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Why I Love the God of the Old Testament

January 20, 2014

It’s inevitable.  An argument starts up about God.  At some point, somebody on the other side brings up an unflattering Old Testament passage about babies getting dashed from the heights or mold or a death penalty required by the law and then we Christians kinda, well, shut up.

That’s not always because we don’t have an answer for some of those things.  Sometimes we don’t think we have an appropriate venue to share about it.  Sometimes we handle it by focusing on the justness of God or something to that effect.  I think there’s something else to it, though.  I think that it’s often because a lot of us silently agree about something that may surprise some of you on the other side of the fence who believe the hype that we all blindly accept without questioning:

Forget loveable – we are not too sure that the God portrayed in the Old Testament is even all that likeable.

To be honest, I know I have considered that many times.

This scenario played out recently.  The homosexuality/marriage debate sprang up again and, of course, there it was.  A commenter brought up Leviticus 20:13.  “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable.  They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”  As if anticipating the usual flurried rush to get to the more palatable Jesus, he cleverly headed those people off at the pass by quoting Jesus in Matthew 5:18 saying “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass away from the law till all is fulfilled.”  Well, he actually quoted the YLT which says “one iota” but, yes, I chose the NKJV translation for its use of “jot” and “tittle”.

His point?  Hey, Jesus agrees with this harsh law with this harsh penalty – God’s a bit of a jerk.  Based on that he asked a question which I thought was a good one: Why would you follow this God?

For those of you who have wondered, please allow me to answer with at least what I’ve come to realize about this God of the Old Testament through many years of searching.

The God of the Old Testament is Chill

 

That’s right – chill.  When people think of the Old Testament God, what they usually think of is the Law & the Ten Commandments.  Funny thing is, God didn’t drop the Ten Commandments until many hundreds of years after Adam & Eve were created.  We imagine Old Testament God as a guy with one hand on the rule book and the other scrutinizing us looking for a misstep.  Instead, the God of the Old Testament let HUNDREDS of years go by without giving people a rule book to pour over and argue about.  God, as described early on in the Pentateuch, is anything but a being who loves pedantic rules.

The Old Testament has a phrase it likes to use often concerning the relationship of people with God in the early times: “in those days, each did as they saw fit.”  Forget the mold restrictions in Leviticus for a moment. This isn’t a God who is micromanaging us.  For those hundreds of years before the Law was given on the mount the people were given tremendous latitude in their relationship with God.  In essence, God did not chase them with a rule book.  God chilled with them.  God, like The Dude, abided.  This was his preferred mode of relationship as opposed to cop vs. robber.  It’s not until His people were captured by the Egyptians and forced to work as slaves for long periods of time that the Ten Commandments & the Law came along which brought the restriction we instantly associate with the God of the Old Testament.  The Law was given only after a time when the people were forced to forget Him.  In other words, it was a necessity to have deeper restrictions because their relationship with God wasn’t as intimate.  Sometimes you have to go back to basics when you lose your way on something and, certainly, a non-intimate relationship with God leads you into dangers of all sorts.

The God of the Old Testament is Not That Interested in Punishment

I love the God of the Old Testament because He wasn’t all that interested in judging.  He didn’t even prescribe judges in the ample time he had when he gave the Law to Moses in those 40 day, 40 night sessions.  It’s Moses (or Jethro to be exact in Exodus 18 – Moses was settling disputes for people individually because they willingly came to him to sort them out – Jethro advises the system of judges), not God, who comes up with a system of judges for the Israelites.  God simply allowed freedom for Moses to execute that plan. (This is also the case with divorce, which Jesus says Moses allowed even though God was not a fan at all.)

