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Is God ‘Different’ in the Old Testament and New Testament?

Carol Brooks
Edited by Vicki Narlee

ON THIS PAGE

Introduction

The Circumstances Of The Day
The Formation of Israel

The Specific Situations Regarding Other Nations
The Assyrians
The Death Of The Egyptian First-Born
The Extermination of The Canaanites

You Haven't Really Read The New Testament, Have You?
The harshest of God's judgments is found, not the Old Testament, but in the New.
Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild?

Jesus and Turning The Other Cheek
Jesus And The Woman Caught In Adultery

Why Is It Okay For God To Kill?

Conclusion
The End of The Age and The Message of The Bible


Introduction
The Bible quite clearly states that God's nature is unchanging.

    God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?  (Numbers 23:19 NASB)

    Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind." (1 Samuel 15:29 NASB)

    Even they will perish, but You endure; And all of them will wear out like a garment; Like clothing You will change them and they will be changed. "But You are the same, and Your years will not come to an end. (Psalms 102:26-27 NASB)

    For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.  (Malachi 3:6 NASB)

    Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. (James 1:17 NASB)

    Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  (Hebrews 13:8 NASB)

However, many people perceive the God of the Old Testament as being impatient, vengeful, cruel, merciless, and very cranky, which they believe is in complete contrast to the 'loving' heavenly Father of the New Testament.

      Old Testament: Skeptics point to the fact that the God of the Old Testament destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with brimstone and fire from heaven (Genesis 18-19), called down various plagues on Egypt (Exodus 9-10) and ordered the killing of all the Egyptian first born  - children as well as cattle (Exodus 12:29). That He commanded Joshua to destroy the city along with all its inhabitants except for Rahab and her household (Joshua 6:17) and ordered the extermination of the Canaanites including women, children, and in most cases, livestock as well (The exact instructions in Deuteronomy 20:16-17 were not to leave alive anything that breathes). Nor did His own people escape. Numbers 16 relates how several families were swallowed up by the earth and went down alive into Sheol. Numbers 15 includes the story of a man who was sentenced to death when he was found gathering sticks on the Sabbath.

    New Testament: On the other hand, it is believed that the New Testament portrays God as the epitome of love and grace, who never says a harsh word or steps on anyone's toes, and that Jesus not only preached love, but was incredibly accepting of sinners.

The conclusion is then drawn that Christianity is not to be trusted since, contrary to what the Bible says, God's nature does change. Not only is this presumed difference in God's nature used to try and discredit Christianity but has, unfortunately, proved to be rather large stumbling block to many.

So what are we to make of this?

Do we simply relegate the Old Testament to ancient history and ignore it. Or, to borrow an analogy I read earlier, should we compare the Old Testament to the booster rockets of a space shuttle designed to help ensure that the space vehicle has sufficient power to go into orbit. Thus, once the New Testament space shuttle was launched, the booster rockets had accomplished their purpose and fell harmlessly back to earth. [01]

The million dollar question then is whether God got kinder and more easy going over the course of time.

The problem is that all too many people approach Biblical issues like they approach a buffet - they choose a little of this and a little of that and disregard the dishes they do not particularly care for. In the case of the perceived 'change' in God's nature they, all too often, tend to...

    1) Either ignore, or perhaps are completely unaware of, the circumstances and/or the specific situations that caused God to rain down havoc on certain individuals and groups.

    2) Ignore verses that do not fit in with their pre-conceived ideas or support their point of view. 


The Circumstances Of The Day

The Formation of Israel
The tiny nation of Israel was very special to God - As Moses told the Israelites the Lord chose them over all the other nations of the earth to be His people, not because they were superior - morally, numerically, or in any other way - but because He is a faithful God and honored the covenant He made with Abraham.

    "For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. "The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the Lord loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the Lord brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. "Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His loving kindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments; (Deuteronomy 7:6-9 NASB)

The story of the nation began when God first called Abraham out of Mesopotamia where the Babylonians and Assyrians (both founded by Nimrod) were building ziggurats to their Gods. Abraham was led to Canaan to sow the seeds of God's kingdom on earth. See From Babel to Babylon However, the very existence of the nation depended solely on the grace and power of the Father.

Not only did the Father choose Jerusalem as His dwelling place calling it the "apple of His eye" (Zechariah 2:8), but the Jews were the medium through which God communicated His messages and His laws.

