April 29, 2015

God is the same yesterday, today, and forever

Joshua 21:1–22:9, 2 Corinthians 13:1–10, Psalm 59:1–17

Some say that in Christ, the attitudes and abilities of God are displayed differently than they were in the OT. That is, the OT revealed God as fierce and full of wrath, while the NT reveals God as gracious and merciful. A comparison from today’s readings shows me that God has always been gracious and merciful.

In the OT, Joshua divides the land for the people, then the priests. His gracious gifts have become their prized possession: “Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.” (Joshua 21:43–45)

Yes, they fought for this land, and yes, they killed their enemies. However, read in light of the rest of the Bible, they were mere instruments. Both Old and New Testaments declare that sinners deserve death. God has every right to pour out wrath on those who defy goodness. Perhaps those who ‘criticize’ God for telling His people to slay their enemies need to rethink that lest they fall on the wrong side of things. Maybe we should be asking why God does not slay us all, because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Christ came to die for that sin. If the NT is different, it is in that respect; we now have a Redeemer. He offers sinful people (meaning everyone) a way out of bondage to sin, just like He took Moses and the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt. He patiently endures our wanderings, takes care of our needs, and leads those who will follow to a better life, the life He promised. Did not He do the same in the OT?

He changes hearts too. He changed Paul, once called Saul. This man was killing Christians, but Jesus encountered him and turned his life around. Instead of being a powerful advocate to imprison and kill Christians, he became a powerful witness for Christ.

The change was so dramatic that many had trouble believing him. Others saw him as a weak person and this resulted in the Christians at Corinth “seek proof that Christ is speaking in (him).”

His response shows how much God changed his life. To their accusations, he replied, “(Christ) is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God . . .  For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for. For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.” (2 Corinthians 13:3-4, 8–10)

These are the words of a tender heart. He knows God is powerful. I do too, and if I should think otherwise, would I really want to see a display of His might? Or His wrath? He protects His people in power, and He gives me that same attitude Paul had of wanting to protect His people, not the coddling kind, but protecting them from evil and building their faith. God did that change in Paul’s heart and He is doing it in my heart too.
Those who find fault with God stand in a dangerous place. When they doubt His wisdom and judgment, they are not able to praise Him, but if they turn to Him in repentance and trust, He will fill their hearts with words like these....

O my Strength, I will watch for you, for you, O God, are my fortress. My God in his steadfast love will meet me; God will let me look in triumph on my enemies . . . But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress. O my Strength, I will sing praises to you, for you, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love. (Psalm 59:9-10, 16–17)

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