Is God Meaner in the Old Testament Than in the New? By Graham P. Donahue
When we look at the Bible through our eyes, we often tend to look at God as a kind of meanie in the Old Testament, but a loving, merciful God in the New. Is this true? Did God somehow change over the course of history? Or could it be that we are not looking at God in the right light. I believe the latter. If we have the right view of ourselves, and God, we can understand the incidents in the Bible much better.
So where is our understanding wrong? Let us go to the heart of the issue. We are sinners. Ever since the day we were born we have sinned against God. If we understand how holy God is, it shows us in what state we are in. Throughout scriptures it says God is Holy, Holy, Holy. In the Bible, when words are repeated, it means it is emphasized. So God is not only Holy, but He is Holy, Holy, Holy. The Bible says God is merciful, holy, just, loving, mighty, truth, righteous and all things good. Compare that to us. We have all told lies, put other things before God, dishonored our parents, failed to give God’s name the reverence it deserves, committed adultery either physically or in our mind, hated others, stolen, or coveted. The fact that God considers intentions, and thoughts as equally sinful to the actions themselves (i.e. lust as adultery and hatred as murder) goes to show how holy He is. With this understanding we should realize that we all deserve God’s wrath. The fact that He does not destroy us all instantly shows that he is merciful. Often we ask the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” That is a good question, but one that does not apply to the world because there are no good people. As the Bible says, “There are none who are righteous, no not one.” So the real question is why do good things happen to bad people? The reason is God is merciful and does not give us what we deserve. More then that, He is gracious enough to give us better then we deserve.
But what about verses in the old testament like Joshua 11:20? “For it was of the LORD to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that he might destroy them utterly, [and] that they might have no favor, but that he might destroy them, as the LORD commanded Moses.” According to this, God seems pretty mean. I mean, God hardened their hearts so that He could destroy them? “I thought God was a loving God,” you say. He is. The fact that He didn’t do the same to Israel, or to you and me is loving. We all deserve to be killed off and tormented in Hell forever. But God gives us life, and an opportunity to repent of our sins and trust in Him for salvation.
Another thing I believe this brings up is that God’s primary concern (next to His glory) is for His people. God’s mercy and grace was upon Israel more then all of the people around. Why did He not tell Israel to go and tell the people of that country about Him instead of killing them off? Well, to be honest, I don’t know. But I do know this, God was perfectly just in what He did because we all deserve death. Yet, He was also showing His grace to the people of Israel by letting them live and giving them that land.
“This all makes sense, but what about God in the New Testament? We don’t see Jesus going around telling His people to kill off the Romans. In fact, He is real loving as He died on the cross for our sins. I don’t see the same character of God in the New Testament as in the old.” Well, that is true Jesus didn’t have people killing each other, but that does not mean God’s character had changed, He just changed His method. Christ was not there to destroy the world but to save it. Christ did show His love upon the cross, but here is something for you to ponder. Did Christ die for everyone, or did he die for His elect? Let us think about it for a moment. If Christ died for everyone, but not all came to Him, would not that make His death be in vain? If He died so all the world could be saved, but not all of the world is saved, that would mean He failed to fully accomplish what He died for, and if Christ failed, He is not in ultimate control, and therefore He is not all powerful, and not fully God. We cannot have that. But let us look at it this way. If Christ died only for His elect, then His death was not in vain, because all of His elect will be saved, therefore He accomplished what He died for. “But that is not fair that He would save some and not all,” you say. Well you are right it is not fair. If He was fair He would not save any of us. Therefore, we should rejoice that anyone is saved. So if we look at God with this in mind, we see that God has the same thing in mind in both the Old and New Testaments. His goal is to save, protect, and draw in His elect. Why? So He can be glorified. This is His ultimate goal. Why would He save a wretch like me? So He can say to you “Do you want to know how good I am? I saved Graham. That is how good I am.” That is what it is all about. It is not about us. It is about God and His glory.
I hope this has given you a better understanding of who God is, who we are, and how much good He has done for us.
Thanks for reading!