Most importantly, Israel was chosen to be the conduit for His blessing and grace to spread over the entire world - the salvation and future of mankind rested on the shoulders of this tiny nation that God had chosen to birth the Messiah. The Seven Feasts which the Israelites were commanded to celebrate were types of events that, at the time, were still centuries in the future. They outlined the entire plan of salvation, from Jesus to the coming Kingdom. Four were fulfilled by the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, while the remaining three, including Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement, have not yet come to pass. See The Seven Feasts of Israel). As John said "salvation is from the Jews".

    Christianity worships a Jewish Savior, whose Jewish disciples founded a Jewish religion in Israel. They spoke the Jewish language (Hebrew), they read the Jewish scriptures, they attended Jewish synagogues, they taught using the teaching techniques of the Jewish religious teachers of their day (the rabbis). These are the same people that wrote (for the most part) our Christian scriptures, both the Old and the New Testaments. Jesus was a Jew of the line of David (Matt. 1:6)! Paul was a student of the famous Rabbi Gamaliel (Acts 22:3) [02]

Because it was from Israel that the Messiah would come, it was imperative that Israel remain holy and set apart for the worship of the one true God.

God's Standards For The Individual Behavior of The Israelites
God's standards for the individual behavior of His people was not only very high, but retribution was usually swift and apparent to all. For example,

    Achan's transgression in keeping for himself gold and silver from the city of Jericho, that were banned to the Israelites, resulted in a military defeat. Only after Achan was put to death did the victories continue.

    Moses and Aaron never saw the promised land, As the Lord told them - "Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them."

    King David's adultery with Bathsheba had terrible consequences. He was told that because of this deed he had "given occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme" and the child born of the union would "surely die."  (2 Samuel 12:14)

    And as far as the man sentenced to death for picking up sticks on the Sabbath is concerned See HERE

On the other hand, God's caring for individuals is seen, for example, in Genesis 21 when the Lord comforted Hagar (Sarah's maidservant) who was wandering in the wilderness and had run out of water. He not only led her to water but told her that He would make a great nation of her son, Ishmael. In I Kings 19 the Lord sent an angel to provide an exhausted and frightened prophet with food and drink.

But, regardless of all God did for this nation including bringing them out of bondage in Egypt, and the fact that they were the keepers of God's laws Israel, time and time again, went horribly astray.

Hosea
The story of the prophet Hosea gives us an insight into God's relationship with Israel. Hosea was instructed to marry a prostitute, which he did. Although she did not remain true to him, Hosea still loved his unfaithful wife and went after her and brought her back ... "..even as the Lord loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes." (Hosea 3:1 NASB). This certainly gave Hosea first hand insight into what God had long gone through with His adulterous people.

Additionally, numerous verses testify to the unfaithfulness of Israel and the long suffering nature of God

     But the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion on them and turned to them because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them or cast them from His presence until now. (2 Kings 13:23 NASB)

    But He, being compassionate, forgave their iniquity and did not destroy them; and often He restrained His anger and did not arouse all His wrath. Thus He remembered that they were but flesh, A wind that passes and does not return. (Psalms 78:38-39 NASB)

    They refused to listen, And did not remember Your wondrous deeds which You had performed among them; So they became stubborn and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But You are a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness; And You did not forsake them. (Nehemiah 9:17 NASB)

But there is no question that the Israelites paid very dearly for their transgressions - the 70 year exile in Babylon for example. Daniel was one of those who was taken captive by the Babylonians. Note the words of his prayer when he realized that the ordained 70 year period was coming to an end.

    "Indeed all Israel has transgressed Your law and turned aside, not obeying Your voice; so the curse has been poured out on us, along with the oath which is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, for we have sinned against Him. (Daniel 9:11 NASB)

In other words, God did not allow Jerusalem and its temple to be destroyed and the people to be herded off to a foreign land because He woke up one fine morning in a foul mood. It always came down to justice - sin and its consequences.

Which brings us back to the time of the very beginning of the nation of Israel.


The Specific Situations Regarding Other Nations

Although it is true that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the killing of the Canaanites etc, were limited to a very specific period in the history of Israel  and if the people were to maintain their identity as followers of the one true God, it was hugely important that they not be corrupted by the idolatry and practices of the surrounding nations.

However, there are two very important factors to be borne in mind.

