Here is a truth that could change the way you understand and apply the Bible.
God works with people where they are and this will always require degrees of concession. But Should this truth affect the way we view the Bible?
The fact of Divine concession started early in history. It actually began with the convergence of a divine promise and a divine concession that set the tone for all of the ways of God with humanity:
“‘Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease’” (Gen. 8:21b-22, NIV).
We might not like to hear it, but we ought to be humble enough to acknowledge the truth that, “every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood.” This assessment of humanity was made by God and it’s the second time He made it. He first lamented the condition of human hearts prior to His catastrophic judgment against the earth:
“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. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the Lord said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth…” (Genesis 6:5-7)
Since God’s judgment didn’t change the pervasive depravity of the human heart, was God making a conscession (in Genesis 8 ) to live with the inevitable grief and pain as things returned to pre-judgment conditions?
“Here is the paradox: God inundates the earth because of man’s sinfulness, and subsequently promises never again to destroy the earth because of man’s sinfulness” (The Book of Genesis chapters 1-17, NICOT, Victor Hamilton, p. 309).
How should this truth be applied to the way we understand Scripture?
Many parts of the Old Testament will be misunderstood if we miss the point about concession. The Old Testament reflects many concessions related to life in Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) cultures with their fallen social structures and hardened hearts (see: Matthew 19:3-9). The Old Testament law is often concessionary to ANE social structures and realities. It’s also (self-admittedly) not meant to be a final guide for human beings. Why do we need a “New” Covenant? (see: Jeremiah 31; Ez. 36, Hebrews).
If you find some things to be strange in the Old Testament, remember that these were strange times. A cursory reading of ANE history will validate this fact. Recognize that God mercifully meets people where they are and graciously condescends to reach them.
The OT days are summarized as times when God “let all nations go their own way” (Acts 14:15); times “when He held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past ” (Romans 3:25-26); times when He “endured with much patience vessels of wrath” (Romans 9:22-23) and times when He “overlooked such ignorance” (Acts 17:30-31).
Divorce was permitted (in some cases) as an accommodation to realities of life in a sinful world (see: Matthew 19:3-9). It was not God’s plan from the beginning just as many things were not God’s plan from the beginning. When hard hearts caused others to face destitution, divine allowances (otherwise not considered the perfect plan) were permitted in the mercy of God (see: Exodus 21:10-11; 1 Corinthians 7:15).
Even when Jesus said, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery,’” he was (in some way) dealing in the realm of concession. Of course, Jesus’ words should be understood as a provision not a prescription. But it was clearly a concession from God’s perfect will because of the hardness of sinful hearts. Are there any other possible “permissions” of God because of the hardness of human hearts. Again, I ask, do you think God makes concessions to be involved in our lives?
What should be said about the discernible moral advance from Old Testament to New? Why didn’t God require everything to operate on the teaching of Jesus during Old Testament days?
Jesus said, “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36); “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:44-45).
Perhaps the heart of his teaching is in the Old Testament since Jesus said that all the Law and the Prophets hang on the two commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-40).
Yet during Old Testament times, God took people where they were (in ANE cultures) and guided them toward His perfect will. If we’re uncomfortable using words like “concession” regarding God, alternatives like “accommodation” or “compromise” feel equally difficult. We need some uncomfortable terms for understanding how a perfectly holy God could be in a relationship with sinful beings like ourselves.