Posts tagged Old Testament
When people think about God, many think of two different “versions” of God. There is the Old Testament God – inflexible and sometimes cruel – and the New Testament God – gracious and compassionate. And, perhaps, if you just glance at the Bible or only read the most popular verses, it might be easy to draw that conclusion. However, we’re reading through the entire Bible and as we do, I think we’re getting a clearer picture of the full nature of God.
I’ve already talked about God’s willingness to be flexible and meet the people in ways that they could understand. But check out these verses from 2 Chronicles, chapter 30:
Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets their heart on seeking God—the Lord, the God of their ancestors—even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people. (2 Chronicles 30:18-20)
Do you see what happened there? These people hadn’t followed the rules. By eating the Passover meal while they were unclean, they had defiled the Passover, according to the law. A “by the book” king would have banished these people and begged God to forgive him. But Hezekiah somehow understood the heart of God. And so, rather than trying to save his own hide (and his kingdom), he went to God on behalf of the “lawbreakers,”
Hezekiah understood that the desire of the heart is more important than the outward acts. As God would later tell Samuel, people look on the outside, but God looks on the inside. Or, as Jesus would put it when criticizing the Pharisees:
“You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” (Matthew 23:25)
You see, God wanted the people to “clean the outside of the cup,” (he had given them orders to do so) but the more important thing was the inside. To put it another way, God would rather get his hands dirty (on the outside of the cup) than to drink filth (from the inside). And so, God gave the “unclean” people a pass. He showed the kind of grace and flexibility that most people associate with the “New Testament God.” In fact, when you read through the New Testament (I know, we’re a ways away from that in this reading plan) check out how many times “New Testament grace” is linked to the Old Testament.
The fact is, there is one God and his nature is and has always been the same. He is a God with high standards, but he also is and has always been a God who is eager to offer grace to those who seek it and to those who seek him.
The concept of having cities of refuge is an interesting one to me. I would love to understand a little more about how these cities worked. At first glance, they seem to be the first example of an “innocent until proven guilty” system of justice. And yet, there are a lot of assumptions that have to be made in order for this system to work.
First, you are only eligible to go to the city of refuge if you accidentally killed someone. My question is this: who decides whether or not you killed them accidentally. You’re supposed to go to the city of refuge to avoid the avenger of blood (sounds like a comic book character) but if you kill someone and say it was an accident, is that enough to qualify you for entry? Or does someone have to be a witness to the fact that it was an accident?
Second, what if you happen to be the unluckiest person in the world and not only kill someone, but kill them at a party where the avenger of blood also happens to be hanging out? Do you just have to hope you can outrun that guy to the nearest city of refuge? It seems like there are a few issues with the system and yet, that is the system that was set in place in Israel.
I also have to wonder about the prophetic implications of these cities of refuge. I mean, everywhere we look in the Old Testament, we find prophetic glimpses of the future coming kingdom. So, do these cities of refuge reflect that future reality? Perhaps. It seems likely, but all I can think of right now is how “in line” these cities were with God’s overall commandments and justice system for the Israelites.
Throughout the chapters that we’ve read thus far, we’ve seen God deal with sin in two ways: If the sin was committed intentionally and it harmed another person or dishonored God, God dealt with it then and there. However, if the sin was unintentional or if it was the byproduct of some other action, there was a system in place (a standard ritual) to receive forgiveness for that sin. Clearly, God makes a distinction between the sinful act and the motive behind that act – punishing the motive more immediately than the sin.
More than anything, I think this tells us something about the nature of God – something that Jesus would point out during his ministry. God is not nearly as interested on the outside as he is on the inside. He cares more about why we do something than he does if or when we do it.
So, as you join with me on this journey through the Bible, we would all be wise to remember our motives for doing this. Because, whether good or bad, it is the motive that matters. I hope you’re in this with me for the long haul and I pray it’s for all the right reasons!