"God's Love in the Old Testament" - Chapter 6



Chapter 6: "Introducing Goodness"




Chapter 6 – Introducing Goodness


I said to the LORD, "You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing." (Psa 16:2)



Chapter 6 Contents

6.1 What we mean by Goodness

6.2 God's Goodness Generally Proclaimed in the Bible

6.3 God's Goodness Declared in Detail after the Exile

6.4 Imagining Love and Goodness in Action

6.5 Looking at the Bible aware of God's true characteristics

6.6 Recap



The Heart of Chapter 6: The Bible is uniform in declaring that God is a God of goodness. As with 'love' when we realise that we then need to look at all that happens in the Bible and see it in that light. Goodness, we will see, is an expression of real love.



6.1 What we mean by ‘Goodness'


While we are still in the introduction phase, there is another concept which, although very different from ‘love', deserves our attention. It is the concept of God being good and, yes, I realise there will be strong objections to this from those who criticise the actions of God in the Bible and who have only a little, selective knowledge of the Bible, but it is precisely because of those objections that I need to set this consideration before us. We will indeed, in later chapters, consider how some of the things we find in the Old Testament ‘fit' this description of God being ‘good', especially when seen in the light of some of the dramatic events of the Old Testament.


A dictionary defines ‘good' as having suitable or desirable qualities; promoting health, welfare or happiness; benevolent, not troublesome and goes on to give reams more uses of ‘good.' ‘Good' signifies in our thinking something that is pleasant, something positive that we are happy with.


Now to bring this description to God does cut right across the accusations of the twenty-first century crusading atheists, so what does the Bible specifically say about God and goodness.

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6.2 God's Goodness Generally Proclaimed in the Bible

We find this declaration – that God is good – appearing a number of times in the Old Testament narrative:
"God is Good" - check the references


Deut 32:4   “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he

  •  This was Moses' declaration, and all of that description could be summed up in, “He is good!”
  •   Everything that God thinks, says and does IS good.


David reminded himself of this truth when he needed lifting up:


Psa 25:7  according to your love remember me, for you are good, O LORD.”

Psa 34:8  Taste and see that the LORD is good

Psa 86:5  You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you.”

Psa 119:68 You are good, and what you do is good

Psa 135:3 Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good

  • This refrain also cropped up a number of times in other Psalms (e.g. Psa 106:1, 107:1, 118:1,29, 136:1).


When David brought the ark into Jerusalem, the song (psalm) he composed spoke of God in a variety of positive ways and in one line he declared, Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.” (1 Chron 16:4).


When Solomon finished the temple, they sang of the Lord this same single refrain, "He is good; his love endures forever." (2 Chron 5:13). When they sacrificed and fire came down to consume it, at the dedication of the Temple, again they sang this single refrain of the Lord, "He is good; his love endures forever." (2 Chron 7:3). This was not wishful thinking, but a declaration of what they knew through experience to be the truth.


When Jeremiah (before the Exile) prophesied restoration after the Exile, one of the signs of it would be that this refrain would be heard again: “there will be heard once more the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the LORD, saying, "Give thanks to the LORD Almighty, for the LORD is good; his love endures forever.” (Jer 33:10,11).


When Zerubbabel laid the foundations of the new temple, after the Exile, this refrain was yet again used – as a direct fulfilment of Jeremiah's prophecy, "He is good; his love to Israel endures forever." (Ezra 3:11),


In the midst of his terrible prophecies of judgment, Nahum declared, The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble.” (Nahum 1:7).


It is also a truth that was reiterated in the New Testament:


Jesus emphasized this when he replied, “Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good--except God alone” (Mk 10:18 ).


Peter knew something of this when he wrote: now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Pet 2:3). It is a truth that is repeated again and again.


The result of this was the belief, declared by the apostle James, that, Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father” (Jas 1:17) – everything that comes from God is good!



Now this must challenge all casual talk about why does God allow evil, why isn't God doing something to combat evil? We may not know full answers this side of heaven but Habakkuk's declaration in the Old Testament, Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD (Hab 3:17,18) emphasises what he had learnt, the truth that God is good and can be trusted in the face of adversity!


