Old Testament theology deals with how God chose to reveal himself to humanity and how his revelation has progressively been made available to humanity through God’s dealings with Israel, the Law and the Prophets. This work of God is clearly in display among the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament, hence the term, Old Testament theology. In this essay, the writer seeks to present his own theology of the Old Testament, looks at God’s attributes, Yahweh’s special relationship with Israel and portrayals of his mercy and wrath.
Descriptions of the various qualities attributed to God
The Old Testament opens with great creation story and concludes with the promise of the coming of God’s Messenger to announce the way of the Lord. The Genesis account begins by introducing the Creator God who creates the universe from nothing. The Hebrew word bara suggests that this was a new creation and not a reshaping of what had previously existed. Interestingly, it also introduces the theme of God’s spirit being active in creation. God’s sovereignty, omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence are some of the attributes presented. Interestingly, the Old Testament does not seem to dispute or argue about the fact of God’s existence. It simply presents it as a given. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)
God’s great potency and wisdom is in full display on creation. He did two things: He created out of nothing (bara), then He formed and fashioned things (yatsa) in 6 (yom) days. Having fashioned the heavens and the earth with all forms of things seen and unseen, his final crowning moment was the creation of man from the dust of the ground and breathing in his nostrils the breath of life. Man and woman he created them and gave them a responsibility to cultivate and tend the earth with all forms of life on earth being subjected to them. Man was created in God’s image and stood as God’s vice in the administration of the earthly affairs and the man enjoyed God’s presence in the Garden of Eden together with his wife.
We later observe that Satan entered the garden and tempted Eve who became a source of temptation to Adam who fell because of his personal disobedience. Although God had given them the privilege to partake everything in the garden, the forbidden tree was out of bounce. However, Adam and Eve fell to Satan’s deception and God judged them together with Satan and the earth was cursed because of Adam’s sin. Here, we see the righteousness and holiness of God in justly punishing sin and yet offering a way of salvation, the remedy for sin through the announcement of the defeat of Satan by the Seed of the woman. God’s grace and mercy were available for man even in his sinful state.
We further see the consequences of Adam’s sin as he fell from the state of innocence. He later bore children that were like him; they were rebellious, sinful and evil. Abel is spoken of as a righteous man, while Cain is seen as evil and, we are introduced to the first sacrificial system of the Bible. Cain though a murderer, appealed to God for mercy and we see God’s grace for lost humanity even in their sinful condition. In Seth’s days, people began to call upon the name of the Lord while others kept sinning and offending God. Enoch pleased God and walked with him at a time when humanity was evil and Noah found grace in God’s sight and his family of eight was spared from the Flood.
When the Flood ended, Noah made animal sacrifices to God and God made a covenant with the earth and humanity that flood waters would never again destroy the earth, and weather elements would remain as long as the earth endured. Sadly, Noah got drunk, and in his drunken state, he became naked and one of his sons was cursed as a result. The shameful act of Ham made Noah to pronounce a blessing that would come to Shem and Japheth and last Ham would later be grafted back into the God of Shem.
Because God’s judgments are easily forgotten, as people increased, they bound themselves to defy God’s command to multiply and fill the earth because they had one language. So God visit from heaven and confused man’s language at Babel. Here we see a jealous and just God bringing swift judgment to humanity again, the third in a serious of universal judgments. Immediately after these events, the OT theology shifts to the family of Shem and narrows down to the Abrahamic family who is specifically called by God to forsake idolatry and follow God’s lead. If he would be obedient, God would bless him by making of him a great nation and the dealings of worldly affairs would be greatly impacted by this nation. Abram obeyed and entered into a covenant with God which saw an exchange of names between Abram and God. This would affect the entire generations of Abraham and God promised the land of Canaan to Abraham with an oath that was repeated to all his sons. However, before that would happen, Abraham’s descendants would be in Egypt for over four centuries until God would come and deliver them and send them to the land which He had sworn to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
God’s Relationship with Israel
In a bid to terminate the Israelite family, Satan through the Egyptians sought to kill all male children, but God sovereignly intervened and spared the male children among who was Moses who later delivered the Israelites from the Egyptian bondage after a great judgment on Egypt and its gods by Yahweh. Thus, we see God’s faithfulness to his promises and covenants in choosing Israel to be his kingdom of priests.
At Mount Sinai, God entered into a covenant with Israel to be their God and Israel to be God’s people. As a result, they entered into a marriage contract (ketubah) through the giving of the Law. The tribe of Levi was chosen to function as the priests of the Lord and God sought his dwelling among mankind. Through the tabernacle, His presence was with Israel for forty years in the desert but due to sin and faithlessness, they sinned against God demanding to serve foreign and strange gods which saw an entire generation being wiped out in the wilderness despite having experienced God’s power, miraculous deliverance at the Red sea and other mighty works.