    1) The Old Testament commands were issued to the leaders of a young nation in a very particular situation. For example, the command to destroy Jericho was to be a one time occurrence and did not give the Israelites license to remove just anyone that stood in their way.

    2) God Himself did not wipe out anyone that happened to be in Israel's path to becoming a independent nation, but His supposedly harsh treatment of other kingdoms was unfailingly linked to their behavior and His judgment of them. Additionally, just as we in the 21st century do, they always had ample warning that they needed to drastically change their ways.

A perfect example of this is...

Jonah and The Assyrians
Quoting Psalms 86:15 the prophet Jonah called God "a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness". But, if the God of the Old Testament was a cruel monster who delighted in killing people, why in the world would Jonah repeat what the Psalm said?

The explanation is simple.

Jonah was commanded to go and preach in Nineveh, the flourishing capital of the Assyrian empire. This command he disobeyed by fleeing in the opposite direction. His reasons were that he pretty much knew that if the Assyrians repented God, being God, would not bring upon them the calamity He had threatened. In other words, Jonah knew that the Lord always acted consistently with His character, and His response was (and is) always favorable when people repent.

The Ninevites were infamous for their cruelty and Jonah did not want them forgiven. And who can blame him when so many of his countrymen had already experienced the carnage they wrought? His prayer is actually a testament to the goodness and mercy of God.

    He prayed to the Lord and said, "Please Lord, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. (Jonah 4:2 NASB)

In regard to the next two situations, had the Israelites not been freed from slavery in Egypt and had they not occupied the land of Canaan, they never would have become an independent nation. However, once again, God did not exterminate other people in order to clear the way for the Israelites.


The Death Of The Egyptian First-Born.
The Israelites had been in bondage in Egypt for a very long time. Because the Pharaoh was afraid of their very large numbers that might one day might rise up against him, he "appointed taskmasters over them to afflict them with hard labor". However, when that did not affect their numbers he commanded that every son born to the Hebrews was to be thrown into the Nile.

Although this infanticide was well deserving of immediate punishment the plagues sent as a warning were, more than likely, spread over several months, gradually increased in severity.

     It is probable that the plagues extended through a period of several months. The first plague occurred probably during the annual inundation of the Nile, hence about the middle of June. The second, that of the frogs, in September, the time when Egypt often suffers in this way. The seventh (hail) came when the barley was in ear, and before the wheat was grown, and hence in February; and the tenth came in the following March or April. [03]

In other words, God gave the Egyptians warning after warning, but they refused to listen or repent. The Pharaoh's response to God's command to let His people go was "Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice?"  If the Pharaoh hadn't been quite so stubborn, he could easily have averted the complete disaster that eventually overtook them - a lesson to us all not to believe that the God of the universe can be thwarted or that we can avoid His judgments

See Why Did God Allow the Killing Of All the First Born of Egypt?

The Extermination of The Canaanites
The Divine command to exterminate all men, women, and children of the several nations that lived in Canaan is one of the major sticking points to seeing God as a just, merciful and loving God. Many see this as an act of mass genocide with few stopping to investigate why this happened.

There is actually more than one reason.

1) The Corruption of The Canaanites
To be particularly noted is that Moses was very clear that God drove out the pagans not because the Israelites were so righteous that they deserved the land, but because the Canaanites who lived there were so corrupt. In fact, Moses referred to the Israelites as a "stiff necked people" who had nothing to brag about regarding their own virtue (this was brought up many times in the Old Testament).

    Do not say in your heart when the Lord your God has driven them out before you, 'Because of my righteousness the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,' but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is dispossessing them before you. (Deuteronomy 9:4 NASB)

The Bible tells us that the Canaanites and other tribes in the land indulged in several practices that, even today, would be seen as horribly immoral  (in today's permissive society, some would be seen as worse than others). And what were these practices? Offering their children as sacrifices to Molech, adultery, sodomy, bestiality,

    'You shall not have intercourse with your neighbor's wife, to be defiled with her. 'You shall not give any of your offspring to offer them to Molech, nor shall you profane the name of your God; I am the Lord. 'You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination. 'Also you shall not have intercourse with any animal to be defiled with it, nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it; it is a perversion. (Leviticus 18:20-23 NASB)

The Canaanite religion and their gods were something else.

