He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8
Over Christmas, my wife and I traveled to Florida to visit her snowbird mother and stepdad. The stepdad is 89 this year. Except for delighting in beating me – or anyone – in any kind of the card game, he is a genuinely nice guy. One of the things he has set for himself to do is to read the Old Testament, figuring – rightly, I believe – that it would not have been given and preserved for us if it was not of value. Still, he was struggling somewhat with the perception that the revelation of God in the Old Testament is nothing like the revelation of Jesus by the New Testament. My father in law is not alone, of course. I have another acquaintance with an much more extreme view; he asserts (because things we might judge as “unfair” like orders for the total destruction of a group of people and their livestock or the wiping out of almost all humanity by flood, are attributed to God) that the “god” the Old Testament is talking about is effectively Satan, and he discounts the text altogether. My extreme friend is just fine with Jesus, though I an not sure how he deals with Jesus’ assertion that “… not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:18) Jesus did quote the Old Testament quite a bit.
Because I would like to be able to do a better job of helping my father in law with his questions, I have been re-reading a book by pastor Andrew Wommack titled The True Nature of God that puts major emphasis on reconciling the Old and New Testament descriptions of God. I have to admit that I was hooked upon discovery of the title of the first chapter, “Is God Schizophrenic?” I will just say here, that though the book is an easy read, I found it insightful on this subject. Hence my decision to re-read.
Of course, not all the Old Testament is pestilence, warfare and mayhem. Some passages, like the one above from Micah seem more pleasant. How about this one from First Peter quoting from Leviticus?
but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
1 Peter 1:15-16
Does Peter seem over-emphatic for our day? “[A]ll your behavior” – seems pretty inclusive. Peter is simply acknowledging that “holy” means “right and good without inconsistency”. This is not a description we can usually apply to human beings. I can still point to plenty of inconsistency in my own behavior. Yet, here is a reminder that we have that specific instruction from on high to be holy like God is holy.
Jesus seems to have a realistic outlook on our actions when speaking to one identified as the rich young ruler:
And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. Mark 10:18 & Luke 18:19
Jesus was (is) God and good. He just recognized the one he was speaking with did not know it and the young ruler was merely using a flattering greeting when addressing Jesus.
One of the effects of the Law, spelled out in the Old Testament, should be to convince us that we can’t live up to it and therefore need a Savior. Unfortunately, we seem to have a near limitless capacity to ignore facts and excuse ourselves. If only we can find someone that we judge to be worse than ourselves, we think we are not so bad. If we have the humility to perform an accurate self assessment, even the requirements noted in Micah 6:8 seem impossibly tough, compared to God’s holy example. There are times when we think vengeance would be justice and kindness is unwarranted for some particular person who has found a way to greatly offend us.
At the risk of stealing Andrew’s thunder concerning reconciling the testaments, consider this passage about Jesus in Hebrews, remembering that Hebrews was written to those well-versed in the Law and the rest of the Old Testament.
And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, Hebrews 1:3
This is telling us that total revelation of God’s nature can be found by examining the nature of Jesus. Jesus Himself repeatedly told His disciples that He and the Father were ONE.
The short story is that if God seems different in the Old Testament, it is because the revelation of His nature in the Old Testament is incomplete and our understanding of it, even more so. Given before Jesus, it is incomplete in the same way our instructions to young children fail to tell the whole story. “Don’t play in the street”, we say. “Why?”, comes the childish retort. “Because I said so”, is an expedient answer. More of the truth? If one keeps playing in the street playing attention to things other than the traffic, odds are good that he will eventually be hit by a vehicle driven by an inattentive operator, probably eliminating the chance of having offspring to whom one can say, “Because I said so.”
“I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you. John 16:12-15
These words were spoken to disciples who had been walking with Jesus for three years. He recognized that without the transforming and empowering work of the Holy Spirit in us, we will remain incapable of grasping the truth. Getting to where we can bear all of it, may take an eternity.