I have recently been thinking quite a bit about the "God of the Old Testament" versus the "God of the New Testament." I have seen some debates on TV where prominent Christians have basically advocated for "throwing out" the Old Testament in favor of Jesus and the New Testament. I have read blogs and forum postings from confused Christians, wondering how we can possibly "defend" the Bible when things (many of them things God supposedly said!) in the Old Testament look so awful.
I can sympathize. Contrasted with our rosy view of Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild, the God in the Old Testament often looks wild and out-of-control. Jesus might have rebuked the disciples for asking Him whether they should call down fire from heaven on wicked cities, but where do we think they arrived at such an idea? These disciples had heard the stories of the Old Testament, and they thought that’s what God would do.
At some point in the recent past, however, it dawned on me that the disciples weren’t the only ones who were familiar with that Old Testament. So was Jesus! In fact, the Old Testament was the only Bible Jesus had. And, unless you subscribe to the view that Jesus came out of the womb as an adult and not a baby, He learned about God through the Old Testament. In His life, He revealed the character of the God He saw reflected in the Old Testament. So... something doesn’t add up. How could Jesus’s study of the Old Testament lead Him to the gracious and merciful character He showed us, while we can’t seem to see much of anything except a vindictive, harsh God in those same Scriptures?
Perhaps our lenses need a little refocusing. Leviticus 19 would be a great place to start. In fact, Jesus summed up this chapter in perfect brevity when He said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself." (Lk 10:27) Jesus didn’t make up a new commandment when He spoke those words; He took the concepts right out of Leviticus 19 (and other places in the Old Testament).
This chapter is all about loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself. Included are commands to:
- Deal honestly with people
- Be fair and do what’s right (don’t steal from the rich to give to the poor, and don’t use the poor for your own personal advancement)
- Not hold grudges
- Not seek revenge
- Treat senior citizens with respect
Also, in this chapter, we find a favorite tactic of moral social development that Jesus liked to use. Do you remember when He would say, "You have heard it said... but I tell you...”? When Jesus used that method, He wasn’t annulling what had been previously said. Instead, He was expanding the concept in the minds of His listeners. For instance, instead of asking His followers to deal with adultery by simply refraining from the physical act of sex, He asked them to not think of women as sex objects in the first place.
We see that in this chapter as well: "If a man sleeps with a woman who is a slave girl promised to another man but who has not been ransomed or given her freedom, there must be due punishment. Yet they are not to be put to death, because she had not been freed. The man, however, must bring a ram to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting for a guilt offering to the Lord." (vs 20-21)
One of the interesting things to note in these verses is that God commands that the slave girl not be put to death for this act of "adultery." (I put that in quotation marks because the text doesn’t specify if this was a consensual act or not.) What does that imply? That a slave girl who was engaged would normally have been put to death if a man decided to sleep with her! In other words, "You have heard it said... but I tell you...” Sparing her life in this situation is an example of God taking the Israelites one step closer toward His kind of mercy. (Dealing with the slavery issue would come later.) Also, it’s interesting to note who must bring the guilt sacrifice to the Lord. Only the man. The woman wasn’t required to offer anything, most likely because, as a slave, the assumption would be that she didn’t have a choice in the matter.
So even back here in Leviticus with the neanderthals, we see the Jesus we love, admire, and respect so much. He’s right there! So, this idea that a loving Jesus came to somehow change or appease the wrathful God of the Old Testament just doesn’t hold water with me. I think the much more likely scenario is that Jesus, in His sinless state, could see and hear the truth about God in the Old Testament. And when we read the same Scriptures through our sinful lenses of guilt, fear, and shame, we see what sinners see in God: condemnation, judgment, and wrath.
No wonder Jesus came to clear it up for us! He wanted us to know that God doesn’t change! He has always been, and He will always be, Love Personified!