The trouble with the Old Testament is that it is difficult to understand. It is much easier to malign the thing than it is to make sense of it. I know. I’ve done it. Recently, a Christian friend blogged about the fact that she “often believes in God despite (her) beliefs about Him”, citing God’s vengefulness, among other things. It’s hard to disagree. If you read the following references without context, you get a very unflattering picture of God: God condones slavery (Exodus 21), He orders genocide (1 Samuel 15), on multiple occasions He threatens to destroy Israel (Dueteronomy 9:13-14). “Without context”. That’s important. But what context could justify any of these? That’s a legitimate question.
Do you want to know what I find amazing about the Old Testament? There is very little commentary. It just is what it is. There’s precious little “why” but lots of “what”. Wouldn’t it be nice to read about the religious and cultural context according to the writers of the OT? Some historical background would be great, too. Was this ambiguity by design? Was it neglect? Did Moses not foresee that his writings would be read 3500 years later? Why didn’t God tell him to give some more specifics? He could’ve, after all… Moses had a direct line of communication with God. (See Leviticus 7:8, 7:28, 8:1)
Have you ever counseled a friend through a difficult situation? When they ask the hard questions, can you simply give them the right answer? Can you just tell them what to do? It doesn’t work that way, does it? Most prescribed behaviors, responses and precepts cower in the face of circumstance. Even right answers become wrong without the proper heart behind them. Resolution is a journey. It’s a path. There are sins and crimes within and without that must be reconciled along the way. We have to “work it out”.
That’s how it is with God. He can’t give us right answers. If we had a book of precepts, we’d be proud like Pharisees. If God simply gave us a bunch of principles, we’d mis-apply, hoard, tweek and abuse them. We’re not trustworthy with the knowledge of Heaven. He must make us seek. We have to struggle with Him. The answers can’t come from us. They come from God alone.
That’s why the main principle that you can draw from the Old Testament is this: God saves those who call out to Him. Yes, there’s vengence, anger and destruction. But the moral of the whole story is that God saves those who call out to Him. Over. And over. And over again. We tend to defend all those who fall under God’s judgment because we identify with them. But the point isn’t so much that God judges. The point is that He saves. The authors are trying to tell you: Look! It’s a bad world! One way or the other, you’re going to die! It’s a result of sin. God has the end in His hand either way. So just trust God now! Repent! Seek God! He saves! No slick principles here. No simple answers. No behavior modification. Just God’s salvation.
I think the Old Testament is beautiful. It’s amazing. It’s mysterious. It’s illuminated by Jesus. He embodies it. Literally. Jesus claims to fulfill the Old Testament (or “the Law and the Prophets” Matthew 5:17-20). He quotes it. He testifies about it. But He’s not vengeful. What does that say about Him? Is He crazy? Or does He know the truth that the whole thing is about God’s salvation? I’m convinced that He knows the truth. (See John 3:16, Matt 20:28, Luke 19:10 etc.)
This is a God I can love. This is the God that displays His salvation over and over again. This the God that became a man just to show mankind how much He wants this salvation for them. This is the God I worship… worship is my response to it all. This is the God of the Old and New Testaments. This is the God that made me, loved me, forgave me and saved me. This is the God who wants to do the same for you.