Meditating on the Judgements of God: General Introduction
We start to move into a new area of consideration, possibly the most difficult area of meditation we have ever sought when writing these various series’. Yes, the heading is right; we are going to focus on God’s judgments. Now when we put it like that it doesn’t sound as bad as if we had said simply, ‘The Judgement of God’ because so often when we speak of ‘the Judgement of God’ we have in mind the acts of death and destruction that apparently God brings about – and He does! But when we speak about ‘God’s judgements’ I want to focus more on God’s ‘decisions’ and that is really what is more important, because every time in Scripture we witness an act of death or destruction, before that happens, something even more significant happens: God chose to do it and it is the thinking behind that decision of His that we want to look at, with His help.
Having paused at the end of Part 6 (and I will continue) I must confess that working through the specific judgments has not always been easy and I am sure that I have not, when considering the individual judgments, examined them in the light of all the criteria you will find in this first Part. I am fairly sure that I will have to return here and revisit some of them again after further thought and prayer.
Perhaps from the outset we should ask the question that may arise in many, “Why study judgment? Isn’t it a miserable subject?” My answers, and they have to be the reasons for this series are as follows:
- first we need to consider the subject because death and destruction (apparently at the hand of God) DOES appear so often in the Bible and we need to understand it and,
- second, we should not be afraid of facing up apparent contradictions, such as how a loving God can kill people and,
- third, no it is not miserable to face and understand the grace, mercy and justice of God; it is actually freeing.
The structure of this series will be as follows:
- Part 1 of this series will be studies that will focus on God Himself, on His nature or His character, the person behind the judgments we will go on to consider.
- Part 2 will go on to consider aspects of judgment things, I am going to suggest, that we mostly don’t think about. There is bound to be a little overlap within these first two Parts.
- In Part 3 we will start to work our way through specific judgments of God in the book of Genesis,
- Part 4 will cover Exodus and Leviticus and
- Part 5 covers the book of Numbers.
- Part 6 will look in depth at the struggle for Canaan.
I hope eventually to continue and cover all the judgements of God in the Old Testament but time will tell if that is possible.
Crusading atheists pound at God for being a vindictive and destructive being (who they don’t believe exists!) and Christians tend to cower and hope that in some way they were wrong, while in their sub-conscious minds having this horrible feeling that perhaps God is a ‘hard man’ (Mt 25:24), and that He does do nasty things – and they don’t know why! Well, in these studies we are going to try to give some answers. To do that I may have to repeat what I have written in other studies, especially the more recent one on the Will of God.
Meditating on the Judgements of God: 1.1 God’s Loving Forgiveness
Prov 3:19,20 By wisdom the LORD laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge the deeps were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew.
Our starting point has to be what we know of God or, rather, what the Bible tells us about Him. If you have never trodden this path before, I have to warn you that you are about to venture into an area that will challenge your mind and your faith like never before. We are going to look at the character of God and then the acts of judgement of God and struggle to see how the acts can possibly be the works of the One with the character we will see.
This is not a new struggle, it has gone on since the formation of the church and some early heretics answered the problem by creating two Gods, one of the Old Testament, and another of the New. But let’s be quite clear from the outset, philosophically and theologically, that doesn’t work. There is one Creator God who made all things, who brought Israel into being and who had dealings with Israel and eventually brought His Son into the world to save it and who still works to bless it. So what does the Bible tell us about God. Well I’m going to take them in the order they impressed upon me.
Well, this Creator God is all-powerful, all-wise and all-knowing, eternal and unchanging. Those are givens you will find in any basic book on theology and so we won’t take up space providing quotes for that. But then I found I was impacted by the apostle John who declared, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16). Yes, he said it twice to make sure we took it in. Is that just a New Testament teaching I wondered? No, definitely not. Listen! Moses caught something of this when he sung with Israel, “In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed.” (Ex 15:13) He saw the Exodus deliverance as an act of love, and that even before Israel had been constituted as a nation at Sinai.
It wasn’t a temporary, frail love but an “unfailing love” which suggests strong and enduring. But then later Moses has a particularly close encounter with the Lord and receives the Ten Commandments, and we find there is a ‘love element’ built into them at one point describing the Lord as, “showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Ex 20:6). Now that offsets the verse before it that speak about God who is described as “punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” (Ex 20:5b) i.e. a God of judgment. He may punish up to four generations (and we will look at that in a later meditation) but He will bless a thousand generations.
At an even closer encounter a little later, the Lord describes Himself to Moses and we read, “And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” (Ex 34:6,7) So, yes, He is a God who deals with sins and brings judgement but the stronger emphasis is on His love. He abounds in love and He maintains His love. Somehow love and punishment sit together in this description, two aspects of the same God. In a later study we will look at why God punishes but of the moment we simply note that He does intervene in His world and bring punishment to sinners, those who are guilty and are unchanging in their Sin.
We should note that point in passing because it did just say that He forgives “wickedness, rebellion and sin.” So how does forgiveness equate with punishment. The forgiveness is there for the repentant, the punishment is there for the unrepentant. As the Lord declared through Ezekiel,
- “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23) and
- “Rid yourselves of all the offences you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (Ezek 18:31,32) and
- “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek 33;11).
THREE times there in Ezekiel the Lord makes this point. He does NOT relish death and would far rather Israel repented and were saved. This is God who longs to forgive “wickedness, rebellion and sin.” All it needs is our repentance.
So here is our starting place. If we are going to talk about the judgements (decisions) and judgements (acts of punishment) of God, then we must first observe His character. This is vital and we will say something even more earth shattering about it in the next meditation. If you are new to this area of thought, read back through this one before continuing to the next.
May I state from this opening meditation what I am intending to do. I am suggesting we do something that is quite unusual: that we
- see what the Bible says is the character of God and then
- what thing LOGICALLY flow from that.
If the Bible says God is love, what LOGICALLY flows from that? What MUST flow from that if that description is accurate. Before we move into the next study, I am going to state four propositions as foundations for this book:
- We will see what the Bible states about the character of God
- We will consider what are the LOGICAL things that MUST flow from them if they are true
- We will examine the judgments in the light of both those things
- We will see that the end conclusion MAKES SENSE like nothing else does.