Thursday, September 5, 2013

God, Forgiveness, and the Old Testament

Several years ago I had a conversation with an unbeliever. One of her objections to Christianity and the Bible was that the God of the Old Testament was quite different that the God of the New Testament. She asserted that God in the Old Testament was unforgiving, merciless, and vengeful, while the God depicted in the New Testament was not. I did a very quick survey of the Old Testament to see if her statements were true. Here is what I found:

When the Lord proclaimed his name to Moses in the book of Exodus he said, "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin…” (Exodus 34:6-7). The very essence of the Lord’s name is that he is a merciful, gracious, and forgiving God.

In the book of Leviticus, the phrase “they will be forgiven” or a similar statement occurs ten times in this book.  Although his people were guilty of sin, the Lord provides a means of forgiveness through the sacrificial system.

I would be remiss if I didn't point out that this sacrificial system was instituted in order to point forward to Jesus Christ. The truth is God cannot simply forgive us, without atoning for our sin; doing so would violate his own standard of justice. So in order to be just and forgiving God has punished his innocent Son in our place so that those who turn from their sin and trust in Jesus can experience his forgiveness.

In the book of Judges, God’s people continually rebel against him and thus incur the consequences of their sin. But, every time they turn from their disobedience and call on the Lord he delivers them from their punishment. This occurs twelve times in this book. Thus, here is another example that God is forgiving, even in the Old Testament.

The book of Psalms is replete with verses about God’s forgiveness. “You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you.” (Psalm 86:5). “Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits-- who forgives all your sins…”(Psalm 103:2-3). “If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.” (Psalm 130:3-4)

The prophets of the Old Testament record God’s perpetual forgiveness. “Let [the wicked] turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” (Isaiah 55:7). “I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me.” (Jeremiah 33:8). “The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him” (Daniel 9:9). “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:18-19)

It is fair to say after surveying these verses that the God depicted in the Old Testament is indeed a very forgiving and compassionate God, much like the God described in the New Testament. Therefore we can safely conclude that the Bible describes one, united, holy, and forgiving God, who “does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17). 

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