Hashkama: One God or two?

It seems a silly question to ask, but some in the Church believe there is a God of the Old Testament, and a different God for the New Testament.  We are not looking exclusively at the answer to this, but we begin with the beginning, the One who declares Himself to be the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last (Revelation 22:13),  and who says there is no other God (Isaiah 44:6; 45:5).  We have the statement in the Old Testament in Deuteronomy 4:6 that God is One.  And in the New Testament when the scribes asked Jesus what is the most important Commandment, Jesus’ reply began with: “This is the most important: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One” (Mark 12:29).  Jesus believes it and taught it, so we should hear and obey.  If we do not know the ‘first’ thing about God, how can we go on to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength”? (Mark 12:30).  There is misunderstanding, and false teaching concerning “God is One”, and there are discussions about the word “Trinity”, but I am not going into that here; the enemy has sown much confusion about the true God.  Here we are looking briefly at the understanding some have that the God in the Old Testament is a different God to the one in the New Testament.  The character of God that we see in the Old Testament does not change in the New Testament.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

The LORD our God, the LORD is one

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one (Deuteronomy 6:4).  The Church needs to hear and to understand those words, and so I will repeat them, The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  There is not a different God in the New Testament to that of the Old Testament.  The Covenant might be different but it is the same God.

Then Jesus came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. As was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath.  And when He stood up to read, the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. Unrolling it, He found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Luke 4:16-18).  The Father sent the Son on the mission expressed through the prophet Isaiah.

God’s favour is not towards just one man, one family, one ethnic group, but envelopes the whole of humanity.  “All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13; Acts 2:21; 1 Corinthians 1:2).

This does not mean that those in the Old Testament who called on the name of the Lord did not experience God’s favour.  He is the same God, but He revealed His plan of salvation through one man, one family, one nation, Israel.  Christians sometimes think of the God of the Old Testament as being a vengeful God, and as being an angry God of wrath.  Whereas in the New Testament we see Jesus, meek and mild.  An unbalanced view of God leads to a wrong understanding of His work and purpose in this world.  In reading from the Isaiah scroll, Jesus stopped at the point of proclaiming the year of God’s favour.  A day is as a thousand years to God, and so we are still in the year of God’s favour, but that will come to an end.  Had Jesus finished the quote from the scroll of Isaiah He would have included, “the day of vengeance of our God” (Isaiah 61:2).  The day of vengeance is to come by the God who is One.  Now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation. – 2 Corinthians 6:2 (NIV) For He says, In the time of favour (of an assured welcome) I have listened to and heeded your call, and I have helped you on the day of deliverance (the day of salvation).  What does it mean when we say “the time of God’s favour”? It is a phrase (et ratzon) found in the Hebrew Bible which has made its way into Modern Hebrew, though today it is used to signify “the right time”.  God’s love and God’s grace are what most Christians think about.  No-one wants to think about “the day of vengeance of our God”, but that day is much nearer now.  We might quake at the thought of all that it means, but it will be a wonder filled day.  God will vindicate both His people and Jerusalem, providing full restoration.  This goes against the grain of our world.  This is our God.  He will lift up the despised and make the last first.  His wrath will be poured out on the ungodly and all those who oppose His will and rule.  It is pictured as a gruesome punishment for the wicked (Isaiah 64:3; Luke 21:20-24), but on the other hand it is celebrated as a time when God’s sovereign (rāṣôn) will triumphs (Isaiah 61:2), and the righteous are vindicated (Jeremiah 51:6-10).  “The righteous will rejoice when he sees [God’s] nāqām,” because it heralds destruction for the wicked and reward for the righteous (Psalm 58:10ff. [MT 11f]).  It is not impossible that some living today will be alive to see these things and witness them.  This is not a meek and mild Jesus or baby Jesus depicted in religious art.  Jesus inaugurated this Messianic ministry from Isaiah 61 in Luke 4:18-21, but it will not be fulfilled in its entirety until His Second Coming – and His Second Coming is coming.  The final intervention by God, “the day of vengeance” (Isaiah 34:8; Jeremiah 46:10, is synonymous with what people refer to as the “day of the Lord”, or “that day” (Isaiah 2:12; Isaiah 13:6; Ezekiel 30:3; Revelation 16:14).