We feel negative when we look at the world around us, at what people are saying and doing and we realize than sinful mankind is not good, and we have to agree with David, “apart from you I have no good thing”.


Now interestingly, the Lord's own reference to His own goodness comes before the verses we considered in the previous chapters about His love. So initially we find the LORD saying to Moses, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you,” (Ex 33:19) and when He does pass before Moses we find, “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.” (Ex 34:6,7)


In other words, that description we considered at the start of a previous chapter is summarized as God's goodness. He IS good because He is all those things.


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6.3 God's Goodness declared in Detail after the Exile


In the previous chapter we noted briefly at one point that the critic could say that all the proclamations about God's love were more wishful thinking or superstitious parroting of phrases, hoping they were true, and the same could be said about declarations of God's goodness.


However the truth is that there is content given to these claims and we see it no more clearly than in a point of Israel's history with God that immediately after the Exile.
"God is Good" - check the content after the Exile


In what is chronologically the end of the Old Testament, when Israel returned to the Promised Land after the Exile in Babylon, we find Ezra the scribe reading the Law to the returning remnant. They then pray and declare before the Lord what they know of Him. There is substantial content to what they say about Him, that gives body to the claim that He is good.


It is a useful summary of the history of the Old Testament period and, even if a bit lengthy, is worth our close examination. We'll simply pick up parts of it to highlight what we're saying. You'll find it in Nehemiah, chapter 9. See what they declare:


God's Goodness in practical terms of provision (v.5-15)

Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise. You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you. (v.5,6)

You are the LORD God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and named him Abraham. You found his heart faithful to you, and you made a covenant with him to give to his descendants the land (v.7,8)

You saw the suffering of our forefathers in Egypt ; you heard their cry at the Red Sea . You sent miraculous signs and wonders (v.9,10)

You came down on Mount Sinai ; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good . (v.13)

you gave them bread from heaven and in their thirst you brought them water from the rock; you told them to go in and take possession of the land you had sworn with uplifted hand to give them. (v.15)


i.e. God is good because of all of His abundant provision, not only in Creation but in His dealings with Abraham, and later with Moses as he delivered Israel from Egypt.


God's goodness coping with a wayward people in the desert (v.16-25)

"But they, our forefathers, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and did not obey your commands. They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them , even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf and said, `This is your god, who brought you up out of Egypt ,' or when they committed awful blasphemies. (v.16-18)

" Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the desert. By day the pillar of cloud did not cease to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take. You gave your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst. For forty years you sustained them in the desert; they lacked nothing, their clothes did not wear out nor did their feet become swollen (v.19-21)

you brought them into the land that you told their fathers to enter and possess. Their sons went in and took possession of the land. …they captured fortified cities and fertile land; they took possession of houses filled with all kinds of good things, wells already dug, vineyards, olive groves and fruit trees in abundance. They ate to the full and were well-nourished; they revelled in your great goodness. (v.23-25)


i.e. God is good because of the gracious way He dealt with wayward Israel after He delivered them from slavery in Egypt.

God's goodness coping with a wayward people in the Promised Land (v.26-35)

But they were disobedient and rebelled against you; they put your law behind their backs. They killed your prophets, who had admonished them in order to turn them back to you; they committed awful blasphemies. So you handed them over to their enemies, who oppressed them. But when they were oppressed they cried out to you. From heaven you heard them, and in your great compassion you gave them deliverers, who rescued them from the hand of their enemies. "But as soon as they were at rest, they again did what was evil in your sight. Then you abandoned them to the hand of their enemies so that they ruled over them. And when they cried out to you again, you heard from heaven, and in your compassion you delivered them time after time. (v.26-28)

You warned them to return to your law, but they became arrogant and disobeyed your commands. They sinned against your ordinances, by which a man will live if he obeys them. Stubbornly they turned their backs on you, became stiff-necked and refused to listen. For many years you were patient with them. By your Spirit you admonished them through your prophets. Yet they paid no attention, so you handed them over to the neighbouring peoples. But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God. (v.29-31)

In all that has happened to us, you have been just; you have acted faithfully, while we did wrong. (v.33)

Even while they were in their kingdom, enjoying your great goodness to them in the spacious and fertile land you gave them, they did not serve you or turn from their evil ways.(v.35)

i.e. God is good because of the gracious way He dealt with wayward Israel in the centuries they lived in the Promised Land, right up to and through the Exile.


