Scripture Is Primarily a Tool for Revealing God’s Heart

Scripture Is Primarily a Tool for Revealing God’s Heart


Contrary to a traditional belief that our God is, in the words of a famous hymn, “inaccessible” and “silent as light,” the promise of the good news is that we can know God. Paul said,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”—these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. . . no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. . . Now we have received. . . the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. . . we have the mind of Christ.          –I Corinthians 2:9-16

Because God’s Spirit dwells within us, because we are given the privilege of directly experiencing the risen Jesus, we are able to know him personally. Much of that knowledge comes from scripture. We see that in everyday experience—we can “sort of” get to know people by reading a lot about them, but of course we don’t really know them till we’ve met them face to face; but our direct experiences with Jesus heavily inform the way we interpret scripture. Ideally, it’s a virtuous circle: We understand certain truths from scripture, which inform our knowledge of God; and our deeper knowledge of God, enhanced by scripture, enables us to interact with him in ways that more closely conform to his true thoughts and feelings. Those direct interactions, in turn, gradually inform our understanding of scripture. And so the cycle continues.

Our experiences can just as easily follow a vicious circle, however: Incorrect understanding of scripture leads to a skewed picture of God; and because of that incorrect picture, our supposed interactions with God lead in a direction that may not accurately reflect his heart; and those experiences lead us to even more skewed views of scripture. And so on.

So it’s important for us to have as correct an understanding of scripture as possible.

The Bible: our first stop in understanding God

The Bible is not a monolithic book filled with cryptic clues that, if correctly parsed, yield cool secrets that give “insiders” special understanding. Nor is it a collection of commands or principles or laws that, if properly heeded, will place us within God’s good graces. Nor is it a scattered assortment of statements about certain concepts that, when properly assembled together like jigsaw puzzles, yield clear and unambiguous doctrinal truths.

The Bible, rather, is a compendium—written by diverse humans over hundreds of years—of narratives about how God has interacted with his people within history. And he revealed himself to his people, typically, in ways that made sense within their culture. Examples:

•When Jesus was tempted by Satan after his baptism, Satan was pretty accurate in quoting scripture. He scoffed, in so many words, “Come on, Jesus! You know the scriptures. Nowhere does the Bible say that God has a son! Remember, ‘The Lord your God, the Lord is One’? Good little Jewish boy that you are, you expect us to believe that you’re the son of God?! That’s blasphemy!”

God did not reveal to earlier generations anything about a Son. Whether or not you’re a strict trinitarian, you must admit that the Hebrew scriptures are essentially silent about this. God waited to reveal this truth. After all, it took him a thousand years—essentially, until the Babylonian exile and subsequent return to Judah—before his people consistently embraced the concept that there was just one God. If from the beginning he had even hinted at the idea of a Son, it seems likely that his people would never have gotten it right. So he waited.

•Ditto for the idea that there is a hierarchy of evil spiritual beings, the most powerful of which we have come to call Satan. The early Jews basically didn’t even believe in demons; or, to the extent they did accept such realities, they were a very minor part of their belief system. Again, I can guess God’s motives: “If I let these people know that this planet is swarming with evil spiritual beings with whom they are at war and I am at war, they’ll never be able to grasp the concept that I alone am God and these others are mere creatures never to be worshiped or appeased. I’ll just keep that fact hidden until later.”

•Ditto for life after death. History has demonstrated how quickly human beings obsess about the afterlife in horribly unhealthy ways. So until quite late in their history, the people of God had no clue that in the end humans would be bodily resurrected. And even that revelation didn’t seem to “take” very effectively, since the incorrect pagan doctrine that human “souls” are eternal has wreaked disastrous consequences in the church almost from the beginning and continuing to the present day.

•Even in matters of human behavior—including questions that directly affect our understanding of the nature of God—our Lord took his time in revealing his true heart. I believe we are much too quick to minimize the drastic significance of Jesus’ statements in Matthew 5. After endorsing Leviticus 19:18, which commanded Israelites to love their neighbors as themselves, he goes immeasurably further:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? . . . Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.                                         –Matthew 5:43-48

The implications of this statement are profound. We generally don’t follow this passage to its only reasonable conclusion: Jesus is saying, in effect, “Yeah, I know what the law of Moses says, but that’s not the complete word. It’s imperfect! Moses gave you the truth to the extent that people in his day could accept it, but he didn’t give you the whole truth.”

