Do you struggle with the Old Testament? I’m often asked how to reconcile the kindness of Jesus with the judgment of the Old Testament God. Jehovah is a powerful figure who, at first glance, can seem heavy-handed to beginning Bible readers. They struggle to understand why God ordered judgment on certain peoples of the Old Testament (the subject of a future post) and do not see the kindness inherent to God’s character.
It’s vital to understand not only the character of God, but the intentions He revealed in the Bible. Also remember that God and Jesus are the same Person. Jesus was not a new entity created when He entered time; He was the earthly manifestation of God Himself. This means everything we know about Jesus is a picture of Father God’s heart, too. Keep this in mind when you read the Old Testament.
For further illustration of God’s kindness in the Old Testament, here are a few highlights from the Bible itself.
God’s Kindness to the Weak
God is incredibly patient and understanding with human weakness. Moses is a great example. Told to go back to Egypt and fulfill God’s mission of bringing the Jews to freedom, Moses trembled in fear and doubted his abilities. “Who am I that I should go?” (Exodus 3:11) was the first of five excuses Moses made to God – all the reasons he was too weak for the job at hand. But God still used Moses, even allowing his brother Aaron to do the speaking as a concession to Moses weakness. By the end of Moses’ life we see a legacy of strength and fortitude made possible by God’s kind mercy.
Another good example is Elijah. Immediately after a triumphant victory by God in which Elijah got to take part (1 Kings 18), he runs for his life to escape the wrath of queen Jezebel. In isolation, Elijah sinks into a depression, despairing for his life (1 Kings 19:4-14). In this moment of weakness, God does not abandon Elijah. First he sends nourishment personally using a raven, then acts as Elijah’s counselor – asking him “Why are you here?” This beautiful picture of God’s presence in human weakness reveals much about His true heart.
God’s Kindness to Women
I have written before about God’s heart for women in Scripture, particularly in the early church. But what about the Old Testament? There are so many women we could highlight but here we will concentrate on two.
Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho, a pagan Canaanite city into which Jewish spies were sent prior to attack from Joshua and his troops (Joshua 2:1-24). Rahab protected the Jewish spies from the authorities and the spies, in turn, promised to protect her family when Jericho was conquered. Rahab’s faith is highlighted in Hebrews 11:3. God used the Israelite people to reward Rahab’s belief in Him and protect her family during judgment upon a city that neither believed nor reverenced God.
Another example of God’s kindness is in his treatment of Hagar in Genesis 16. Hagar was the servant of Sarah, Abraham’s wife, until Sarah asked Abraham to take her on as a concubine. Hagar got pregnant and quickly began to lord her pregnancy over her mistress (who had been barren all her life). Sarah’s persecution was so intense, Hagar ran away while still pregnant. In the desert, carrying a child, Hagar was almost ready to give up and die when God met her in the desert heat. I love the questions He asked: “Hagar, where have you come from, and where are you going?” These are probing questions, questions about Hagar’s faith. God’s questions demand Hagar address what she believes about herself and her future with Him. God gives her a well, returns her to Abraham, and she lives on as the mother of Ishmael, known in the Old Testament as a free man (not a servant, like his mother was – this is significant).
God’s Kindness to the Non-Jewish
Lastly, God’s kindness is seen in the book of Jonah. Though the book revolves around Jonah as a prophet it’s just as much about the people of Ninevah who God desired to save. Not sure what Ninevah was known for? Ninevah was the capital of the Assyrian empire, a cruel people who viciously murdered other people groups, including the Israelites. For God to send Jonah to Assyria was one of the worst possible missions Jonah could imagine, but it reveals something about God: No one is too far gone for His kindness, love, and mercy. Old Testament or New.