Is the God of the Old Testament the Same as the God of the New Testament?

Today’s reading: Joshua 10:16-43. Key verses: Joshua 10:24-25.

One of the more popular accusations against Christianity is that it is inconsistent in its presentation of God. This is commonly expressed in the assertion that the God of the Old Testament is a God of judgment and wrath and violence, while the God of the New Testament is a God of love and peace and joy. People are quite comfortable with Jesus who is loving and kind to others during his ministry, but quite uncomfortable and put off by the Yahweh of the Old Testament who puts offenders to death for what sometimes seems to be whimsical reasons. Think about Uzzah who was killed by God in 2 Samuel 6:6 for trying to keep the ark of the covenant from falling off its cart. Or, more direct for this present study, the innocent Canaanite women and children of Joshua’s day who were to be slaughtered during the conquest. How could a God who is loving do such things?

In Joshua 10 we have an example of a passage where someone could call into question the methods used by the Israelites in their conquest. In verses 16-27 Joshua traps the five kings who had gone up to fight against Gibeon in a cave at a site called Makkedah. Then he has these kings brought out and has his war commanders put their feet on the necks of these five kings. After this little demonstration, the kings are executed by Joshua and hanged from five trees. This seems a little barbaric for the people of God. Why would God condone this type of behavior? Why execute people who had surrendered? And the broader question to deal with is why would/how could a loving God command his people Israel to destroy entire groups of people during this conquest? Isn’t this mass genocide?

Leadership Principle 10.3: Godly leaders strive to be consistent in their character and actions

Let me suggest that this was neither inconsistent on the part of God, nor a case of divinely mandated genocide, for at least two reasons. First, God had already warned the Canaanite people about a coming judgment. He had predicted this judgment all the way back in the time of Abraham (Genesis 15:12-21). The sin of the Amorites, according to the Lord in that passage, was incomplete, meaning that God was willing to endure their sin and not judge them for quite some time to come. But judgment would be coming. The conquest of Canaan in the time of Joshua was not primarily an act of killing, but was first and foremost an act of God in judgment on those particular people groups. The Bible is clear that all have sinned (Romans 3:23) and that sin rightly demands death (Romans 6:23). As God, he is right to judge any portion (or all) of humanity at any given time. The fact that he chooses not to is a powerful display of his mercy.

Second, the character of God as set forth in Scripture is one that is simultaneously loving and just. God does not morph from a vindictive tyrant in the Old Testament to a loving grandfatherly type in the New Testament. He is the same holy, righteous, loving, merciful, just God throughout human history. Consider God’s love in the Old Testament: how the Lord listened to Moses when he asked him to spare the people of Israel after they had sinned against him with the golden calf (Exodus 32-33). Or Jonah’s confession that it was because of the Lord’s gracious and compassionate character that he had fled from his commission to preach to the city of Nineveh (Jonah 4:2). Or think about God’s wrath against sin in the New Testament: remember Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11)? Or how about Herod Agrippa being eaten by worms (Acts 12:20-24)? And how can we forget all the horrific tribulation judgments of Revelation?

The judgment of the Lord does not stand in opposition to his love and mercy. God is love and God is just. His love does not outweigh his justice, nor does his justice overpower his love. He is always and forever perfectly both simultaneously. Thus his judgments are right and true. Anyone who attempts to accuse him of inconsistency will be proven false. God is the most consistent being who has ever lived. As human leaders seek to emulate their divine leader, they should strive for consistency both in their relationships with others and in their personal lives and relationship with God.

What should we make of Joshua and the leaders of the people of Israel standing on the necks of these five kings who had opposed them? Rather than Joshua gloating over his triumph, this is an intentional symbolic action taken to demonstrate to his officers that the Lord would be faithful to his word and give them utter victory, putting all their enemies under their feet. “Joshua then said to them, ‘Do not fear or be dismayed! Be strong and courageous, for thus the LORD will do to all your enemies with whom you fight,'” (Josh. 10:25). The kings of the Canaanites were not innocent here. Their intention was to destroy Gibeon, just as they would like to destroy Israel. If they had been left alive, in direct disobedience to the word of the Lord, who knows what kind of further complications they would have caused for Israel. God’s ways are higher than ours.

Leadership Principle 10.4: Good leaders are faithful to God’s word when it’s easy and when it’s hard

Leadership involves taking actions and making decisions for the good of your group or organization. Sometimes those decisions are rather easy. Other times they may be extremely difficult. Joshua had the difficult task of conquering Canaan. In one sense, it was a joyous act as Israel took the land God had promised to them. In another sense, it would have been extremely difficult to kill so many people, many of whom were women and children. Through it all Joshua was faithful to God’s word, to fulfill what God had asked as far as the extent of conquest and destruction. Remember that Israel was God’s weapon for dealing judgment upon the Canaanites at this time.

God does not desire that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9), and yet he will not overlook sin and let it go unpunished. His judgments are right and just. He does not override our stubbornness if we determine in our hearts to defy him. He will in love abandon us to the outcomes of our own decisions. No one can accuse God of injustice.

Godly leaders understand they must make difficult decisions. Yet they do not make them in their own strength, but focus on the commands and examples of Scripture. God calls us to be counter-cultural, and sometimes this means taking stances that will not make us popular. In the end, however, faithfulness to the Lord will bring its own reward, just as Joshua’s faithfulness resulted in the complete conquest of Canaan.

Summary in a Sentence

Godly leaders seek to emulate the Lord in his consistent character (he has not changed from one testament to the next) and exhibit faithfulness to his leading even through hard circumstances.