Here is a truth that might change the way you read and understand the Bible.
- God works with people where they are and this always requires degrees of concession.
His justice makes these concession necessary; His mercy makes them possible.
Should this truth influence the way we understand the Bible?
Since the Bible addresses violent and evil people where they live, should we be surprised to find really horrible things in it? The whole project of humanity is happening under a merciful divine concession.
The fact of divine concession started early in history. It set the tone for all of the ways of God with humanity. If we don’t pause long over this fact, we’ll likely misunderstand God and misread the rest of the story of God’s dealings with humanity.
Look closely at this truth of divine concession:
“‘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 face the truth, but we’d be fools to ignore the sweeping divine acknowledgement that, “every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood.”
This is God’s assessment of humanity 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 flood judgment didn’t change the pervasive depravity of the human heart, was God making a concession (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).
Perhaps it would have been better to say that God “subsequently promises never again to destroy the earth in spite of man’s sinfulness.” This is a mercy that sets the tone for the rest of the story.
How should this truth be applied to our understanding of 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 was not meant to be a final or perfect guide for human beings. Why do we need a “New” Covenant? (see: Jeremiah 31; Ezekiel 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); “when He held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past ” (Romans 3:25-26); when He “endured with much patience vessels of wrath” (Romans 9:22-23) and when He “overlooked such ignorance” (Acts 17:30-31).
Divorce, for example, 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 “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 Jesus’ teaching is actualy in the Old Testament since he said that all the Law and the Prophets hang on 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 and less than flattering terms to understanding how a perfectly holy God could be in a relationship with sinful beings like ourselves.
There is no greater example of divine concession than the brutal, violent and bloody scene of the crucifixion of the Son of God. Meditate on the grace in these amazing words:
“…Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross.” “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (Philippians 2:5-8; II Corinthians 5:21)