A Constant God
For many, the God presented in the Old Testament is irreconcilable to that seen in the New Testament. The image of a loving, healing God as represented through Jesus in the New Testament is, for some, in-congruent with the idea of a God who led his chosen people on conquests and would command the death of people for not following a seemingly small opinion. Some Christian’s chose to ignore the Old Testament and only listen to the words of Jesus. This is folly, the God of the Old Testament is the same as the New Testament, it would be impossible for him not to be! This impossibility is because the Bible describes God in multiple places, both Old and New Testament as never-changing. In Psalm 55:19 it is written that “God who is enthroned… does not change.” Hebrews 13:8 supports this by saying that “Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever.” It is therefore impossible for there to have been a fundamental shift in the nature of God between the Old and New Testament.
So then, why does God appear to be so violent in the Old Testament? How can this possibly be in light of the above verses? The ‘violent’ God of the Old Testament seems especially impossible with consideration of 1 John 4:8 which reads, “whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” The answer is complex and requires one to be willing to develop an understanding of the unique contexts seen in the Old and New Testaments.
Old Testament Genocide
The Israelite’s conquest of Canaan is described in brutal fashion in the Bible. God’s chosen people, the Israelites takes over land held by another people as God had given them “every place” where they set their foot (Joshua 1:3). The book of Joshua documents the bloody conquest of Canaan. The Israelites are commanded to “completely destroy them- the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites” as per the Lord’s “commanded” (Deuteronomy 20:17). In many places, even the women and the children were killed. Why would a loving God command a genocide? The Canaanites were sinful, they were involved in child sacrifice among other depraved activities. If left unchecked, these people could have negatively influenced the world, spreading total depravity like in the time before the flood. The conquest of Canaan did not lead to the death of all people in this land, the Israelites were not under a blanket ‘kill order’. For example, in the Battle of Jericho, Rahab is allowed to join the Israelites due to her faithfulness to the Israelite slaves he had hidden. It was not the goodness of the Israelites that led to them taking Canaan, but rather the sins of the Canaanites. In Deuteronomy 9:4,5 God says to the Israelites “Do not say in your heart after the God your God has thrust them out before you, “It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,” whereas it because of the wickedness of these nations.” This was God using his people to bend the world according to his will, what he perceived as best for the people. The Canaanites had had time to repent, 400 years in fact, but they had no change in their ways, this was not a blind attack.
This is not the only mass killing in the Bible, there are many others, including the flood of Genesis 6, the decimation of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and the death of the Egyptian firstborn sons during the Passover. In a way, these events are parallels to the ultimate judgement day, when God will judge all. God is the only just judge as evidenced in Romans 2:2 which says, “now we know that God’s judgement against those who do such things is based on truth”. More than that, God has the best interest of His people at heart as seen in Deuteronomy 31:8, “And the Lord, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.” We are unable to understand the work of God, in Isaiah 55:8-9, God says to his people “”For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”” God’s ways are beyond our understanding but it is important that we read these stories within context and study them deeper to expose the character of God. Anything can be taken from the Bible and out from its’ context. We must be intentional about seeking the heart of God through prayer and through reading discerningly around these events.
New Testament Love
With Jesus’ sacrifice, rather than actions and righteousness, we became, not justified by our actions but by our faith in God. This is called the New Covenant, in the time before Jesus, the wages of sin “were death” (Romans 6:23) but now the “gift of God” is free for all who believe. As humans, we are unable to improve without the influence of outside forces. God has maintained his amazing love for his people throughout history. Salvation is a free gift that no longer has to be earned (Ephesians 2:8-9). Even in the Old Testament, God was actively laying ground for the perfect New Covenant.
God’s love transcends all, he is an unchanging and merciful God. In 2 Peter 3:9 it says “The Lord is not slow about keeping His promise as some people think.” He is waiting for you. The Lord does not want any person to be punished forever. He wants all people to be repent from their sins and turn from them, like any loving parent. Dig deeper into his word, if you are confused about a passage, research it and read it in context. The stories of God in the Old Testament point to a righteous judge, just the same as the descriptions in the new. God is waiting to keep his promises towards you from both the Old and New Testaments, are you ready to trust in his love and judgement?
By Kira-leigh Josey
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