For the week of August 1, 2009 / 11 Av 5769
Torah reading: Devarim / Deuteronomy 3:23 - 7:11
Haftarah: Isaiah 40:1-26
Out of heaven he let you hear his voice, that he might discipline you. (Devarim / Deuteronomy 4:36; ESV)
Perhaps the oldest misconception about the difference between the Old and New Covenant writings (Old and New Testaments) is that their portrayals of God are opposed to one another. This is commonly expressed as "the Old Covenant God is a god of wrath and the New Covenant God is a god of love". This false dichotomy can only emerge from selective reading. There is no time here for me to demonstrate that the portrayal of the God of Israel is consistent right through the entire Bible. His complex personality as one who regards his human creatures as his children, longs to be in right relationship with them, going to great means to restore such a relationship, yet insisting on strict adherence to his will, a neglect of which means grave consequences, is how the whole Bible portrays him.
I think many people who have any understanding of the God of the Old Covenant, but have never read the New Covenant Scriptures, would be quite surprised at how consistent the God of Yeshua, Paul, and Peter is with the God of Moses, David, and Isaiah.
Few, if any, serious adherents of the New Covenant would think that the Bible refers to two distinct gods. Yet it seems to be common to think that under the New Covenant he has gone through some sort of transformation. It is as if at one time he went around with an angry scowl waiting to strike anyone who stepped out of line. But with the coming of Yeshua, he has morphed into a sort of Santa Claus, taking us on his knee and showering us with presents - the adorable kids we all are. These two caricatures in no way accurately describe the God of the Bible.
This warped view of God would make understanding the reference I read from this week's Torah portion next to impossible. According to Moses the purpose of God's speaking to the people of Israel was to discipline them. Let's not be confused by the word discipline. In this context it is not referred to punishment, but rather to a lifestyle in keeping with God's standards. This is like the discipline an athlete undergoes or the learning of a diligent student, which is another word for disciple.
Readers of the New Covenant should be quite familiar with the term disciple, since it is used so frequently to describe followers of Yeshua. Followers of Yeshua today, therefore, should be quick to note that God's purpose in speaking to his people has not changed throughout all these centuries.
While through Yeshua God has accomplished his goal of reconciliation with people, he still speaks to us in order to discipline us. Human beings naturally desire freedom from all restraint, preferring to live for self. We tend to bristle under the concept of a God to whom we must give an account, and we value personal pleasure over loving and caring for others. In order to be what we were originally designed to be, it is we, not God, who must be transformed - a transformation that only God can provide. Once this occurs we still need clear instruction on how to live out that transformation. Through God's Word and his work in our lives he disciplines us in order to make us all we need to be.
If we have a misinformed perception of God's character, we could easily misinterpret God's discipline. Many seem to not understand that true discipline is an act of love. Confusing love with permissiveness, which is another common misconception in our day, leads to the kind of warped view of God that I was referring to earlier. While a right relationship with God must include his forgiveness and acceptance, it also includes his correction and confrontation. Just look at how Yeshua related to his disciples in the Gospels to see this in action. Just look at how he relates to us today.
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