*If God is for everyone, why the references to “God’s chosen people”?
Joel’s response: God’s chosen people (Israel) are not chosen in terms of being preferred over other nations. In fact, even in the OT, various “gentiles” demonstrated faith in the one true God of the Bible & they were included & accepted into the community. Rather, they were chosen in the sense of choosing them to bless, or reach, THE WORLD. The way that Gd would bless the entire world through Abraham, as God promised (see Gen. 18:18-19; 22:17-18), even though he only had one child (Isaac) was through Abraham’s descendants, the Jewish nation…and ULTIMATELY through the Messiah, the anointed One, Christ Jesus!
In addition, the nation of Israel was chosen to be a light to the world & to know who God was & how to engage with the one true God. i.e. God wanted them to stand out to point people to Him…not because they were better than others. (They stood out from other nations in how they spent their time, ate, worshipped, lived, sang, etc…)
note: When we are chosen, it is human/sinful nature to think that we are better than others, which explains why some of the Jews/Israelites (esp. religious leaders) thought of themselves as superior to Gentiles. Jesus’ own teachings & eventually His followers (ex: the apostle Paul) crush this notion of superiority as we read in the NT. All are welcome. Are are invited. “For God so loved the world that WHOEVER…”
*How do we reconcile the heavy-handed God of the Old Testament with the gentle character we see in Christ in the New Testament?
Joel’s response: The world prior to God’s Word & His Spirit was in general very dark & wicked. Attrocities even including things like child sacrifices, cannibalism, etc… Apparently it got so bad at one time that God even chose to start over (The Flood)!
Genesis 6:5-9 says…
5 The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. 6 The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. 7 So the LORD said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. 9 This is the account of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.
The point is that this degree of sin & wickedness will eventually destroy itself. (This helps to explain why God even commanded His people to obliterate other incredibly wicked nations in the Old Testament.) We see judgment as being “mean” or “unkind”, but would it be right to allow someone who killed my son to be let go without consequences? Obviously not. So, in this way, God demonstrates His wrath not in being “mean”, but in being fair & just.
That said, we should remember that the God that we see in the OT continues to be a God who is loving, compassionate, gracious, patient, & forgiving.
Exodus 34:6-7 says…
6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”
Also see 2 Chronicles 30:9; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 86:25; Psalm 103:8; Psalm 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2. These are central verses in the OT. God is described as compassionate & loving then too!!! (note: Using the word “then”, as I just did, to describe God is a bit inappropriate since God is not bound by time nor does His character change over time like ours does.)
As an aside, the wrath of God is not most clearly seen in the OT — it’s actually the NT when we see His wrath unleashed most swiftly & righteously in the end times. (note: BTW, we also see Jesus’ anger in the NT…like when he kicks butt in the temple. Matt. 21:12; Mark 11:15-17) >> Is Jesus meek? Yes. Patient? Yes. Compassionate? Yes. Loving? Yes. Just? Yes. A pushover? No. One to be dismissed or trifled with? No.
The point I am making is that God is loving in both the OT & the NT — and that God is just in both the OT & the NT. The difference is that we see the clearest picture of God’s love in Jesus taking on our punishment & paying for our sins on the cross in the NT…but God’s character remains always the same.