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Godís self-revelation

in the Old and New Testaments


Sensing a difference between the portrayal of God in the Old and New Testaments is not new; many have wondered how the Old and New Testament ideas about God can be reconciled. Some aspects of the Old Testament picture of God that puzzle people are the following: 


Some think Godís wrath dominates the Old Testament, and his love the New Testament. God commanded Israel to annihilate the nations of Canaan for their sinful idolatry. However, this punishment was delayed for 400 years (Gen. 15:13-16). The prophets of God lived in the time when the kings led Israel into idolatry. Israel went into exile after 210 years of warnings, and Judah after 346 years of grace. When Godís patient love was rejected, he disciplined them. However, God did not give up on Israel; he yearned for their genuine love and trust. When they repented and returned to God, he was willing to forgive and to accept their mustard seed faith. He even extended this mercy to Gentiles: While Jonah wanted Nineveh wiped out, God accepted their repentance. Reading the Old Testament with a wide perspective, reveals a loving God who wants to save people from their sin. On Calvary, God's wrath on sin and his love for sinners merged in Christ. God could not leave sin unpunished or man unsaved. 


God did command Israel to make war against its enemies, and he did call leaders to launch such assaults. In reality, it was a clash between good and evil, truth and lies, Godís values and idolatry values, and between the Messianic line and those opposing it. The New Testament calls Christians to spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:11-13). Love for God and neighbour is the essence of Godís will for humanity, and is reiterated in both Old and New Testaments. However, when man chose violence, God answered with violence. Countries, too, try to avoid war, but when their freedom is threatened, they defend themselves. War has been part of human history from the moment Cain killed Abel. Even if God had stayed out of human disputes, there would have been wars anyways (2 Sam. 11:1). Despite the efforts of the United Nations to prevent war, regional wars could not be stamped out yet. God used this natural phenomenon in the fallen reality to serve his kingdom. Eventually it will culminate in the grand finale of Armageddon. World history will end violently. Christ, who suffered severe violence on the cross to free sinners from the devil's grip, will throw the devil and his followers into the pool of fire Ė an act of divine justice. 


Although Bible writers used Hebrew literary styles, such as repeating a word for emphasis (ďHoly, holy, holyĒ), God inspired them to use a unique style to serve his purpose, not manís. For example: in the Bible, the weakness of leaders are mentioned, while Gentile leaders only recorded their successes. Bible writers did not mimic Gentile literature on war-gods; that would have been an insult to Yahweh. 


a.      Israel. As God chose individuals to reach certain goals, so he chose Israel to fulfill a specific purpose. He was gradually revealing his Word to them; they had to treasure, maintain and disperse the Word by making exact copies of it. Thus they would be a blessing to the nations (Gen. 12:3). Because the Messiah would be born from Abraham and Davidís seed, Israel had to be kept pure by avoiding social or biological blending with other nations. However, God did allow some Gentiles into Israel (e.g. Rahab and Ruth), showing that Godís salvation is for the Gentiles too.

b.      Men. Because he first made Adam, God appointed husbands as the head of the family, and their wives as helpers (1 Tim. 2:11-14). Nevertheless, many women played a major role in the history of Israel and the church, such as Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, Bilhah, and many others after them. Mary was the most blessed of women for giving birth to the Messiah. Women have made meaningful contributions in the church through the ages.

c.      Election. We donít know exactly how Godís grace and human responsibility meet, but the Bible emphasizes both in the redemption of people. Christ is the only way to the Father, and no one will come to Christ if the Father does not draw him/her (John 14:6, 6:44). 


The casual reader may wonder if the book Job is fable or history, because God does not look good in the first two chapters. God virtually invited Satan to put Job to the test, and when Satan eagerly grabbed the opportunity, God allowed him to strip Job of all he had: possessions, children, health, marriage, friendship and happiness. Job did not let God down Ė he kept clinging to God despite his ordeal, and so proved Satan wrong. The Bible teaches that God leads believers through dark valleys to grow their faith. God does not test us beyond our ability (1 Cor. 10:13). The book of Job shows that personal suffering is not always linked to personal sin. Jobís eloquent friends tried proving Ė with longwinded arguments Ė that Job was punished for his sins, but eventually God said they had not spoken the truth (Job 42:7).