•Jesus makes that point explicitly when he says,“It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives.” That wasn’t actually the way things were supposed to be, according to Jesus (Matthew 19:8). In other words, God is saying, “Yes, I meant what I said then, but that’s not really where my heart is. Now I want you to know me in a deeper way, and I want you to behave in accordance with what is in my heart, with what is more eternally valid, not according to some rule that I had to give you just because a millennium ago you weren’t ready to go ‘further up and further in.’ ”


Ron Simkins, pastor of our church in Champaign, Illinois, provided this analogy: When my child is very young, I keep her “locked up” in the house or perhaps in the back yard, not even letting her go near the street. When she is older, I let her play in the front yard as long as I’m watching, but I forbid her to go near the street. A little later, I will let her walk with me while I cross the street, as long as I’m holding her hand. When she’s a bit older, I permit her to walk next to me, with no requirement that she hold my hand, but she must stay right next to me and practice looking both ways for oncoming cars. When she is considerably older and has gained my complete trust, I let her walk to a friend’s house, crossing the street by herself. When she’s even older, I say it’s fine with me for her and a friend to stand in the street and throw a football back and forth—I trust her to get out of the way of cars. And the day finally comes when I will tell her I want her to grab my keys, take the car and drive to the supermarket to buy some tomatoes for dinner. I never changed. The street didn’t change. The potential for danger didn’t change. What changed was my child’s level of maturity.

That’s how God has dealt with us.

•It would be ludicrous for someone to say, “God never changes, and he said it’s against his wishes for his people to eat shrimp, so I’m not going to do that!” But God responds, “Come on, you’re theoretically wiser now, it’s fine to eat shrimp! Just be sure you cook it thoroughly (and be sure to use plenty of horseradish in your sauce).”

•It’s just as ludicrous, to use an example from current events, for someone claiming to speak for our Lord to hold up signs at funerals saying, “God hates fags”—not when Jesus has revealed that the true heart of God, as we read earlier, is one of love both for good guys and bad guys, even for your enemies.

•Few people today would claim that slavery is acceptable by pointing to the Bible’s having condoned slavery, as is clear from even a superficial reading of the Torah. Yet in fact the Bible nowhere expressly forbids slavery! Yes, God permitted slavery within Israel, and even in the New Testament it is not explicitly condemned. But most believers accept that his command to love our neighbors (as well as everyone else) rules out such behavior. We are surmising, then, that what God allowed in past ages was something which he in fact abhorred!

There are many other examples:

•Women were clearly second-class citizens in Old Testament times, but one must ask whether such practices as were embodied in the law of Moses genuinely reflected the heart of God, or whether his heart is more clearly represented by Paul’s statement that, in Christ, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female” –Galatians 3:28

•Jewish understanding of the very nature of God seemed also to evolve, as illustrated by the following passages:

Have them make me a sanctuary, so that I may dwell among them.           –Exodus 25:8

Yahweh, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides. –Psalm 26:8

But the writer of the end of Isaiah, centuries later, expressed a different view:

Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is my resting place? –Isaiah 66:1

That view is confirmed by Paul in Athens:

The God who made the world and everything in it. . . does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything. . . –Acts 17:24-25


Which parts of the Bible most clearly reveal God’s heart?

It is clear, then, that God progressively revealed his heart, his truth, as the centuries passed. But that leaves us with a conundrum: Especially in earlier writings, how do we separate the more genuine revelation of God’s heart from the temporary stuff that related more to then-current culture than to the heart of God? How, indeed, do we get at God’s deepest truths in any age?

The decisive revelation of God, the ultimate disclosure of what is in his heart and mind, is the person of Jesus of Nazareth, who said, Do you want to know what God is really like? Then look at me! If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father! –John 14:9 paraphrased. The perfect Word that God spoke to us is not the Bible. The Word of God is not a book—it is a living person named Jesus.

Our knowledge of Jesus comes from two sources: first, from scripture; second, from our personal experience of him. And, as I mentioned earlier, our deep desire is that we find ourselves in a positive feedback loop: we gain deeper understanding of scripture, which enables us to see our interactions with the risen Jesus with a less jaundiced eye; our experience in living our everyday lives with him, in turn, gradually helps us understand scripture more clearly. And so on.