In the time after Moses and Joshua – the book ironically called Judges – this period is filled with a people not under a system of judges like Moses had established but in a system with each doing as “they saw fit”.  There is an interesting interaction in Deuteronomy 12 that bridges this gap.  After God gives the Law, he tells them that they will no longer “do as they see fit” until they reach the promised land.  After that, the relationship is to go from being static with the Law into one that is dynamic with the Lord relating to them directly(mostly with edicts saving them from disease and war).  It becomes pretty noticeable then that in Judges, the time after the people have entered the promised land, the phrase “each did as they saw fit” is used again and again.  So, God put some restraints through the Law on his people but only for a time until they could get to a better place.  (It is completely worth noticing that this Law was not given in a civilized place, it was given to a people wandering in a wilderness.)  In Judges, God only raises a judge up every once in a while and mostly when his people are in dire trouble (usually do to them doing as “they saw fit”.).  This judge is usually a judge of the cultures around it, not the Israelites.  In other words – the judge is a liberator not an incarcerator despite that the trouble the Israelites were in was usually because they did not listen to God.  The God of the Old Testament doesn’t seem to like to take away the freedom of a people.  The God of the Old Testament is no control freak God.

Another thing I love about the God of the Old Testament is that he doesn’t like the man.  For example, it was also not God’s idea for the people to have a king.  The Israelites begged him for one through Samuel.  God actually tried to talk them out of it telling them the man was going to take their money in taxes and their children for war.  God isn’t all that interested in putting one man in power over another.  God doesn’t like his people being held down by the man.

And what about all of that harsh talk in the prophets about judgment?  Well, if God was into punishing people, wouldn’t he have just punished them instead of warning them?  And by warning them I mean warning them over and over again through a multitude of ways for dozens and sometimes hundreds of years before he acted decisively.  It’s not lost on me that his warnings were not just for His people who followed Him but for the people who hated him.  He loved them enough to warn them still, very patiently, until he acted.  By putting off punishment, he allowed non attractive conditions for the people who did want to follow him both in those cultures and in others.  That was an incredibly risky thing to do all in an effort to try to give leniency to a people who hated him.

The more I read about the God of the Old Testament, the more I see a God who is reluctant to judge or punish.  On the other hand, I see a God who likes to walk with people, protect them from harm, embrace their creativity, come to them in cool dreams, chat with them, dwell with them, advise them, show them cool tricks, embrace love (even sensually and pretty openly randy in Song of Songs), save them, and even have a good old fashioned wrasslin’ match with them (in which he lets them win – Israel).

In other words, The God of the Old Testament prefers to chill – not judge or punish.  And that God I see is one that I find more than likeable – He’s loveable.

The God of the Old Testament Demands Complexity

The Law is a big sticking point for people.  Who can blame them?  Reread that Leviticus verse above.  It seems pretty harsh and, what’s more, it seems that He demands that we execute these harsh judgments of His.  The commenter in the story I referenced was right as well.  If we accept Jesus we must accept that Jesus says every little “jot and tittle” – every iota – of the Law must be followed (or, as He describes it elsewhere, is wrapped up in His life).  I’m so glad he said (both the commenter and Jesus).  That’s what makes the Law so compassionate and beautiful.  It’s fullness.

We like step by step processes in this modern age.  We like to make each step independent of the other to make it manageable.  Therefore, we have a tendency to try to break down Godly things that He intended as irreducibly complex.  God’s structuring of the Law is intended to inhibit this.

Think about it – Moses was up on the mount for 40 days and nights at a time.  During this time, the whole Law was given to him.  If God had intended for it to be independent steps, he could have easily had Moses go up, get some information, and come back down.  As it was, he revealed it all at one time because each part relies on the others for full understanding.  What else can we expect, I guess, from a God who is 3 that insists to be understood as 1 entity?

This complexity of things that are multiple becoming one is a theme throughout the Old Testament.  And it is beautiful because what that means is that in order to understand and follow the Law that God gives, we must take ALL of it at the same time.  So, yes, there is a part of the Law that stipulated that the Israelites were to put men found in homosexual acts to death but there is also a part of the Law that says “Love your neighbor as yourself” and another that says “Thou shalt not kill”.  The fullness of the Law meant that no action could be taken without careful consideration.  If I am to follow the Law, then I must follow all of it.  This is probably why there are very, very, very few references of the death penalty being handed out by the Israelites either in Scripture or in other contemporary writing.  There is brilliant reason for this and it is one of the beauties of the Law.