    In Canaanite paganism the el, par excelence, was the head of the panthon. As the god, El was, in accordance with the general irrationality and moral grossness of Canaanite religion, a dim and shadowy figure, who, Philo says, had three wives, who were also his sisters, and who could readily step down from his eminence and become the hero of sordid escapades and crimes. Philo portrays El as a bloody tyrant, whose acts terrified all the other gods, and who dethroned his own father, murdered his favorite son, and decapitated his own daughter. The Ugaritic poems add the crime of uncontrolled lust to his morbid character and the description of his seduction of two unnamed women is the most sensuous in ANE literature (much of Ugaritic literature is R rated at best). [04]

And the Israelites, who were given a strict code of ethics, were warned not to adopt the practices of the nations that they were about to conquer - for these abominations the land itself had vomited out its inhabitants.

    Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled. 'For the land has become defiled, therefore I have brought its punishment upon it, so the land has spewed out its inhabitants. But as for you, you are to keep My statutes and My judgments and shall not do any of these abominations, neither the native, nor the alien who sojourns among you (Leviticus 18:24-26 NASB)

Besides which, the Canaanites had plenty of time to reflect on the fact that the God of Israel was not to be trifled with. They had heard of the events in Egypt, knew what had happened to Pharaoh's army at the Red Sea, and the fate of the armies that had opposed Israel along the way. As Rahab told the spies sent to scout out the land of Canaan...

    "For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. "When we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath. (Joshua 2:10-11 NASB)

But here is what is really interesting. The Canaanites had some forty years to repent and change their ways but they did not, as God already knew they wouldn't. See The Foreknowledge of God. When God promised the land to Abraham, He knew exactly what path the Canaanites would take. However, He waited (and the Jews were put on hold) until their iniquity was filled to the brim.

     God said to Abram, "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. "But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions. "As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age. "Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete." (Genesis 15:13-16 NASB)

See Joshua's Conquests .. Holy War or Genocide?


2) The Inhabitants Of Canaan Were Not Exactly Who or What We Thought
Although Canaan was destroyed for the same general reasons the earth was almost wiped out by the flood in Noah's time and Sodom and Gomorrah were demolished by fire from above, there was another, almost unbelievable, reason they were to be totally exterminated. (It is to be noted that the Old Testament is very clear that it was only certain indigenous people that had to be removed from the face of the earth. The Israelites did not have carte blanche to do whatever they wished).

What is often overlooked, but very telling, is that there was a taboo against any interaction with the Canaanites much, much earlier than the time of Joshua. For instance, Abraham made his servant swear that he would not pick a wife for Isaac from among the Canaanites (Genesis 24) and Isaac, in turn, instructed his son Jacob not to choose a wife from the daughters of Canaan (Genesis 28:1)

Why?

What was so wrong with the Canaanites that no association was to be made with them and they were later to be completely exterminated?

This is crucially important for us to understand because in Matthew 24:37 and Luke 17:26 our Lord said, "As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be in the days of the coming of the Son of Man". He linked these two periods of history, and said that one is the parallel of the other. The nearness of His coming makes it crucially important that we understand what occurred in the days of Noah.

Who or what were the inhabitants of Canaan? See Days of Noah

Summary
In brief, the Egyptians were given much warning in spite of the fact that they murdered who knows how many Israeli children. The Canaanites had forty years to change their ways. The Ninevites were warned that God would destroy them in 40 days unless they repented and changed their ways. Note: The Assyrians did temporarily repent and were spared, but soon returned to their old ways, which is when they were destroyed. The empire's utter ruin was foretold by the prophet Nahum. See 1:14; 3:19, etc.

The Jews themselves, keepers of God's laws, were not exempt from His justice. Individuals suffered quick and ruthless retribution for disobedience. The nations as a whole, paid very dearly when they adopted many of the ways of the heathen, including idol worship and child sacrifice, in spite of being warned over and over again by the prophets what the consequences would be.

In other words, the impatient, vengeful, and quick to fly off the handle God of the old Testament is a figment of people's imagination.


You Haven't Really Read The New Testament, Have You?
Or are you simply ignoring verses that do not fit in with your idea of a New Testament God who never says a harsh word?

As for those who claim that the God of the New Testament is exclusively a loving merciful God (read mushy old grandfather in the sky) I will ask one question.. You haven't really read the New Testament, have you? The harshest of God's judgments is found, not the Old Testament, but in the New.

