What about God in the Old Testament vs God in the New Testament?
Old Testament God vs New Testament God. Why does God seem so different between the Old & New Testament? How do we understand what seems like violence and anger compared to love and compassion?
Old Testament God vs New Testament God
We are in a series at the moment called What About…? As God’s allies we often have questions about our faith. And we get asked questions by other people that we struggle to answer. So far in this series we have looked at voting and money and if you missed them you can listen in online to hear the messages and the midweek Q & A.
This week we’ll talk about the question, “What About God in the Old Testament vs God in the New Testament?” Why does he sometimes seem different? How do we make sense of that?
We talk about God being a God of love and we know that that is so true of God’s character. But you might read passages in the Old Testament and it’s hard to make sense of the killing and the wars that time and time again occur, which seem senseless and cruel and inhumane. We see God ordering the Israelites his chosen people to go and kill other people, to go and wipe out entire nations. Its hard to read and can sometimes even make you mad at what seems like senseless killing of innocent people.
One of the many reasons that people say they cannot accept God is because of religious violence in the Bible. This is what we call belief blockers, questions that people have that block their belief in God. They say, “You claim that God is a God of love and that Jesus came to save us. How is it that the God of the Old Testament is a God of anger, violence and wrath?” This can be a really hard thing to understand and to explain. What do you say to someone who doesn’t trust in God and they ask you this question?
The question is probably coming out of reading stories of horrible battles and stories of harshness. There is so much death and killing and you don’t read much of that in the New Testament. For example:
1 Samuel 15:3
“Now go and completely destroy the entire Amalekite nation—men, women, children, babies, cattle, sheep, goats, camels, and donkeys.”
Then you come to the New Testament and you read stories about Jesus having a compassionate heart and openness to those who were the worst of the worst; tax collectors, prostitutes and the down trodden of society. We read:
1 John 4:8 “But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
What do we do with these differences?
What we know about God
So lets look at the characteristics of God and who he is:
He is a God of Love and Mercy and Compassion
Ephesians 2:4-5 But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)
It’s something that has been told to us time and time again and I grew up hearing, that God is a God of love, mercy and compassion. It is true, we worship a God that gave us the right to live through Jesus’ sacrifice and his love is a tangible thing we can feel and experience.
You probably even have a testimony of God’s love in your life that you could share with the person next to you right now. He is a God of love and that remains true throughout all history. God does not change.
The Bible tells us in Hebrews 13:8, “God is the same yesterday and today and forever.” The Bible is very clear that God doesn’t change his characteristics throughout time. He doesn’t suddenly go from being a God of anger, wrath and violence to a God of compassion, mercy and love. It is not possible. He is the same yesterday, today and forever.
Our God is unchanging in his character, it is impossible for him to have a split personality and to be different from one generation to the next. He is the God who created us in his image and from the beginning of time had a plan of salvation for us through Jesus Christ.
Slow to Anger
In the Old Testament in Psalms in several places it says that God doesn’t get angry quickly. For example in Psalm 103:8, “The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.”
We don’t worship a God who flies off the handle in an act of unjust rage to smite people in mass destruction in a split second. God’s anger is always righteous and just and is only against evil. We see God moving slowly throughout the Bible when it comes to his anger.
He is patient with us
2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” Think about times in your life that God has been patient with you. He does it everyday. It is his character and nature and he wants everyone to know him.
He gives people time to respond to him. All through the Bible we can see God doing that. Now, in our time, God is not slow in returning. He is being patient to give more time for people to repent and turn to him.
He is just
Psalm 25:8-10, “The Lord is good and does what is right; he shows the proper path to those who go astray. He leads the humble in doing right, teaching them his way. The Lord leads with unfailing love and faithfulness all who keep his covenant and obey his demands.”
The Bible tells us that God is just. This means that he is fair and impartial. It also means that he hates the ill-treatment and oppression of people and of nature, which he has created. He hates lying, cheating, and other forms of mistreatment of others. The fact that God is just means that he can and will judge between right and wrong and he will administer justice in accordance with his standards
He is a perfect judge
We know that it is God’s right to judge sin. He is a perfect God and there will come a day when Jesus returns and the Bible tells us that a day of judgement is coming. It is only through the righteousness of Jesus Christ and his sacrifice on the cross that we can be saved. 2 Corinthians 5:10 says, “For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.” Evil cannot co-exist with God in heaven, and Jesus is returning to judge the world.
The whole Bible reveals all of God’s characteristics. So lets look at the Old Testament and why it seems that God is angry and violent and not loving compared to the love we read about in the New Testament.
Firstly we need to understand that the Bible is a progressive revelation of who God is. God reveals himself throughout history. The Israelites only had a limited knowledge of who God was as he showed them his characteristics by saving them from Egypt, by giving them the law that reflected who he was, and through the temple and the elements of the temple. God shows himself as a God of love by calling the Israelites out and making them his own chosen people, to be an example to surrounding cultures and a testimony of who God is, his greatness and his love so all would come to faith. God reveals his love little by little throughout the Old Testament.
We know God as three in one, the Trinity: God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit. However, in the Old Testament this was only hinted at. As the Bible reveals God through time and we see God’s revelation of Jesus we can understand that God truly is three in one. God took his time in revealing who he was throughout history and throughout the Bible.
In God’s eternal plan, the Old Testament was a preparation to show how true, right and glorious God is. And to show how terrible sin is. Into that situation, Jesus came to make it possible for our sin to be dealt with.
