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Is God Too Harsh In The Old Testament? | The Eclipse of God in American Culture #7

Some might perceive God’s wrath on entire people groups, or specific sin, as an overreach of His justice. How does God’s anger at sin pair with His mercy? Pastor Lutzer expounds on many examples in the Old Testament of God’s consistent character and promises. Because God hates sin, we must take Him seriously.

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Transcript: Welcome to “5 Minutes with Pastor Lutzer.” I’m so glad that you joined us again as we continue our series, entitled, “The Eclipse of God.” If there were a subtitle, it might be, “America’s Disastrous Search for a More Inclusive Deity.” If you were with us last time, and I certainly hope that you were, you know that we were talking about the God of the Old Testament and how some evangelicals even turn away from Him because of all of the judgments. For instance, Nadab and Abihu being judged by God, earthquakes that swallowed up the disobedient. And so many people are saying that the God of the Old Testament is very different than the God of the New Testament. Well, next time we are going to talk about the God of the New Testament and show the continuity, but today I want to answer three objections that often come to us when we speak about the Old Testament.

The first is the flood. I remember years ago, Bill Moyers on a CBS special was on a panel, and they were discussing the flood. They came to the conclusion that there was development in God, and God was like a child playing with a sand castle that He had made and then in anger destroying it and regretting it. So God judged the people but then in the end He gives them a rainbow. It’s as if God is saying “I’m really sorry I did that.” Well, what about the flood? The problem was that the wickedness on earth was very great and God judged them by that terrible catastrophe. But did God do wrong? No. Even to Adam and Eve, He said “The soul that sins will die.” And they were receiving just judgment. Now maybe that’s hard for you to take and I can understand that but remember: You and I might be worshipping a God who is not the God of the Bible. God is a God who hates sin in ways that you and I do not understand.

The second criticism of the Old Testament is the wiping out of the Canaanites. Some people call it “ethnic cleansing.” Well, it wasn’t that. The Bible makes it very clear that the Israelites themselves, ultimately, were connected to the Canaanites. In the book of Ezekiel, God says that the “Amorites were your father, the Hittites were your mother.” They were really all part of the same ethnic group if you go back to their original roots. Once again, God was judging the Canaanites because of their terrible, unbelievable sins. And they received just judgment. And when you come to the Israelites, well, you know the Bible says that God gives justice to some and mercy to others. And the Israelites, of course, experienced mercy but at the same time don’t forget when they were disobedient God brought severe judgment to them. I’m thinking for example of the Assyrian captivity where those tribes were taken off and we really don’t even know where they are today. Now, there was a remnant spared in the southern kingdom, Judah, but it’s a reminder of the fact that God judges justly; He hates sin, and we had better take Him seriously.

The third issue that many people struggle with is the stonings of the Old Testament. People were stoned for adultery, for homosexuality; false prophets were to be stoned. The question is, was this overreach? Well, interestingly, Jewish scholars tell us that these kinds of judgments were never carried out. Why? Because in the Book of Numbers we read that ransom can be made for sins such as that, but the one sin designated for which there cannot be ransom is the sin of premeditated murder. But once again, it illustrates the fact that God is angry with sin. And if you think that He’s changed His mind I certainly hope that you tune in next time as we discuss the New Testament.

But I can’t leave you here today without reminding you that the Old Testament has many promises, many examples of God’s mercy, His grace and His love. If we were to trace it through, beginning with Leviticus, we’d discover over and over again that in the midst of these judgments, there was mercy. I’m thinking for example of Psalm 103:

God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, plenteous in mercy. He shall not always chide nor will he keep his anger forever. Thou hast not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far he has removed our transgressions from us.

And then thinking of one of the minor prophets, I’m going to end today by reminding you how the book of Micah ends. It is the word of God it says this. “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity, and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us.” It goes on to say that “You will cast all of our sins into the depths of the sea. You shall show us faithfulness and steadfast love.” God is a very complex being. Severe justice? Yes. Mercy, grace, and compassion? Yes.

Today, come to that God through Jesus Christ and you will be welcomed and received and as you’ve heard me say so many times before, as for today, you just go with God.

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