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When we read about some of the ways that God dealt with sin in the Old Testament, at times it seems that He was somehow different in nature than the God of the New Testament. However, there are many examples of God showing great mercy toward His people in the OT. Psalm 78 is a long psalm that recounts a a series of events in the OT in which God sent judgment upon His people, then relented in mercy and showed kindness to them. Psalm 78: 38-39 says, 38 Yet he was merciful; he forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time he restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath. 39 He remembered that they were but flesh, a passing breeze that does not return. One of the things that we need to remember about God's dealings with people in the Old Testament is that He was establishing a nation of people who were to be distinctly different from any other nation. He gave them a very clear set of laws by which to live, including ordinances that would wash them of sin (see Exodus 20). God gave these laws and ordinances to His people because He wanted to create a way for His children to be reconciled to Him, and He also cared about their well-being. So while these laws and ordinances can seem harsh and rigid, the heart of God in this matter was to make a way for fellowship between His children and Himself. God cannot fellowship with sin, so His people had to be holy, and the nation of Israel was also supposed to represent God in a holy and distinct manner compared to other nations. Exodus 19:5-6 says, Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you[a] will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites. We know that the system of reconciliation in the OT had its flaws, so the God of the OT demonstrated the ultimate act of mercy by sacrificing His Son for us. While it seems that God is more "lax" since Jesus came to save us, I would assert that He really isn't. The account of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 is a clear indication that God is still as concerned about sin now as He was in the OT. But in Christ, we have a means of reconciliation that is perfect and deals with the heart more than outward appearances.
...I totally agree with Kelli's answer. I would say for the sake of simplification, that the Old Testament essentially explains the reality of sin and why sin is in need of the LAW-- which clearly points out the consequences of breaking that LAW; while the New Testament tells us the sacrifice that God made in giving us his only begotten son to pay the price of that infraction, and what our path must be to accept His redeeming sacrifice. Thus, taken together, the Old and New Testament gives us a perfect and consistent picture of mankind's character arc--from Edenic perfection to a fallen race in Genesis. From there, the Old Testament tells of the epic struggle of the human race to reach that spot in history where God's perfect timing could give us the promised redeemer. What then unfolds is a richly detailed "life incarnate" for God himself, giving us our Creator taking on our human plight, then overcoming that with a perfect life. Then we see as Jesus confronts the same problems that we do, that to seek living in accordance to God's plan as demonstrated by God Himself (our triune God) will lead to a closer walk with God. Finally, in an incredible display of God's love, a narrative that has unfolded consistently and without contradiction throughout the entire Bible, our Triune God actually suffers the death that we--as fallen mankind--deserve. From the beginning of the Old Testament to the very end of the New Testament, we see a totally consistent pattern of Love and Forgiveness on the part of our God of Perfection.
The question goes: Why does God of the Old Testament seem to be hard and unforgiving compared with the God of the New Testament? The view that God is associated with fear in the Old Testament and love in the New Testament stems from the perception that God manifests different natures or attributes under the two testaments. The fact is that God never changes His nature and attributes but the manner of His revelation. In the Old Testament, God is commonly identified with the laws He gave to Moses and his influence appears to be closely restricted to the Jews, His covenant people. The rest of the world appear isolated and are often depicted as hostile to God and to His people. For example, the Psalmist captures this idea in Psalm 47:3-4 which says “He shall subdue the people under us, and the nations under our feet. 4 He shall choose our inheritance for us, the excellency of Jacob whom he loved.” Psalm 96:5 “For all the gods of the nations are idols: but the LORD made the heavens.” The “nations” here refer to all nations or kindreds apart from the Jews who were monotheistic under Yahweh. The picture that the average reader will deduce from the Old Testament scriptures is that God was an angry God, a punishing God. However, there is evidence that at diverse times God did reveal his love for His people even in their disobedience. The story depicted in the Book of Hosea speaks volumes of God’s commitment to the covenant and his loving grace even in the face of rebellion by the Israelites. The passage of Hosea 11:7-9 carries a classical depiction of a loving God who patiently waited for Israel’s return from their disobedience and who exercised great restrain in the midst of their sinfulness: “And my people are bent to backsliding from me: though they called them to the most High, none at all would exalt him. 8 How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? How shall I deliver thee, Israel? How shall I make thee as Admah? How shall I set thee as Zeboim? Mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together. 9 I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man; the Holy One in the midst of thee: and I will not enter into the city." Psalm 103:8-13 declares “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. 9 He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever. 10 He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. 11 For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. 12 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. 13 Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him.” There are several Bible passages that show that God is not as "harsh" as He is often depicted. However, God is a just and righteous God who will punish the wicked but preserve His covenant people for His glory. In the New Testament, God reveals Himself more prominently in the Person of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. The two Persons of the Trinity were less clearly understood in the Old Testament. Jesus’ principal purpose in coming to earth was to atone for the sin of man, a solution that God provided through His sacrificial death. The New Testament clearly reveals that God is a God of a second chance, a loving God, a redeeming God. These are the same attributes He reveals in the Old Testament. He loved Israel and had a great plan for them but they walked away from Him. He loved Adam and Eve but they sinned against Him. Today, God has made Jesus the Way the Truth and the Life by which we may access heaven but millions have reject and continue to reject this final offer. God will finally judge them for their rebellion in the same way that He judged Israel. The idea that God is revealed as a hostile and unloving in the Old Testament compared to the New Testament does not appear to be condistent with theological deduction of the two canons.
Reading about the military campaigns in the land of Canaan we may have the impression of a harsh, unforgiving god. But we must understand that all the Canaanites at the time of Moses, especially the Amorites, were at the fullness of their iniquity (Gen 15:12-16) and deserved God's wrath or chastisement. The true nature of the LORD as shown to Moses is found in Ex 34: 5-8 "And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD, 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 no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and the upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation." Note the emphasis on mercy and forgiveness for iniquity and sin. For those who sinned or transgressed a law of God without totally meaning to, there was always a remedy; if a person completely meant to do what he did there was no remedy; the only options were death or fleeing the country, but there were cities of refuge for certain crimes. Christianity's higher moral standard doesn't require an physical act to sin, simply the intention or desire is enough to convict of sin. This is the highest moral standard on the planet, and quite difficult for many to appreciate.
In general, the God of the Old testament refers to YHVH ELOHIM (Gen 2). He was the Creator and Logos in John 1; who incarnated to Jesus. His role appears to be "harsh" and "strict" because it centered on obedience to the Law and Covenants. That time-period shows that man is "weak", and on his own, would not able to follow what was required by God. Man needs the Holy Spirit to "find favor" in God's eyes. In the New Testament, while Jesus is God, the predominant mention of God refers to God the Father. This time-period emphasized love, forgiveness and the Lamb-sacrifice, death of Jesus for mankind to be reconciled to the Father. And for the Holy Spirit to be sent after Jesus' resurrection to be with the Father again as it was from the beginning. This is why they are different, not only as to which member of the Godhead is referred to but also the purpose in dealing with mankind.
Probably because we are looking at God through the perceptions and language of those who wrote about Him. And in the New Testament we read through the eyes of those who got to know him personally through Jesus coming to Earth. Remember God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. I believe the reason the curtain was "rent" in two is God wants us all to know Him personally too!
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