Is there a difference between God of the Old Testament and God of the New Testament? In many minds, there seems to be a large contrast between God’s character between these two covenants. The God of the New seems loving and kind while the God of the Old is vengeful and wrathful. We draw a line between His character on each side of the cross when, in truth, we serve the same God as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Grace and Mercy in the Old and New Testaments
God of the Old Testament is just as rich in grace, mercy, and love. Take the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4:3 for example. Abel brings a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, and Cain’s soul is threatened by his jealousy and anger. In loving-kindness, God takes the time to address Cain. He reasons with Cain regarding his conduct and encourages the brother to turn his mind away from sin and toward his Lord. He expresses confidence that Cain can overcome this temporary setback. He demonstrates is grace, mercy, and love in his interaction with Cain.
Time and again, during Israel’s journey to the Promised Land, God shows kindness to His rebellious people. Even at Sinai, when God sets out to destroy the Israelites, Moses appeals to His mercy, and God relents. Even when the people falter outside the borders of Canaan, God sets out to cleanse His people rather than annihilate them. Time and again, He remains merciful. Psalm 78:37-38 illustrates all God has done for His people despite their unfaithfulness. He forgives their iniquity. He turns away His anger. Psalm 86:15, 103:7, and 145:8 all record David praising God’s grace, mercy, and patience toward His people.
Jonah is another example of God’s mercy and love. Here we have a profit rebelling against God and attempting to deny God’s grace to those he despises. When he finally arrives in Nineveh, Job’s message is reluctant at best, but the people repent in Jonah 3:5. God demonstrates mercy to the Assyrians where Jonah craves destruction, and God is merciful toward His reluctant servant in saving the prophet time and again despite his disobedience.
Luke 1:49 has Miriam praising God for His mercy and grace. Later in the chapter, her husband praises God for the birth of John in the tender mercy of God’s plan. Both of these recognize their place in God’s plan of mercy. Finally, II Peter 3:9 tells of God’s desire that all His creation come to repentance. He is patient, allowing as many as possible to come to Him. His grace and mercy is visible from cover to cover of our Bibles.
Judgment in the Old and New Testaments
What about God’s punishments? Adam and Eve are immediately punished beginning in Genesis 3:16. They are cursed and driven from the garden due to their disobedience. Leviticus 10 records the destruction of Nadab and Abihu when they worship God improperly. In II Samuel 6:6-7, Uzzah is immediately killed when he lays his hand upon the Ark despite Uzzah’s apparent intentions. These acts are how we characterize the God of the Old Testament. These judgments are swift and decisive.
In Acts 5, we have a couple named Ananias and Sapphira. Both of these fall dead in their attempts to lie to the apostles. Here in the New Testament, there is a punishment very similar to what we see in Leviticus 10. He demonstrates consistency from the Old into the New.
Serving a Loving and Vengeful God
God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Hebrews 3:7 and 3:15, the author calls on his audience to obey God’s word today. He repeats this warning in chapter 4:7. He quotes a Psalm of David who was referring to an event that had happened centuries prior to his reign. It was as applicable to God’s people in A.D. 60 as it was to His people in 1,500 B.C., and it still applies to us today. Psalms 103:7 calls God’s mercy from everlasting to everlasting, and James 5:10-11 uses the Old Testament prophets to illustrate God’s mercy and kindness.
How then does God’s punishment fit into this pattern of a merciful God. In each of these cases, the victim was judged based on outright disobedience. None of these simply made understandable mistakes. In Leviticus 10:3, Moses reminds Aaron of the need to honor God when worshipping Him, and Aaron hold his peace. Nadab and Abihu dishonor God. Uzzah may have been in his circumstance due to someone else’s plan, but he and his companions were transporting the Ark in a way that was not part of God’s plan. Finally, Ananias and Sapphira attempt to manipulate their apparent godliness for their own glory and honor.
In these events, God tells us that we should never “play church.” He demonstrates that our approach to Him is on His term rather than ours, and He teaches us to value our religion and our relationship to Him. The lesson to us is to honor and respect the mercy and kindness God has shown us. He is full of grace and mercy to those who approach Him in humility and obedience, but He rejects those who reject Him. In Isaiah 9, the prophets speaks of God’s anger at His people’s disobedience, but His hand remains outstretched. He is willing to forgive, but we have to make the determination today that we will take His love seriously and treat it as something valuable to us.
lesson by Tim Smelser