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The prevalent themes in the Old Testament include the ideas that God, our Creator, molded human beings in His image (Brueggemann, 2002). As a Creator and a Divine Being, God is sovereign (House, 1998). He is also loving and forgiving, but He punishes those who disobey Him (Hill & Walton,. God expects us to know right from wrong, so when we sin or make mistakes, we should be responsible for our actions. God establishes His relationship with human beings through His covenant (Youngblood, 1998). These themes in the Old Testament will be explored further in the succeeding discussion, with specific examples from the Pentateuch and the stories of the former and latter prophets in the Bible.
The Prevalent Themes in the Old Testament
God is love but God judges sin. God loves His creations greatly, thus, He gave us life and the world where we can live and partake His blessings to mankind and all living things, as narrated in the Book of Genesis. God worked for six days to bring the universe into completion, resting on the seventh day. God’s love is illustrated in the Book of Isaiah. “For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour: I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee. Since thou wast previous in my sight, thou has been honourable, and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life” (Isaiah 43:3-4, KJV). Moreover, God shows His love for man by stating His presence in times of great sorrow. God even compares His love for man to a mother’s comforting love for her children. “As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem” (Isaiah 66:13, KJV).
However, just as God is loving and kind, He is quick to judge sin and punish those who fail to follow His commandments (Bush, 1991). In the Book of Genesis, when Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, God cast them out from Eden, leaving them to toil and having Eve suffer the consequences of her trespasses. In addition, during the time of Noah, God wanted men to repent for their sins. But when the people refused to listen to Noah, God punished the people by bringing the great flood upon them.
Despite God’s predilection to punishing sinners and those who do not obey Him, He is also a forgiving God. In the Book of Jeremiah, even after the people of Israel ignored Him and worshipped other gods, God decided to forgive His people because they repented and showed regret for their sins. Through His prophet Jeremiah, He let His people know that they will be forgiven. “And the Lord said unto me, The backsliding Israel hath justified herself more than treacherous Judah… I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, saith the Lord, and I will not keep anger for ever” (Jeremiah 3:10-13, KJV).
God created man in His image and desires man to exhibit dominion over His creations. The creation of Adam in the Bible illustrates this idea perfectly. God breathing life into Adam illustrates how He shared the Holy Spirit to man, which is akin to creating man in His image. “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breathe of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7, KJV). Moreover, God has placed man in charge over His creations (Fretheim, 2010). After creating Adam, God instructed Him to take care of all His creations. “And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it” (Genesis 2:15, KJV).
In the latter books of the Old Testament, God also showed how He desires man to do His bidding. In the beginning, Jeremiah refused to become God’s prophet, but He chose him, so Jeremiah obliged. “But the Lord said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to al that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak” (Jeremiah 1: 7, KJV). God also expected the same from Ezekiel. Through His prophet Ezekiel, God commanded the people, especially the shepherds to take care of His creations. God called the shepherds selfish but implored them to take care of their flock, not letting them be injured or sick, and to treat them kindly as they would their fellow human beings.
God creates a covenant with His people. The covenant of God with man plays an important role in understanding His relationship and promise to mankind. After the flood during the time of Noah, God made a covenant with man that He will never bring a great flood upon them. God sealed His covenant signified by the rainbow in the sky. Similarly, God desires to establish a covenant with His people throughout the Old Testament. In the Book of Ezekiel, although the Philistines have sinned against Him, God still chose to honor His covenant. “Thou hast borne thy lewdness and thine abominations, saith the Lord. For thus saith the Lord God; I will even deal with thee as thou hast done, which hast despised the oath in breaking the covenant” (Ezekiel 16: 59, KJV).
Therefore, even if man has sinned, when God makes a covenant, He keeps it (Schade, 2006; Dillard & Longman, 1994). He suspends judgment and ceases punishment for those who have wronged Him because He stays true to His covenant with them. “Yea all Israel have transgressed thy law, even by departing, that they might no obey thy voice; therefore the curse is poured upon us, and the oath that is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, because we have sinned against him” (Daniel, 9:12, KJV).
Overall, the stories of God’s servants, from Adam and Even to their descendants, and the experiences of former and latter prophets, illustrate God’s views, characteristics and behavior towards man. The Old Testament is the true testament of God’s love for mankind as the Divine Creator, and with His sovereignty over the universe and with the life, freedom, and wisdom that He gifted man, He expects man to do His bidding and follow the righteous path He has set for them. Those who disobey will be punished, but will also be forgiven if they ask for it.