“Love Your Enemy” in Exodus and Leviticus

We’ve all heard someone espouse the idea that somehow “the God of the Old Testament” is different than “the God of the New Testament.” This is claimed because they say that in the New Testament God is so loving and caring while in the Old Testament God is wrathful and mean. This is extremely frustrating because it’s obviously not true to anyone who has any passing familiarity with the Gospels. Jesus talks about coming judgement and how terrible it will be (Matthew 25:31-46, for example). However, while I think it’s easy to demonstrate from the New Testament that God’s wrath is indeed still present, I’d like to do the converse today. I’d like to show that God, in the Old Testament, was commanding the exact same things that Jesus was in the New. There is no disharmony in the teachings at all.

One of the supposedly more radical teachings of Jesus is that we should love and do good to our enemies. Surely, this idea was never taught before! I think this short passage from Exodus will put that to rest:

4 “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again.  5 If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it.

The New King James Version. (1982). (Ex 23:4–5). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Here God is commanding the Israelites to do good to their enemy, even the “one who hates you.” Is this not the exact same sentiment that Jesus taught in the Gospels? God commands good to our enemies, regardless of what they’ve done to us. It is only out of ignorance that people can claim Jesus diverges from Old Testament moral teaching.

Another thing Jesus said was to “love your neighbor as yourself” (see Matthew 22:39). Surely, that teaching can’t be found in the Old Testament? Except, when Jesus says this, He is literally quoting from Leviticus 19:18

17 ‘You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

The New King James Version. (1982). (Le 19:17–18). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself” is an Old Testament teaching. There should have been nothing radical in Jesus teaching to His Jewish hearers. They should have already been exposed to the idea. Even in this passage the Israelites are commanded to not take vengeance, once again showing they were to love their enemies and not persecute them. In God’s law, wrongs were to be overlooked and people were not to be treated in accordance with their wicked deeds against you. It’s time to lay the slander against God to rest.

Application

Before closing out this article, I want to make some application for the Christian. We’ve heard the teachings of Jesus so many times we’re liable to not remember just how radical (from a worldly perspective) His statements are. Hopefully, looking at the same idea presented in the Old Testament has encouraged you to remember how we should live in this world. We should love our enemies and do good to them. It doesn’t matter if they’ve cheated, stolen from, oppressed, slandered, microaggressed, or even done actual violence to us. We are still to love them and do good to them. If you don’t want to do this, can you say you truly believe in Christ? If you don’t believe in Him, then you will see His wrathful side on the Day of Judgement. Repent and believe in Him, and you will find Him to be just as merciful as the New Testament portrays Him.

Published by Sean Cheetham

There is nothing better in this life than to know God. There is nothing better to do in this life than to serve Him.

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