"God's Love in the Old Testament" - Chapter 4



Chapter 4: "Introducing Love"




Chapter 4 – Introducing Love


“I will sing of the LORD 's great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known

through all generations. I will declare that your love stands firm forever” (Psa 89:1,2)




Chapter 4 Contents

4.1 Comparing Testimony about God with His Activity is Important

4.2 Declaring the Nature of God as shown in the Bible

4.3 Setting out a Biblical World View: an overview revealing God's love

4.4 To Summarise


The Heart of Chapters 4 & 5: The Bible is uniform in declaring that God is a God of love. When we realise that we then need to look at all that happens in the Bible and see it in that light. As we look at the beginning and end of the world according to God's design, we see all the hallmarks of His love in it.




4.1 Comparing Testimony about God with His Activity is Important

Ch. 1-3   Basic Belief

Ch.4-6   Character of God

Having put down some foundation stones for basic belief in the first three chapters, we now want to lay three more stones about the character and nature of God.


If the Bible is quite clear in its assertions about the character and nature of God – and it is – then we need to consider how the various things that happen, especially in the Old Testament, comply with those descriptions.
Key Question: How is God's character seen in His acts?

That is at the heart of the following chapters: descriptions of God define the true nature of His activities.


We will state this again and again in the coming chapters, for it is something that is very significant and which most people never seem to take into account. It is the fact that if the whole of the Old Testament testifies to a particular positive characteristic of God, then they must have believed that in the face of all the happened to them – which includes things which we, at first sight, might have negative questions about. If the testimony is true, then it means we need to think more about the ‘questionable' events that occurred in the Old Testament.


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4.2 Declaring the Nature of God as shown in the Bible


A little while ago, I painted a picture of God for a small group of seekers and asked them what they felt about my descriptions. These were those descriptions that I used.


First, I said, I want you to imagine that He sympathises with us, feels for us and understands us. How would you feel about that?

Good, they replied.

OK, suppose He is kindly and has feelings of good towards us. How would you feel about that?

Still good, they replied.

Right, well suppose He doesn't get worked up by our mistakes. How does that make you feel?


Supposing love is his primary characteristic, a love that doesn't change, so He sticks with us and doesn't give up on us, and supposing He puts asides our wrongs with no rancour the moment we say sorry. How are you now feeling about Him?

Really great!


Well that, amazingly, is how He is described in the Bible. See this verse from the Bible:


“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.”


Now for those who think the God of the Old Testament is an ogre, it might surprise you to know that that comes from the second book of the Bible, Exodus 34:6,7. In other words, this is how the early Old Testament describes Him! Moreover, that description of Him is continued throughout the Bible!


The summary of that comes from the apostle John in his first letter, in the New Testament, near the end of the Bible, when he simply declares, “God is love.” (1 Jn 4:8,16)

The Starting Point:

"God IS love."


So why is it that so many of us, having just read what I've written above, have a big “But?” hanging over us which wants to challenge this? Why is it that so many of us doubt God's love? I'm going to make two preliminary suggestions by way of working towards an answer to those questions – and this whole book is about answering those doubts:


a) Personal Emotional History


First, I believe that many people go through an emotional crisis somewhere in life and, because they do not have a sufficiently strong or clear understanding of reality, they become confused and upset and doubtful.


I recently came across a quote from Charles Darwin as a particular author sought to explain why Darwin moved away from faith. What was tragic was the fact, which was so patently obvious, that Darwin actually had little understanding of reality as described in the Bible. Scanning a book a number of years ago by philosopher Bertrand Russell, the same thing became obvious of him as well.
Did Charles Darwin and Bertrand Russell have a grasp on the Christian faith and on the theistic world view? Almost certainly, no!


b) Casual & Careless Reading of the Bible

Don't listen to critical people who are ignorant about the Bible!
Which brings me to the second suggestion, which is this: many people have got questions about God's love because they have simply not taken the trouble to carefully read the Bible and see the reality that is laid out there (as I said in the first chapter).


They have simply listened to the crusading atheists who pick on one or two events in the Old Testament that they don't understand and, without looking into the Bible for a deeper understanding, arrive at a shallow and incorrect assessment of the true situation.


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4.3 Setting out a Biblical World View: an overview revealing God's love


Before we move on any further considering God's love as seen in the Bible, we really do need to clarify our thoughts about the Bible itself, otherwise anything we say about His love will fall in the midst of a pile of doubts.


