As I have been preaching through the book of Jonah in recent weeks, one of the things I find absolutely amazing is Jonah’s understanding of God. Jonah had a very clear vision of who God was and what God is like. In fact, Jonah explains to God why he fled to Tarshish when we read, “Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore, I fled previously to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness, one who relents from doing harm,” (Jonah 4:2 NKJV). Jonah in this passage is explaining to God why he fled to Tarshish, instead of going to Nineveh. He had no desire to see the people of Nineveh saved and yet he believed that because of the nature of God, that’s what would happen if he went to Nineveh. Jonah didn’t flee because he was afraid to preach in Nineveh, but because he understood the nature and character of God and didn’t desire to see the Ninevites get saved.
I sometimes hear people say that God is different in the Old Testament than in the New Testament. I thoroughly disagree with that statement. In the person and work of Jesus Christ, we see the God of the Old Testament being fully manifested in His characteristics and nature. The nature and characteristics of God are found repeatedly throughout the Old Testament. A hermeneutical principle of Bible study when something is repeated it’s very important. In the outline this week there will be many passages that say the exact same thing about the nature and character of God as Jonah said. In fact, Jonah’s view of God was probably shaped by other passages that he had studied and memorized in his spiritual journey as a prophet. Because we are called as Christians to be like the Lord Jesus Christ and to be made in His image it might be beneficial for us to consider some of the passages that reveal the nature and character of God in the Old Testament.
In Exodus 34 God is speaking when He is making a new set of 10 Commandments for Moses and the Scripture says, “And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth generation,” (Ex. 34:6,7 NKJV). Remember this self-revelation of God to Moses was following the incident with the golden calf and the breaking of the first set of 10 Commandments by Moses.
A second passage to consider is found in the book of Nehemiah where Nehemiah gives a history of Israel’s rejection of God and he states, “But you are God, ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abundant in kindness, and did not forsake them,” (Neh.9:17 NKJV). In this passage, Nehemiah is talking about the sinfulness of the Israelites, but he comes back to God’s amazing kindness and care in dealing with them. In a third passage written by David, we find in Psalm 103 where we read, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, nor will he keep His anger forever,” (Ps. 103:8,9 NKJV cp. Ps.86:15 as well).
I just quoted three sections of Scripture to give you some background as to where Jonah got his idea of who God was and what God was like. One of the quotes was from the law, another was from the historical literature and the final was from the poetic literature of the Hebrews. All of them testify to the nature and character of God. When I was a young Christian, I began to read through the Scriptures on an annual basis and I would ask myself the question- “What is this passage teaching me that God is like?” I kept running into these repeated phrases about the amazing character and nature of our God. The fullest manifestation of those characteristics is again seen in the work and sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. There are many other passages that I can share to make the same point, but there is a God in heaven who cares deeply for each and every one of us and desires for us to know Him and love Him on a personal level. How is your understanding of who God is and what God is like? If you have any questions, I would love to discuss with you having a personal relationship with the God of the universe, who has given His all so that you and I might spend eternity with Him.
All for God’s Glory,
Pastor Rich Sivo