Andrew Lloyd Webber has produced some remarkable stage musicals: Cats, Phantom of the Opera, Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar , to name a few. Another successful production is based on an Old Testament account: Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It’s a true story that illustrates that God has always been concerned with the heart of man.
When adultery and divorce are so commonly accepted, it’s refreshing to see the main character in a musical reject a promiscuous invitation. In the musical, Joseph responds to Potiphar’s wife’s sexual advances by saying: “Please stop! I don’t believe in free love.”
The actual biblical text is much more specific. Genesis records Joseph’s words as, “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9 Genesis 39:9There is none greater in this house than I; neither has he kept back any thing from me but you, because you are his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?
American King James Version×, New International Version). Joseph recognized this temptation for what it was: He knew the physical act of giving in to temptation would damage a spiritual relationship that God had held from the beginning to be sacred.
God’s concerns haven’t changed
From earliest history God has been concerned with mankind’s heart, thoughts, attitudes and motives. Even though the Old Testament represents about 77 percent of the body of Scripture, few people understand that the standards God expects of us today are the same as He has expected down through the millennia.
God is concerned with people and how they live. After all, how we live reflects our character. The heart of humanity has always been of primary concern with the Creator because God created man in His image. What God is—and what He teaches in Scripture—defines what is right.
Certain nagging questions have plagued mankind. What am I supposed to do? How should I act? What is “good”? What does it mean to be a good person?
God didn’t ignore these questions in the Old Testament, nor did He leave it for men and women to decide for themselves. In fact, He addressed these issues in the most forthright way imaginable.
God’s judgment on human corruption
The book of Genesis tells us that God, after some 1,600 years of recorded human history, was grieved and His own heart “filled with pain” at man’s wickedness. God saw that “every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5-6 Genesis 6:5-6 5 And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
6 And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.
American King James Version×). Grieved that He had made man, God made an irrevocable decision: to drown virtually all land-based life on the planet in an enormous deluge: the great flood of Noah’s time.
God was concerned with man’s thoughts. He brought to pass the drowning of everyone except eight people, the family of Noah (2 Peter 2:5 2 Peter 2:5And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly;
American King James Version×). In this great act God clearly distinguished between the evil thoughts of everyone on earth and the righteous life of Noah. He abhorred the one and accepted the other.
Early in recorded history God willed-on a massive scale-that a sore penalty be exacted for evil thoughts and lives, and that physical salvation would be afforded the few who remained righteous.
Concern about human motivations
Scripture demonstrates that God was concerned from early in mankind’s history with man’s heart, that God cared deeply about the spirit, or motivation, behind man’s actions.
This is demonstrated by such statements as “Do not hate your brother in your heart” (Leviticus 19:17 Leviticus 19:17You shall not hate your brother in your heart: you shall in any wise rebuke your neighbor, and not suffer sin on him.
American King James Version×, NIV) and “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5 Deuteronomy 6:5And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
American King James Version×).
After recounting His Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5:6-21 Deuteronomy 5:6-21 6 I am the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.
7 You shall have none other gods before me.
8 You shall not make you any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth:
9 You shall not bow down yourself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of them that hate me,
10 And showing mercy to thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments.
11 You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain: for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that takes his name in vain.
12 Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the LORD your God has commanded you.
13 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work:
14 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD your God: in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your ox, nor your ass, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates; that your manservant and your maidservant may rest as well as you.
15 And remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD your God brought you out there through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.
16 Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you; that your days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with you, in the land which the LORD your God gives you.
17 You shall not kill.
18 Neither shall you commit adultery.
19 Neither shall you steal.
20 Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor.
21 Neither shall you desire your neighbor’s wife, neither shall you covet your neighbor’s house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or any thing that is your neighbor’s.
American King James Version×, God exclaimed, “Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!” (verse 29).
King David knew well that God “searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts” (1 Chronicles 28:9 1 Chronicles 28:9And you, Solomon my son, know you the God of your father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind: for the LORD searches all hearts, and understands all the imaginations of the thoughts: if you seek him, he will be found of you; but if you forsake him, he will cast you off for ever.
American King James Version×, NIV).
David also grew to understand that no one could escape from the invisible presence of God (Psalm 139). In his repentance after his adultery with Bathsheba, David expressed the understanding that God was ultimately more concerned with “a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart” than with any physical penance he could undertake (Psalms 51:17 Psalms 51:17The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
American King James Version×).
Man’s innermost attitude and disposition have always been of concern to God, in both Old and New Testament.
