God's love in the Old Testament


The Old Testament often speaks of God's love. Though the Israelites repeatedly rejected God and did wrong, God continued to love them (and all other people).

The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. (Ex 34:6-7)

"Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him," declares the LORD. (Jer 31:20)

I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul. (Jer 32:40-41)

The LORD said to me, "Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes." (Hos 3:1)

The LORD upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time.
You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
The LORD is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made.
(Ps 145:14-17)

He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets prisoners free,
the LORD gives sight to the blind,
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down,
the LORD loves the righteous.
The LORD watches over the alien
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
(Ps 146:7-9)

In particular, God's love and concern for people who are disadvantaged is frequently mentioned throughout the OT. The law contained several rules for treating orphans, widows and foreigners fairly and providing for their needs (e.g. Dt 24:10-22).

But you, O God, do see trouble and grief;
you consider it to take it in hand.
The victim commits himself to you;
you are the helper of the fatherless...
You hear, O LORD , the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.
(Ps 10:14, 17-18)

Much is made of God's wrath and punishment in the Old Testament, but when God punishes, it is with reluctance:

As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. (Ezek 33:11)

Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD . Repent and live! (Ezek 18:31-32)

How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboiim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim. For I am God, and not man - the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath. (Hos 11:8-9)

For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men. (Lam 3:31-33)

God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him. (2 Sam 14:14)

In fact, God often pleads with the Israelites to stop doing wrong and repent so that he may bless them. Anyone who was experiencing God's punishment could end it immediately by repenting.

If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. (Jer 18:7-8)

Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem, look around and consider, search through her squares. If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city. (Jer 5:1)

"Even now," declares the LORD,
"return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning."

Rend your heart
and not your garments.
Return to the LORD your God,
for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
and he relents from sending calamity.
Who knows? He may turn and have pity
and leave behind a blessing -
grain offerings and drink offerings
for the LORD your God.
(Joel 2:12-14)

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened. (Jonah 3:10)

When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come upon you and you take them to heart wherever the LORD your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back. (Dt 30:1-4)

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:18-19)

If God loves people so much, why did become so angry with them and punish them? The answer is that God was angry with people because of his love for people: nations were punished because their citizens were cruel to other people, oppressing the needy and killing innocent adults and children (e.g. Ezek 22:6-7, Jer 5:26-29). One reason God punished people was to get them to stop hurting other people (Jer 7:5-7). Because God loved the people who were being oppressed, he intervened on their behalf; because God loved the oppressors, he disciplined them and taught them to do good instead of evil (Ps 94:12-13), that he might bless them instead of punish them (Ezek 33:11).

My son, do not despise the LORD's discipline
and do not resent his rebuke,
because the LORD disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in.
(Pr 3:11-12)

Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. (Ezek 18:30b)


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