“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
For anyone who would argue that the God of the Old Testament is somehow different from the God of the New Testament by being much angrier and more focused on judgment, you have to explain away passages like this one. And this is not the only time this characterization appears in the Old Testament.
This is the God we serve. His anger may be fierce when it is provoked, but it does not come easily. His patience stretches long and far. He endures our sinful rebellion far longer than anyone should deem reasonable.
Consider: Before God used Israel to bring judgment to the people of Canaan in conjunction with fulfilling His promise to Abraham to give him and his descendants that land, He told Abraham that it was not yet time to bring judgment to them. He allowed over 400 years to let them get back on track of their own accord. Forget counting to three! This is not a God who delights in judgment, but who is slow to anger and who comes to judgment as an absolute last resort.
Consider the number of times Israel itself turned away. Yet every time they turned back how did He respond? He received them gladly and with open arms. Time and time again they were standing on the brink and remembered the Lord their God, and time and time again He brought them back, saving them from terrible destruction. He is a God who abounds in faithful love.
And how about the next part? He does not deal with us according to our sins. Think about it: What do our sins demand? Judgment and condemnation. Death and eternal separation. And yet do we receive such an end? Not before we have more time than we could count to choose another path; to choose the life made available in His Son, our Savior.
When we are willing to be committed to Him, His faithfulness goes beyond what we can measure. He makes us perfectly clean to stand in His presence for all eternity. We are justified in Christ and are able to stand before Him with confidence and boldness. Yes, this was written before Christ, but this was still the character of God. He was in the process of bringing to pass the plans that would make it possible.
He has always been this God. He has always been a God of mercy and grace; a God who always does what is right and who always tempers what is right with a heavy dose of gentle compassion. There was never a time when He was not this God. We have the pleasure of serving the one thing–the one person–who has always been consistent and unwavering. We can find a solid center in Him and stand firm. This is a God worth serving. He was in the days of the Old Testament, and He still is today.