THE GOD OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
BY: JAN A. ANTONSSON – OCTOBER 28, 2001
Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO 64850
“All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction,
and for training in righteousness.“ (II Tim. 3:16, RSV)
Lenny and I participate in an Internet Discussion forum, where someone recently said he had trouble with the God of the Old Testament because He was so full of wrath and went around punishing people all the time. I can understand the sentiment because I grew up reading the Bible and based on what I read in the Old Testament, I was VERY afraid of God.
Still, in spite of the scary stuff, I thrilled at the accounts of His raw power coursing through people, ordinary people
whom God used to display His glory to the world. Some of the heroes of faith who lifted me out of myself and thrilled me with the raw power of almighty God, include:
Abraham, who believed God’s promise to make a great nation from his seed, though at the time the promise came, he and his wife were old and Sarah was barren (Gen. 11:30, 12:1-4,7). Abraham became the father of faith to all who believe God’s promises, and in his seed, Christ, are all nations blessed (Gal. 3:16,29);
Moses, who stretched forth his rod across the Red Sea so the children of Israel could pass over on dry land (Ex. 14:15-31). Unlike other prophets, who heard from the Lord in dreams and visions, God said of Moses, “With him I speak face to face, and not in riddles; he sees the form of the Lord” (Num. 12:8);
Joshua, the mighty man of valor, to whom God said “no one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life….I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Josh. 1:1-9);
Elijah, who stood down the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (I Kings 18);
Elisha, who asked God to open his servant’s eyes so he could see the horses and chariots of fire which protected them from the Syrian army (II Kings 6:15-17);
Daniel, who saved all the wise men in Babylon from execution by telling King Nebuchadnezzar exactly what his dream was about and then what it meant. That vision and Daniel’s interpretation has fascinated and thrilled theologians for centuries ever since (Dan. 2:24-49);
Isaiah, who prophesied to Hezekiah that God would take Judah captive in Babylon, one hundred and fifteen years before it happened (II Kings 20:16-18), even foretelling how long they would be there (Seventy years). His prophecies of the kingdom of God have sustained me throughout my life. The Spirit used them to open my spiritual eyes to see our Father as He really is, and Isaiah’s assurance that, “the zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform it,” has comforted me greatly (Isa 9:7, 37:32).
Mal. 3:6 says, “For I am the LORD, I change not.” From the Hebrew writer, we learn that, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever” (Heb. 13:8, RSV). Therefore the God of the Old Testament and His firstborn Son are the same today as they were then. What is the difference in how they are presented to us? Here’s my take on it, for what it’s worth.
God revealed Himself to Abraham and preached the Gospel to him that ALL NATIONS would be blessed in His seed. “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall ALL the nations be blessed”” (Gal. 3:8, RSV). That is the essence of the Old Testament stories in a nutshell. Everything there, every symbol, every law, every story points to THE SEED, which Paul says is Christ (Gal. 3:16).
Part of the problem we have in understanding it is that the Old Testament was written in Hebrew. Eastern thought differs from Western expression greatly, which sometimes makes it difficult for us to discover the meaning. The East thinks in symbols and metaphors: “Our God is a rock,” for instance. The West thinks in linear expression, rational thought, “Our God is powerful. He will deliver us in times of trouble.” When the western mind tries to put the Old Testament into rational thought, it does not always make sense to us.
The Lord gave me a passion for the bible, but He also knew that I could not understand it with my natural mind alone; so He led me into the baptism in the Holy Spirit. That was necessary because I grew up in a church that taught the Holy Spirit went back to heaven after the last Apostle died. (They no longer this this heretical doctrine, but they did then). Horrors, what did that leave us with? A book which was not even printed widely until the 16th Century! We were left with only the bible and our natural minds to try to figure out how to live. Somehow, I don’t think that a dying man would benefit much from having a bible laid on his chest as the ONLY comfort God has for him. He would rather feel the power and glory of the Holy Spirit coursing through his body, bringing him comfort and even healing from the Lord. Once my spiritual eyes were opened, NOW I can read the scriptures and see what God is telling me. He has opened the door to His vast library of truth and all I have to do, all YOU have to do is ask, and He will reveal it to us. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him” (James 1:5, RSV).
There were two times recorded in our history with Him when God appeared to be silent. While the children of Israel were in Egyptian bondage for four hundred and thirty years (), the voice of God was silent in the land. After that painful time in the lives of His children, the deliverer roared forth out of Zion (Ps. 14:7; Isa. 59:20; Joel 3:16-17; Rom. 11:26), and God sent Moses to cry to Pharaoh, “Let my people go!” (Ex. 5:1, 7:16, 8:1,20-21, 9:1,13, 10:3-4). His purpose in all that followed was so that His “name may be declared throughout all the earth” (Ex. 9:16; Rom. 9:17). The story of the Exodus was part of my lesson recently, and it came to me that it is a metaphor for our life in Spirit; and in fact, all of the Old Testament is a continuing story of the Prodigal Son, so eloquently portrayed by Jesus (Luke 15:11-32). The second time God was silent was during the four hundred years of the inter-testamental period, the time between Malachi and Matthew. The voice of the prophet was NOT heard in the land as the hapless children of Abraham struggled to get by. Suddenly, THE deliverer promised by all the prophets came out of Zion, and His mission was to DECLARE THE NAME ABOVE ALL NAMES THROUGHOUT THE EARTH. That is our mission as well, and in this hour God is calling out a people for His name (Acts 15:14), who will rise up and “speak peace to the heathen” (Zech 9:10). At that time, “…the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and ALL flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken it”” (Isaiah 40:5, RSV). Here again, we know this to be true BECAUSE the MOUTH OF THE LORD has spoken it. It does NOT depend on man’s works, His understanding, His allegiance to God;
His faith, His hope, or His charity. It depends on “the Zeal of the Lord of Hosts to perform it” (Isaiah 9:7, 37:32).
