Book_of_Exodus_Chapter_21-1_(Bible_Illustrations_by_Sweet_Media)Anyone who’s read a large part of the Old Testament, especially the historical books of Genesis through about 2 Kings, probably notices a dramatic shift in how God deals with mankind from both the New Testament and now. To many people today, the God revealed in the pages of the Old Testament is concerned about whether His people are being good to the point that they could be killed for stuff commonly accepted today. The laws are foreign, the punishments seem extreme to some of us, and it seemed pretty much impossible to live as God commanded.

Then there’s the New Testament. We have Jesus, who is preaching love, but is certainly not killing anybody over not following the Old Testament law. We know he did come into contact with some pretty unsavory folk of the day, such as the tax collectors and Jewish authorities. Even one of His own betrayed Him for money, and He knew it before it actually happened! Jesus claimed to be God Himself, so why the startling difference?

God is unchangeable. His character did not grow less malevolent over time – in fact, it was always good, essentially good even. That is, God by His very nature is good. Also, we need to keep in mind the history of the Israelites in the Old Testament. When things were going really bad or really good for them, they tended to turn away from God. If things were going badly, they would have thought that God forsook them and turned to other gods instead. If things were going great, they would forget their reliance on God and stop worshipping Him. Both of these situations are responsible even today for leading many away from the Lord, and the Old Testament writers were quite familiar with it. Proverbs 30:8-9 is a particularly great pair of verses that explains this dilemma.

Secondly, God, because of his good and just nature, cannot suffer evil in His presence. Being good and being just are not incompatible. To be good, you must logically reject what is bad, wherever it comes from. This helps explain the ‘extremeness’ of God in the Old Testament laws. God was attempting to make the Israelites HIS people, and since Jesus had not yet come, sin often brought about clearer and more immediate consequences. The Old Testament laws were to keep the Israelites on the narrow path, but even a quick reading of the Bible reveals they weren’t always the best at this.

Also, keep in mind that only Israel was bound to the cleanliness laws, as a reminder that they were a separate people—God’s chosen tribe. The moral laws, though, are universal, and have the same sinful effect on everyone.

So if God didn’t change, what DID change? A couple things, actually, and we need to consider all of them. Central to all of these was the arrival of Jesus. When Jesus died on the cross, he was the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. Eternal cleanliness AND forgiveness of sins could be found in Jesus. This meant a couple of things: as far as cleanliness went, the restrictions on what foods and actions were clean and unclean were lifted. Once again everybody could eat all foods, as Peter’s vision in Acts 10:9-16 is interpreted. Likewise, the actions that made a person unclean don’t actually make one so. For example, nowadays we don’t toss women out of the church for a month or three after they give birth (as women were declared unclean and not allowed near the sanctuary of Israel for a set time after giving birth in the OT). And God does not typically zap people for breaking laws anymore because Jesus (as opposed to the animal sacrifices) even covers the most egregious sins and God wants people to have the

The moral laws stayed, and in fact, Jesus kicked them up a couple notches! Not only are we held to do such things as not murder, not steal, etc., we must also love all peoples, even our enemies, at all times. Try keeping to THAT in the Old Testament sacrificial system! We’d all probably run out of animals to sacrifice! That and the rule about not judging others would probably be the death knell for social media sites like Twitter today.

There is also an evolution of theology in the Bible. That is, those later on have a fuller knowledge of God than those who lived earlier (this is also called progressive revelation). At the beginning of the Bible, Abraham believed the Lord’s promises of making his descendants into a great nation, even though at that time it had yet to be fulfilled. As the Bible says, his belief was credited as righteousness for him (Genesis 15:6). We have the benefit of seeing a bunch of God’s promises from the opposite end of time: the great nation of Israel, God’s repeated acts of deliverance from His people, sending Jesus and the Holy Spirit into the world, and the list goes on.

The New Testament places hope and salvation squarely on belief in Jesus (John 14:6, Acts 4:12), the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises of deliverance. While Abraham did not know of Jesus but was still saved, those of us who do learn of the story of Jesus (which at this point is the majority of people in the world today) will be held accountable for our response to it, and those who reject Jesus reject God.

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Further resources:

‘Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God’ by Paul Copan, particularly chapter 6.
An article on progressive revelation from GotQuestions