God does not contradict himself; therefore, his word does not contradict itself either. There are apparent contradictions in the Bible, but with close scrutiny they are proven to be just that. By analyzing the original text, studying the textual and historical context, and by comparing other parts of Scripture on the same subject, the whole picture emerges. A paradox is an apparent contradiction that conveys truth (e.g., ďLife through deathĒ). The so-called anomalies about Israelís success in conquering the Promised Land arise from the fact that they conquered most of Canaan, but pockets of resistance remained. Moses gave the reason for the gradual conquering of the land: so that the wild beasts would not become too much for Israel (Ex. 23:29, Deut. 7:22). It attests to the fact that Canaan had a thriving wild-life at that time. 


When the Bible uses hyperboles, it is clear from the context that it should be interpreted as such. When it states that in Solomonís time, silver became as common as stones, and cedars as common as sycamores in the low land (1 Kings 10:27), it is obviously meant as a humorous hyperbole. The same is true for Johnís statement that if all Jesusí words and deeds would be recorded, the world would be too small to contain all the books. 


It seems whimsical when God orders David to subdue Israelís enemies, but then refuses him the privilege to build the temple because he had shed too much blood. However, the blood on Davidís hands that offended God was the blood of Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba. It seems unfair to punish Moses severely for one small misstep Ė after all the good he had done for God and nation. However, while God refused to let him enter the Promised Land, God took him to a far better promised land instead: paradise. It may come over as capricious when God first announces Hezekiahís death and ten minutes later added fifteen years to his life, and when God decided to wipe Israel out and then accepted Mosesí intercession for them. God used these episodes to teach valuable lessons about prayer to coming generations. The Ten Commandments were written in stone, not the journey of the person or nation. Moses clearly explained what would happen to Israel when they obeyed God and what would happen when they did not. God changes circumstances for those who remain loyal to him. 


God revealed himself in the Old Testament as Almighty, Creator, Judge, Covenant-maker, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and as ďI am.Ē But what about the New Testament idea of Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Godís revelation unfolded in history: it was a work in progress. Over time he revealed increasingly more. However, the three Persons of the Trinity were present right from the beginning: God created through his Word (John 1:1-3), and his Spirit hovered over creation (Gen. 1). God spoke of himself in plural: Let us make man in our image. Father and Son interacts in Psalm 2 and 110. Godís Spirit came on Samson and gave him supernatural strength. When God appeared to people in human form, he was called the Angel of the Lord (Ex. 3, Judges 6). People who saw him feared they would die because they had seen God. With the incarnation of the Son, the three Persons of the Trinity were clearer discerned. Jesus explained to Nicodemus the love of the Father, the sacrifice of the Son, and the indwelling of the Spirit (John 3), but he also emphasized the unity of the three (John 14:9, 17, 23). 


The unbreakable link between the Old and New Testaments is affirmed by the prophecies about the Messiah. The Gospel of Matthew recorded many fulfilled prophecies. The Old Testament looks forward to his coming, the gospels describe his presence on earth, and the rest of the New Testament looks back on his first coming in humility, and looks forward to his second coming in glory. From Genesis to Revelation, God shows his plan of salvation for mankind. It is the same God in action Ė how can there be a difference between the God of the Old and New Testaments? Yes, there was progress in his revelation, but never contradictions. There is only one true God. He brings about change in his people and in creation, but he himself does not change, because he was, is and remains perfect in his Being, Persons, attributes, thoughts and deeds. 

Godís book is still the benchmark for novel writers: 90% of the story shows the struggle that leads to the climax. Without the Old Testament, the New Testament would not make sense at all, and vice versa.


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