A perfect God can require nothing less from His creatures than perfect obedience. Were they to fail even in the slightest degree, God’s perfection would demand that He punish them! What then, will be the punishment for mankind, who has repeatedly offended God’s majesty to His face? How could God possibly pardon man? How could he reconcile a people to Himself? Is there any solution to this dilemma? In this three part series we will look at the Old Testament, where we see God’s demand set forth as He commands righteousness and justice, man’s dilemma explained as He fails to obey, and God’s solution presented as He calls upon His people to base their trust on Him and His glorious plan.
First of all, God’s demand is set forth.
At the very beginning of the Bible, in Genesis, God made a covenant with man. He promised man the reward of life if he were obedient and the penalty of death if he disobeyed. This covenant had its focal point at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but the demand for holiness that it made was kingdom oriented and applied to all of Adam and Eve’s lives (Genesis 2:16, 17, Robertson 69). Man disobeyed, but God did not relinquish his demands. We immediately see the development of two seeds, one of which was to be separate and holy to God and ultimately victorious in Christ (Genesis 3:15, 4:2-8). When man, now sinful as a result of Adam’s fall, continued to rebel against God and provoke his anger, he judged mankind with the flood (6-8). God still demanded obedience! To Abraham he said, “I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect” (17:1). The institution of circumcision, the sign of Jehovah’s covenant with Abraham, symbolized cleansing and emphasized the demand for separation from sin and wickedness. Later, the Mosaic Law set forth God’s demands, emphasizing over and over that the people were to be holy, because God was holy (Exodus 22:31, Leviticus 11:44, 19:2, 20:26, 21:8). Joshua protests to the Israelites, “Ye cannot serve the Lord: for he is an holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins” (24:19). God’s covenant promise to David did not abrogate his demand for holiness – if David’s son did not follow Jehovah’s law, God said he would “chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men” (II Samuel 7:14). Throughout the history of Israel, godly kings and prophets called the people to serve God, to keep his law, and to be holy and set apart. In short, “God is a holy God and this requirement [of perfection] has never changed” (DeBoer 31). All through history, no one is exempt from God’s demand for holiness!
Not only do we see God’s unrelenting demand throughout the historical writings, but we also see it in the Psalms and wisdom literature. “Behold,” David writes, “thou desirest truth in the inward parts” (Psalm 51:6). God is not “a God that hath pleasure in wickedness” – on the contrary, he hates “all workers of iniquity” (5:4-5). It is the fear of the Lord that is “the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). Only righteousness can keep man from death (10:2, 12:28). In fact, “justice and judgment is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice” (22:3). God is a holy God, and his demand is unchanging. “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Man was created in God’s image, and he is responsible to his creator to give him honor and obedience!
The prophets repeatedly cry out to the people, calling upon them to do righteousness, to “seek good and not evil, that ye may live… hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgement in the gate” (Amos 5:14, 15). Micah protests, “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8). Do justice! Forsake your wickedness! Repent and turn to God! “Thus saith the Lord, Keep ye judgement, and do justice” (Isaiah 56:1). For if you do not, God warns that “the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4). Such warnings and calls abound in the prophets. They constantly reminded the people that these were the things that God demanded. This was what he had called them to. God wants a people who will obey him. God wants a people who are holy, separate from the world. God wants a people who are a witness to him, a shining light through the earth!
It is self-evident that no mere human being has ever perfectly complied with God’s commands. However close a person may apparently have come, no one can say that he has never fallen short in even the smallest degree. What implications does that fact have? We will explore man’s dilemma further in the next part.
De Boer, Louis F. The Divine Covenants. Saunderstown, RI: The American Presbyterian Press, 2000.
Holy Bible. King James Version. Cambridge, Great Britain: Cambridge University Press, n. d.
Robertson, O. Palmer. The Christ of the Covenants. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1980.
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