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Tracking grace through the OT

Tracking grace through the OT
Posted on October 9, 2019  - By Dr. David Brooks

People commonly say God in the Old Testament was not as gracious as He was in the New Testament. I would like to address this issue in three stages. First, let’s look at some of the instances of God’s grace in the Old Testament, which are too often overlooked or disregarded by critics. Then, we’ll look at the times in the New Testament when God does not appear gracious but severe. Third, we will examine specific examples of God’s severity in the Old Testament.

The New Testament says the Law came by Moses and grace and truth by Jesus (John 1:17), but it does not mean that God did not display his grace often in the Old Testament. A closer look at the Old Testament shows that God was noticeably gracious then too. The following are some examples:

  1. Although God warned Adam he would die when he ate from the forbidden tree (Genesis 2:17), God gave him life for 930 more years (Genesis 5:5).
  2. Although God was going to send a flood to destroy humankind for its violence (Genesis 6:5-7, 11), He preserved the race by telling Noah how to preserve humanity and the animal species (Genesis 6:13-21).
  3. Abraham had been a pagan worshipper (Joshua 24:2), Isaac a deceiver (Genesis 26:7) who tried to circumvent God’s clear choice of his sons (Genesis 25:23; 27:1-4), Jacob was a manipulator (Genesis 25:29-34) and deceiver (Genesis 27:18-24), and Judah urged his brothers to sell Joseph (Genesis 37:27), but God maintained His promises to bless the family to be a blessing to the world (Genesis 12:3).
  4. God considered Abraham righteous simply because he believed what God said (Genesis 15:6).
  5. Israel in Egyptian slavery was not loyal to God (Ezekiel 20:5-8), but He freed them when they called on Him (Exodus 14:30).
  6. In the golden calf rebellion, God said He would destroy the Israelites, but He heeded one man’s prayer to spare them (Exodus 32:9-14).
  7. Despite Israel’s continual complaining and rebelling and their acrimonious accusations during the wilderness travels (Numbers 11–20 describes six examples), God gave Israel victories over their enemies, healed their fatal injuries (by having them simply look at a bronze snake), and caused Balaam — who was hired to curse them — to bless them, not once, but four times (Numbers 21-24).
  8. In spite of the fact that God said all Israel’s people above 20 years old would die in the wilderness because of their rebellion at Kadesh-Barnea (Numbers 14:11-12), 38 years later (Deuteronomy 2:14), the population was 99.7% as large as at the beginning (Numbers 1:46; 26:51).
  9. Job said some harsh things about God and His justice (see Job 9:21-23, 30-31; 10:7-8, 16-20; 16:12-14; 19:7-13; 21:4; 23:15-16), but the Lord still restored him, giving him twice what he had before (Job 42:10-17).
  10. Although Israel was commanded to annihilate the Canaanites (Deuteronomy 20:16-17), the first person they met from Canaan and her whole family were spared because she had faith that God was the true God and helped them in their mission (Joshua 2:9-14; 6:25).
  11. Although Joshua was forbidden to make treaties with any Canaanites (Deuteronomy 7:2), when he failed to obey (Joshua 9:14-15), the Lord fought for Israel even to the point of making the sun stand still (or appear to slow its movement) to defend those same Canaanites (Joshua 10:6-8, 12-15).
  12. In Judges, six times Israel was oppressed by their enemies for their sins, and the text never says they repented. Yet, each time they cried out to God, He gave them someone to rescue them (Judges 3:7-16:31).
  13. Although David committed adultery and had Bathsheba’s husband killed (2 Samuel 11), God made and kept His promise to make his family the eternal dynasty for Israel (2 Samuel 7:12-16) to which Jesus would belong (Matthew 1:1).
  14. Even though King Jeroboam II was evil, God prospered the country under his reign (2 Kings 14:23-25).
  15. Isaiah showed that although Israel would not respect God’s Servant (Isaiah 49:7; 53:1-3), this same Servant would take on Himself the punishment for their sins to the point of death and would justify them (Isaiah 53:5-11) — and this was God’s will (Isaiah 53:10).
  16. Although King Manasseh rebelled against God to the extent that God sent the Assyrians to lead him into exile and imprison him, when he repented, God made Assyria release him to return to Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 33:1-16).
  17. When Jeremiah accused God of being unreliable and lost his job as God’s servant, God immediately offered him restoration if he repented (Jeremiah 15:18-19).
  18. At the time Israel was so rebellious against God that He sent them into exile and death (2 Chronicles 36:15-21), He promised He would make a new covenant with Israel in which He would forgive their sins and remain their God to help them (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
  19. Judah sinned to the extent that God sent the Babylonians to deport them to Mesopotamia (Micah 4:10), but He said from the beginning the exile would only be 70 years and they could then return to their homeland (Jeremiah 29:10).
  20. Zechariah said Israel would pierce someone, but He would come again as their Saviour (Zechariah 12:7-10) and would forgive their sins (Zechariah 13:1).

Although not exhaustive, these are just some examples of God’s grace in the Old Testament. The New Testament stresses the grace of God through Jesus Christ, as it should. But the Old Testament repeatedly reveals God as gracious along with its depictions of His severity. The New Testament accepts this mix as appropriate (cf. Romans 11:22).

Next week, we’ll take a look at some of the sterner passages in the New Testament.

Dr. David Brooks

About Dr. David Brooks

David Brooks is a senior professor of Hebrew & Old Testament at Criswell College, Dallas, where he lives with his wife and four children. Having been raised with an emphasis on international missions, he often accepts international teaching assignments while also teaching adjunctively at Dallas Theological Seminary.



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