Original Posting At https://revbrentwhite.com/2017/06/01/amazing-grace-in-the-old-testament/
Wednesday night’s Bible study featured a popular recurring topic: Does God, as portrayed in the Old Testament, seem different—less merciful, more violent—than the God that Jesus Christ and the apostles reveal to us in the New Testament?
If you know me at all, you know that I’m a stickler about this question: First, God doesn’t change, regardless how the Bible portrays him. But even more, I believe the Bible’s portrayal of God is consistent between the two Testaments. By all means, Jesus reveals more about who God is, and we see in Christ the full extent of God’s love, mercy, and compassion in a way that we can’t in the Old Testament. But this is not to say that Jesus contradicts the Old Testament’s portrayal of God as being committed to justice, having justifiable wrath toward sin, and punishing evildoers who won’t repent of their sins.
In fact, most of what we know about final judgment and hell, for example, we learn from the lips of Jesus himself in the four gospels. And in Revelation 19, the sword-wielding rider on the white horse, whose robe is dipped in the blood of his enemies and who avenges evil, is Jesus himself.
My point—heaven forbid!—is not that God isn’t as gracious and merciful as we think he is in the New Testament, but that he’s just as committed to justice as he is in the Old Testament. In fact, on the cross of his Son, God’s perfect justice and his perfect love meet. Far from being at odds with one another, God’s commitment to justice flows from his perfect love.
Having said that, the Old Testament bears witness to God’s profound grace and mercy. In our Bible study, we discussed many examples of this, including the Bible’s repeated affirmation that God is “merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster” (Exodus 34:6; Psalm 86:5, 15; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2).
But one of the best examples of God’s mercy, which I didn’t think about until this morning—when I read about him during my quiet time—is Manasseh, king of Judah, in 2 Chronicles 33. Manasseh, like so many kings of Judah before and after him, “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Chron. 33:2). The difference is the scale of his evil: he was literally the worst of a bad lot.
Child sacrifice, sorcery, idolatry—you name it, he did it. And he led his people into these sins as well. In fact, 2 Kings 21, which also recounts Manasseh’s story, tells us that Manasseh’s wickedness is the primary reason that the Southern Kingdom of Israel fell.
Second Chronicles features one aspect of his story that the writer of 2 Kings leaves out: Manasseh repents. His change of heart occurs after the king of Assyria took him captive, binding him in chains and deporting him to Babylon. There, the author tells us,
[Manasseh] was in distress, [and] he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.
And for the rest of his reign, Manasseh’s life bore witness to his repentance, which you can read about in 2 Chronicles 33:14-20.
Let’s notice a few things about this: God dealt Manasseh what C.S. Lewis calls a “severe mercy”: God allowed Manasseh to suffer for his sin, but not merely for the sake of suffering. Rather, God used his suffering to bring him to repentance and to deeper faith in him (to say the least). This ought to remind us of something that the New Testament teaches repeatedly: that God disciplines his children (Hebrews 12:6) and uses trials and testing for our own good (2 Corinthians 12:7-10; James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:6-7).
Manasseh’s story reminds us that it’s never too late to get our lives right with God. As long as we have breath in our lungs, we still have the opportunity to repent. For the sake of our souls, let’s not waste it.
Finally, if God can forgive Manasseh, whom the Bible describes as the worst in a long line of bad people, well… don’t you think God can forgive you and me?
If that’s not grace, I don’t know what is!