Posts Tagged ‘Hebrews’

Anger=Love? The God of the Old and New Testament

Scanning through some more blogs, I came upon this blog post, which I thought was very well written. It got the mind ticking, and I wrote a rather lengthy response to it in the comment section, which I’ve reposted here. For those who have no interest in or not enough time to read the blog post, the topic was how to reconcile the God of the Old Testament with the God of the New Testament, for the OT God seems at times very much like an angry, violent and intolerant God, while Jesus is soft-spoken, meek, humble and loving. Below is my response. Any additional insight others might be willing to lend would be fantastic–even those non-believers who occasionally peruse my blog.

What a great post, as it hits on one of what I believe to be the two main theological issues Christians are faced with in this post-modern world (the other being the problem of suffering).

My wife and I are reading through the Bible this year, and as such we just finished Jeremiah a few weeks ago (never realized that the first 9 months of my year would be devoted to the OT; lot of stuff in there to cover!). You’re right; there does seem to be a lot of raging against nations that isn’t seen in the NT. It is enough to make one question, “why the difference?”

Luckily for me, our church also just went through the book of Hebrews. I’m sure you’re quite familiar with the establishment of the context between the Old Covenant and New Covenant. But to me this provides a reasonable explanation for the different responses of God in the OT versus the NT. Our pastor taught (and maybe you agree with this, maybe not) that the purpose of the Old Covenant was to demonstrate to people that they are inherently sinful and deserve punishment for that sin as a result. That’s why the establishment of the law was necessary–to show man that there are objective moral values, and that God is firmly on the right side of them and must respond justly to any actions that fall on the wrong side of them, in accordance with His nature. The New Covenant is to demonstrate to people how to live in light of that sin and to recognize that there is a means of salvation from this punishment. Naturally, salvation sounds plenty better than punishment, so God of the NT sounds a lot better than the God of the OT.

I don’t think the God of the OT went away though; He couldn’t have, otherwise He would not have the characteristic of immutability. One has to wonder if God rages against nations today; I would submit that it’s probable–it’s just that all nations reject Him to some degree, so it doesn’t seem targeted to any one country (i.e. Pakistan doesn’t get hit with more natural disasters than the U.S., let’s say) by our post-modern standards.

The problem that most people shaken by the God of the OT (and this includes both believers and non-believers) is rooted in a mis-understanding that God must be only loving all the time. The nature of God essentially mandates Him to constant righteous anger against sin. This still happens even today. It’s the salvation that exempts us from the execution of this anger that makes it not only a loving gift, but a precious one also.

So the OT to me provides excellent context for the NT, as it shows the reader what God’s nature is bound to, and it emphasizes how loving of a God He is in providing a way to be fit for heaven in spite of our unworthiness and undeservedness. Those who feel like the God of the OT is “capricious, spiteful, hate-filled and war-mongering” also carry with them a certain sense of pride, like God owes them an explanation. I don’t know if that necessarily applies to the person you spoke with, as this person seems more curious than proud. But when we realize that God must act this way to be consistent with His nature and that we are owed NOTHING by Him, it makes a lot more sense and is a lot more understandable.

Advertisements

Jesus — Of Judah

I had a weird mental pathway today to my topic. I was thinking about looking for a commentary on Judges to see if anyone else had some interesting takes on the man Jephthah was, which led me back to my blog yesterday. I remembered Rahab and wondered if any other women would be worth mentioning in this group. Certainly some might say Ruth or Esther could be included, perhaps Hannah or Sarah or even Bathsheba. However, one crossed my mind that little is known about: Tamar. Would Tamar be worthy of such an honor? We know she was Judah’s niece and tricked him into sleeping with her to conceive a child that would be his heir, since her husband and husband’s brother were both killed by the Lord.

That put another question in my mind. Judah slept with his niece, who was masquerading as a prostitute. And yet it is this man from whom Jesus chose to be a descendant. Looking at the tribes of Israel and the men from which they came, one would suspect that Jesus would come from the line of Joseph, or perhaps Levi, since He is described in Hebrews as “High Priest,” and the Levites were the priests. But no, Jesus is the “lion of the tribe of Judah.” Why did He choose (and it most definitely was a choice; I have no desire to debate the sovereignty of God in this post) the lineage of Judah?

It got me thinking about what we really know about Judah. For starters, his name lends more to the future Messiah as one of his descendants. The name Judah is derived from the Hebrew word for praise. Joseph comes from the Hebrew for may he add, while Levi comes from the Hebrew for attached.

After Judah’s birth, we don’t hear about him again until his incident with Tamar. Genesis 38 tells this story, but at the end, it is noteworthy that Judah keeps the promise he made to Tamar in attempting to bring her a goat and honoring the cord and seal he gave to her as his sign, even though he says, “She is more righteous than I.”