Ananias and Sapphira
To begin with, you certainly missed the story of Ananias and Sapphira who were struck down for lying to God about the price of the land they had sold which, ostensibly, was an offering (Acts 5:1-11).

Zephaniah's Prophecy
And if you really had read the Old Testament, you would have come across the words of the prophet Zephaniah who was writing not about his own time, but about the final end of this age.

    "I will completely remove all things From the face of the earth," declares the Lord. "I will remove man and beast; I will remove the birds of the sky And the fish of the sea, and the ruins along with the wicked; And I will cut off man from the face of the earth," declares the Lord ... Neither their silver nor their gold Will be able to deliver them On the day of the Lord's wrath; And all the earth will be devoured in the fire of His jealousy, For He will make a complete end, indeed a terrifying one, of all the inhabitants of the earth. (Zephaniah 1:2-3, 18 NASB) See The End of The Age

Let's talk about Jesus Himself.


Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild??
The typical view of Jesus is that Jesus was always nonjudgmental, accepting of everybody, and a gracious pacifist, which is a classic example of a very selective reading of the New Testament.

Because Jesus was kind to an adulterous woman (John 8:1-11), the woman of ill repute who anointed His feet with perfume (Luke 7:37-38), the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) etc. people seem to commonly believe that Jesus 'hung out' with sinners. This is often used as an excuse for doing the same thing - for staying on very good terms with the world.

So was Jesus as accepting of sinners as people often make out?

The answer is an emphatic no.

    "Just because Jesus loved unconditionally, that did not imply his full acceptance of all people just as they were. Some, like lepers, he healed so that they might enter his community as whole people. Others, like unrepentant religious leaders, he excluded (or recognized their self-exclusion) quite assertively. Clearly the inclusiveness of Jesus was not of the "y'all come just as you are" variety. Though he reached out in love to all, and though he invited all into the kingdom, only those who received the kingdom as a child, with openness and repentance, in fact were included within the community of Jesus. Remember the basic message of Jesus included a call to repent: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news" (Mark 1:15). See The Inclusiveness of Jesus

In our effort to focus on Jesus' nice side, we completely overlook His tough and very dangerous Old Testament side. Doing ourselves no favors, we ignore the fact that

    Jesus wasn't exactly being 'peaceful' when He physically drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple and overturned the tables of the money changers (Matthew 21:12 NASB)

    He called people hypocrites, blind guides, vipers, white washed tombs, sons of hell etc. 

    Jesus spoke more about hell than anyone else in the Bible.

    Repeatedly pointed out that people who did not repent and believe the Gospel would perish. As an example see Luke 13:1-5.

    And that many will enter into the wide gate that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13 NASB)

    In the parable of the landowner and his son, Jesus said the owner of the vineyard will bring to a wretched end those who killed His Son. (Matthew 21:33-44)

    Finally, He said that in the future He would "send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:41-42 NASB)

Additionally Revelation 19:11-16 graphically portrays Jesus as a warrior whose robes are dipped in blood and who slays His enemies on His return.

    And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, "King Of Kings And Lord Of Lords. ." (Revelation 19:11-16 NASB)

A few verses later, we are told that "kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him", but were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse".  

In other words, Jesus' acts of mercy and forgiveness during His three years of ministry only introduced a season of special grace and mercy prior to judgment. See Luke 13:6-9.

God Hasn't Changed One Little Bit

Once again, just like the ancient Assyrians and Egyptians we are being warned that we need to change our behavior - that we need to repent - that we need to grab with both hands the only out that God has given us - salvation from His wrath through Jesus.

 See The Wrath of God   and   Salvation

But what about ...


Jesus and Turning The Other Cheek
In Matthew 5:38-42, Jesus made an often misunderstood statement.

    (38) "You have heard that it was said, 'an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' (39) "But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. (40) "If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. (41) "Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. (Matthew 5:38-42 NASB)

An Eye For An Eye
The first part of His instructions was

    "You have heard that it was said, 'an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' "But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.

