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God's Character Over the Centuries

Even though the Bible is clear that God does not change, some popular teachers describe God as always full of wrath and vengeance in the Old Testament and only showing grace and mercy in the New Testament (through Jesus). Or, in some cases, the best they can say about God's love during the time of the Law is that the "true nature of God" was him showing his love by giving us the Law to make us feel condemned and helpless (eventually needy of a Savior).

But is this biblically accurate? Is this a fair summary of God's relationship with his people for generation after generation? Or are these teachers trashing the reputation of the God of history?

God was a constant companion leading a nation of over a million people. He cared for them. He provided for their every need. He had a loving covenant relationship with them. He fought battles on their behalf. He was patient and merciful when they were rebellious and apathetic. He encouraged them. He delivered them. He performed numerous miracles on their behalf.

So was God's main agenda during those thousands of years to make people feel bad through fear and condemnation? Or has that conclusion ignored over half of the Bible from Exodus through Malachi? For the sake of God's honor and reputation, for the sake of his name, someone has to speak up.

Has God's character changed?

Have his values and priorities changed?

Were Jesus' words and actions incompatible with God the Father?

Let's look at some scripture references that speak of God's character. You can do it too using concordance tools or a site like Bible Gateway. To keep things somewhat short, I will list the approximate number of verses referencing a word in the old and new testaments for comparison. In some cases, a word is used much more where it is a closer match to the meaning of a Greek word or to a Hebrew word in the original text. And often other words and illustrations are used to describe a concept. But hopefully this will provide a little bit of insight into God's character and God's focus over the centuries.

God's Attribute or Value

Old Testament

New Testament

Arms (holding them in arms)
2
2 (kids only)
Anger, Angry
(357)
8
Care, Caring (for his people)
12
0
Chosen People
1
3
Compassion, Compassionate
73
15
Covenant
245
34
Deliver, Deliverer
186
15
Faith, Faithful, Faithfulness (God's)
65
16 at most
Forgive, Forgiving
64
53
Grace
5
114
Gracious
41
5
Help
(220)
(64)
Heal, Healed, Healing, Healer
(55)
(97)
Heart (focus on the heart)
587
156
Jealous (positive)
26
2
Judge, Judgment
(233)
(140)
Kind, Kindness
20
7
Love, Loving
(447)
(260)
Merciful
15
6
Mercy
70
54
My People
212

8

Nations, Peoples
593
45
Reconcile, Reconciliation
1
14
Redeem, Redeemer, Redemption
119
18
Repent, Repentance
22
53
Spirit (capitalized)
72
210
Tender
3
1
Wrath
(161)
29

Numbers in parentheses are total references before being filtered down to those actually referring to God and his attitudes towards people. Scripture searched was the New International Version.

As you can see, God displayed a wide variety of attributes across the centuries. Jesus spoke firmly against sin and promised wrath - a destruction much more severe than anything in the Old Testament. God was loving, merciful, and much more in the Old Testament days too. His character and values have not changed.

Jesus's dying on the cross is very important. But that too, was part of God's long-term plan, God's desire to have a loving relationship with people from every ethnic group. And for those who choose not to enter that faithful relationship, there will be consequences. But they have a choice. That plan and that separation of some people with God and some people choosing not to be with him has been a consistent theme from Genesis until the last chapter of Revelation.

Yes, there were more actions displaying God's destructive power in the Old Testament. And more of that destruction is promised in the future. Just because it may not be displayed this week does not mean God's character has changed or that his feelings towards us are radically different from his love for his chosen people throughout history.

Some of the most loving symbolism is in an Old Testament book, Song of Solomon. As you read the Old Testament prophets you will often see how God longed for a loving covenant relationship with his people. Many times his anger and wrath are referred to as "jealous anger". He is a jealous God that wants a relationship with us - badly.

There are many facets to God's character and how he accomplishes his plans. We people can be rather complicated at times too! No matter how God displays his power, he is always a loving God. And his demonstrations of power and of love have been displayed before the nations throughout history - with the goal that many from all ethnic groups will choose to live for him, now and forever.


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