Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Old vs New Testament? What's the difference?

Perhaps you've heard the myth that the Old Testament shows a vengeful, exacting God, so different from the merciful picture we see in Jesus in the New Testament. Or the idea that Gentiles aren't included in God's good graces until Acts chapter 10. Today's readings give the lie to both those myths.

First, let's take a look at Psalm 25. In verse 8, he says this:
Good and upright is the Lord;
      therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
OK, reading quiz time: who does God instruct in his ways? The upright? The perfect? Whoa, this verse says he instructs sinners. Doesn't sound real legalistic or exacting to me. OK, so I've taken it out of context, but read the whole psalm and you'll see that it says he's patient and kind, he instructs the meek and the sinner.

Next, let's take a look at 2 Chronicles 30, where Hezekiah leads a revival and celebrates the Passover:
Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, "May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God -- the Lord, the God of his fathers -- even if he is not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary." And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.
2 Chronicles 30.18-20
OK, so there are these rules. The rules are the rules and have been for some centuries. Everybody knows the rules. These people broke the rules.

But here's Hezekiah king of Judah praying for these people, and God hears him. Looks like God is more interested in whether the people seek him, and less on just Following The Rules. Yes, this is most definitely still in the Old Testament. Mercy and compassion and looking at the heart rather than majoring on Rule Enforcement -- that's what comes through loud and clear here. This does not sound very legalistic or exacting to me either.

In fact, though I hate to admit it, I'm more of a rule-monger than God is. God never intended rules to be the major thing -- several of the Old Testament prophets comment on this; Jesus
certainly did, too. And the apostle Paul. We like rules because then we can figure out when we've done enough, but God doesn't seem to want performance -- he wants all of me. And all of all of us. Which brings me to the issue of the Gentiles.

Did God only start caring about the Gentiles (or "the nations") in the New Testament, in Acts chapter 10? Nope! In Romans chapter 15 (yes, I know that's in the New Testament, but work with me here), Paul quotes a number of passages from the Old Testament showing God welcoming the Gentiles, or the (non-Jewish) "nations":
  • as it is written: "Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;I will sing hymns to your name." (15.9, quoting Psalm 16)
  • Again, it says, "Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people." (15.10, quoting Deuteronomy 32.43)
  • And again, "Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and sing praises to him, all you peoples." (15.11, quoting Psalm 117)
  • And again, Isaiah says,"The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him." (15.12, quoting Isaiah 11.10)
Paul shows us here that God is talking about "the nations" at least as early as Deuteronomy, as well as the Psalms and of course by the prophet Isaiah.

So much for the Old Testament being only about the Jewish people.

No, God is inclusive and compassionate and merciful -- from before the creation of the Earth until long after it's all over. He does not change (Malachi 3.6), and that's good news, too.

posted 8/3

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