I sometimes hear people say that they find it hard to recognize the God of the Old Testament (OT) as the same God and Father of Jesus, as revealed in the New Testament. Suggesting that the God Jesus reveals in both his teaching and life seems more “acceptable” to them. They often base this issue on such things as the stories of violence and judgement depicted in some of the OT.
I think this psalm (among many others) reveals how wrong this belief is. Let me illustrate first with a story told by Jesus which revealed the very heart of God towards us. It is found in Luke 15:11-32.
It is the story of what is commonly known as the parable of “The Prodigal (or Lost) Son.” In reality it probably should be called the story of “The Loving and Compassionate Father.”
It tells of the youngest of two sons who basically turned his back on all that he had been taught, and the love shown to him by his family, and decided to do his own thing in life, with no concern for the feelings of those who loved him. So, he demanded his inheritance (although his parents were still alive) and, having received it, Jesus tells us, he got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. (v. 13)
As is usually the case, “wild living” costs money (and attracts “friends” happy to help you spend it) and eventually it was all gone (along with the “friends”) and the son found himself out on the street and poverty stricken. In fact, things were so bad, he had to work on a pig farm (anathema to a Jew) feeding the pigs better food than what he was eating himself.
Jesus then tells us that, “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’So he got up and went to his father.” (vs. 17-20)
Now, I wonder what the Jewish audience were thinking as they listened to Jesus. Maybe, “No way! How could any self-respecting Jewish father do anything to help this disobedient, self-centred and ungrateful son. Let him sort out his own mess! It was all his own fault anyway.” Well, if they were thinking like this, then what came next must have shocked them. Over to you, Jesus:
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. (vs. 20-24)
If Jesus here was suggesting that this son illustrates us sinful human beings (which fits), and is then suggesting that the father illustrates the Heavenly Father (which again fits), then what an amazing God He is. I love the words, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. Remembering that he possibly still smelt like a pig!
So, back to my original statement concerning the God of the OT as compared to the God of the NT. I believe that Psalm 78 reveals this same compassionate God. So far we have looked at the way the Israelites disobeyed and disregarded God and his will and so often went their own way despite God performing some amazing miracles to deliver them from the slavery of Egypt and then providing all their needs. And how did God respond? The following verses reveal the loving heart of God.
Despite the fact that the people were:
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
whose hearts were not loyal to God,
whose spirits were not faithful to him.
The psalmist tells us:
38 Yet he was merciful;
he forgave their iniquities
and did not destroy them.
Time after time he restrained his anger
and did not stir up his full wrath.
39 He remembered that they were but flesh,
a passing breeze that does not return.
Jeremiah in Lamentations puts it this way:
Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. (Lam. 3:22-23)
Considering the way the people treated God (and the way the son treated his father), the Lord God, as described here sounds a lot like the father in Jesus’ parable. And Jesus should know. As he said to Thomas,
If you really know me, you will know my Father as well Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father … I am in the Father, and … the Father is in me … (John 14:7, 10)
We are so grateful to you, Heavenly Father for your mercy, forgiveness, compassion and faithfulness towards us, your wayward children. Thank you for the greatest revelation of your love in sending Jesus, the One who came to give his life in order that we might be reconciled to yourself. Amen.