However, Judah’s greatest contribution to the book of Genesis comes in chapters 43-44. Due to the famine, Jacob sends his sons (minus Benjamin) to Egypt to buy grain, and when they come to their brother Joseph (not recognizing him), they are sent back with orders to bring Benjamin with them, and Simeon is imprisoned until they come back. Judah at this point emerges as the leader and asks that Benjamin be entrusted to his care. You would think this would be the request of the firstborn, but no, Judah was 4th in line. Judah takes on the responsibility of caring for the young and inexperienced Benjamin.

As the story continues, when the brothers return Joseph secretly plants a silver cup in Benjamin’s grain sack to force Benjamin to stay in Egypt. Judah then does something that up to this point has not been done in the book of Genesis: he sacrifices himself for the good of his younger, inexperienced brother. He pleads with Joseph to let him be the one imprisoned, since Benjamin is entrusted to his care. Joseph can no longer contain himself, reveals himself to his brothers, and they lived happily ever after (er, mostly; those living in the time of Moses might disagree with the move to Egypt).

So what qualities does Judah show in his short time in Genesis? (1) He honors a covenant that he made, (2) he emerges as leader of his “people,” (3) he takes responsibility for the weak and inexperienced, and (4) he offers himself as a sacrifice for the weak, so that the weak won’t be separated from his father forever.

Anybody see the parallels between Judah and Jesus? While Judah was not perfect, he was the best example of what Jesus came to fulfill. Simeon was chosen to be imprisoned first, but he and Levi both stained their father’s name by attacking the town of the man who raped their sister. Reuben, when Joseph was sold by his brothers, merely protested but did not step in himself. No, Judah was the man who showed the character that was later made even more perfect by Jesus Christ. It is only fitting that God chose to personify Himself in the lineage of such a man who, not blameless by any stretch of the imagination, did what needed to be done to protect and bring honor to his own.

Hall of Faith – Jephthah???

Most people who either actively read their Bible or attend church on a regular basis have probably heard a reference to the “Hall of Faith.” For those who may not know, this points to Hebrews 11, where the author of Hebrews calls out by name some of the Old Testament believers who exemplified great faith, and in some cases specifically where this faith showed its nature.

I recall recently talking about Samson and how he continually let Delilah and the Philistines attempt to take him down, and how he never learned. A friend made a comment in the vein of, “Yeah, and yet he’s mentioned in the Hall of Faith. Strange, isn’t it?” So I went back to the Hall of Faith chapter to see what exactly it was that earned Samson a place of recognition among the greats. Unfortunately, he is just listed in a series of names, so there is no exact specification for his inclusion, but it was the name after his that got me thinking. Jephthah?!

For starters, WIFE and I just finished the book of Judges in our attempt to read through the entire Bible in a year. After actually reading through the whole book, it’s evident to me that Judges is a book filled with chaos. People attacking people and not listening to people and breaking promises and making promises they don’t really intend to keep. Indeed, the common phrase running through many of the verses of Judges is, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

Which brings me to Jephthah. We find this man in the midst of all of the chaos of Judges, yet like Samson he is included in the Hall of Faith. Why? A little background on Jephthah might help.

Jephthah was born the son of a prostitute (which isn’t terrible; after all, Rahab –called out by the author of Hebrews as a prostitute– is also mentioned in the Hall of Faith), and his brothers basically ostracized him from the family, saying he was not one of the real brothers. After the people of Gilead (Jephthah’s father) were attacked by the Ammonites, they called on Jephthah (referred to first as “a mighty warrior”) to lead them.

After scorning them for their treatment of him and making sure he would be their leader if he helped, he sent a message to the leader of the Ammonites, asking why they were attacking and after a couple of back-and-forths, is basically ignored by the Ammonite king. So Jephthah leads his men and defeats the Ammonites.

Here’s where it gets interesting, and may be the reason for his name in the Hall of Faith. Jephthah made a vow to God that if God would grant him the victory, He would sacrifice (as a burnt offering; Judges 11:31) the first thing that came out of his house when he returned in triumph. As luck would have it, the first thing out of the house was his only daughter. Jephthah, as any father would be, is distraught and tears his clothes. However, here’s the test of the man–he informs his daughter of the vow, she understands and agrees and after two months to spend with her friends, he goes through with the sacrifice!!!

Wow. As a new father, I know that if I made such a vow, I would probably say, “Um, OK Lord, what else can I give you instead, because You’re not getting my daughter.” Even Abraham, when told to sacrifice Isaac, didn’t actually have to go through with it. How strong a man of faith was Jephthah, not only in trusting the Lord to deliver the Ammonites into his hand but following through on a vow that cost him the life of his only daughter.

I’m sure Jephthah is rejoicing with his daughter in heaven now, but it is such faith that people today should strive to achieve. That no matter what happens, what we promise to the Lord is sacred, and we need to treat it as such, because He knows better than we do why He gives us the things he does, be it possessions, wealth, suffering or anything else.

Jephthah might not have been the smartest cookie in the jar, but he without a doubt was one of the most faithful and God-honoring, so I not only support but now understand why his name is mentioned in Hebrews. No doubt the recipients of the original letter of Hebrews did also. Hopefully modern-day recipients will observe and take note.