If the Bible is not a monolithic block of enigmatic clues about God, but rather a historical record of how God and human beings interacted over a couple of millennia, then how do we sort out what parts of the Bible more clearly reveal the heart of God and what should be viewed as perhaps historically interesting, but not something to be emulated? Even granting that the law of Moses was a covenant between Yahweh and Israel and in no way applied to non-Israelites, uninformed people still like to latch onto various Old Testament statements and treat them as if they profoundly reveal the deepest thoughts of the Creator and Redeemer of the universe.

•Residents of the southern states in the nineteenth century loved to quote a nefarious act of one of Noah’s sons in Genesis 9 to justify oppressing black people.

‎•As justification for subjugating women, some Christians still love to quote Genesis 2:18, in which God creates a woman as a “helper” (עֵ֖זֶר) for the man (“helpmeet” in King James version)—in spite of the fact that the Hebrew word translated “helper” actually implies in the large majority of cases someone who is superior to the helpee. It’s a word more often than not used of God as the “helper” of his people; it also could describe an army that comes to rescue another army that is in trouble (cf. Joshua 10:6, 10:33, II Samuel 8:5, 21:17). It’s not someone who is subservient, but someone who rescues!

In trying to identify the more God-hearted portions of the Old Testament, especially the Torah, a useful tactic is to study the Old Testament prophets, whose primary task was to call God’s people back to the covenant God had given them at Sinai, after they had strayed wildly therefrom.

What did the prophets consider most important?

I want to share some passages in which the prophets indict God’s people for failing to follow the law. The question is, out of all the zillions of commands in the law, what most often got the prophets’ dander up? Here’s a heads-up: the prophets never accused God’s people of failing to get the tassels right on the high priest’s garments; and, believe it or not, the prophets only occasionally mentioned sexual sins.

In the vast majority of circumstances, God indicted his people for one (or more) of three transgressions: (1) idolatry/serving other gods; (2) failure to trust him; and (3) failure to follow the Torah (the Mosaic law) in its multitude of commands to protect the poor and the helpless—who, in that culture, were overwhelmingly widows, orphans, slaves, and aliens (foreigners).

The passages below are a biased sample. They reveal an aspect of prophetic literature that we tend to overlook. I have not included quotes about idolatry and lack of trust, because most of us are supremely familiar with those themes. We tend to be less aware of the following passages, however—possibly because they might tweak our own consciences? My purpose is not to convict, however, but to open our eyes a little more to the ways in which the Old Testament reveals the heart of God.

The following statements from the prophets are but a sampling of a much larger collection, which you can read elsewhere on this site:

Isaiah 3:14-15   Yahweh enters into judgment with the elders and princes of his people: It is you who have devoured the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor?. . .

 Isaiah 10:1-2   Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statutes, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be your spoil, and that you may make the orphans your prey!

 Isaiah 58:6-10   Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? . . . If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.

 Jeremiah 5:26-28   Scoundrels are found among my people. . . They do not judge with justice the cause of the orphan, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy.

 Jeremiah 7:5-7   If you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place. . .

 Ezekiel 16:49   This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.                                         

 Ezekiel 22:6-7   The princes of Israel. . . have been bent on shedding blood. Father and mother are treated with contempt in you; aliens residing within you suffer extortion; orphans and widows are wronged in you. . . 

 Ezekiel 22:29   The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery; they have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the alien without redress.

 Amos 2:6 . . .   For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals—

 Amos 8:4-7   Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, . . .buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat. Yahweh has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.

 Zechariah 7:8-10 . . .   Thus says Yahweh of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.

 Malachi 3:5    I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says Yahweh of hosts.

 Finally, note Psalm 82:1-4, in which God exercises judgment against “the gods” explicitly on the basis of their treatment of the most helpless members of societyGod has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. . .”


The Torah: revealing what appears most important to God

The prophets focused principally on idolatry, on failure to trust Yahweh, and on sins against the poor and the powerless. Such statements, that I believe genuinely reveal God’s heart, are embedded within a broader context that includes highly specific and technical rules that presumably had a purpose at the time, but today seem meaningless—who today, for example, would even consider boiling a kid in its mother’s milk (Exodus 23:19)? Much of the law deals with everyday activities, crimes, sins, and cultic practices that are far removed from our experiences; and yet what proportion of prophetic utterances address transgressions against dietary laws and other superficial matters? Basically, zero! Throughout the Torah, however, are passages that shout to us that they are more than mere religious responses to cultural practices of the time—statements to which the prophets referred over and over when they called God’s people back to obedience. It is these statements, I believe, that reveal God’s heart even in the midst of ancient cultural trappings that are alien to us.

