We have forgotten the authority of God it seems. Reading the Old Testament prophets leaves us feeling strange and a bit uneasy, so we too-quickly jump to the gospels, there to find plenty of comfortable scriptures to read. But God is the same today, yesterday, and tomorrow, so how do we deal with an Old Testament God who punishes and redeems, who promises pain and comfort? We listen.
Throughout the bible, not just the Old Testament, we hear God promise what we may consider a conditional love. “If you obey my commands, then I will care for you, protect you, guide you. But if not, then calamity will befall you and I will not protect you from it.” And this is not just a promise, it is fulfilled again and again. While we focus on God’s provision while the Israelites wandered there, we tend to ignore that it was He who sent us there in the first place. We were faithless and deserved it – God is not whimsical in His punishments – but for we who only know a God of grace and mercy, this is a hard lesson. The Prophets only had to come to their people because they were soon to be conquered by Assyria, and then Babylon. This too was God’s punishment for His people, His response to their disobedience.
In the New Testament, we hear again and again to heed the warning of the Prophets – do not turn from God as we did at Meribah and God killed thousands. Maybe what we do with these difficult passages is learn from them, and begin to read the scriptures as a whole, a Book not just of grace and mercy but of consequences and then mercy, of exile and then return, of punishment and then healing.
God’s last word is truly always mercy and grace, but that is by no means His only word for us. Let’s hear them all.
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