A common mistake is the belief that there’s such a thing as the so-called “God of the New Testament” who’s notably different from “the God of the Old Testament”. It’s a misunderstanding at best and an embarrassed attempt at revising the Christian Faith at worst. Sometimes, folks mean to say that God has changed in some significant way. Other times, folks have meant to say that these are essentially two different Gods. Or that the old one is a deeply warped misunderstanding of God. Somewhere in there is the belief that Jesus came presenting a different understanding of God than the God the Jews had known. This is simply not the case. The writers of the New Testament certainly didn’t think so. And I’d like to show one instance of a Gospel writer seeing Jesus in the Old Testament on an occasion where some folks might prefer not to find him present. But nonetheless, there he is.
God’s Glory and Jealousy
Passage: Exodus 32–34
The relationship between God and his people is unique. And God has used a number of analogies to explain different aspects of that relationship. A loving Father and his children. A faithful Shepherd and his sheep. A sovereign Potter and his clay. A loving and jealous Husband and his bride. As children, we’re often wayward. As sheep, God’s people often go astray. As clay, we’re sometimes marred and cracked. As a bride, the Body and Church of Christ is often whorish and adulterous with idolatry.
God descended in smoke and fire with a great noise upon Mount Sinai. He declared his Ten Words (Commandments) in the hearing of all the people. And Moses went up the mountain to receive those Words on tablets of stone and other instructions from God. While Moses was gone for forty days and presumed dead, the Israelites became restless and unfaithful. The people cajoled Aaron into taking their gold jewelry and casting a golden calf to worship. Aaron did so and proclaimed the calf to be the very God who led them out of Egypt. The people reveled perversely in the presence of the calf. God told Moses to get down the mountain.
God was furious at the unfaithfulness of his people who so recently had seen all his mighty deeds and had sworn to obey his every command as their Great King. He was ready to wipe them all out and begin again with Moses. But Moses pleaded on their behalf for mercy. Not because the people were deserving, but because Moses couldn’t stand the idea that the nations would hear of it and speak ill of God. He told God to remember his promises to the Patriarchs and keep his word for the sake of his love and oaths toward them.
Moses and his assistant Joshua came down the mountain and approached the camp. In righteous indignation, Moses the servant of God shattered the tablets of the Law, because the people had broken covenant with God. He took their idol, ground it into dust, put it in their water supply, and made them drink it and taste the bitterness of their evil ways.
Then Moses interrogated Aaron on the matter. And he put the Levites to the test. Any of his tribal kinsmen who would still choose to follow God must come and stand with him. And once they did, Moses ordered them to strike down every one of their fellow Levites who refused to do so—3,000 in all. (Because of this zeal, God later claimed the tribe of Levi as his own in place of his claim upon every firstborn Israelite.)
After this, Moses reminded the people of their great sin against God that they had just committed, and he sought to make peace with God. This faithful servant pleaded with God to take his life in exchange for theirs. God refused to do so, but he told Moses the day of their punishment would come. Then, God told Moses to get the people moving up to the Promised Land. However, he would not send his Presence with them. Only his Angel would go before them.
Then we learn how Moses would set up a tent of meeting outside where people would come to settle their disputes. And the Presence of God would meet with Moses at this tent. We learn of the intimacy Moses had with God—how the Lord would speak to his servant face to face as one man speaks with his friend. Moses pled with God to send his Presence with the people as they go. Otherwise how would the nations know that the people of Israel were God’s own special people? Moses found favor in God’s sight on the matter. And he pressed to know God even more. He wished to see God’s glory.
God instructed Moses to prepare two new tablets and to come up the mountain again. He would write on the tablets once again. And the Lord would grant Moses the desire of his heart and show his glory to his servant. God would hide Moses in the cleft of a rock, and as he passed by, God would cover Moses with his hand so that he did not see God’s face and perish. Then God would remove his hand and reveal his back to Moses. And as he did so, God would declare his Name (character) to Moses.
Moses did as the Lord commanded, and God’s glory passed before Moses as the Lord declared his Name. Then God renewed his covenant with the people. We learn a new name for God. His name is Jealous—Qanna—because he is jealous for his people. He will not have his people as his bride prostituting herself in covenants with the wicked inhabitants of the Land of Canaan and in idolatry with their cruel and evil gods.
After this, Moses stayed with the Lord another forty days on the mountain. And when he came down from the mountain, Moses’s face was shining from the glory of God. He would cover it afterward to hide it from the people. And it would fade away, just as the Old Covenant would one day fade away (2 Corinthians 3).
The Son Explains the Father
Passage: John 1:1-18
The prologue of the Gospel of John is rich with allusions to Genesis and Exodus if we are open to seeing them. And we see the continuity of God as he was known by Moses and God as he was revealed by Jesus.
First, we see that in the beginning there was Someone called the Word. He was with God—was face to face with God as a man is with his friend, as it were. And he himself was God. And through him, God made all things. This alludes back to Genesis where God spoke, and the Word that came out of his mouth created all things.
Then, we see the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. That is to say he encamped among us; he lived in a tent, i.e. a tabernacle in our midst. This alludes back to Exodus where God lived in a tent in the midst of his people living in tents in an encampment.
And as Moses saw the glory of God, we see the glory of the Word who has come in the flesh among us. This is the glory of the only-begotten One from the Father, the unique One. He is full of grace and truth. With a little liberty and looseness in the translation process, this is a phrase taken straight out of God declaring his Name to Moses as his glory passed by him: “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness”.
The Law (Teaching) was given to us through Moses. Grace and truth came into being for us through Jesus Christ. This is not a “but”. This is an “and more so”. Moses and Jesus are not at odds.
Most startlingly, we read that no one has ever seen God at any time. Then who did Moses see in the tent and on the mountain? The Word. The Only-Begotten One. The Son of the Father. Moses was dealing with the Word of God who would become flesh one day and encamp among us. It is the Only-Begotten Son who reveals the Father, who explains the Father, who makes the Father known to us. And it has always been this way. That God we read about in Exodus who is jealous for his people and angry about their adulterous idolatry with a golden calf—who threatened to wipe them out and who showed his glory and declared his Name to Moses—he was and is the same divine Person we know as Jesus.