God has long concerned Himself with the morality of people. This was clearly demonstrated during Abraham’s time when judgment was exacted on five cities. Two of the cities, Sodom and Gomorrah, have become classic examples of the sinfulness of humans, typifying all that is perverse and decadent. God showed He would not forever overlook depraved attitudes and conduct. He concluded that the “sin [was] so grievous” in these cities that a prediction of even 10 righteous people living there was wildly optimistic and unrealistic (Genesis 18:20-32 Genesis 18:20-32 20 And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous;
21 I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come to me; and if not, I will know.
22 And the men turned their faces from there, and went toward Sodom: but Abraham stood yet before the LORD.
23 And Abraham drew near, and said, Will you also destroy the righteous with the wicked?
24 Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: will you also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein?
25 That be far from you to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from you: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?
26 And the LORD said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.
27 And Abraham answered and said, Behold now, I have taken on me to speak to the LORD, which am but dust and ashes:
28 Peradventure there shall lack five of the fifty righteous: will you destroy all the city for lack of five? And he said, If I find there forty and five, I will not destroy it.
29 And he spoke to him yet again, and said, Peradventure there shall be forty found there. And he said, I will not do it for forty’s sake.
30 And he said to him, Oh let not the LORD be angry, and I will speak: Peradventure there shall thirty be found there. And he said, I will not do it, if I find thirty there.
31 And he said, Behold now, I have taken on me to speak to the LORD: Peradventure there shall be twenty found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for twenty’s sake.
32 And he said, Oh let not the LORD be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.
American King James Version×).
Once again God made a distinction concerning the morality and ethics of human conduct. In Sodom lived only one righteous man, Lot (2 Peter 2:6-7 2 Peter 2:6-7 6 And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample to those that after should live ungodly;
7 And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked:
American King James Version×). God considered the evil of these cities sufficient to warrant their annihilation as a judgment on their sinful, corrupted residents.
The Old Testament: the foundation of morality
God is also concerned with man’s attitude toward his brother. In some cases the Old Testament scriptures stress this even more clearly than the New. Consider, for example, why murder is so abhorrent to God. The New Testament scriptures do not detail why premeditated murder is wrong. They do not explain what was behind God’s declaration in Exodus 20:13 Exodus 20:13You shall not kill.
American King James Version×that murder is a sin.
The Old Testament, however, holds the key. It’s not just that God detests the violent act. The real reason is revealed early in man’s history as a moral statement given to Noah.
Noah had personally witnessed a global watery judgment for man’s violent ways and cruel thoughts. God restated to him the spiritual reason behind the prohibition against murder: “And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.” God then explained what no text in the New Testament does similarly: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man” (Genesis 9:5 Genesis 9:5And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man.
American King James Version×, 6, NIV).
Man should not murder because human beings bear their Creator’s image. Each person bears a potential far greater than this physical life. To murder another is to attempt to negate God’s infinitely higher purpose for mankind.
The sacredness of human life
Consider another example related to the sacredness of human life where the New Testament does not explain a concept as clearly as the Old: How concerned is God with the unborn child? Where in Scripture would you go to find an answer to this question? Where would you find God’s thoughts concerning the unborn? You would have to consult the inspired writings of the Old Testament.
We find two of God’s servants, David and Jeremiah, both stating that God knew them before they were formed in the womb (Psalms 139:13 Psalms 139:13For you have possessed my reins: you have covered me in my mother’s womb.
American King James Version×; Jeremiah 1:5 Jeremiah 1:5Before I formed you in the belly I knew you; and before you came forth out of the womb I sanctified you, and I ordained you a prophet to the nations.
American King James Version×).
But the critical passage dealing with the death of an unborn child is in Exodus 21:22-25 Exodus 21:22-25 22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.
23 And if any mischief follow, then you shall give life for life,
24 Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
25 Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
American King James Version×. Modern scholars and newer translations recognize that this verse refers to the death of the unborn. A judgment is rendered, and punishment carried out, based on the sanctity of the life of the unborn child.
Some of the greatest texts on ethics-values, thoughts, motives and intent of the heart-are detailed in the writings we know as the Old Testament. They are a vital foundation in establishing how God responds to the thoughts and intent of the human heart.
Actions reflect the heart
As Jesus explained to the Pharisees of His day, just as a tree is known by its fruit, so is a man known by his ways. As are his thoughts, so will be his actions, “for out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” Jesus explained that “men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:33-37 Matthew 12:33-37 33 Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit.
34 O generation of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
35 A good man out of the good treasure of the heart brings forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.
36 But I say to you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.
37 For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned.
American King James Version×, NIV).
Jesus repeatedly made it clear that what a man does is linked to the content of his heart (Matthew 15:18-19 Matthew 15:18-19 18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.
19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:
American King James Version×). His actions are but a reflection of his thoughts and intents. It shouldn’t surprise us that the Creator of man went straight to the heart and core of the matter, addressing mankind’s thoughts from the beginning. GN