Especially in the context of ancient culture, many of the following statements from the Torah are astounding. They are still astounding! As you read, try to imagine a society where they ar\re practiced faithfully:

Exodus 21:2   When you buy a male Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, but in the seventh he shall go out a free person, without debt.

 Exodus 21:26-27   When a slaveowner strikes the eye of a male or female slave, destroying it, the owner shall let the slave go, a free person. . . If the owner knocks out a tooth of a male or female slave, the slave shall be let go, a free person. . .

 Exodus 22:16   When a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged to be married, and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife.  [This command carries a significant yuck factor for our modern sensibilities. But in that culture, a “compromised” woman would never be able to find a husband; and that would leave her financially helpless. Without a man to support her, a woman was destitute. This law, therefore, in spite of its appearing morbid to us, was in that culture a source of grace to women who were raped.]

 Exodus 22:22-23   You shall not abuse any widow or orphan. If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry. . .

 Exodus 23:10-11   For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild animals may eat. You shall do the same with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard.

 Exodus 23:12   Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest, so that your ox and your donkey may have relief, and your homeborn slave and the resident alien may be refreshed.

 Leviticus 19:9-10   When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest.  You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien. . .

 Leviticus 19:33-34   When an alien [i.e., a foreigner] resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. . .

 Leviticus 25:10   You shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family.  [To clarify: if I buy or otherwise obtain property from another family, at the end of 50 years I must return the property to the original owners. One result is that no one can, over a period of two or three generations, accumulate vast amounts of wealth or property; another is that families cannot be drawn permanently into poverty.]

 Deuteronomy 10:17-19   Yahweh your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers [aliens], providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger [alien], for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

 Deuteronomy 15:7-11   If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that Yahweh your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. . . Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account Yahweh your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. . . Open your hand to the poor and needy in your land.

 Deuteronomy 15:1-2   Every seventh year you shall grant a remission of debts. . . Every creditor shall [give back] the claim that is held against a neighbor. . .

 [Remember the Fugitive Slave Law in the nineteenth-century U.S.?  Consider how the Mosaic law instructed Israel to respond to such matters.]   Deuteronomy 23:15-16   Slaves who have escaped to you from their owners shall not be given back to them. They shall reside with you, in your midst, in any place they choose in any one of your towns, wherever they please; you shall not oppress them.

 Deuteronomy 26:12-13   When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year (which is the year of the tithe), giving it to the Levites, the aliens, the orphans, and the widows, so that they may eat their fill within your towns, then you shall say before Yahweh your God: “I have removed the sacred portion from the house, and I have given it to the Levites, the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows, in accordance with your commandment. . .”


God seeks loving intimacy with us

From beginning to end, scripture proclaims the heart of God. In particular: if we want to understand any profound spiritual truth, we do well to look at the beginning of Genesis and the end of Revelation. In Genesis, we read what God intended when he created the earth and its inhabitants: What was in his mind when he did that? Why did he do it? If we can get a handle on God’s original intentions, we probably can find a key that will help us unlock important understandings that relate directly to our own lives. In Revelation, on the other hand, we see the end toward which all history is heading. Where is God going with all this? Because he is the sovereign Lord, he will have his way—and seeing what that end product looks like can reveal truths that relate to what’s going on now.

What does Genesis reveal about God’s intentions, about where God’s heart really lies? A couple of hints: (1) God created human beings so that they would be very much like him. (2) Chapter 3 of Genesis shows God walking in the garden, as he was wont to do, calling out to the humans: “Hey guys, where are you? I’ve really been looking forward to our daily chats.”

The writer of Genesis was no primitive numbskull. He knew full well that Israel’s mighty God would know exactly what the man and woman had done and where they were. The writer was using a literary device to reveal a deep truth to his readers: God delights in the company of human beings! That’s in large part why he created us—because it’s a great joy to have deep, intimate relationships with persons who are bright and creative and fun and spontaneous.

This theme shows up in later writings as well:

Exodus 29:45-46  I will dwell among the Israelites, and I will be their God. And they shall know that I am Yahweh their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. . .