Many things and concepts are on a world scale these days as the spirit of the age sweeps the world.  We see nations adopting similar [ungodly] laws and mind-set, ‘Cancel Culture’ is a recent development and example of this phenomenon.  We have organisations that make decisions for the world.  In the present world pandemic people are not crying out to the Lord; they are crying out for a holiday in the sun.  Others want to save the planet.  Others again want a future for future generations, but what is coming on the world is “the day of vengeance of our God” (See also Isaiah 34:8).  There is no future outside of Jesus.

Vengeance in the New Testament

You will often hear sermons on the love of God, and on the grace of God.  They are favourite topics.  We do not hear so much about the justice of God.  Looking in Luke, and Chapter 15 we find a picture of God as mercy without any reference to justice.  In Revelation Chapter 15 we find a different picture of God.  Here He is justice, but there is no mention of mercy.  Both are true of God, and it is important for us to grasp that.  Both are found in the New Testament.

In a parable about a tenacious widow and an uncaring judge, Jesus has the widow insist, “ekdikēson me against my opponent” (Luke 18:3).  Almost all English translations have the widow saying “grant me justice,” but the Greek verb isn’t actually asking for “justice” but for “vengeance,” as in the oft quoted, “Vengeance is mine . . . says the Lord” (Romans 12:19, quoting Deuteronomy 32:35).  Being uncomfortable about having a morally problematic heroin in a parable or having readers think asking for vengeance was okay, translators modified the original text to match their own beliefs.  The suggestion being that the original is better translated “Do me justice against, or vindicate me from, my adversary.”  That is because the translator believed God would not permit such a woman to be honoured in Scripture if she came seeking revenge.  But she was not seeking revenge.  “Vengeance is mine says the Lord.”  God is righteous and just in all His ways.  The widow, asking for vengeance, mirrors the call of the saints in the book of Revelation.  So, “Grant me justice,” lit., “avenge me.”

“…and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who live on the earth?’” (Revelation 6:10).  This is a prayer that we might not be familiar with.  We tend to avoid the horrors that are found in Revelation, and so a prayer to God for vengeance is not something one hears preached in congregations today.  The slain were calling out to God to avenge their blood.  They are asking that the God of justice show that the universe is based on justice.  Their prayer is that God will deal with wicked men and put right the wrongs these men/humans have committed.  Their prayer is to the God of justice requesting that He should do what is right.  It is not a malicious call for revenge.  They are praying in line with who God is, and in line with His will.

As we have already seen, Jesus had come to set the captives free, to make the deaf hear and the blind to see.  He came to die on the Cross to “give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).  At His first coming it was Jesus’ mission to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.  This is the time when God the Father is receiving people back into eternal relationship with Himself, through the work of Jesus the Son; when all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13).  We are still in the year of the Lord’s favour.  But that will come to an end and the world will move into the time of the vengeance of our God.  It will be Jesus who will open the seals of the scroll (Revelation 5:9) the vengeance of God.  Just as no other being could utter the words, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21) only Jesus, so there was no-one worthy to open the seal but Jesus (Revelation 5:3-61).  One should meditate on this section of Scripture, and be lost in wonder, love and praise for our Lord and God.  The one who had given His life to save the world was now going to proclaim and release God’s vengeance upon the world.  We don’t have this picture of Jesus in our minds, but we should cultivate this reality.  We should grasp the fact that Jesus is the Ram of God, strong and all powerful.  He is Lamb and Lion.  All honour and power and glory belong to Him (Revelation 4:11; 5:13).  This is our God!  This is our Saviour!  This is our King!  This is the Judge of all the earth.

The great day of the LORD is near; It is near and hastens quickly. The noise of the day of the LORD is bitter; There the mighty men shall cry out.  That day is a day of wrath, A day of trouble and distress, A day of devastation and desolation, A day of darkness and gloominess, A day of clouds and thick darkness (Zephaniah 1:14-15).  This too is our God.

Blessings and shalom

Malcolm [06.03.2016]

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