Christ's command to turn the other cheek and pray for those who persecute you are His general instructions as to how individuals should deal with other individuals who offend them. And as said by Come Reason Ministries

    The instructions of Jesus, however, are general admonitions for life. They are guidelines for how we can be more loving to our fellow human beings and they help instill a spirit of selflessness in our individual characters. Also, they are not to be taken as hard and fast rules. When Jesus Himself was struck on the cheek by an officer of the Sanhedrin, He did not turn to offer His other cheek, but challenged the officer who had struck Him (ref. John 18:22-23). [05]

About which commentator Barnes rightly said

    "While an accused person is on trial he is under the protection of the court, and has a right to demand that all legal measures shall be taken to secure his rights. On this right Jesus insisted, and thus showed that, though he had no disposition to take revenge, yet he claimed that, when arraigned, strict justice should be done. This shows that his precept that when we are smitten on one cheek we should turn the other. Matthew 5:39, is consistent with a firm demand that justice should be done us". [Barnes]

However, when it comes to the eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth bit, it certainly does not mean is that Christians should roll over and play dead when attacked. However, Lex Talionis or an eye for an eye was designed as a retaliation authorized by law, in which the punishment corresponds in kind and degree to the injury. It was not to be used for personal revenge and retaliation. In  other words, Jesus was challenging the misuse of Lex Talionis.

Tunics and Cloaks
"If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also".

    The cloak/tunic bit must be recognized in terms of the ancient Jewish customary process of making good pledge on one's debts by handing over a valuable item as collateral; for most people in this time, items of clothing were the only thing suitable. In essence, the teaching is to provide surety of repayment of a justly-decided debt, even to those who are enemies. [06]

The Extra Mile
 
"Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two".

This command stemmed from

    the relatively enlightened practice of limiting to a single mile the amount of forced labor (angareia) that Roman soldiers could levy on subject people... We are more familiar with its use in the Passion Narrative, where the soldiers 'compel' (angareuousin) Simon of Cyrene to carry Jesus' cross (Mark 15:21, Matthew 27:32).

    Such forced service was a constant feature in Palestine from Persian to late Roman times, and whoever was found on the street could be compelled into service. [07]

This practice was seen as loathsome in Judea and, no doubt in all Roman provinces. But it was the law and Jesus was simply telling the people to do it without complaint or grumbling even though the Romans were seen as the enemy.


Jesus And The Woman Caught In Adultery
Finally, what are we to make of the incident of the woman caught in adultery in John 7:53-8:11, in which Jesus seemed to overturn the Old Testament's laws.

    "Many people read this story as if Jesus was overturning the Old Testament punishment of stoning - in fact, some people read this event as if Jesus was saying that all the Old Testament punishments were too harsh. I believe this is a misunderstanding of what Jesus is doing. Jesus is being set up by the Pharisees (see verse 6). The dilemma that the scribes and Pharisees are setting up for Jesus is this:

    If Jesus said, "No, don't stone her" then it would appear that Jesus was breaking God's law given to Moses (Leviticus 20:10).

    If Jesus said, "Yes, stone her" then He would be breaking Roman law which didn't allow the Jews to execute anyone without their permission (John 18:31).

    Jesus' answer didn't minimize her sin; didn't get him into a debate about Mosaic law; and didn't get him in conflict with Roman law. It wasn't meant as a setting aside of the Old Testament judicial punishment. It was meant to reveal how unfit the scribes and the Pharisees were to be the woman's judges and executioners. Why were they unfit? Four reasons:

    They were accusing her of adultery, while they were plotting to murder Jesus (see John 7:1). This is a bit hypocritical!

    The law required the execution of both parties (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22), not just the woman! Adultery takes two people. So where is the male? More than likely the woman had been tricked into this situation and provision made for the man to escape.

    The Pharisees said that the woman had been "caught in the act of adultery" (v. 4). But compromising circumstances were not sufficient evidence to convict someone. Jewish law required the testimony of at least two witnesses who had seen the act. The Pharisees did not mention the names of the witnesses, nor did Jesus hear testimony from two witnesses, yet he was being asked to give judgment.

    Finally, the Pharisees altered the law a little. The exact manner of execution was not prescribed unless the woman was a betrothed virgin (Deuteronomy 22:23-24). Jewish custom at this time was actually death by strangulation for both offenders. So the statement in verse 5 about the Law of Moses "commanding" stoning of such women, was not entirely accurate.

    So Jesus wasn't really setting aside the Old Testament judicial laws. And Jesus wasn't saying that every person is unfit to render judgment upon another person. If this were the case, then juries and judges would be unbiblical! Jesus was merely turning the trap back on the Pharisees who intended to trap Him!" [08]

Which brings us to the oft asked question...


