Meditating on the Judgements of God: 1.11 Balance
Psa 30:5 his anger lasts only a moment, but his favour lasts a lifetime;
This has got to be the last study in this section. Again and again I am feared that still tainted with sin we will get things out of balance and become legalistic and judgmental Christians who become judgement-orientated. Everything in me screams against that. Yes, this series is all about God’s judgments (and we will eventually get there!) but they must be seen in the greater context of who God is. We saw that by definition in the early studies – that He is love, good and perfect – but those definitions are worked out in the warp and woof of the Bible as a whole.
David, in our verse above, encapsulates a principle: God does get angry but it is momentary and it subsides in the face of His favour which is His overriding intent for mankind. There are two sorts of people:
- those who look for and expect God’s wrath and judgment at every turn, and
- those who know Him as the loving God who wishes well for His earth.
Which one are you? That is why I am writing so many of these early studies before we get to the actual subject of judgements, to try and deliver as many as possible from that first negative and false outlook, into the reality of the wonder of who God is.
Imagine a wholesome family. Despite how good this family is, there will be times when a child does wrong and it is right and proper for that to stir displeasure in the parents, and that we may call anger. But the wise parent lets the anger disperse before correction is brought (we considered that in an earlier meditation). Consider the wider lifespan of this family and times of anger over wrong doing are few and far between and they last only a moment – that is in a wholesome godly family. That is how wrongdoing and anger is – momentarily. And that is how it is with God. It is right that He becomes angry when He sees wrong but His anger gives way, we saw previously, to a dispassionate, objective assessment of what to do about that wrong doing.
The prophet Isaiah had the Lord saying, “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,” says the LORD your Redeemer.” (Isa 54:7,8) To convey a sense of personality the word reveals the Lord as acting out of emotion (which is natural and right) but He always anchors that emotion and by an act of will re-establishes His long term purpose. Later we will see that He is “slow to anger” (Ex 34:6) and so what we have here, note, is “a surge of anger,” that eventually broke through in the face of ongoing sin. Examine the pre-Exile history and you find the Lord warning and warning and warning, holding back His anger if you like, until eventually it was like He said, “Enough” That’s it, this is so bad we can’t let it go on any longer!” and that was the expression of His anger.
In the next verses we find, “To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again. Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.” (Isa 54:9,10) Justice required action and the action came but God’s compassionate heart said, so to speak, “That was necessary but we must prevent that happening again.”
Whether the verses in Isaiah speak to the future Exile or to some other more present judgment is unclear but what is clear is that although justice requires it, compassion acts as a brake on it. Does the Lord show us Himself like this to teach us to be the same – yes, to have righteous anger but never to let it run away with over heavy justice, but instead let compassion look for a better way?
In the midst of the Ten Commandments we find, “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Ex 20:5,6) These are verses that often confuse people but they are simple. In a Hebrew household (and ours) there may be three or four generations still alive – grandparent, parent, child, grandchild – and they all tend to be judged because the tendency is for the family to follow the father (or grandfather) and if he goes astray, they go astray, and so all go astray and incur God’s disciplinary judgment.
Note in passing that the Lord spelled out through Ezekiel that every person caries their own sin and so God only judges the sin bearer (see Ezek 18:3-24) thus it would be wrong to infer from the Exodus verses that He judges sinless generations. The implication is exactly the opposite – He may have to judge these three or four generations because sin gets conveyed from one to the other but in the long term we may see His love poured out to thousands of generations who simply keep His commands.
Again we should, as an aside, note that God doesn’t not love people because of their rebellion or disobedience (although He hates their sin); it’s more that they are not open to receive His love which is always there. I hope we’ve seen it again and again in these studies so far, that His intent is to love and bless His world – all of it, all those at least who will turn to Him and be open to receive that blessing.
The Exodus 20 verses have an echo in another later passage that we have seen before: “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) As we noted previously, yes, he does not let the guilty go unpunished but He is there “forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” – when they repent – and even more, He is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. Yes, He does deal with those committed to their sin, but He is constantly looking for those whose hearts can be turned and who will repent and be forgiven. Bear all of this in mind as we move on to consider the types of judgment and then the specific judgments.