Making introductions is one of the simplest but hardest tasks one can be called upon to do. You need to give a brief – and that’s the key – description of the person being introduced. It gives the introducee a framework from which to launch a question or two at their new acquaintance. But you should not go into too much detail or you’ll sound gushing, over-flattering, and probably embarrass everyone involved.
We recently had our annual end of summer party and invited people from various spheres of our life which meant there were a lot of introductions to make. It got me thinking, what would I say if God came to the party and I had to introduce Him to someone?
God’s OT Reputation
The task of introducing God is more complicated that at first it appears. God has something of a reputation that precedes Him. If you were, say, at a backyard BBQ throwing a bocce ball and suddenly God walked up, what would you say to make a proper introduction?
Let your imagination wander with mine.
“Oh, hi God! Good to see you again! This is Mike. Mike, this is God.”
“Good to meet you God.” *holding out a hand*
“You too, Mike. How’s the game going?” *Pretending he doesn’t already know*
“Not bad but Eric here keeps knocking me out.”
“One time I knocked out an entire city. Technically, it was two cities.”
How awkward is that pause?
Let’s face it, God just doesn’t have that great a reputation when it comes to the Old Testament. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard people say God in the OT is mean and suddenly changed in the NT. But is that true?
How God Introduces Himself in the OT
Wouldn’t it be helpful if there were a passage where God introduced Himself? Wouldn’t God’s response to a horrible sin be instructive in shaping our thoughts about Him? I’m glad you asked. Yes, it would be and you’re in luck because there is just such a passage.
But first, some context.
Remember the story of the golden calf? Moses was hanging out with God on the mountain when the people of Israel thought maybe he took a left turn off a cliff so they created a new gold god to worship. Moses got wind of the idolatry from his omniscient friend and hurried down the mountain to kick some butt (I’m pretty sure that’s in the Hebrew…) breaking the tablets of stone God had just written in the process.
All appropriate butt kicking complete, Moses prayed for forgiveness and all was right. But the tablets needed to be rewritten and the covenant needed renewed. This time God made Moses bring the stone tablets and do the writing which seems like a smart move after he smashed version 1.0 of the Ten Commandments.
Now here is what I want you to notice. God showed up at the covenant renewal ceremony and introduced Himself.
Before I tell you what He said, what do you expect God to say here? Something about His holiness? His righteousness? His right to be angry, maybe? Good thoughts but all wrong.
Here’s what God said (from Exodus 34):
And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”
Does this surprise you? This is the Old Testament God who has a reputation for being all fire, brimstone, and no love?
This introduction became a standard way of talking about God. It was repeated over and over including in 2 Chronicles 30:9, Psalm 103:8, 111:4, 145:8, Joel 2:13, and Jonah 4:2.
What should you take from this passage about your relationship with God? Three things:
- God is slow to anger – If you are struggling with sin and are afraid that God is after you or is angry with you for doing that thing again, this is a comfort. God is, in fact, eager to forgive you and heal the wounded places that are leading you to sin. So why let that sin keep you feeling separated from Him? Confess what He knows already because there is no need to be afraid of His anger.
- God’s love is abounding – The word abounding makes me think of abundant, generous, and plentiful. If you’ve ever struggled with feeling accepted or loved by anyone, God’s abounding love and acceptance of you is the answer. He loves you more than you can know. He could not accept you more than He already has.
- God is willing to forgive – God opened up and revealed an amazing sense of justice. He is at once willing to forgive and ready to punish the guilty. Why both? I believe it’s the difference between those who know they are guilty and humbly seek Him and those who know they are guilty and do not.
Moses, heard God’s amazing self-revelation/reintroduction and did the only sane thing to do. He pleaded with God to go with Israel to the Promised Land. God, for His part, upped the ante and affirmed the covenant, the promise of land, and His instructions.
Does this sound like an angry mean-spirited God to you? Me neither. God is actually quite loving in the OT as He adopts Israel as His people.
What about all that punishment and disaster God causes in the OT?
As with any introduction, first impressions matter. With God, this declaration of His character makes a lasting impression on how you read the rest of the Bible. Are there times when God is angry with Israel and sends judgment? Yes. But is He still slow to anger, abounding in love, and willing to forgive? Also yes.
Some examples of each from the rest of the OT:
Examples of God’s Slowness to Anger
- Genesis 15:16 – While God made the covenant promise to Abraham, He revealed that the Abraham’s descendants would be enslaved for a time but then would come back to take over the land promised to him. God anticipated Abraham’s question about the delay, and said “for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” In other words, God was willing to be patient with them though he knows they are headed for disaster.
- Nehemiah 9:30-31 – Nehemiah pointed out God’s patience with Israel throughout their sordid history with idols.
Examples of God’s Abounding Love
- Isaiah 43:1-7 – One of the most beautiful declarations of God’s love for Israel ever. He told Israel how precious they were to Him and what He would do to bring them back. There was no reason for God to take them back except for His exceptional love for Israel.
- Hosea 3:1 – God made Hosea one of the more graphic and heartbreaking examples in the Bible when He had the prophet marry a prostitute. The picture in chapter 3 is a treasure as God reclaimed Israel because of His great love for her. If you’re ever looking for something to read in a quiet time you could do worse than the first three chapters of Hosea.
Examples of God’s Willingness to Forgive
- 2 Samuel 12:13 & Psalm 51:1-19 – David sinned with Bathsheba and killed her husband Uriah. It took awhile for David to repent but he did it wholeheartedly. God forgave David who then wrote a psalm of confession to commemorate the experience.
- Jonah 4:9-11 – Jonah was a very self-centered prophet who preached repentance to Nineveh against his will. Just as he feared they repented and God forgave them. God’s concern for Nineveh stands as an eternal witness to God’s willingness to forgive everyone who would turn to Him no matter what their sin.
God is not hellbent (pun intended) on punishment, death, and destruction in the OT. He did not change from one section of the Bible to the other. He has always been full of grace for His people. If there is any difference at all it is in the expression of the grace and forgiveness He offers. In the OT it was incomplete and temporary but finally grace and forgiveness comes completely, once and for all, in Jesus.
That’s worth an introduction, don’t you think?