It is true that there is quite a bit of death in the Old Testament of the Holy Scriptures. Many times God allowed people to die and sometimes even caused their deaths. For example, one of the stories that always troubled me is found in 2 Samuel chapter 6. A man named Uzzah was struck dead for touching the Ark of the Covenant while it was being transported. The oxen pulling the cart stumbled and Uzzah reached out to steady the Ark. This seems innocent enough. The problem has multiple layers. The Ark of the Covenant was a temporary dwelling place for God - a very HOLY God who gave strict instructions that no one should ever touch it. Numbers 4:15 says this: "And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the
furnishings of the sanctuary, as the camp sets out, after that the sons of Kohath shall
come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die. These are thethings of the tent of meeting that the sons of Kohath are to carry."
That is important because God made it clear not to touch (defile) His Holiness. God needed no one's help in protecting His dwelling place. Uzzah's faith and reverence for the Ark (aka Tent of Meeting) was lacking. Not only should he have been unwilling to touch it, he should have been horrified to do so. God did not need human assistance to keep His dwelling place safe. Uzzah knew better - and he knew that death would be the result of such a breach. As harsh as it may seem - he got exactly what was coming to him - a consequence he was fully aware of. God's Holiness cannot be tampered with. This is a historic reality that we have trouble comprehending, but the Israelites knew. They deeply knew.
It is accounts like this that cause many to scratch their heads.... how could a loving God strike someone dead? The New Testament presents a Savior - Christ Jesus - who seems to be the polar opposite from the OT God. But nothing in the NT changes anything about the God of the OT. What changed was the solution to the problem of sin. In the OT, the way to fellowship with God was through the priests in the temple and unique encounters with His glory. In the NT, the way to fellowship with God is through the Spirit of Jesus. He is the mediator that allows us to live in the presence of a Holy God.
So - how do we see past the accounts of death and destruction in the OT to see the God of love? This series of posts, I hope and pray, will help you to achieve a clear perspective - the way that it has helped me. We shouldn't fear the truth of the Old Testament because at the core of that truth is a patient, loving, merciful God who never gave up on His people and never has stopped making a way. He has always, over and over, been making a way for forgiveness and redemption. Always.
The first episode of this loving God who always makes a way, despite our unworthiness, is right after the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. It's so subtle that it's easy to miss. We know that Adam and Eve sinned by eating the fruit of the tree that they were prohibited from eating. The result of their disobedience was that God banished them from the garden forever, and their sin destroyed the shalom (peace) that they had enjoyed. They would now experience hardship and suffering - and this would be the reality in their work and in their relationships, and ultimately they would experience death instead of life in paradise - all found in Genesis 3. But it doesn't end there. Before God banished them from the garden, it says in 3:21 ... "And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them." The significance of this is that He didn't just "clothe them" - he more specifically covered them. And God would continue to offer His covering to this very day. God did not have to cover Adam and Eve before ushering them out of Eden. He did not have to personally make garments for them. As upsetting as it must have been to observe His perfect creation deny the perfection He promised them - He shows them the love of a Good Father.
Another detail that is easy to miss is this: For Adam and Eve to be covered, something died. Blood was shed. For God to make a covering of animal skins - the animal was sacrificed. We can see all through Scripture that God's sacrificial system for purifying and cleansing sinners of their obstruction of Shalom is always accessible. First by God Himself, then through the priests who oversaw the sin and guilt offerings throughout the history of Israel, and now through the High Priest - Jesus. (See Hebrews 4:14-16)
---> Hebrews 4: 14 "Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,[a] Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."
It is my goal with these next several posts to go through the Old Testament and point out God's unreasonable kindness in offering His covering over and over to a people who would ultimately refuse to listen. We will trace His sin solution throughout the pages. It is my realization that we cannot fully comprehend and appreciate the love of God through Jesus without first witnessing His love (with heavy doses of grace and mercy) throughout the history of Israel told in the Old Testament. This will help us also to begin to grasp that the consequences were fair - and not only fair - but had been fully spelled out in the law they were given to follow. God's Word was clear - there would be blessing for obedience and curse for disobedience. Israel chose her consequences. There is good news for Israel though - and we will see that too.
We do not serve an angry God or a merciless One. As a final encouragement for today, consider these Old Testament verses.
Nehemiah9:31 "Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them for you are a gracious and merciful God."
Exodus34:6 "The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God
merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness."
Psalm86:5 "For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you."
Joel2:13 "and rend your hearts and not your garments.”Return to the LORD your Godfor he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he
relents over disaster."
See you soon with part II.