As we read through the Old Testament there is record of war after war after war. Amy Orr-Ewing, the director of training at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries says that we have to remember that the Bible is a historical document that is recording the history of the time. Yes we do read of war after war and wars that God commands but we need to “remember that God did not approve of everything recorded in the bible. There are many accounts of things happening in the bible that God neither condemned nor praised, it is simply recorded as an event of the time.”
There are many accounts of things happening in the Bible that God neither condemned nor praised, it is simply recorded as an event of the time. Amy uses one example of a man called Eglon recorded in Judges 3:17-25 . This man was assassinated yet this event wasn’t commanded by God. So we need to be careful about how we read different accounts of violence and war in the bible.
Many of the wars that are recorded in the Old Testament are a historical record of kingdoms trying to establish who they are. We know that even today as nations try to become powerful or extend their kingdom it often involves war. This happens today, it’s not just limited to Old Testament times. A lot of wars today are about powers trying to establish a stronger kingdom and take over land. A large portion of the Old Testament falls into this category. This is helpful in starting to understand how the Old Testament is put together and how it represents God.
Looking at the context of the war is really important. Ask yourself the question:
- Did God command this violence, or is it just an event that is recorded in the Bible?
- If God did command it, why did he do that?
Eventually, though, we come to wars in the Old Testament that are God-ordained. There were times when God commanded the nation of Israel to kill people and take possession of the land. This particularly happens after God rescues Israel from Egypt. As we read we see that God instructs the Israelites in how to conduct war and kill people living in surrounding nations.
It can seem that God is so violent.
But we see that the times God clearly commanded Israel to go to war were because of absolutely detestable abhorrent sin. They were sent to kill nations doing things like sacrificing children to false gods.
Deuteronomy 9:4 “After the Lord your God has done this for you, don’t say in your hearts, ‘The Lord has given us this land because we are such good people!’ No, it is because of the wickedness of the other nations that he is pushing them out of your way.”
Deuteronomy 18:12 “It is because the other nations have done these detestable things that the Lord your God will drive them out ahead of you.”
These passages show us that God was judging the Canaanites. The wrath and anger of God against sin and his righteous judgement of sinners are important biblical principles. Without understanding that God must judge sin, we cannot understand the wonder of God’s forgiveness and grace or the amazing truth of the cross, where Christ endured the wrath of God for our sin.
In Deuteronomy 20:16-18, when God commands the Israelites to kill everyone in the cities of the Canaanites, the reason He gives is that, “This will prevent the people of the land from teaching you to imitate their detestable customs in the worship of their gods, which would cause you to sin deeply against the Lord your God.” God judged the Canaanites by using Israel in war.
The religious purity of Israel was not only important for their own sake, but because of God’s intention that they would function as a witness to his power and goodness to other nations
God never used Israel in violence on an angry whim, it was always after years, decades and sometimes generations of patience, mercy and grace where he was giving the other nation a chance to repent and turn to him. You might remember the story of Jonah. God sent him as a witness to Nineveh, saying that they would be destroyed if they didn’t change their ways and turn to God. When they do repent and change, God doesn’t judge them!
In my research I came across a really helpful table that outlines God’s grace and love amongst the violence. The times that God allowed and commanded war there was always a time for the people and nations to repent and turn to God. God always provided a witness to testify about God and there was an opportunity for salvation.
(This table is recreated from this website)
The New Testament is the revelation of Jesus Christ. We know that Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins and it is through his sacrifice that we can have salvation through faith. Jesus now tells us that because God’s grace is revealed through him that we don’t take up arms in his name, we don’t judge because that is God’s job. We are called to show God’s love to those around us and to share in his love.
It is because of the revelation of Jesus that we are in a time of mercy and grace. An extended time where God is withholding his judgment of sin until Jesus comes back again. God is now patiently waiting, giving people an opportunity to repent. 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” We have been given time to repent and turn to God.
Just like in the Old Testament where there may have been one or two witnesses to the salvation that was available, we have Jesus Christ and thousands and thousands of people who stand to give their testimony to the his work and love. Christians are present now in the world as witnesses to God’s truth and love. There is no excuse, God is giving everyone the opportunity to come to him. 2 Corinthians 2:14 “But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.”
There is salvation for any who will repent and trust in Christ for salvation. Acts 2:21, “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Finally, God’s judgement will come. This is the reason that we don’t see God ask Christians to go to war in his name. He is going to do the final judging himself. The book of Revelation talks about a time when God will judge and we will see the consequences of every person’s choice to either accept God or to ignore him. The consequences will be either eternal punishment or eternal blessing. In this final judgement God will demolish all evil. When Christ returns, God’s judgement will come and no one will be able to escape from it.
Revelation 20:11-15, “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire”
God is the same yesterday today and forever.
He is a God of love
The Old Testament is a historical book that is a progressive revelation of who God is. Remember that God did not approve of every act of violence in the bible or command or sanction it. Much of the violence we read about was neither condemned nor praised, it was simply recorded as a historical event of the time.
God always gave a witness to show people who he was.
He always allowed time for people to repent.
He always offered salvation through faith for those who believed.
We live in a very blessed time where we have the complete revelation of Gods salvation plan and that salvation plan is Jesus Christ. We also live in a time of mercy and patience where God is withholding his judgement and allowing people to come to him because of the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross.
But there is coming a day when Jesus will return and judge again for those who don’t believe in Jesus and have faith in him.
Anyone who calls on the name of Jesus will be saved from the judgement that God has promised. If you declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, God offers salvation for you. If God is prompting you today and you want to trust him and follow him, then ask him for salvation through Jesus today. Know that he loves you and wants you to come to him.
What About…? series
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