Growing up as I did in a church which denied the Holy Spirit and elevated the bible into the Godhead, I got off the track and thought that the way God treated the people in the Old Testament was the way He would treat us. I never could really believe that people who never knew Him would burn in hell forever, though that is what they taught.
Over thirty years ago now, God sent a man from that same denomination into my life. He was the son of a Church of Christ missionary to Japan, and he and his wife went back there after the war and served as missionaries as well. On one of his trips stateside, he had enjoyed the privilege of hearing E. Stanley Jones speak in Nashville, and for the first time, my friend clearly understood the Good News shared by the famous missionary to India, i.e., that eventually, ultimately, gloriously, God will have mercy upon all: “For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all” (Rom. 11:32, RSV). Later, when I told my friend about my concerns that people who never knew Jesus would burn in hell forever, he shared the Good News with me. I have never looked back. My friend says about the Gospel, that it has been the wind beneath his wings for over fifty years of ministry, and it has also been the wind beneath my wings since he told it to me until now, and it gets richer and deeper and more satisfying every day I walk with God.
Once you know this truth at a cellular level, you begin to read the Old Testament with your eyes wide open. For instance, when I was doing the research for the journal, “The Blood Covenant” (Link at the end), I discovered something very significant. I can find no reference, no scripture and not even an inference that the horrendous punishments God dealt out to Israel in the Old Testament lasted beyond this life. He fried them with fire from heaven; He opened the earth and swallowed them; He plagued them; He sent drought and invading armies to afflict them; He sent fiery serpents (the worst one in my book) to bite and kill them, but I can find no scripture that indicates that ANY of these punishments lasted beyond the grave. I invite you to check it out for yourself.
Two scriptures speak significantly to me about the fact that God is free to give man a second chance after death. The first one has to do with Moses, who was not allowed to cross Jordan and enter the Promised Land as punishment for striking the rock at Meribah, rather than speaking to it as God has commanded (Num. 20:8-12; Deut. 32:51-52; Ps. 106:32-33). Before I had my eyes opened, I always thought God was being petulant there. “Picky, picky,” I thought. If you had two million Jews kevetching and complaining, you might be excused a momentary lapse in obedience. But no, God did not allow him to enter the Promised Land. And yet, there he was, larger than life, and twice as brilliant, on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus and Elijah (Matt. 17:3-4; Mr. 9:4-5). His punishment obviously did NOT last beyond the grave.
Secondly, you have those powerful verses in First Peter, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.” (I Peter 3:18-20, RSV). That passage plainly says that Jesus preached to the disobedient souls in prison (Hades, the place of the dead), the ones who were killed by the flood. Lenny just reminded me that in Chapter four, the Apostle says that the gospel was preached to the dead: “For this is why the gospel was preached even to the dead, that though judged in the flesh like men, they might live in the spirit like God” (I Peter 4:6, RSV). Paul came along then and told us that when Jesus rose again, and went home to glory, he took captivity captive: “Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill ALL things)” (Eph. 4:8-10, RSV). Notice that the reason He did this is so that “He might fill ALL things.” How glorious is that! This has been God’s purpose from before the foundation of the world, that He might fill ALL things, including you and me!
The Old Testament gives us compelling stories, verified by historians and archeologists, which reflect the human condition. It is the stylized account of all of God’s Prodigal Sons, which ALL of us were until Christ came to save us from ourselves (Eph. 2:11-22). The New Testament begins with God’s promise: “The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world” (John 1:9, RSV), so that all who walk in darkness will see “the great light” (Isaiah 9:2; Matt. 4:16), and can live therein. It ends with the City of God “the new Jerusalem which comes down from my God out of heaven” (Rev. 3:12;). This is the city which Abraham searched for, whose “builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10). The Apostle John says of it, “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2); This is a figure of speech referring to the bride of Christ, which we are (II Cor. 11:2). Last week, I told you that we are the Holy Land, and now, I declare to you that WE ARE the City of the living God, the one Abraham searched for. It is God’s job, not ours, to make the church spotless and without wrinkle, and to present her holy and without blemish to Christ as His bride (Eph. 5:27). That takes the heat off of us. It is confirmed in this passage as well: “Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing” (Jude 1:24, RSV). Again, we rejoice that it is the “zeal of the Lord of hosts which will perform this.” Hebrews, Chapter 11, is referred to as the Faith chapter in the New Testament, and after the writer tells us that they did NOT receive the promise, and cannot be made perfect until we receive it (Heb. 11:39-40), he goes on to say in Chapter 12:2, that “Jesus is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”
Jesus’ parable recounts the end of the Prodigal Son’s story. When God’s wayward sons come to themselves and rise up out of whatever pigpen they find themselves in order to go home to Him, they will find the Father waiting with a ring, a robe and a crown of life (Luke 15:11-32). Hallelujah!
It is my hope that this essay may inspire and encourage all of you to revisit the Old Testament. To me, it is meat and potatoes, a delicious way to find out where we’ve been and where we are going on our Glory Road journey to God from whence we came and to whom we return.
GOD OF THE OLD TESTAMENT, THE [Jan A. Antonsson] 10-18-01 1