
Over the years, I could not count how many times I have heard people express this view of God - He is fearful in the Old Testament , but loving in the New.
I remember years ago as I began to seek to know God, I too, avoided the Old Testament because I was uncomfortable with the God I had been given to understand was portrayed there.
I stayed in the safe pages of the New Testament where I could read of God's love and mercy and forgiveness and see His compassion played out in the life of Jesus.
But one day I was convicted by the Holy Spirit that I was avoiding the Old Testament which was a big part of my bible.
I recognized that the early church had nothing but the OT scriptures and I could see that they were full of joy in the Lord. How did they reconcile the two?
So I took a deep breath and braced myself to study the OT... fearful that I would encounter a God that ruled from afar as a Judge full of wrath against sin, demanding an impossible standard.
To my great delight and awe... the more I studied , the more I found instead a God of Love and Mercy .... acting always as One intimately concerned for His people.
I found that knowing the God of the Old Testament filled me with such confidence and trust and admiration that my faith in Him was greatly strengthened. It truly changed how I understood His thoughts, His ways, and consequently how I prayed and related to Him!
One of my favorite subject titles when I was teaching woman's bible study groups in our church was ... 'You cannot Know or Understand the Love of God until you Know the God of the Old Testament.'
The NT 'tells' us that God is love, but it doesn't show us HOW ! It doesn't show us a picture of what that looks like played out in daily lives. Yes, we have the beautiful picture of Jesus willing to give His life for us.... we see Jesus being willing to bear the wrath of the God of the Old Testament on our behalf. Even though we recite John 3:16 for memory, we hide in a corner of our heart a fearful drawing back from the God who would demand such a price.
Many of us are not convinced until we see a picture... we learn best when we can 'see' what something looks like. God knows that ... He knows that we love pictures and stories. So He has given us that in the Old Testament.
Satan has tried to keep Christians from spending too much time there because he wants to keep them ignorant of what they will find hidden in the rich pages of God's His-story.
I started studying the OT by looking at the OT stories... the old familiar bible stories I had grown up with as a child. But I read them from a new perspective. I read them looking for how God related to His people ... as a nation but especially individually. I looked to see what the circumstances were and I looked to see how God thought and acted to and interacted with His people.
Again, and again I saw His tenderness, His love, His compassion, His open ears to their cries. I saw 'pictures' in the photo album of the OT of a God who was not afar off but was near to His people - understanding their needs, their pain and always with a ready answer for their questions. He met them in wonderful ways.
But I also saw how easily the human heart defaults back to its evil tendencies, choosing to follow its own inclinations and desires and turn away from a God who loved them.
And then I began to see the difficult parts of the OT - the violence , the killing - from His perspective and saw His love and patience even there.
I think the one thing people most often bring up is that the God of the OT was a God of violence and bloodshed.
Have you ever considered that the fault of the violence in the OT lies not with God but with man? If God had not been actively involved in the wars and violence of the OT, perhaps man would never have survived long enough to enjoy the blessings of the new covenant. All through the OT it is easy to see that God wanted His people to live in peace and under His provision ... but He was very much a parent with rebellious children. When God saw that they were bent on going in a certain direction He manipulated the outcome through His discipline - the sword, famine, pestilences- in such a way that His purposes in the end were realized. And His end purpose was that He would have a remnant of people that would be ready to receive His Son. If there had not been - you and I would not today be enjoying the blessings of being His child.
People look for a strong person to be their leader, to be a boss or CEO of a big corporation, a political head of their country but they seem to prefer a weak, permissive God. A permissive God does not inspire me to feel protected or safe. I want a 'hands-on' God , One who is powerful and unchanging - a God whose Word I can count on , whose Love is strong , who is infinitely wise, and yes, a God who hates evil !
That is the God I saw in the Old Testament - and that is the very God who was willing to take on human flesh and become the God/man to show us by the ultimate selfless act of giving His own life and death and resurrection the depth and breadth and height of His divine Love and through His compassionate mercy provide a way for you and me to come into fellowship with that Love!