Although God’s desire was for Israel to be his people, He also showed that he was the God of all the earth and his salvation plan included all nations. Provisions were put in place to integrate those Gentiles who would chose to follow Israel’s God. They too had to be circumcised and follow the Law, observing certain feats and all commands from the Lord. Yet, Israel failed its task to be the light to the gentiles and God in his anger chastised them for their sins. On few occasions, under oppression from their enemies, they remembered God and came back to him, but it was temporal. They later asked for a king and forsook the Lord for human governance but God later appointed the house of David to be Israel’s leader.
Because of Solomon’s sins, the nation was divided apart, two kingdoms were formed. However, both kingdoms forsook God and the Northern kingdom met God’s judgment in 722 BC in the form of the Assyrians, while Judah followed approximately 150 years later into exile in Babylon.
While in exile, God continued the work of calling Israel to repentance through the prophets whom he had chosen to be his spokesmen. Upon completion of 70 years of exile, Judah returned back to Jerusalem and with the exhortations of the prophets, rebuilds Jerusalem, its walls and the temple. However, people continued in idolatry. Prophets had spoken about judgment and offered hope for salvation upon repentance but the nation did not learn.
Yahweh’s Relationship with Mankind
God’s care for mankind is based on the basis that he is the creator and humans are his unique creation. Thus, he has been seeking for ways to bring back mankind into a right relationship with him. Both Israel and the heathens had a unique call to serve the Lord, but Israel failed its mission. As a result, God announced the coming of the Messiah who would bring the two, Israel and Gentiles together into a right relationship with Yahweh by ushering in a new covenant not like the one He had made with ancient Israel which they had failed to keep.
For Israel, God’s dealings were based on the standing covenant. For other nations, God’s dealings depended on how they treated Israel. Those who blessed Israel would be blessed, and those who fought against would be found fighting against God. As a result, the Old Testament clearly shows God’s mercy to all humanity but also his judgments to nations and individuals who offend him through all forms of evil. The fierceness of his indignation is a theme of most of the prophets, and we find some prophets being sent to far away countries to preach against the nations. If they would repent they would be spared and those which didn’t were destroyed. They preached the great day of the Lord as a terrible day of judgment for sinners but a day of retribution and vengeance for God’s people who would experience his salvation and ushering in a new Messianic kingdom of righteousness and peace.
God’s Mercy and Wrath
Interestingly, a great deal of God’s mercy and judgment permeates the Old Testament. God is a merciful God who intervenes sovereignly among nations and individuals’ lives, saving the people. For instance, in his judgment to the Egyptians, the Psalmists saw that as an act of God’s mercy to both Israel and Egypt. Certain individuals who were not supposed to receive God’s blessings were mercifully spared from judgment and some became part of the blessed nation. However, his mercy and judgments are equally equated. Yahweh judges nations and shows mercy to them when they repent. Some prophets wrestled with the aspect of God’s mercy and love. For instance, Jonah became angry that God in his mercy had spared the repenting nation of Nineveh, while Hosiah was perplexed that God’s love (hesed) for Israel know no boundaries.
At the same time, Jeremiah was greatly distressed by the fierceness of God’s indignation in punishing Jerusalem and Judah and sending them into exile in Bible which was cause for a composition on Lamentations. In the talking of Canaan, Yahweh’s mercy and wrath are also in full display. He judged the Canaanites for their sins but spared the Gibeonites who chose to align with Israel even though they deceitfully did so. Israel is constantly reminded to remember God’s judgments and mercy for his mercies endures forever. Numerous exhortations exist calling both Israel and the nations to seek God’s mercy and to avoid a confrontation with his wrath. In the final analysis, God is the God of all the earth and desires to have a personal relationship with all the nations even though sin and idolatry prevents man from entering God’s presence.
Yahweh revealed himself more specifically to the world through his dealings with Israel. Since creation, Yahweh has sought to bring back mankind into a saving relationship with Him, but humanity failed God. Israel entered into a covenant with God which was supposed to bring his blessings to all mankind but because of its faithless, Yahweh would bring the old covenant to an end and a new covenant would then be enacted by the coming Messiah with both Israel and the Gentiles where God’s laws would be written in their hearts. An end to the Levitical priesthood, the temple and its sacrifices would also occur for the Messiah will be the fulfillment of these types. In the end, God would be the Redeemer Savior.