God seems a whole lot more…for lack of a better word….cruel in the Old Testament. These days people will scoff at the idea of the Bible, and young believers express surprise, at what seems like such a huge a difference. Why was God so bent on punishment in the Old Testament and so bent on forgiving in the New?
Since the Bible also says “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you,” –I Peter 3:15 (NKJV) It’s important that we who are believers –especially those of us who have been Christians long enough to learn a few things, be able to give an answer to questions to such as this. Paul did. In the book of Romans, Paul spends the first eight chapters explaining how Jesus fits in with the rest of God’s plan from the Old Testament until now. In Galatians, Paul again explains how the Law with its rules and regulations to Moses and Israel, led us to Jesus. Hebrews spends a great deal of time detailing how the Old Testament was pointing to Christ all along. The same God, according to Hebrews, using different methods at different times, all for the same reason: To eventually lead us to forgiveness of sins and a new life through the death and resurrection of his one and only Son, Jesus.
You see, a large chunk of the New Testament is about this very question, and a New Testament Christian should be able to explain quite easily how the God in the New Testament, is still the God in the Old Testament. Unfortunately, the subject sounds so boring the Church has concentrated more on more exciting teaching! Our failure to teach something as basic as this in the Church has led to many misconceptions and false doctrines over the years. We preach God is love, but forget that God is also a God of judgment and justice. We preach that Christians should follow God’s commands much better than we do, forgetting to preach that no one on earth can become righteous simply by making a better effort, or by really trying. God already proved the impossibility of human beings trying to be perfect didn’t he? As Paul would write: “Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.”” –Galatians 3:11(NIV)
So why the Law? Why was God different in the Old Testament at least on the surface? Why did God make the law in the Old Testament that someone caught in adultery should be stoned to death, while in the New Testament, God’s Son Jesus Christ forgave a woman caught in adultery? As the Pharisees said to Jesus at the time… “”Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” –John 8:4-5 (NIV)
What do we say? God has mercy. He did with King David in the Old Testament when he committed adultery, and he did with this woman who was brought to Jesus. God also forgives when someone turns back to God in repentance. He did with King Manasseh and he told Ezekiel “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?”- Ezekiel 18:23 (NIV)
God’s forgiveness and mercy is present in the Old Testament as well as the New, and through them he demonstrates his patience in dealing with us; however make no mistake, God will still judge sin. He did yesterday. He does today. He will do so tomorrow. The Old Testament Law, with its punishments and death, demonstrated the judgment of God right here upon this earth, but the truth is, the New Testament also says God continues to judge people at the present time. Speaking of people who were making light of communion, the Bible says “For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.” –I Corinthians 11:29-30
What changed was the way God speaks to us. The way he deals with us. Much like a parent will deal with a five year old in one manner, and a 17 year old in another manner, God has dealt with mankind in one way, and now that we have the lessons of the past to remember, he builds upon them and deals with us in a different way. God, nor his purposes have changed, only his method. In the past, God demonstrated his judgment and mercy through the Law in the Old Testament. Those repercussions for sin in the Old Testament were definitely harsh, but in these last days the Bible says, God demonstrates his judgment and mercy through his Son. Listen to the words of Jesus himself: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”-John 3:36 (NIV)
Soberly consider the fact that Jesus didn’t represent a change in God. Jesus simply took our place and the wrath of God was taken out on him. The punishment the adulteress deserved, that King David deserved, that all of us have earned because of our disobedience to God, was put on Jesus. Isaiah said it best: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” –Isaiah 53:6
Any deeper study invariably concludes it is definitely the same God in both the Old and the New Testament. In the New Testament however, we see God punishing his Son instead of us, so that we could be forgiven. It’s our way out. In fact, it was the plan all along.