I believe it would please David to hear that the most important lesson I learnt, when studying his life, was not about him. Instead, it’s been a journey of learning what the heart of God is really like and just what “the Lord is slow to anger and merciful” concretely means.
When I was introduced to the Old Testament, early in my Christian walk, I was led to believe that there was no mercy in it. Certainly, there is a massive difference between obtaining right standing with God through grace and the sacrifice Jesus made, and through animal sacrifices. Throughout the Old Testament, sacrifices had to be made to atone for the sins of the people. However, the heavy statement of ‘no grace” was interpreted by me as “not much mercy.”
Whenever I visit the Old Testament section of our local Christian bookshop, I am the only one there. The Old Testament is notorious for being a tough read. Life was cruel and hard. There were terrible wars, God’s judgement on mankind was a heavy feature and He seemed to be in a bad mood, quite a lot of the time. Prophetic books overflow with warnings of judgement due to disobedience, and many people stay clear of the whole thing. We prefer the softer, more loving Heavenly Father in the New Testament. We don’t want our ears burned off with tales of rape, child sacrifice, sexual immorality and fighting.
I can understand the revulsion and how hard it is to understand the old way of things; but to understand even the most basic parts of David’s story, I had to dive deep into waters I did not like swimming in. I read of God’s judgement of Moses and my heart broke for him. Not to reach the Promised Land after all he went through and sacrificed for the nation seemed cruel. He’d only acted disobediently once. Just once. I told the Lord quite plainly what I thought of that.
Then I got to David’s story and slogged through the judgement that came after the affair with BathSheba and death of Uriah, her husband. All hell broke loose in David’s life and I comprehend why, but it still seemed incredibly excessive that he paid so dearly. To lose a baby would be bad… but… the rape of a daughter, murder of his heir, rebellion and murder of his second son… isn’t that too heavy?
So I was left with a decision. Was I going to tell the Lord off again?
This time I wised up. Something in my head said, “stop yelling at the Lord, that’s just not right.” It’s not. I had to stop and look at the heart of God. What occurred to me was how desperately the Father must have wanted Jesus to come to earth and become the sacrificial lamb, to stop the necessity for all this horrific suffering.
When you look at the Psalms, the number of references David makes to the Lord’s unfailing love for him and His deep mercy, are many. Severely chastised as he was, he was on secure footing with his heavenly Father. David knew who he could depend on. I see mercy and love everywhere in David’s story.
Then I looked back at Moses, the Exodus, the book of Judges and then I slowly began to move forward, in historical order, through the prophets. Again, everywhere I find mercy, promises of love, forgiveness and restoration.
There is no shortage of grace in the Old Testament. It was just that no one could be sanctified through it yet.
Do you know how long it took the Lord to send the people of Isra’el into captivity for their disobedience? From the time Moses took the people out of Egypt to the last Babylonian captivity which took out Judah, was roughly 849 years. I can get really mad in under eight seconds.
A harsh, angry, judgemental God would not wait that long to act. Our God did,
The point at which the northern tribes of Isra’el and the southern tribes of Judah went into their captivities, was the point where the people had become so depraved, the temple was filled with foreign gods which represented murderous and immoral practices, and even God’s own priests had become murderers. The people had reached a point of blackness and depravity not seen in our western culture. They could no longer be reached. So God punished them, knowing that through His word and the prophets, that some would realise their suffering was because they had forsaken their God and their promises. [2 Chronicles 36:15-16]
That meant that at least some people and future generations were saved to regenerate a relationship with the Lord, and to ensure the survival of the nation of Isra’el, living within God’s covenant promises. Had God not acted, none would have been saved.
That is patience on a scale I can’t comprehend.
So that is what I learned. That throughout all the bad old days, the love of the Lord was as committed, strong and beautiful as it is now. I no longer see a division between the behaviour of an Old Testament and New Testament God. I can see how it is the same God, Yahweh, who has been striving with mankind against all odds, and because of His unfailing love and mercy, I now serve Him.
Do you want to know what the next lesson after that revelation was? How desperately both God the Father and Jesus, the Messiah, must be awaiting the coming of Jesus, so they can upgrade mankind’s spiritual condition to a higher level of safety and intimacy with Him, again.
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