Things we observe from this Passage


1. Because this was a people who have just come back from exile and are seeking to enter into a fresh relationship with God, we find a complete summary-overview of their past history.


2. At the outset they acknowledge God's goodness in His frequent provision for them – see v.5-15 – which included:
  •  His provision of life at Creation,
  •  His choosing Abram to reveal Himself to,
  •  His delivering Israel from slavery in Egypt,
  •  His provision of the good Law to help them be a special nation,
  •  His provision for them in their travels in the desert on the way to the Promised Land.


3. They also acknowledge, and remind us of, their waywardness as a nation down through the centuries – see v.16-35 – In particular they remember the folly of the nation:
  •  even at their earliest encounter with God at Mount Sinai,
  •  in their travels in the desert where they ‘grumbled' again and again,
  •  (implied) in refusing the enter the Promised Land, and
  •  in turning from God and getting into trouble again and again down through the centuries of their life as a sovereign nation.


4. They applaud God's goodness, being seen in the compassionate way He dealt with them whenever they turned from Him and got into trouble. In particular they remember:
  •  His refusal to abandon or reject them,
  •  His provision of continual guidance in the desert,
  •  His continual provision of food and drink in the desert and sustaining of their clothing and footwear,
  •  His support, encouragement and enabling to help them take the new land,
  •  His provision of deliverers to help them after they had turned away form Him and got into trouble,
  •  His provision of prophets again and again, to call them back to Himself and away from destruction,
  •  His refusal to utterly destroy them when, despite everything, they refused to heed God's warnings so that they eventually ended up in exile,
  •  (implied) His mercy in bringing them back from exile to start afresh in the Land.


5. God's goodness is specifically referred to only twice in this passage (v.25,35) but it is clear that the whole passage is a prayer of praise extolling God's goodness which is directly linked with His
  •  graciousness, forgiveness and love (v.17),
  •  His compassion (v.17,27,28,31) and
  •  mercy (v.31)   

all of which come out in response to the sin and waywardness of Israel!


At the beginning of the chapter, our dictionary definition of ‘good' was “ having suitable or desirable qualities; promoting health, welfare or happiness; benevolent, not troublesome


Without doubt that definition fits what we find here in this passage in Nehemiah.


An Aside – Just Israel ?


Our friendly, or not so friendly, critic who has been looking for reasons to criticise God in the Old Testament, may well say at this point, this is all very well, but this is all about Israel. Yes, God looks after Israel but it seems to the detriment of everyone else.


Yes, at first sight, that seems a reasonable comment, but the more we look at the Old Testament, we will see that this ‘blessing' of Israel was supposed to flow over to whatever other nations would be open to God. We will take a chapter looking at just this very thing.
See Chapter 9 for God reaching to the world through Israel


Yes, the focus of the Old Testament is upon Israel because this was the people that God chose to reveal Himself through, to the rest of the world.

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6.4 Imagining Love and Goodness in Action

Can we imagine Jesus' goodness?
Imagine Jesus was walking our streets today, the very expression of God's loving personality. What might we see? Whatever we try to imagine is going to fall far short of the reality, for a variety of reasons.


For some of us it might be that we cannot see a rabbi from the pages of the New Testament, two thousand years ago, living in the twenty-first century post-modern world. For others of us, it may be difficult simply because we have never really thought about what it means to be good.


Many years ago, when we did a lot of work with children, we had a film strip produced by Scripture Union called ‘Lost in Space'. In this some children were picked up by a flying saucer and whisked off to another planet where, quite clearly, there was no sin.

Everyone was good. No one said anything nasty or unkind about someone else. No one did anything that was unpleasant, unkind or harmful to another. The children from our world could hardly believe it. It might sound rather corny today but it conveyed very well the idea of a world full of goodness versus a world full of sin.
Imagine a world where everyone is 'good'


Imagine a world where everyone is 'good'
So suppose you do come across someone who is utterly good. What are they like? This could be a long paragraph, so let's list these things as bullet points to make them easier to take in. This is purposefully a random, off-the-top-of-the-head list.     


