“…That I am the Lord, Who practices loving-kindness, judgement, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the Lord.”Jeremiah 9:24 amp
When we think of the Old Testament, the words that come to mind are often Rules and Punishment. Destruction. We all know that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). Yet it’s often hard to reconcile the God of mercy and love that we serve to the One Who allowed His people to be destroyed time and time again.
As I have studied the Old Testament recently, I have come to see a bigger picture of God’s character. I have found the same God of mercy and loving-kindness that I serve today within the Truth of the Old Testament. It becomes more apparent that God showed mercy repeatedly to His stubborn people, just as He does with us.
“For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices. But this thing I did command them: Listen to and obey My voice, and I will be your God and you will be My people; and walk in the whole way that I command you, that it may be well with you. But they would not listen to and obey Me or bend their ear [to Me], but followed the counsels and the stubborn promptings of their own evil hearts and minds, and they turned their backs and went in reverse instead of forward.” (Jeremiah 7:21-24 AMP)
God wanted relationship. He didn’t lead His people out of Egypt just to enforce more rules on them. He wanted to give them true freedom, in spirit and on earth. But they wouldn’t listen, so for their good (and the good of all who dwell on the earth) He gave them the Law to remind them of sin and salvation. Yet the people still did not listen and fell to the way of sin.
“Speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to and obey you; also call to them, but they will not answer you.” (Jer. 7:27 amp)
God knew His people would not listen, yet He still called to them. He still sent people to speak with them, to warn them and try to redirect them back to the path of safety. Yet the people hardened their hearts against Him and His words, remaining steadfast on their path of destruction.
“Therefore, this is what the Lord of Armies says: I am about to refine them and test them, for what else can I do because of my dear people?” (Jer. 9:7 CSB)
The people were destroying themselves. Had they gone on the way they were, all good things would have disappeared from the world, making no way for Jesus to come and restore us to God’s original plan of family. God had no choice, for their sake, but to send them into exile. Otherwise the whole earth and every people would have perished.
Yet even as He turned His people over to the fire for refining, He reminded them that He is full of faithful love, justice, and righteousness, and that He delights in them.
This is where a lot of people get hung up, though. Many question why a God Who proclaims to love His people would destroy them. God proclaims the traits of His character, but how does He show them?
First of all, God is not destroying just to destroy. As a parent, we discipline our children when they do wrong. If they do not choose to turn their life around then eventually they are going to face harsh consequences. We, as parents, don’t want that to happen, but it is part of their choice.
God tried to discipline His people, His children, but they would not listen. To keep them from total destruction, he turned them over to the harsh consequences.
When there is an infection in the body, the doctors will try to treat it but if nothing works and the infection becomes bad enough, the doctors will cut it out, sometimes cutting off an infected limb to keep the infection from spreading to the rest of the body. Isn’t that what God did?
As the Great Physician, he tried to treat the infection of sin and evil in His people, but when that didn’t work, he was forced to cut the sin out by cutting off the people from their luxury. He took away the very means of their sins.
Because God is faithful and loves His people, He gave them over to the just consequences of their actions so that righteousness could be restored within them, and through them the world by way of Jesus generations later.
“I thought, “How I long to make you My sons and give you a desirable land, the most beautiful inheritance of all the nations.” I thought, “You will call Me ‘My Father’ and never turn away from Me.” (Jer. 3:19 CSB)
This declaration has been God’s longing from the very beginning of creation, to be as a family with the people He created. It did not change when Adam and Eve sinned, it did not change when Israel abandoned Him, and it did not change through 400 years of silence between Him and man. He acted as a parent, guiding and disciplining His children, giving them chance after chance to the point of destruction. Yet He saved them from the brink of death, both physical and spiritual, in the Old Testament, just as He would do for the whole world generations later with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
There will come a day when God once again turns His creation over to its own destruction, banishing them from His presence because they have become consumed by their own sin that they are destroyed. Jesus became sin and God the Father turned His back on Him as He hung from the cross. That was for our benefit, and anyone who accepts Jesus’ sacrifice will reap the reward of righteousness. But for anyone who does not accept Him, they will become the very sin they practice, and sin cannot dwell in God’s presence. (Ps. 5:4) Until that time, God continues to act in mercy and loving-kindness, giving us every opportunity to turn from our sin before it destroys us.