Torah’s Merciful God

The Law’s got bad press. That article of Israel’s espousal to God has been knocked so much that sometimes you couldn’t help but think it’s rubbed off badly on God Himself. At various times it’s been called the law of bondage 1Gal 4:24, and an article of death (2 Cor 3:7). It’s difficult to excoriate non-Jews who speak ill-advisedly of the law considering that the worst invectives on the law in the Bible were scripted by Jews. And what would Jesus make of it? Well considering he lived by the law and actually told his audience that the law was key to pleasing God; 2Matt 19:16-21 mmmh… allow me time to work out the answer to that one.

In fact, so grateful are we to Jesus for ‘saving us from the curse of the law’, that you would be forgiven for thinking that when God drafted the code of a covenantal relationship with Israel, all nations of the world were automatic signatories to that law. Never mind that scripture said: “Moses commanded us a law, even the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob.3Deut 33:4 Why let a small matter like an Old Testament quotation get in the way of the greatest thing to happen to mankind. There are those who argue that the law centred around the promise of a land, the land of Israel; a land that’s a few thousand miles from my village in Nigeria. Well, all that detail get in the way of a dream gospel.

Here God is revealed in all of His glory in attributes of mercy truth and grace; and at the same time he would have us know that he’s also a God of Justice. However, the attributes of mercy were revealed before those of justice and the former out-number the latter considerably.

As it turns out, it’s all worked out nicely for the Church of God in Jesus Christ: as it is written, the law came by Moses but grace and truth by the Lord Jesus. Written into that assertion is the suggestion that before Jesus grace was a non-entity. The assertion that grace was only revealed in Jesus writes off one of the most telling revelation of God in the Torah. Moses had just secured a reprieve for the Jews after the Golden Calf incident and requested a revelation of God as a token of divine grace in his own life. God obliged him and as He passed by he declared God’s name, a name that consisted of His divine attributes:

“And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.4Exodus 34:6-7

Here God is revealed in all of His glory in attributes of mercy truth and grace; and at the same time he would have us know that he’s also a God of Justice. However, the attributes of mercy were revealed before those of justice and the former out-number the latter considerably.

Demonstrations of divine mercy and justice started playing out in the first book with the first people. Adam and wife disobeyed and were sent out of God’s garden, but not before he had clothed them. 5Gen 3:21 Cain murdered Abel and was cursed, but he was nonetheless branded to shield him from jungle justice. 6Gen 4:15 Abimelech was deceived into taking another man’s wife, but God stopped him from ‘knowing’ her, so he wouldn’t have to face divine justice.

Hagar’s experience with the angel of God is a comforting demonstration that when we make a mess of our affairs, God gets involved, unasked. Abraham and Sarah figured God needed help to make them parents. They engaged a surrogate to facilitate the process. Entered Ishmael, and with him sibling and generational rivalries. Hagar and Ishmael are sent off into the desert sun, where the elements required nothing short of the young man’s life.

Then God showed up uninvited. Hagar didn’t pray. She didn’t lift up her hands, voice or anything else in supplication for divine intervention. She crumbled in mournful resignation to the inevitable loss of her child. There was no intercession issuing from Abraham either. His farewell gift for the first fruit of his loin consisted a loaf of bread and a bottle of water. And, of course, a ‘goodbye’. The voice that reached God was the desperate heaving of a life force that was ebbing away. Not only did God save the child, He confirmed his destiny.

It’s not the only time that the mercy of God is not adversely impacted by our dubious commitment to His road map for our lives. He is only too aware that most of us are only ‘in Him’ for what we can get out of Him. Be it healing, victory, deliverance, blessing or eternal life. It’s all ultimately about what we want. The praise, worship, charity, name it, it’s ultimately almost, always, about meeting our aspirations. He knows, but is He bothered? Hear the Psalmist:

“When he slew them, then they sought him: and they returned and enquired early after God. And they remembered that God was their rock, and the high God their redeemer. Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues. For their heart was not right with him, neither were they stedfast in his covenant. But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath.” 7Psalm 78:34-38

The most quoted scripture from the Christian Bible: “For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son” 8John 3:16 speaks of the love of God and not of Jesus. It speaks of the same God that gave the Torah, for there is none other. St Paul wrote that Salvation as revealed through Jesus had been on the cards before time began, so God just didn’t learn to be merciful and gracious two thousand years ago. In fact the book of Jonah reveals (I think more than any) the breadth of the mercy of God in pre-Christ times: it stretches wide enough to cover cattle, 9Jonah 4:10-11 never mind humans!

“It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.” – Lam 3:22-23

None of this is meant to imply that God is a soft touch nor that he would not hold people to account. Periods of Israel in captivity are testament to his attributes of justice. He is not shy to balance the carrot with the stick. Justice and judgment are the habitation of His throne: mercy and truth go before His face. 10Psalm 89:14 Even at the most difficult of times, Jeremiah acknowledged that:

“It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.11Lam 3:22-23

Christ Jesus is the expression of the love and the mercy of God. At times Christ was more interested in people coming into the knowledge of the mercy of God than becoming his followers. 12Mark 5:18-20 It’s time we stopped this ‘God of the Old Testament’ and ‘God of the New Testament’ theosophy. Let’s grow in the knowledge that God, the one God of Heaven and earth, revealed in the Torah, the Gospels and the Epistles is one. He is a compassionate God. Always has been, always will be. His mercy is from everlasting, his mercy endures for ever.

References

Gal 4:24
Matt 19:16-21
Deut 33:4
Exodus 34:6-7
Gen 3:21
Gen 4:15
Psalm 78:34-38
John 3:16
Jonah 4:10-11
Psalm 89:14
Lam 3:22-23
Mark 5:18-20

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