The Old Testament God – All Wrath and Anger?

by Jim on 19 October 2011

All right, time for a little Bible study.  Sometimes I get tired of this worn-out idea that the "God of the Old Testament" is mean and wrathful, and the "Jesus of the New Testament" is warm, fuzzy, and loving.

Is there wrath in the OT?  Of course.  Love in the NT?  For sure.  But, surprise surprise, the same God is God of both.

Is there change in the New Testament?  Well, God revealed Himself in the Messiah between the OT and NT – that means lots of new thoughts.  But the New Testament writers would be a little surprised to hear about the "evolution" in God’s nature that some people claim.

So let’s take a look in the Old Testament and see if there’s any love of God in there.  Tomorrow we’ll look in the New Testament to see if there’s anything besides warm fuzzies…

(Note: these verses all have a context of their own – often including wrath.  The point is not that there is no wrath in the OT, but that love and wrath are together in the OT and NT.)

Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations… (Deuteronomy 7:9)

Be strong and courageous.  Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

…and Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, "May he be blessed by the LORD, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!" (Ruth 2:20)

…but you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them. (Nehemiah 9:17)

But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.  I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me. (Psalm 13:5-6)

(God’s "steadfast love" is a common theme in the OT, especially in the Psalms, as you’ll see in the following examples.  It’s often combined with the theme of His great works or faithfulness.)

For the word of the LORD is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness.  He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD. (Psalm 33:4-5)

Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds… How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. (Psalm 36:5-7)

Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.  For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you. (Psalm 86:4-5)

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty … He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.  You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. (Psalm 91:1-6)

When I thought, "My foot slips," your steadfast love, O LORD, held me up.  When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul. (Psalm 94:18-19)

Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing!  For the LORD has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted … "Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?  Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.  Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me." (Isaiah 49:13-16)

"For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed," says the LORD, who has compassion on you. (Isaiah 54:10)

I will recount the steadfast love of the LORD, the praises of the LORD, according to all that the LORD has granted us, and the great goodness to the house of Israel that he has granted them according to his compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love … And he became their Savior. (Isaiah 63:7-8)

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)

For thus says the Lord GOD: …As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. …I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD.  I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured… (Ezekiel 34:11-16)

I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them. (Hosea 11:4)

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance?  He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love.  He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:18-19)

The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)

The Old Testament writers obviously thought of God as a God of love.  In fact, as you see here, some of the familiar themes of love in the NT are actually from the OT!  For example, seeking the lost, and being a Good Shepherd.

And these are only a few examples.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the other side of the coin.

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