Maybe you are a small group leader. Six months in, you discover that some are more committed than others. A few are always engaged. One or two seem disconnected. You begin to wonder, What am I doing wrong? It’s not what I expected. Or maybe you are a Christian parent. You determine...
Some Christians and many non-Christians hold, consciously or not, the false belief that the God of the Old Testament is somehow different than the God of the New Testament. When we think of the Old Testament, we think of plagues, wars, and judgments brought onto humanity by God. When we think of the New Testament, we think of Christ’s love for the church and the communion of early Christians.
Perhaps someone has asked you or challenged you in the past with this question: Is God’s character different in the Old Testament than in the New? Look to Bible in response to this, where we learn the answer is a resounding no.
I have picked out six verses to demonstrate God’s loving-kindness, mercy, and faithfulness from the Old Testament. These verses all come from the very same prophets who know God’s wrath more than others at their time. These writers forecast the destruction of cities, yet they still speak to God’s love for humanity.
Share these with a friend or a family member, and write them upon your own heart as well:
1. Nehemiah 9:17
You are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.
When we read the major and minor prophets in the Old Testament, we feel bombarded by judgment after judgment. It’s easy to lose perspective of where we are in the ongoing story. When we read the prophets, we need to remember that God has been with his people for a long time. His people have rebelled against him, time and time again. Centuries worth of rebellion.
This verse in Nehemiah returns us to a right perspective: God’s judgment does not mean he is unfairly angry—but his delayed judgment, the years that God bore with the sins of his people, means he is slow to anger.
And even more amazing of a testament to God’s goodness and mercy is that he did not forsake his people. God’s mercy is demonstrated through his judgment on them. It means he still loves them. It means he is working to perfect them.
2. Jonah 3:8-10
“Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.
The Ninevites were some of the worst people. Jonah was either so afraid of them or thought they were so hopelessly lost that when God called him to go there he went the other way. But here, Jonah has proclaimed God’s Word to them, he proclaimed God’s offer of repentance to them. They responded in faith, and God withheld their due judgment.
Remember the Ninevites’ story next time someone describes God as one who lacks mercy in the Old Testament. The Ninevites so deserved their punishment that Jonah himself—a prophet of God, having seen many conversions—still believed God would condemn them after they repented. Jonah’s lack of mercy in his story contrasts the overwhelming mercy and love God has for humanity.
3. Isaiah 43:1-3
But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
What the Lord says here through Isaiah’s writing reflects Jesus’s words in the New Testament: “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Jesus is not speaking of some new truth; He refers to something that has been true forever—he is with us because he loves us.
4. Isaiah 54:10
“For the mountains may depart
and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,”
says the Lord, who has compassion on you.
This verse in Isaiah speaks to the eternal nature of God’s love for us. It is more permanent than the mountains and the hills, the Lord says. What an encouragement this must have been to those faithful to him during that time—and what an encouragement it is to us today. Chaos surrounded them, as they witnessed God’s wrath upon their city. But God assures them that the most permanent thing—more permanent than anything in the world—is his love for us.
5. Jeremiah 17:9-10
The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?
I the Lord search the heart
and test the mind.
This passage from Jeremiah may not immediately jump out to you as a representation of God’s mercy or lovingkindness. The verse calls our heart “sick” and “deceitful.” But consider the need represented here.
We feel the sickness of our heart. We know the deceitfulness of it. We feel things we are ashamed of, and we think in ways we wish we would not. The worst part of it all is that we do not know why. We are a mystery to ourselves.
God, however, knows us. He know us better than we do. And he wants to solve this mystery for us through a relationship with him. Therefore, this verse in Jeremiah demonstrates, once again, his love for his people.
6. Nahum 1:7
The Lord is good,
a stronghold in the day of trouble;
he knows those who take refuge in him.
These verses come after the prophet asks, “Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger?” (v. 6). I read verse 7 as an answer: God is merciful to the repentant, to those who believe in him and obey his commandments.
The Ninevites, on the other hand, rebelled again and God brought his judgment on them. I see two applications to make from Nahum.
- God demonstrated mercy to the Ninevites in Jonah’s time even though he knew they would rebel again and ignore his message in Nahum’s time. He did not have to. He knew they would rebel. But, God is a loving God—he wants people to be free from wrath. He always has.
- However, God’s mercy is not universal. He protects those who have repented and obeyed him. He gives grace to all who believe in him. Yet there are real consequences for those who do not.
Those consequences had to become reality. As we fast-forward to the New Testament, we learn that God has not relaxed his standards one tiny bit. God gave up his perfect Son to be the propitiation and expiation for our sins. And on the cross, God’s full wrath was poured upon Jesus. Paradoxically, the same moment demonstrates God’s greatest act of love: Jesus Christ, willingly died so that we may live.
So, reader, believe in him and live.