“I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.”
– Psalms 116:1-2 NIV –
Men of dust, doubt, and deceit. Hardened men — men of blood, accustomed to pagan rites, gory battles, and rampant immorality.
This was the world of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
And yet God chose them. Why? Certainly not because of their piety — we’re talking about a group of polygamists, liars, and cowards.
But He still chose them. Out of millions of people, he put his favor on one undeserving man, commissioning a journey that would transform a childless old man into the father of a spiritual nation.
He appeared to them, one by one (Abraham: Genesis 12:7, 17:1, 18:1; Isaac: Genesis 26:24; Jacob: Genesis 32:24). He spoke to them, came to them in dreams, and visited them in visions. He made promises to them.
He put tears of laughter on the face of the century-old Abraham.
He vowed faithfulness to the promised son Isaac.
He wrestled until dawn with the stubborn heel-grabber Jacob.
As I recently finished reading through Genesis, I realized that many people today have it all wrong. Some see the God of the Old Testament as a severe Judge who finally mellows out and becomes more loving by the time the New Testament era arrives. But I found this idea to be the farthest thing from the truth.
In all His majesty, holiness, and justice, the God of the Old Testament is the same unchangeable God as the gracious Deity of later Scripture. His mercy didn’t begin when the calendar switched from B.C. to A.D.
Oh, give thanks to the God of heaven!
For His mercy endures forever.
– Psalm 136: 26, NKJV, emphasis mine –
You see, I believe that many people have difficulties with the severe punishments for sin recorded in the OT stem because of one common misunderstanding: We do not realize the seriousness of sin.
When we realize that one sin — even the “tiniest” sin we can imagine — is so serious that it incurs death on the sinner, we start to see that no punishment in the OT is less than any one of us deserve.
The wonder is not that God had so many people punished. The wonder is that He chooses to spare any of us (Romans 9:14-24).
We think of ourselves too highly. We see innocence where there is corruption. We see purity where sin has already crept in. We set up a mock trial, usurp the judge’s bench, and think we can pass the sentence to excuse our human frailty.
Who are we to do this?
When we finally see what every last one of us deserves, only then are we ready to see the true character of the God of the Old Testament…and the New.
“Nothing humbles and breaks the heart of a sinner like mercy and love. Souls that converse much with sin and wrath, may be much terrified; but souls that converse much with grace and mercy, will be much humbled.”
– Thomas Brooks –
This is why Genesis was more beautiful to me this time than any other time I have read it.
I don’t claim to understand how deeply my sin grieves my heavenly Father, but I know this: when I read about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, I grasp a little bit more of the astounding mercy of God.
Jacob gives me hope. A thieving, lying, cheating polygamist, as stubborn as they come, received grace from the God of his father and grandfather:
“Then Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, the Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your family, and I will deal well with you’: I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant; for I crossed over this Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children. For You said, ‘I will surely treat you well, and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’”
– Genesis 32:9-12, NKJV, emphasis mine –
These men were not cardboard patriarchs. They had skin that burned, hearts that hungered, and souls that strayed. They were real. They were like us. Yes, these desert dwellers of 4,000 years ago had to answer the same question as we do today: Do we believe God or don’t we?
God, in His great mercy, set His love on them and granted them the grace to believe.
And the desert dwellers became saints of God, believing His promises of a Seed to redeem them all (Genesis 3:15; Galatians 3:16-19).
They didn’t have all the answers. They made a mess of many decisions. They saw God Himself one moment and were scheming up their own solutions to His promises the next.
But He chose them.
And, man by man, He drew each of them close and poured out love on a sand-covered, sin-grimed wanderer. So when I read the Old Testament, I’m not confused by plagues or punishments. I’m astounded that God chose to set His love on a bunch of clueless tent-dwellers and make them His.
It reminds me of what He did for me — a person just as clueless, just as unworthy, and just as much a saint of God — through the sacrifice and triumph of the Promised Son, the Seed of Abraham.
“The high heaven covereth as well tall mountains as small mole hills, and mercy can cover all. The more desperate thy disease, the greater is the glory of thy physician, who hath perfectly cured thee.”
– Abraham Wright –