Why Is It Okay For God To Kill?
Pastor Gregory Koukl sums it up very well

    "There are a few circumstances where He delegates that power to us, specifically in my view, capital punishment. We know this intuitively, folks, because when men seek to make life and death decisions for others, what do we tell them? We say, "It's not right for you to 'play God.'" Well, of course it's not right for man to play God, but it implies that it is right for God to play God , and that's my point...

    It is His role and He is not robbing when He takes away what He has given in the first place... Taking innocent human life is wrong for us, because taking life is God's prerogative, not ours, which means it is appropriate for Him to do it, not us, and He can dispense and retract life whenever He pleases.

    Part of the problem here is that we want to hold God to the same standard of morality He holds us to, as if the standard is above us both and man and God are on equal terms when it comes to behavior. Whatever we can't do, God shouldn't be allowed to do either. But every parent knows that such an arrangement is just plain false. Parents aren't constrained by the same standards that their children are constrained by, and in the same way God has a different set of prerogatives as well. Life and death is one of His, not one of ours... [09]

And another relevant thought..

    "... we live in a very sanitized and unrealistic world today. It is easy to sit safely and securely in our homes, even in a gated community, with money in the bank, a good job, good retirement, hiring other people to slaughter our animals for steaks and deal with the violent elements of society for us, never having to deal with death except in a "clean" way while pretending that it is not real, taking pills for the slightest ache, while watching pretend reality TV, and watching movies or playing video games that let us vent our anger and frustration at injustice by vicariously killing pretend people, all the while rather self-righteously condemning any form of violence of which we do not approve.

    And then we expect God to be that same sanitized version of ourselves. This even creeps into our worship, in which we think that all forms of worship should only be upbeat with no hint of anything negative. We are imagining a God that conforms to our cultural model of what God ought to be like as if he were an affluent upper middle-class 21st century American. [10]


Conclusion
Although the prophets spoke constantly of God's anger and judgment, they also picture him as a loving and faithful husband. To say otherwise, is to show  an abysmal lack of knowledge about Christianity and the Bible itself.

God's character never changes, nor does He ever act in any way that is inconsistent with His character. In both sections of Scripture God is consistently portrayed as being both a God of love and a God of judgment. His people who obey Him will never see His wrath, However, He will punish the unrepentant and the wicked. His words to the Israelites way back are just as valid in the 21st century as they were then

    "Now do not stiffen your neck like your fathers, but yield to the Lord and enter His sanctuary which He has consecrated forever, and serve the Lord your God, that His burning anger may turn away from you. "For if you return to the Lord, your brothers and your sons will find compassion before those who led them captive and will return to this land. For the Lord your God is gracious and compassionate, and will not turn His face away from you if you return to Him." (2 Chronicles 30:8-9 NASB)

The End of Days
God set high standards for individual behavior in the Old Testament and nothing has changed in the New. God was long-suffering in the Old Testament and He is very long suffering in the New. However, long-suffering does not mean that He will put up with rampant evil forever. The litany of man's greed, stupidity and inhumanity to his fellow man is a never ending one. In fact, it gets worse every day - the iniquity of the Gentiles is almost full. And, the moment it is, he will make a very swift and very terrifying end of this world. As Peter wrote

    The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. (2 Peter 3:9-10 NASB)

See The End of The Age

Yet when told that God is actually going to do something about this miserable planet of ours, we rear up on our hind legs and adopt our best sanctimonious, holier-than-thou, self-righteous attitude... How could He do that? How could this "loving" God actually sit in judgment against humanity and rain mayhem down on this planet? What kind of God would actually be so monstrous?

 Perhaps the millions and millions of people who have been tortured, slain, enslaved, robbed, cheated and lied to would not share your point of view.

Whether or not your church preaches it, whether or not you know very much about it, whether or not you choose to bury your head in the sand and pretend that God cannot possibly render judgment on this planet, the wrath of God is real, and when He unleashes it on this planet, it will be, by far, the most terrible time in human history. See The Wrath of God

And... it is very near at hand.

 The God of the New Testament is not, as some have chosen to believe, a kindly old gentleman in the sky that wouldn't say 'boo' to a goose. If you are pinning your hopes on a 'loving' God who overlooks all the evil in this world, you are confusing His patience with His love and are in for a rude shock when that patience wears thin. Look at it this way...

Not punishing evil would make the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob cold and uncaring.

He is anything but.

