Jason Hensley
Uncovering the Jewish roots of Christianity

The Loving God of the Hebrew Bible


What kind of God is the God of the Bible? Is He a God of love or a God of judgment? Is He full of compassion, or ready to destroy? Is He both? Or do His attributes somehow depend on His circumstances?


Many Christians are much more familiar with the stories of Jesus and Paul than the stories of the Israelites. When I teach about Judaism and Christianity, I enjoy telling the stories from the Hebrew Bible, simply because many Christians have never heard them before. We walk through David running from Saul, Hezekiah and his miraculous healing, and the returned exiles. Though these events are all described in the Old Testament portion of the Christian Scriptures, many Christians don’t recognize them. The accounts of Jesus’s healings, his teaching about love, and his interactions with his disciples make up much more of the Christian worldview.

This unfamiliarity creates cognitive dissonance for Christians, however, as they read more of the Hebrew Bible and its descriptions of God. In some instances, this God appears unlike the God of the Christian Scriptures. He calls for the death of a man who broke the sabbath (Numbers 15:35). He commands Saul to completely wipe out the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:3). He repeatedly gives His prophets messages of destruction (Isaiah 13; Jeremiah 7; Ezekiel 12). In reading through these stories, one can get the impression that God wants to destroy both individuals and their nations.

With that misunderstanding as a foundation, many Christians look to their “New Testament” as a time of respite from this angry God. Though the “Old Testament” God was angry, the very name of the testament, so they think, implies that the words are outdated and no longer useful. This angry God has been replaced by the God of love, kindness, and sacrifice of the New Testament. The terror of the old has been subsumed by the love of the new. 

Unfortunately, not only is this paradigm anti-Jewish, it is also wrong. Anti-Judaism feeds on views like this: when Christians see the Hebrew Scriptures as teaching an angry God, they don’t often realize that the Hebrew Scriptures are still used by Jews today. In other words, Christians with this view both see themselves as worshiping a different God than Jews today, and view the Jewish God as angry, vengeful, and destructive. Views like this don’t build bridges or help anyone work together. 


Additionally, this view of the God of the Jews is also not biblical itself. It’s selective, and hence, it’s skewed. Indeed, the God of the Hebrew Bible did all of the destructive things mentioned above. Yet, He also did many more constructive, beautiful, and loving things. 

For instance, Christians often think of the Torah, or the law of Moses, as harsh and judgmental. Nevertheless, love infused these commandments. Just consider this relatively obscure command: “Do not oppress a foreigner or torment them because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. Do not abuse any widow or orphan” (Exodus 22:21–22; my translation, as are all the other biblical quotations). These commands taught the Israelites empathy. The passage further describes how one must speedily return a cloak given as a pledge, lest night fall and the owner has no covering (v. 26–27). Over and over, the laws sought to shape and mold a loving and thoughtful community.

Some of the concepts that Christians view as “New Testament” ideas find their basis in the Torah. When a lawyer asked Jesus to choose the greatest commandment, Jesus responded, “The most important is, ‘Hear, Israel, the Lord our God is one lord, and you will love the Lord your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind and with your whole strength’” (Mark 12:29–30). Jesus taught that following God meant living a life of love. Yet, this love couldn’t just be shown to God: “This is the second: ‘You will love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these’” (v. 31). Jesus advocated love, both for God and for others. 


Nevertheless, Jesus did not develop these commands on his own. When the lawyer approached him, he asked specifically about commands from the law (although Mark doesn’t note this, Matthew does; Matthew 22:36). The lawyer wanted to know the most important command of the Torah! Thus, when Jesus responded, he quoted the Torah. These two greatest commandments were from the Old Testament. Yet apparently Jesus saw them as still valid and useful, unlike the way that we, as Christians, can sometimes see the “Old” Testament. Even more, a life of love finds its basis in the law. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” is an exact quote from the book of Leviticus (19:18). 

The Torah and its principles can surprise us as Christians. We may have concluded that the Torah lacked value, yet it plainly taught love. Even more, it taught joy and rejoicing. For the holiday of Sukkot, the Torah commanded that the people, “Rejoice before the Lord your God seven days” (Leviticus 23:40). When they came to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices, they were to “rejoice” (Deuteronomy 12:7). Indeed, when the Torah described the consequences for disobedience, it noted that these consequences would come on the nation because “you did not serve the Lord your God in joyfulness” (Deuteronomy 28:47). The Torah originally taught many of the positive values that Christians ascribe to their religion. It taught love, joy, compassion, mercy, grace, and peace. But, until one really reads the Hebrew Bible in-depth and looks for these things, they often fail to see them. 

So what do these values teach about the God of the Torah? They indicate that these are the things that the God of the Hebrew Bible values. Essentially, the values that undergird the Torah are the same values that undergird the Hebrew prophets and writings, and that undergird the Christian Scriptures. The values have never changed, nor has the God. The God of the Old Testament is the same God as the God of the New Testament. This is why He can declare through the prophet Malachi that He never changes (Malachi 3:6). He has always, consistently, been a God of love, peace, and compassion. 


That’s why, when He revealed His character to Moses, the description overflowed with all of those winsome values:

“The Lord, the Lord, a merciful God, patient, abundant in lovingkindness and faithfulness, the One who keeps His steadfast love to a thousand generations, removing iniquity, transgression, and sin. But, He will not cleanse the guilty. He will visit the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the grandchildren, to the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6–7). 

Do you see the contrast? It isn’t as though the God of the Torah has equal parts love and equal parts judgment. He keeps His steadfast love to a thousand generations, and yet judges for sin to the third and fourth generation. Surely this is a God of mercy and grace. And yet, when we as Christians approach the Hebrew Bible with this paradigm of an angry Old Testament God, we miss the beauty in the consistency. 

From the very beginning, God has been a God who loves. He has been a God who is the very definition of love. He is faithful, and He is compassionate. This is the God of the Hebrew Bible, of the Old Testament. And this is the God of the New. He doesn’t change. Thus, as both Jews and Christians read about their God, they aren’t reading about two separate deities, one angry and one loving. They’re reading about the same God, who has always stood for the same values and same characteristics. Perhaps in recognizing these consistent values, we as Christians and Jews can then seek to put those values into practice in our interactions with each other. Though we disagree about a number of things, we fully acknowledge that the God of the Hebrew Bible and the God of the Christian Scriptures is the same––and a God who values love, compassion, and peace.

About the Author
Jason Hensley is an award-winning author who specializes in sacred religious texts. He teaches Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Greek, and lectures regularly throughout the world on Judaism, Christianity, and the relationship between them. He holds an MA in Biblical Languages, a DMin in Biblical Studies, and a PhD in Holocaust Studies.
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