You might like to make your own. Here are some starters for a person who always expresses goodness:


  •  First of all they are utterly selfless.
  •  Everything about them is looking for the good of everyone else.
  •  They will never seek to get their own way to the detriment of another.
  •  They will always be looking out for and caring for the other person.
  •  They will be honest in their assessment of themselves, neither putting themselves down, nor boosting themselves beyond what is real.
  •  Pride and arrogance will never be seen in them.
  •  They will never speak wrong words about another, and they will always be utterly truthful.
  •  They will never lie or be deceitful.
  •  They will never envy another or be jealous of them for, as we've already said, they are simply concerned for the other person.
  •  They will never abuse or harm another person in word or deed.
  •  They will honour and respect every person and will thus allow them their own views and opinions.
  •  That doesn't mean to say they will never seek to show them a way that is better than they know at the present, for they will always seek for the wellbeing of every person and if they know of a better way, they will seek to persuade others of that way.
  •  They will help others and will sometimes carry the load of others – yet in such a way as never to encourage idleness or laziness.
  •  They will seek to strengthen the weak and lift the drooping.
  •  They will be sensitive to the feelings of others, but will never encourage wrong attitudes, thoughts, words or behaviour in others which, they know, will harm them.
  •  They will understand others and not get angry in frustration at others, but will be patient with them, as they encourage them and help them on.
  •  They will be there to help others, but never in such a way as to make them dependent on them.
  •  They will never take what belongs to others, and will never cheat others or take advantage of them, but will always deal fairly with them.
  •  They will never demean others with critical, judgmental, condescending or hurtful words, and will never slander others, but will always seeks to encourage others and wherever possible, speak well of them.
  •  They will understand the failures of others and will feel for them and will want to be there for them to help them face up to their responsibilities and their failures, while encouraging them on, and forgiving them.
  •  They will never seek for revenge.
  •  They will seek to put people before possession or ambition


Now it is probable, that when you think through these things you may consider them human impossibilities and, left to ourselves, they are. Yet they are, I believe, the way God works and the way Jesus works and the way He calls Christians to work – with His help.


Now we have listed the above in the context of ‘goodness' but I'm sure many of us would agree that these are also expressions of ‘love'

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6.5 Looking at the Bible aware of God's true characteristics

Suppose we take two phrases that we have seen in the Bible: “The Lord is good” (1 Pet 2:3) and “God is love,” (1 Jn 4:8), statements from two of the leading apostles in the early church, apostles who were very concerned with the truth.

      God IS love

      God IS good


Suppose we look at all we find in the Bible in the light of those two descriptions of God. Instead of being instantly critical, suppose we pause and think about how those two descriptions can be true of the circumstances before us. I would like to suggest that with the world view we laid out in a previous chapter, we might come to some much deeper understanding than we have had previously – but it will require us to use our brains to think carefully.


See the Bible incidents in this light     
Now that is my intent in the remainder of this book. To see how what we find in the Bible squares with these two descriptions of God. If we can't do that, let's give up and go home and become an atheist!


Something we will see the more we study the Bible, is that descriptions of God – good descriptions, descriptions we would be very happy with - abound! When we later start looking in detail at the activities of God and Israel, we will need to question our own presuppositions that we have picked up along the way down life's path.


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6.6 Recap


Let's again remind ourselves of the things we have considered in this chapter:


6.1 What we mean by Goodness

  •  we thought about what we mean by the term

6.2 God's Goodness Generally Proclaimed in the Bible

  •   we saw the recurring theme in the verses of the Old Testament
6.3 God's Goodness Declared in Detail after the Exile
  • content given to that theme in a summary after the Exile

6.4 Imagining Love and Goodness in Action

  •  we pondered on what would goodness look like in daily life?
6.5 Looking at the Bible aware of God's true characteristics
  •  we called for a fresh looking at the Bible, aware of God's true characteristics.


Have we viewed God's activities through the grid of our (wrong) presuppositions and failed to take note of the declarations and proclamations that abound in the Bible about God's goodness?


Can we look at His activities, rather than being instantly critical (which only reveals our hostility), but with open minds ready to see them through different eyes, which perhaps bring us very much closer to the truth than our original presuppositions did?


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