Saturday, January 16, 2010

Is the God of the Old Testament a Scrooge?

The God of the Old Testament gets a bad rap.

It seems like here He is bringing plagues on Egypt; there He is commanding armies to swarm across the face of the land like locusts destroying everything. Some people assume when He is not handing out laws He's handing out judgments. I won't get too deeply into it today, but I just want to make a note here:

The more I really started cracking the pages of the Old Testament and working honestly through it, the more an image of a gracious God grew in my mind.

Sure, He is eminently shrewd and unflappable--if the Israelites insist on sacrificing their infants to demonic gods and murdering the poor in the streets, they deserve an occasional foreign invasion to stop their madness. But most of the Old Testament seems interlaced with stories of God's unwearying patience. Before God tucked Noah on an ocean-liner and flushed the earth clean, at least two-thousand years had passed from Adam and Eve's first defiance, ages filled with violence and bloodshed.

Although the prophetic books are spotted with warnings of coming judgments, He let Israel and Judah run wild for hundreds of years before at last punishing them. In fact the more I read the more frustrated I grew at God for his patience and reluctance to slap down on these jackasses. Remember Jezebel and Ahab? Ahab had one of the longest reigns of any Israeli king. He and the first lady led the way in pagan idolatry and corruption. Ahab did things like allowing righteous Naboth to be killed to take his vineyard from him because it was a convenient walk from Ahab's bedroom. Does God strike Ahab with lightning?

Nope, He sends a prophet to proclaim some future punishment. Ahab tears his clothes and weeps. And lickety-split, God says, Okay, I won't punish Ahab during his life because he humbled himself. Or what about how after hundreds of years of sexual orgies and child sacrifice, God at last sends Babylon in slice and dice and take the leading citizens of Jeruslam into exile and tear down the smelly city of Jerusalem. Hundreds of years! I couldn't stand his agonizingly slow response time to these evils.

And while we humans were down here sinning up a storm like a stench in the nostrils of anyone good, God just yammers about how He can't bear to see us get punished.  Read through these three passages from three different Old Testament prophets and listen to God's heart for yourself:


"When Israel was a child, I loved him, and I called my son out of Egypt. But the more I called to him, the farther he moved from me, offering sacrifices to the images of Baal and burning incense to idols. I myself taught Israel how to walk, leading him along the hand. But he doesn't know or even care that it was I who took care of him....

War will swirl through their cities; their enemies will crash through their gates. They will destroy them, trapping them in their own evil plans. For my people are determined to desert me... 

Oh, how can I give you up, Israel? How can I let you go? How can I destroy you like Admah or demolish you like Zeboiim? My heart is torn within me, and my compassion overflows. No, I will not unleash my fierce anger. I will not completely destroy Israel.... For someday the people will follow me. I, the LORD, will roar like a lion. And when I roar, my people will return trembling from the west."  (From Hosea 11)

In Isaiah after long chapters of angry judgments He says:

"Comfort, comfort my people,' says your God. 'Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Tell her that her sad days are gone and her sins are pardoned." (from Isaiah 40. And don't forget chapter 53 in your estimations.)

In Jeremiah, written in the last days of Judah as the city of Jerusalem was preparing to be at last destroyed by the Babylonians, we hear this:

"'My wayward children,' says the LORD, 'come back to me and I will heal your wayward hearts.' 'Yes, we're coming," the people reply, 'for You are the LORD our God. Our worship of idols on the hills and our religious orgies on the mountains are a delusion.'

"O Israel," says the LORD, "if you wanted to return to me, you could. You could throw away your detestable idols and stray away no more....Then you would be a blessing to the nations of the world, and all people would come and praise my name."

Does the God of the Old Testament sound like Scrooge? Or like God?

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