Does God seem to act differently in the Old Testament?
At first glance many people believe that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are different. The God of the Old Testament is judgmental and angry. He’s always visiting death and punishment on the Israelites in the wilderness.
But the God of the New Testament, Jesus, comes to us in bodily form and rescues us from sin. He gives us eternal life forever in heaven and seems more concerned about our souls. This is the caricature we get from some scholars and some preachers.
But this is not the case. The New Testament states at least twice that God doesn’t change (James 1:17; Hebrews 13:8). If he doesn’t change, then he acts the same way throughout history. Let me give you a few key points of clarification.
In the Old Testament the judgments of God do seem severe. But he was reacting to a people (the Israelites) he had rescued from Egypt out of the house of slavery and made his children. It was his nation and so they had a reputation to uphold.
In the New Testament God’s judgments can also be severe. The church is “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9). This is no different than Israel. And God visits terrible judgments on people like Ananias and Sapphira who lie to his Spirit.
For everyone who is not a believer in Jesus, God’s wrath will be poured out on them both in this life and at the end of time. In the end times God has a large list of judgments and wrath he is pouring out on them. You won’t get very far into the book of Revelation before you want to be part of the church group.
In the Old Testament God’s grace ranges from the sacrificial system to including Gentiles as his people. The law of Moses had extremely harsh measures and punishments for people who committed crimes against it. Death was a common penalty.
But there is a theological point to why death was the penalty for many broken laws. Sin leads to death. And the laws attempted to keep the people from outwardly sinning against God. The laws were unbearable and many people would have died if it weren’t for the sacrificial system.
This sacrificial system that looks forward to Jesus allowed the people to put in their place and animal to be sacrificed to God. Instead of the person dying, the animal died in his or her place. Without this grace of God in the Old Testament, nobody would have survived the law.
The prophet Jonah is sent to his arch enemies, the Ninevites. God sends him with a message that the people will all die because they have violated God’s laws. If they turned to him he would forgive them and they would know his prosperity.
Even though Jonah didn’t want to go and preach this good news, he ended up there anyway. And when he preached, he was heavy on the judgment and light on the grace. But it didn’t matter because the people got the message and turned to God.
The book of Jonah ends with the prophet sulking under a tree that got provided because the people got saved. And God ends the book on a note of grace that it’s his prerogative to save people who don’t deserve it.
In the New Testament many people find God’s grace easily. Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins. He offers eternal life for everyone who follows him. Anyone who becomes part of this group is free from God’s wrath.
So we can see that God has not changed between the Testaments. The same God who visits judgment and wrath in the Old Testament visits the same in the New Testament. And God’s grace is readily available in both.
I am glad that I was changed from death to life, from wrath to love, and from judgment to grace. Anyone who doesn’t know Jesus can have the same experience when they turn to him, repent of their sins, commit their lives to Christ in obedience, and follow him. As just as God’s judgments are, his grace is all the more merciful.