If God forgave sin and injustice without any form of punishment whatsoever, He would neither be a holy nor a just God.

And He is both.

Once again, God is extremely long suffering. The book or Revelation specifically speaks about God's judgment and wholesale destruction of this earth, far and away worse than anything that has gone before. However, once again, He has given every person ample time to respond to the ...

Message of the Bible
All too many people picking out a random phrase or two, think 'love' was Jesus' core message. Unfortunately, they are terribly wrong.. Jesus never stopped talking about the "kingdom of God", which phrase is used over 50 times in the four Gospels alone. He even said that the proclamation of the Kingdom was the reason He was sent to earth (Luke 4:43). But what and where is this kingdom? Here is what is really paradoxical ... the Bible's description of this kingdom of God, also called heaven is no pie in the sky ethereal place 'somewhere out there', but matches, in every respect, the world most men and women would choose to live in. a place of peace and safety, where there is no crime, hunger and disease, war and above all... no death. Far from being outdated, out of touch, and largely irrelevant to modern society, Christianity promises exactly the utopian world most men and women can only dream of.

But we need to be aware that the Bible also carries a warning to those who choose to ignore the offer that is currently very valid, but wont be for long -  they will be judged and perish.

    "Because I called and you refused, I stretched out my hand and no one paid attention; And you neglected all my counsel And did not want my reproof; I will also laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your dread comes, When your dread comes like a storm And your calamity comes like a whirlwind, When distress and anguish come upon you. "Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently but they will not find me, Because they hated knowledge And did not choose the fear of the Lord. "They would not accept my counsel, They spurned all my reproof. "So they shall eat of the fruit of their own way And be satiated with their own devices. "For the waywardness of the naive will kill them, And the complacency of fools will destroy them. "But he who listens to me shall live securely And will be at ease from the dread of evil." (Proverbs 1:24-33 NASB)

    See Salvation

The Book of Revelation says

    (1)  Then I heard a loud voice from the temple, saying to the seven angels, "Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God." (2)  So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth; and it became a loathsome and malignant sore on the people who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image.  (3) The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became blood like that of a dead man; and every living thing in the sea died. (4)  Then the third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of waters; and they became blood. (5)  And I heard the angel of the waters saying, "Righteous are You, who are and who were, O Holy One, because You judged these things; (6)  for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it."  (7) And I heard the altar saying, "Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments." (8)  The fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun, and it was given to it to scorch men with fire.  (9)  Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory.  (10)  Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became darkened; and they gnawed their tongues because of pain, (11) and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds. (Revelation 16:1-11 NASB )

In the end John tells us that he saw

    ... the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire... And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:12-15 NASB)

Note: as Revelation states, the 'lake of fire' is not literal, but a second death for everyone who has ignored the offer of eternal life in God's kingdom.



Footnote I
In a covenant God made with Abraham, he was promised an entire country for an everlasting possession. This, the third of three interconnected and inseparable promises, will finally be fulfilled in the coming kingdom. See God's Covenant With Abraham. The Father also promised king David that one of his descendants (i.e. Christ) would sit on his throne, which would be established "forever" (Ex. 1 Chronicles 17:11-14 and Luke 1:32-33)


End Notes
[01] Mark S. Gignillia. Not Just a New Testament God.
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/february-web-only/exorcising-marcions-ghost.html?start=1

[02] Jeffrey J. Harrison Why Should Christians Care About The Jewish Roots of Christianity? http://www.totheends.com/page15.html

[03] Rev. Franklin Johnson. Smith's Bible Dictionary. http://www.christianity.com/bible/dictionary.php?dict=sbd&id=3471

[04] The Religion of the Canaanites. Quartz Hill School of Theology. http://www.theology.edu/canaan.htm

[05] Is the God of the Old Testament Different From the God of the New? http://www.comereason.org/character-of-god.asp

[06] James Patrick Holding. http://tektonics.org/qt/smithg01.php

[07] J. Harold Ellens. The Destructive Power of Religion. Praeger; Updated ed. edition (May 30, 2007)Pgs.. 186-187

[08] Is the God of the Old Testament the same as the God of the New Testament http://www.new-life.net/faq024.htm

[09] Gregory Koukl. Can God Kill the Innocent? http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5271

[10] Dennis Bratcher.  http://www.naznet.com/community/showthread.php?t=16420. Link is no longer valid

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