The Israelites, as well as a lot of the world, lived in a patriarchal society.  Basically, an extended family claimed a bit of land and what happened on that land was dictated by the father or family.  This was a time with very little national rule or consequence, very unlike our lives today.  The death penalty with its instruction to be carried out by the tribe or people in the community protected people who were accused of these crimes by forcing the family to bring its case to the ENTIRE community rather than base it on their own personal ideas of justice.

First, anyone who loved their child would not be likely to expose them to the community if it meant their death so I’m sure many of these crimes never came to light.  But, even if a crime worthy of the death penalty did come out, now the community must be convinced – I mean really convinced – not only that this person committed a crime but also that executing this person did not violate the other parts of the Law in its fullness.  If you are part of the convicting then YOU have to be the person who throws a stone which really puts you in a pressure cooker because if you’re wrong you are violating the Law through this execution.  By wrongfully killing another through conviction you put yourself under judgment by the same Law condemning you to the same death and, now, the sin of one person has forced an entire community to reflect on their own ability to follow the Law.  All of the sudden, the people pushing for justice must now be subjected to scrutiny on whether they are just themselves!  What a crazy, beautiful way to insure mercy!  No wonder so few recordings exist of the death penalty in early Israel!

All of this is illustrated perfectly in Jesus interaction with the woman caught in adultery.  Jesus gives us the punch line that God expected the fullness of the Law to force the Israelites of old into self reflection by saying “He who is without sin cast the first stone.”  In this story, the community reflects exactly as laid out above and even though they were teachers of the Law, they all left.  Suddenly, no one wants to condemn.  Don’t miss that Jesus, being without sin, could have been the first to throw a stone.  In fact, if people believe that God’s desire in the original Law was lots of executions and blood that’s exactly what He would have done because He followed the Law perfectly (He embodies the Law).  Knowing what everyone, everywhere did, Jesus would have been throwing a heck of a lot of stones.  Yet, to the woman caught in sexual sin he simply said “Go and sin no more.”   Then, he took her and all of our punishments on himself on a cross on a hill called Golgotha.  If Jesus is the ultimate example of the Law then that must be how the God of the Old Testament intended interpretation of the Law it in the first place.

I like that God.

Falling in Love

I admit it.  I wasn’t really in love with the God of the Old Testament for most of my Christian life.  He seems distant.  He seems angry.  He seems disapproving.

The more I look into it the more I see He’s not that way at all.  Do I see everything or understand everything?  No, that’s the thing about fullness – it sometimes takes a large period of time to get it all.  There are moments when i read scripture where my emotional response is “yeesh”.  Yet, time and searching has shown me the virtues of being patient.  It’s a bit ironic in this case that what has taught me to be non-judgmental or quick to wrath is God himself.

God doesn’t want to just be liked.  He says in the Law that he wants our love with everything we are – heart, mind, soul, and strength.  The concept of “everything” requires this love to be something that requires continual effort since we grow and do more with every new day.  It doesn’t necessarily just lightning bolt into you.  The more I seek, the more I see a God in the God of the Old Testament who loves fiercely, who is loyal, who is generous, who desires mercy, who is chill, who is worth following, and, most noteworthy, is worth loving.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Paige permalink
    January 20, 2014 8:20 pm

    This is sweet. Thank you!

  2. January 20, 2014 8:30 pm

    Great article! Modern Christendom has missed out on a fountain of blessings by dismissing the Old Testament God.

  3. January 20, 2014 8:56 pm

    I rather like that verse about bashing children against stones. Jews in captivity in Babylon are so angry they want to kill babies: and God is, well, abiding with them.

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