God never changes. So why does it seem like He does?
Why does a God of compassion seem so bent on bloodshed? Why was He so adamant about the strict, strange rules in the Old Testament? Why did the temple become such a huge project and the center for Jewish life when God didn’t even want it in the first place?
DISCLAIMER: These thoughts are entirely my own and are subject to change. I reserve the right to be completely wrong on all of this. I also reserve the right to be right, even if no one else agrees with me.
Abraham takes his son, Isaac, up a hill, ties him up, and readies to sacrifice him. But then God intervenes, and Isaac is saved. (1) This instance led the writer of Hebrews and Paul to make Abraham the exemplar of faith, since he believed that even if he did kill his son God could raise him from the dead. (2) I absolutely believe this is true. But is there anything deeper going on? I think so.
Previous to Abraham, worship of the one true God was spotty at best and non-existent at worst. Furthermore, there are several reports even as the Israelite nation was developing that we read about people (including the Israelites) passing their children through the fire. (3) Many times God talks about it in horror, sickened that His creation would do this to theirs. (4) So why would God ask Abraham to do it if it sickened Him?
Maybe God wasn’t just testing Abraham: maybe God was showing him what kind of deity He was. It was common to kill your babies back then. Not an aberration. This was common, much like abortion is today. (5) Because the gods (and their followers) were blood-thirsty. I doubt that Abraham even blinked when he learned he had to sacrifice his son. It was, after all, all the rage. But I think God was showing him that the other deities were frauds. And that the only one who would be sacrificing His son before the One True God would be God Himself.
Then we reach Exodus and Leviticus, which have all sorts of commandments in them. To us today these commandments seem strange, limiting or even perverse. And God required all of these things for someone to be considered holy?
But let’s take a little bit deeper look at them, from outside of our 21st century lens.
Much of what is discussed in Leviticus is about purifying yourself to be righteous before God. So to be pure you have to wash your hands. (6) You can’t drink blood. (7) Women had to separate themselves from their group during that “time of the month.” (8) (Remember, this was long before tampons.)
What’s God doing here? In my opinion, he’s pulling a pretty ingenious trick. He knew about microbes. He knew about diseases. But humanity wouldn’t discover them for a couple thousand years. So, He made doing these things something you had to do to be “righteous,” an idea that people then could understand. God called it holiness. We call it hygiene. Pretty cool, huh?
He also tells us that we are to devote the seventh day of the week to Him, and to not do any work that day in order to maintain our holiness. (9) We are also regularly supposed to drop everything for a week or so to have a big feast, once again, as an act of holiness. (10) Funny. He just told us all to take a day off every week and have vacations, then tricked us into believing it was all for Him.
Did you ever notice how many times in the Old Testament we are told to fear God? But then in the New Testament it changes completely, and we are instead told to love God. The whole fear thing almost disappears completely.
And then God tells the Israelites early on that he wants to speak to them directly. (11) They say they don’t want to, and that they want someone else to talk for them. So He only talks to Moses. (12) He tells them not make carved idols or representations of God. (13) Then, when they do it anyway, He tells them to make the Ark of the Covenant. (14) He says that no building could possibly hold him and that He is essentially everywhere, (15) but then when they get antsy for a temple He gives them exacting directions on how to build “His house” and sets a whole generation to work on it for seven years. (16) He says He is their king. They disagree. So He bases the whole future plan for humanity around kings and, namely, one particular King. (17) He tells them that none can ever see His glory and live. (18) But then, a few generations later, He is revealing Himself to people in visions, and they all live to tell about it. (19) He said do not murder. (20) But humanity was obsessed with blood and murder, and if you didn’t embrace these things your country or tribe would be wiped out. So God ensured that the Israelites, his control group, would survive. (21)
So what’s going on here? Is God inconsistent? Or is there something much more wonderful and lovely going on here?
My thesis is this. Humanity is growing up. And as we do, God meets us where we’re at. When we’re ready for more He gives us more. But in the meantime He speaks to us in terms we can understand. In one century He tells us to be kind to our slaves. But when the time is right, He tells us to abolish slavery and treat it as the perverse evil that it is.
This applies on the macro level to all of the human race, but it is just as relevant to you in your own life. It doesn’t matter if you’re just coming off drugs, if you’re just deciding to turn your life around, or if you’ve been walking with God since you were five. God will meet you where you’re at. And He won’t meet you with a Billy club and harsh language: he will meet you with love and tenderness. Because you are His child. He cherishes you. And He wants you to succeed. Someday He will take your training wheels off. But for now, He is just going to be so happy that you got on the bike and started peddling. Some day He will show you the secrets of the universe. But for now He is applauding that you just said your first words to Him.
I don’t have space to go into this any deeper here now (though there are many layers to discuss), but for now just know this: the Creator of the Universe loves you. He knows you. And He’s going to meet you where you’re at.
I’d love to hear your comments below!
- Genesis 22:1-19
- Hebrews 11:17-19; Romans 4
- 2 Kings 16:3, 17:17, 21:6; 2 Chronicles 33:6
- Ezekiel 16:20-22; Ezekiel 20:31
- Deuteronomy 18:9-10
- Leviticus 15:11; Mark 7:3
- Leviticus 7:26-27
- Leviticus 15:25-27
- Exodus 20:8-11
- Leviticus 23
- Exodus 19:10-13
- Exodus 20:18-21
- Exodus 20:4
- Exodus 32; Exodus 37
- Exodus 19:5b; 2 Samuel 7:4-7
- 1 Chronicles 28:11-21
- 1 Samuel 8; Isaiah 9:6-7
- Exodus 33:18-23
- Isaiah 6:1-7; Revelation 4
- Exodus 20:13
- Joshua 6:17-21; 1 Samuel 15
Image (c) Can Stock Photo