 Leviticus 26:11-12  I will place my dwelling in your midst. . .  And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people.

And, in the vision John provided of the consummation of history, God has his way. He has won! He has worked within history to overcome the unspeakable evil and suffering and darkness that human beings introduced, helped along by dark spiritual powers, and he has done it without ever breeching the perfect freedom of his creatures! For in the end, John says, God proclaims in Revelation 21:3 that “The dwelling of God is among human beings. He will dwell among them, and they will be his family, and God himself will be with them [trans BCM].”

It’s all about family, about relationships. That’s where God’s heart is focused. Jesus said it in various ways:

No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends.  –John 15:15a

As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.  –John 17:21

Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.  –John 14:23

 Try to get your mind around God’s intentions in making his home with us. It’s not just to reward us, to be nice to us. It’s something he wants to do! It’s what he created us for! God’s eagerness for that ultimate, deep, personal relationship with us is like a groom’s eagerness to see his bride coming down the aisle: The oneness Jesus promises isn’t just a means of providing kudos to human beings—he can’t wait for the honeymoon!

And remember that extraordinary statement at the end of Matthew 11, in which Jesus begins with an announcement that, coming from the mouth of virtually any other religious figure, would almost certainly portend claims of majesty and power and a demand for obedience:

 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” –Matthew 11:27

Wow! When Jesus’ audience heard that, what do you suppose they thought would follow such a statement? I think of Jafar, in Disney’s movie Aladdin, when he briefly becomes the most powerful genie in the world, crying in evil triumph, “The universe is mine to command! To control!” Whatever Jesus’ hearers expected, I can’t imagine anyone would have expected what Jesus actually did say:

 I have all authority in creation, and therefore. . . “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” –Matthew 11:28-30

We tend to see this mind-blowing statement from the viewpoint of our own needs and weaknesses, and that’s quite understandable—we want to go to him and embrace him and let him love us. But I challenge you to think of that statement also from the viewpoint of the one who said it. It wasn’t mere charity on Jesus’ part. Rather, he eagerly wants us to go to him! Remember God’s calling to the man and woman in the garden? Jesus calls to us, not just for our benefit, to heal our hurts and cleanse our sins—he calls to us because he delights in us, and he eagerly looks forward to being with us!

The Word of God

Ultimately, scripture is immeasurably useful in helping us draw near to God because it tells the story of God’s saving acts within history that culminated in the Incarnation. Jesus said that if we want to know what God is like, we need only look at him (i.e., Jesus).

Jesus is the lens through which we must look at all the rest of scripture—

including those passages (e.g., commands to kill and destroy) that leave us puzzled and upset.

There are several ways to interpret such passages—but however we do so, in the end we default to the statement, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” I may not understand all sorts of things in the Bible. But the one thing I know is that, ultimately, the most perfect picture/revelation of the heart of God is the person of Jesus of Nazareth, whose love for us all led him to suffer death on a cross.

To know him, we must love as he loves

God is a party guy! It’s no accident that the first miracle John records in Jesus’ ministry was providing the wine at a Jewish wedding, after the guests were already tipsy! Have you ever been to a Jewish wedding? They’re pretty wild and uninhibited—as is our Lord! “He’s not a tame lion,” but he is a very social lion!

At the beginning, at the end, and at various places in between including in the Torah, scripture describes an incomparably important characteristic of God’s heart: He created us for the express purpose of being with us, of having intimate fellowship with us, and he will not give up until he has accomplished just that—without abridging our freedom.

Yet he cannot maintain intimacy with us when we are not like him in being gracious and giving. As we contemplate the scriptures, we do well to pay closest attention to those parts of the Bible that are most consistent with God’s ultimate intentions. He desires free, healthy, gracious, creative, joyous fellowship with his creatures. And a great deal of his actions within history, including in the giving of the Torah, have been designed to mold his people into the kind of folks he intended them to be in the first place—that is, like him. And that requires that his people, as much as possible, be radically loving toward each other. God’s heart goes out to the poor and the needy and the widows and the orphans and the oppressed foreigners, and therefore our hearts (as well as our actions) likewise should be kind and gracious.

I close with words Yahweh addressed through Jeremiah to Shallum, king of Judah, son of the great and faithful king Josiah:

Are you a king because you compete in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness?

Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy. . .

Is not this to know me? says Yahweh. 

–Jeremiah 22:15-16