By: C.J. Moore
Question: can we truly affirm that the God of the Bible is gracious, merciful, and loving in both
the Old and New Testaments?
Some would say no. As early as the second century, this question was up for debate. Marcion of Sinope, the son of a bishop, eventually became a church member in Rome. While there, he began to teach that there were two separate gods: a god of the Old Testament and a god of the New. His reasoning was simple and would eventually earn him the label of heretic. He proposed that the god of the Old Testament seemed to be a wrathful creator, while the god of the New Testament – the Father of Jesus Christ – seemed to be merciful and loving towards humanity. His teaching is surely condemnable; but, is it all that different from some of the words we might hear in the church today? “Who cares about the Old Testament?” “The Old Testament is full of law, and the New Testament is full of grace!” Even if we wouldn’t outright say these things, it’s typically safe to assume that most Christians are much more familiar with the New Testament than they are with the Old. Let’s not discount it. In his second letter, Peter said that we have the prophetic word (i.e. the Old Testament), which is “more sure” (ESV) or “[more] strongly confirmed” (CSB) than any experience he had with Jesus during His earthly ministry (2 Peter 1:19).
As a case study of how preposterous Marcion’s claim was, briefly consider Exodus 17:1-7. The Israelites’ memory is fresh. God wiped out their enemies, the Egyptians, in the Red Sea after parting those same waters to set them free. And, yet, they have the audacity to complain to Moses that there is no water to drink, testing God and saying that, through Moses, God had “[brought them] up from Egypt to kill [them] and [their] children and [their] livestock with thirst” (v. 3, CSB).
If you’re God, what do you do in this situation? If you’re solely the way Marcion describes the “god of the Old Testament,” would you not just wipe out these ungrateful people and start over? But what does God do instead? He tells Moses, “Take the staff you struck the Nile with in your hand and go. I am going to stand there in front of you on the rock at Horeb; when you hit the rock, water will come out of it and the people will drink” (v. 5-6, CSB). God provides for His people. He protects His people. He shows that He is surely present with His people! In this story, the Israelites are the ones who deserve to be struck.
They questioned God.
They tested God.
They sought faith by sight.
Ultimately, they sinned against God. God had every right to destroy them. But what did He do instead? He struck the rock instead of striking the people, and living water flowed forth to save them. Psalm 105:41 describes this event. It says that God “opened the rock, and water gushed out; it flowed through the desert like a river” (CSB). Imagine how great a sight this was! Think of the hopelessness of this situation, conquered by a great God through this life-giving miracle.
Yet, is this not a picture of something much greater? Paul alludes to this story in 1 Corinthians 10:4, where he says, “For they [the Israelites] drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ” (CSB). In the same way that the rock was struck for the temporary and physical salvation of God’s people, Christ was the rock who was “wounded, struck, pierced, and crushed for our iniquity,” bringing God’s people permanent and spiritual salvation (Isaiah 53:5). Though we deserved to be struck, the Son, who deserved no punishment, was struck for our eternal salvation instead. At the cross, Christ surely showed us “grace after grace from His fullness” (John 1:16, CSB).
We should feel for those who do not know the deep, deep riches of God’s glorious grace that is surely displayed throughout all of Scripture. I beg you to stand ready to testify of this truth for the rest of your life. Our God is a God of grace in all of the divine, inerrant, infallible, and sufficient Word of God. So, when we open God’s Word, let’s really believe that the Old Testament is just as useful and gracious as the New, for both speak of a God who is unchanging in his gracious acts towards those who are His own.