I love the Old Testament because it is this beautiful collection of stories about God forging a relationship with humanity - teaching us about who He is and who we are as image-bearers of the Divine. In the beginning, God walked among humans in paradise. There was no doubt in the minds of Adam and Eve about the identity of God and the purpose God had for their lives. However, when Adam and Eve were cast from the garden, they and all humanity were cut off from this direct relationship with God, and so began the journey of humanity to remember God from the remnants of their collective memories and imaginations.
In the stories of the Old Testament and contemporary myths, we see countless failed attempts of humanity trying to understand God. Societies endeavored to create God from the image of humanity, and what resulted were Pantheons of violent gods who demanded child sacrifice, sexual enslavement under the guise of temple priestesses, and complete obliteration of other tribes and nations. Humans cast idols in gold and bronze, pursuing an anthropomorphized deity in shapes they could understand. However, when your society is edged in violence and war due to the sinful nature of a humanity that has lost contact with God, you’re going to get some gods that embody the worst of humanity, not the best.
Enter Yahweh - a God who identifies simply as “I am” because there is no shape perceivable to human understanding to describe God. Yahweh - the God who formed humanity in their image, not the other way around. Yahweh - the one true God who is enough, Alpha and Omega, who did not need a plethora of other gods. This God, over and over again, set Himself apart from the man made gods of the time, continually revealing Himself to humanity as a God of love and grace. But wait a minute, wasn’t God wrathful and judgmental and terrifying in the Old Testament? To our modern sensibilities, perhaps; but in comparison to the horrors of the man made gods of the time, Yahweh is merciful and good.
Through the Old Testament stories we learn of a God who created the Universe with Word and Breath, stepping back to view His Creation and calling it “good” (Genesis 1). Compare this to other creation myths of the time - the violence of the warring gods of The Enuma Elish whose slaughter of each other created the heavens and the earth, the bloodbath becoming rivers and oceans. Take the story of a God who lovingly breathed life into Adam (Genesis 2:7), creating humanity simply for the pleasure of creating out of love, juxtaposed with the gods in the Babylonian myths who created humanity to be slaves so the gods would not be subject to labors that were beneath them. When other gods like Baal were demanding child sacrifice, Yahweh provided a ram in place of Isaac for Abraham’s sacrifice (Genesis 22:13). Over and over again, humanity is introduced to a God who creates and rules selflessly, who loves compassionately, and willingly sacrifices Himself instead of demanding the blood price to be paid by His creation.
Often we struggle with the images of God prior to the Gospels, but our God of Genesis through Malachi is the same God who walked the earth in the stories of Matthew through John. The Jesus who fed the 5,000 with a few loaves and fishes is the same God who provided manna in the desert to the refugees in Exodus. The Jesus who dined with sinners in Matthew is the same God who traveled as a pillar of smoke and fire with the wayward Israelites. We follow God because God is good and just and merciful, ever unchanging, and always deeply, lavishly in love with us, His creation.