God's Grace in the Old Testament
What a great question and one that of course has been the subject of whole books and doctoral theses. Here are a few thoughts to get us thinking.
- The Old Testament, sometimes called the Hebrew Bible, has been included in our Christian Bible not only as a bit of history and not simply as a prophetic prediction of the coming Messiah, Jesus. What happens in the Old Testament is part of our salvation heritage.
- The word "testament" means "covenant" or "promise" and points to the gracious promises God made to God's people as they lived out their relationship with God in history. God's relationship made a difference in their lives at that specific time in history. A covenant is different from a contract because it is graciously one sided. God establishes a relationship with the Hebrews, with Israel, out of love, not because they were such a great nation. The covenants are made by God because God is a good and loving God. Sometimes God asks for Israel to also offer a sign that they will continue in the covenant.
- For the 5 weeks in Lent all of the Old Testament lessons read in weekend worship lift up those covenants:
- Genesis 9: 8-17 Noah's Ark Story: Following the flood, God blesses humanity and establishes a covenant with all creatures to never destroy earthly life with some natural catastrophe. The sign is the rainbow.
- Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 Abraham and Descendants Story: God promises to be Abram's God and the God of his descendants. They are also promised Canaan.The sign is Abram's name changing to Abraham. Note: v. 9 There is a condition--circumcision as a sign that they are in a covenant relationship with God.
- Exodus 20:1-17, The 10 Commandments Story: God has brought Israel out of Egypt. God again promises to be their God, protector and granter of a blessed future. He gives them the gift of the commandments as a blessing, a good thing, to help Israel learn how to be a community after so much time in slavery, so that when they get to the Promised Land they will be able to live as a community.
- Numbers 21:4-9, The Healing in the Wilderness Story: God provides food and water for the Israelites in the wilderness but the people complain and grumble and forget that God has provided salvation a number of times, including bringing them out of Egypt. God does punish them but then they repent and God provides a way to heal: a bronze serpent lifted up on a pole.
- Jeremiah 31:34: The story of the New Covenant: The Judeans are in exile in Babylon and they blame their exile on their ancestors not keeping the covenant that was established on Mt. Sinai. Jeremiah looks to a day when God will make a new covenant with the people. Then the law will be written on their hearts. Of course this new covenant from this side of the cross is understood as Jesus Christ and these verses are quoted in the New Testament. At the time the exiles were looking forward to returning to their land, which they eventually do.
There are other covenants in the Old Testament, all gifts of grace, that had a strong impact on the people of the OldTestament. They were seen as gifts of salvation and when the people kept the covenant their lives were the better for it.
Jesus Christ is not just about getting us to heaven. The kingdom of God has come already. Knowing that we are saved changes how we live our life here on earth, and our lives are the better for it.
So fellow children of God, what do you think? Would you be drawn to the God of the Old Testament if you lived in long ago Egypt? In the wilderness? In Canaan? In Babylon etc. Why and why not?