For the moment we won't try to justify what we say, or even give reasons why we believe it is valid to take the Bible at face value (because hopefully you've seen something of that in the previous chapter), but simply lay out the basics of what the Bible says which 'fits' and makes sense of everything else.

The Biblical world view 'fits' reality


The Biblical world view makes sense!

We need to reiterate this: the Biblical world view really is the ONLY world view that makes sense of all that we know – and this book will seek to work out that premise, linked to the premise that God is a God of love.


We'll leave the justification of detailed passages to later chapters. But we must start with this thought that not only does the biblical world view make sense of everything else, it also confirms the assertion that God is a God of love.


In essence it is very simple:

  •  God made the world perfect,
  •  we human beings rejected Him so that the way we live makes the world go wrong, and
  •  God now works to draw us back to Himself and back to a way that restores us, in a measure at least, to what we were designed to be.


That is it simply, but to take it in we'll have to look at it using more detailed propositions in a moment or two as we seek to paint the big picture.


Postmodernism tends to write off ‘big pictures' but that is probably because, by and large, ‘big pictures' don't actually explain things as they are. This Biblical world view, however, ‘fits' the world as it is. What follows is what is either explicit or implicit in the writings of the Bible.
The 'big picture' is important despite post modernism

Let's express it in what follows, in a way that may be slightly different from what many Christians and, especially, non-Christians think.


Nevertheless, it is as accurate as I can make it, from what my reading of the Bible over many years has told me:


A. God's Original Design
1. God made the world perfect and He designed human beings so that they ‘worked' best when they lived in relationship with Him. (Possibly a most simple reason for this, is that He could tell us then how we work best and how each situation in life can best be worked out.)
2. In His design for them He purposed good for them, a world of wonderful provision, a world to be enjoyed and a world to be lived in perfect harmony.
 3. He gave them the abilities to communicate, think, plan, reason, invent, create, write, work, order, purpose and enter into the fullness of what they were designed to be. Put another way, He has given us self-consciousness, imagination and conscience, and ability to grow and develop. It is all these things that separate mankind off from the rest of the animal world and, I suggest, are what the Bible means when it says we are made “in the image of God” (Gen 1:26).
4. He also gave them free will – the ability to choose how to live – what to think, what to say, and what to do.
5. He set all this in place and gave them complete freedom - with one exception. That one exception acted, if you like, as a barometer of their relationship with God. It was an easy thing to do and in no way inhibited their enjoyment of the world God had provided for them. It simply gave them a specific way of expressing their love for God, while revealing their ability to exercise their wills as they wanted.


Please note, that that is how God designed things at the beginning – everything going well, a world to be fully enjoyed, and complete peace and harmony (and yes, in many ways very different from today!).
That's how it WAS at the beginning


B. What then happened at the Beginning?


6. The original first two human beings (distinct from all living creatures before them) initially enjoyed all of God's provision for them. Subsequently they (exercising their free will) chose to disregard God's one exception to their freedom. When they did this, for the first time they experienced self-awareness through guilt, shame, fear of God, and self-justification. Their innocence was gone. This is what we mean when we refer to ‘The Fall'. (They fell from a place of innocent enjoyment and when there had been no wrong in the world). We'll see all this in far more detail in a later chapter.


7. Now they had experienced this ‘freedom to rebel' it was now part of their being, and the Bible calls this ‘Sin' and every subsequent human also expresses it.


8. We might summarise this ‘Sin' as a propensity to self-centred godlessness which is expressed through unrighteous behaviour.


•  It is ‘ self-centred godlessness' because it is human activity expressed without any reference to God, i.e. He is ignored in their thinking. Everything starts from self.


•  It is ‘unrighteous behaviour' because it is behaviour that is contrary to God's design for human beings. 


9. The result of this sin-tendency is that the world no longer works properly – and it all starts with human behaviour, so -

•  Human beings are unkind to one another (understatement!)

•  Fear has entered the animal kingdom and nature is ‘raw in tooth and claw'

•  Spiritual forces are unleashed so that even in nature things go wrong – earthquakes, hurricanes etc. – things that, the Bible hints, are affected by more than mere physical forces. 


