Thursday, January 12, 2017

Is the God of the Old Testament Harsh?

In our search of the Old Testament, to find Yeshua, we have come to the end of the Neviim ("Prophets") with this post.  I have been so enriched as I journey with you on this. I didn't know where it would take us, but my prayer is that your faith has been enriched as well!  We will journey through the Ketuvim ("Writings") next.

It is significant that Jesus quoted from all three divisions (Torah, Neviim, Ketuvim) of the Old Testament--the only Bible that He had.  He didn't quote from every book but quoting from each division is representative of the whole.

It grieves me when Christians make statements such as, "The God of the Old Testament is harsh, but the God of the New Testament is loving and kind."  What?  The God of the Old Testament is the Father of Jesus, and Jesus Himself.  This sentiment shows a woefully inadequate understanding of the Old Testament and of God Himself.  If anything, we are the harsh ones, with murder being the first act once our parents left the Garden.  Brother killing brother, no less.

The OT chronicles rape, murder, manipulation, incest, child sacrifice and unethical warfare...all done by us.  Perhaps it's easier to focus on God's reactions to our sin than to focus on why He reacted the way He did.

Yes, to our modern sensibilities, slaughtering the Canaanites seems harsh and unfair; but they engaged in child sacrifice and sexual immortality.  Just because our reaction to sin is blunted should in no way lessen God's response.  Raining down sulphur and fire onto Sodom and Gommorah seems harsh; but what about the negotiation between Abraham and the angel for its salvation if even one righteous person could be found?  This was a town where citizens were eager to gang rape guests, a clear violation of hospitality and morality.  We are angry about prisoner rape in our penal system and want justice for the victims, yet we label God harsh when He dispenses justice.

As I read the OT in the light of Jesus' shadowy presence, I see every effort being made to redeem mankind.  Our species could have had a very short stay on this planet after our first parents rebelled. God could have seen them right back into the dust, then and there.  But He covered their naked bodies with the skin of an innocent animal, and sent them out into a world where the seasons would allow for food to be cultivated and they would survive.

Look at all the covenants made between God and His people.  Clearly stated agreements where God will be present and providing if His children continue to be obedient are strongly affirmed throughout the OT.  His children violated the agreements constantly, but even in the midst of punishment, He preserved His children and He restored them to their land and to their lives.

Why?  Not because the God of the OT is vengeful and harsh but because He loves us.  His own Son is the very embodiment of that redemptive desire that God possesses for His children.  Let's look at the final three verses in the Neviim that speak loudly to God's desire to redeem His people and how His Son is named in that very desire.

Micah 7:7-9 declares: "Therefore I will look unto the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation (yesha): my God will hear me.  Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me.  I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him, until he plead my cause, and execute judgment for me: he will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold his righteousness."

If God is as harsh as many Christians claim, then how could Micah have such assurance?  It is because of God's character.  Micah bases his confidence not on what he sees but Who he is keeping his eyes on.  God's character is one of justice and mercy.  Micah knows that salvation is coming because while God will punish sin, He loves His people enough to withdraw His hand when enough justice has been dispensed.  Because God loves His people with an everlasting love, punishment itself is temporary.

Jesus, Yeshua, when He came, demonstrated that same principle.   Because He bore the sins of mankind, His Father's judgement was deep and severe; but even death could not hold Jesus down.  He arose, gloriously restored and ascended into the Father's arms.  So, even though the penalty for sin was death, God in His love allowed His Son to pay the price and set us free.  

In Habakkuk 3:13, the prophet declares: "Thou wentest forth for the salvation (yesha) of thy people, even for salvation (yesha) with thine anointed; thou woundedst the head out of the house of the wicked, by discovering the foundation unto the neck." (KJV) 

In the NIV, the meaning of this verse is a bit clearer:  "You came out to deliver your people, to save your anointed one. You crushed the leader of the land of wickedness, you stripped him from head to foot."  

God saves His people, pure and simple.  Habakkuk saw God come down and take out the enemies of His people and save the Davidic king ("the anointed one").  Here I see two references to the Messiah and how God wants to save and preserve His people, despite the fearsome armies that descend upon His people:  One is that salvation is from God Himself.  Secondly, He has not forgotten to preserve the Davidic line through which Yeshua (the ultimate Deliverer and King) will come.  

Charles Swindoll's Insight for Living Ministries webpage puts it beautifully:

"Habakkuk’s prophecy was directed to a world that, through the eyes of God’s people, must have seemed on the edge of disaster. Even when the northern kingdom had been destroyed in 722 BC, God’s people remained in Judah. However, with another powerful foreign army on the rampage, faithful people like Habakkuk were wondering what God was doing. Hadn’t He given the land to His people? Would He now take it away? Habakkuk’s prayer of faith for the remainder of God’s people in the face of such destruction still stands today as a remarkable witness of true faith and undying hope." (https://www.insight.org/resources/bible/the-minor-prophets/habakkuk)

So, in the midst of evil and wondering where God is, Jesus' name echoes in the verse.

Finally, the day of the Lord's Anointed--the ultimate Davidic king, the Messiah--will come. Zechariah 9:9 proclaims:  "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass."

Jesus' ride into Jerusalem, a week before His death, is rich with meaning.  In fact, He sent His disciples to obtain that foal, knowing because of the OT, it would be there, waiting for Him.  

Yeshua brought salvation, is salvation and fulfills God's redemptive plan.  He came humbly to His people, offering grace and mercy.  But He will come again to dispense justice.  His work is being done, but He will not endure the cries of victims and the laughter of the evil ones forever.

Harsh?

No. Just...just.















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