Immediately following, Moses has a happy
reunion with his brother Aaron. Wedged
between these two things, startling and
intrusive as Zipporah’s flint knife, is this
stark, odd story about God lying in wait.
What are we to make of it? Well, that’s
just the point. We’re forced to make something of it. We’re forced to interpret it, and
yet forced almost from the outset to concede if not outright defeat, then at least risk
radical incompleteness. All our interpretations will fall short. All of them will only
ever be tentative, speculative, unfinished.
No one really knows what’s going on here.
No one can say with unwavering confidence what this fully, finally means. The
story’s potently evocative. But even more,
it’s irreducibly mysterious. We are told precisely what happens, and yet left forever
wondering why, what it portends?
I’m not making an argument for rad-
ical uncertainty. I’m making a plea for
bone-deep humility. Much more is hap-
pening in any single Old Testament story
than our interpretive systems can fully
account for. It is no cop out in the face
of such huge mystery to say with Zophar,
Job’s comforting friend:
Do you know how deep the mysteries
of God are?
Can you discover the limits of the
Mighty One’s knowledge?
They are higher than the heavens.
What can you do?
They are deeper than the deepest grave.
What can you know?
They are longer than the earth.
They are wider than the ocean
(Job 11: 7-9, NIRV).
And lest we think this is exclusively an
Old Testament “problem,” think of the many
New Testament stories that are similarly
both evocative and mysterious – for instance,
Jesus’ little prank with the two disciples on
the road to Emmaus, concealing His identity
from them and then abruptly vanishing the
moment they figure it out (Luke 24: 13-35).
And now that we’ve ventured into the
New Testament, let us note this. Portraits
of God are indeed readily interchangeable
between the two testaments. Consider, for
instance, God’s self-disclosure to Moses:
I am the Lord, the Lord. I am a God who
is tender and kind. I am gracious. I am
slow to get angry. I am faithful and full of
love. I continue to show my love to thou-
sands of people. I forgive those who do
evil. I forgive those who refuse to obey.
And I forgive those who sin. But I do not
let guilty people go without punishing
them. I punish the children, grandchil-
dren and great-grandchildren for the sin
of their parents (Exodus 34: 6-7, NIRV).
Now read what Paul says about God
God shows his anger from heaven. It is
against all the godless and evil things
people do. They are so evil that they say
no to the truth. The truth about God is
plain to them. God has made it plain.
Ever since the world was created it has
been possible to see the qualities of God
that are not seen. I’m talking about his
eternal power and about the fact that he
is God. Those things can be seen in what
he has made. So people have no excuse
for what they do (Romans 1: 18-20, NIRV).
Which is the God of the New Testament? Which of the Old?
He is one and the same God.
And yet something deep and significant
does shift with the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Christ does not alter the picture of God
from the Old Testament: He clarifies it. He
adds a missing dimension. He brings back-
ground into foreground, shadow into light.
He lets us see God up close and personal,
and all manner of new insight unfolds from
that. It’s true, as the old preachers claimed,
that “the New is in the Old concealed, and
the Old is in the New revealed.” Though the
Old has its own integrity, and we should
not mindlessly, sloppily backfill it with New
Covenant theology, we need to look upon
Jesus fully to see God truly.
The New Testament in several places
explicitly, unabashedly contrasts Jesus
and the New Covenant with Moses and
the Old (John 1:1-18, 2 Corinthians 3: 7-18,
all of Hebrews, and more). Jesus Himself
makes much of this (Matthew 5: 17-48).
“Moses,” John says, “gave us the law. Jesus
Christ has given us grace and truth.” And
then John adds pointedly, “No one has
ever seen God. But God, the one and only
Son, is at the Father’s side. He has shown
us what God is like” (John 1: 17-18, NIRV).
What is the invisible God like?
Moses only shows us in part. So much of
God remains unseen. In the Old Covenant
we glimpse God mostly through the lens of
the Law, which veils Him as much as reveals
Him. We see Him through a glass darkly.
But Jesus shows us what He’s like. Jesus
is the full radiance of His glory, the exact
representation of His being. In Him we see
God face to face – the God of love, full of
grace and truth. Boldly then, almost breathlessly, Paul declares in another place, “The
glory of the old covenant is nothing compared with the far greater glory of the new
( 2 Corinthians 3: 10, NIRV).
And yet, what is this New Covenant?
Is it not a covenant in Christ’s blood?
Jesus the great bridegroom loves His bride
so much, He gave Himself up for her. What
the blood of goats and bulls was powerless
to do, the blood of the Only Begotten Son
accomplished to the utmost.
It is finished.
The mystery of the Old Covenant God
resolves in the sacrifice of His beloved Son.
Both faces of God converge at the cross,
where the God of law and the God of grace,
the God of wrath and the God of love, the
God of justice and the God of mercy, gives to
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