10. Wherever God was, His life force was shared, resulting in blessing' or impartation of goodness' in a whole variety of ways (which we'll examine later in the book). Because of humanity choosing to do their own thing, and because goodness and non-goodness just don't mix, God stepped away from us and we have known a general separation from Him (He feels ‘at a distance'). Thus His blessing (‘good' naturally being imparted) is withheld or limited. We have chosen to lead our own lives and He respects that!

Again we emphasise, this is how it was at the beginning, after the Fall (Adam & Eve's disobedience), so that we now live in a Fallen World – a world with Sin in it and a world that ‘goes wrong' – but that was not how it had been at the beginning.
This IS how it is NOW

C. God revealing Himself through Israel


NB. What has been considered so far is that found, explicit or implicit, in the first three chapters of the first book of the Bible, Genesis, and the rest of the Bible is about God revealing Himself to the world, despite the presence of Sin.

11. Despite there being this ‘general separation' from mankind – so that men lived without a constant conscious awareness of God's presence, we see as we read through the early chapters of Genesis, that God still reached out to individuals to make Himself known and to draw them into a relationship with Him, by way of preparation for what would follow later in the Bible.

12. God thus entered into a relationship with Abram, later to become Abraham, and his subsequent family, Isaac and then Jacob. It was a relationship where each of these ‘patriarchs' learned about God and learned to trust Him and see that He knew best.  


13. Jacob had twelve sons who eventually grew into twelve tribes living in Egypt. Jacob was renamed Israel, and the twelve tribes of Israel became a nation which God led out of slavery in Egypt, to meet Him at Mount Sinai where they entered into a relationship with Him, and eventually were led by God into the land of Canaan (often referred to as the ‘Promised Land' because God had promised it to them) where they settled.

14. It is in this ‘Promised Land' that they grew and were supposed to be a light to the rest of the world, i.e. revealing God to the rest of the world. (See chapter 9 of this book)

15. Yet all we find happening is that, again and again, their sinful nature turned them away from God and they failed to be the God-revealing nation they were called to be. 


16. Cutting a long story short, by two thousand years ago they were a distinct nation still in the land but under the domination of the Roman conquerors.

Well, that's the basic history of the Old Testament as it affected Israel who were to be God's light to the rest of the world. In fact they simply revealed even more of the fact of sin in the human race!
Israel were God's light


D. God revealing Himself through His Son, Jesus Christ


17. It is into this environment that Jesus Christ was born two thousand years ago.

18. The declared purpose of Jesus coming was:


•  to reveal the character of God – love and goodness,

•  to die in our place to take the punishment due for our sins, and

•  to show a way is possible to re-enter into a relationship with God both now and in eternity.



This, in perhaps the simplest overview possible, while seeking to be comprehensive, is the overall picture of what is revealed in the Bible. Put most simply, the Bible is a record of God's activities, seeking to draw mankind back from the destructive abyss they have chosen, into a place of goodness where they experience the ongoing love of God, both on this earth and into eternity. That is what the Biblical worldview displays. Everything about it reveals a God who IS love and who, therefore, displays love in everything He says or does, even though we may not realise it or understand it.

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4.4 To Summarise


In this chapter we considered:



4.1 Comparing Testimony about God with His Activity is Important

Here we noted that:

•  Whatever conclusions people jump to by picking on particular aspects of the Old Testament, the record declares God to be compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, loving and forgiving.

•  Our role in future chapters is to see if this squares with what we find in the overall Old Testament.


4.2 Declaring the Nature of God as shown in the Bible

Here we recapped on what we have seen previously about God being declared a God of love, and then we considered reasons why people may struggle with this.

4.3 Setting out a Biblical World View: a quick overview

We summarised the contents of the Bible as follows:

  • God made the world perfect,
  • We human beings rejected Him so that the way we live makes the world go wrong, and
  • God now works to draw us back to Himself and back to a way that restores us, in a measure at least to what we were designed to be.


Within this chapter we have not sought to justify these things, merely to state them as things that the Bible reveals or declares. Because of the assertion, strongly made in chapter 1, that very often it is ignorance of the Bible that causes questions and doubts, this chapter has been about laying down a framework of understanding of what the Bible says, at least in outline, of who God is and what He has done. The detail will follow in later chapters.

In the next chapter we will consider more about what it means to speak of 'love' especially as it pertains to God.


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