One of the most unjust claims I repeatedly hear is, “Why is God so mean in the Old Testament, but Jesus so nice in the New Testament?” This accusation would MAYBE be true if the only revelation about the Father before Jesus was Judges or the conquest into Canaan. But, if we read the entirety of the OT, the Father graciously loves His people and He proves it! In fact, when we properly understand sin and justice, we cannot even levy this claim against God in the book of Judges. A simple glance into OT doctrine reveals the Father is compassionate — just as we expect from the Triune God.
The Lord is compassionate
The Lord is kind, compassionate, and merciful. Consider the evidence:
- Then Moses said, “I pray You, show me Your glory!” And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion” (Exodus 33:18-19).
- God then shows Moses His glory and says, “Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations” (Exodus 34:6-7).
- David says of the Lord, “Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget none of His benefits; Who pardons all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases; Who redeems your life from the pit, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion; Who satisfies your years with good things, So that your youth is renewed like the eagle” (Psalm 103:2-5).
- He states this again later, “Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:13-14).
When God reveals Himself to Moses, He reveals Himself and declares Himself compassionate. God told Moses one cannot look on the Lord and live. Moses asked to see Him. God reveals Himself to Moses as compassionate. Moses was not able to see all the Lord’s glory, but what He did see answered his prayer request while telling Moses He is compassionate. David reiterates this in his psalm. But perhaps a story will better illustrate this? 1 & 2 Kings can be a somewhat depressing read. The history of Israel’s kings is a history of one bad political leader after another. There were some good men there, some of them we’ll meet again in Heaven too. But for the most part, Kings leaves us wanting a greater king — you know, like King Jesus. In the midst of this depressing story comes God’s compassion. It’s as if God wants to remind people, “Yes, your earthly government will fail you, but I watch over, provide, care for, and love you.”
Here is the story of the widow in 2 Kings 4:1-7:
“Now a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the LORD; and the creditor has come to take my two children to be his slaves.”
Don’t just swoop past those words; imagine, the widow is not only about to lose her two sons, but she will lose her future wages too because who will provide for her? The debt and creditors not only represent past failings, but present future problems as well. This will pay for the debt, but who will provide for her?
“Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?” And she said, “Your maidservant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil.” Then he said, “Go, borrow vessels at large for yourself from all your neighbors, even empty vessels; do not get a few. “And you shall go in and shut the door behind you and your sons, and pour out into all these vessels, and you shall set aside what is full.” So she went from him and shut the door behind her and her sons; they were bringing the vessels to her and she poured. When the vessels were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” And he said to her, “There is not one vessel more.” And the oil stopped. Then she came and told the man of God. And he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debt, and you and your sons can live on the rest.”
God says, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27). What did God do for this widow? He provided for her. He saw her need, worked a miracle, and provided income that would last the rest of her life. God watches over His children. Here the Father looks more like the Son.
Why so mean?
“Okay, so blog-boy found a few references to God being compassionate. But this does not over-ride the fact that He is mean in the OT.” This really is a matter of perspective. The person making this claim often fails to realize that our sin makes us worthy of death. The real question to ask is, why does God not instantly kill us when we first sin? I mean, if I break the law in America, then I deserve to get punished.
God is king. Our disobedience is rebellion. But since most of our sins stem from selfish desires where we follow our own will, this actually makes our rebellion an act of treason. For we abandon allegiance to our king, trying to replace his reign with our own. Traitors deserve death for their treason. But God doesn’t kill off everyone at his or her first transgression. He is patient with them to lead us to repentance.
Consider Nadab and Abihu, the Lord killed them for offering strange fire “which he had not commanded them” (Lev 10:1-2). Even though this passage is debated, we can still observe both men disobeyed the Lord. They were in the tabernacle, in Lord’s presence by the altar. The altar demands reverence, obedience, and correct worship. The men failed to do this. Their death is not mean, it’s justice. But don’t forget either, the Father ordained the Son to die on the cross to rescue traitors — you and me. The Son’s death, orchestrated by the Father to rescue us from ourself. So even with our plight, the Lord shows compassion by dealing with our sin offering salvation. He becomes the just and the justifier.
The game’s afoot. . . .
Well okay, but Jesus is nice and would NEVER be mean, right? He’s not judgmental. He is our life coach. Well, the game’s afoot Jesus gets “mean.”
“Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. “Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. “And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. “Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.” (Matthew 11:20-24).
Here Jesus actually tells people they are destined for hell and worse than Sodom [and Gomorrah]. Jesus resembles the Father here. The student of Scripture will actually note, the Son and Father’s character is identical. Why? Because the Trinity. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is God. We expect each in the Trinity to bear the same nature. It’s absurd to declare the Father mean and the Son nice. It smacks the Trinity across the face insulting our Triune God. Reality is the Trinity is just, merciful, loving, kind, compassionate, slow to anger, saving the poor in spirit, and punishing the guilty all at the same time. Never is there a moment where one attribute leaves the Trinity.