Meditating on the Judgements of God: 2.4 The Corrective Elements of Judgements
Acts 5:4,5 You have not lied to men but to God.” When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened.
We have just been making the point that every judgment has a point or, if you like, there is a reason that so often goes beyond mere punishment. Because of our negative attitudes on life, often formulated through our family experiences, or through legalistic and judgemental preaching in our churches, so often Christians look on judgements and all they can see is punishment but, I would suggest, that with every such judgement there will be at least one additional reason, if not two.
If the judgment involves the death of someone then we might say that for that someone it is too late for them to learn anything; they are gone. Yes, but look at the effect of their death on those who are left. Let’s look at some instances of this.
First of all let’s consider the one we focused on at the end of the previous mediation, that of Uzzah who died touching the ark. The effect of this is seen immediately in David’s responses: “Then David was angry because the LORD’s wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez Uzzah. David was afraid of the LORD that day and said, “How can the ark of the LORD ever come to me?” (2 Sam 6:8,9) David’s initial response was one of anger which, I suggest, verged on resentment – why did God do that? That was unfair! But then came fear as he realised that he was messing with a holy God. Initially he dumps the ark with someone else but when he finds that the Lord is blessing that man, he thinks again and comes to his senses and goes to bring the ark up to Jerusalem a second time, but this time he does it with reverence and very much in accord with the Law. David has learnt something and that would have been communicated to the people around him as well.
Let’s go into the New Testament for another example to the situation shown in our verses above (Acts 5). The new Church is being blessed and so people are selling their spare property to provide funds for the needy. Now Ananias has property and sells part of it and comes and brings part of the money to the apostles. He makes it seem as if he is giving all the money and the Holy Spirit gives Peter a word of knowledge to the effect that this is a lie. Peter scolds Ananias publicly and he drops down dead. Now we don’t know if this was a heart attack but it would appear to be a direct intervention of God, especially in the light of what follows.
But note the instant result: “And great fear seized all who heard what had happened.” (Acts 5:5b) But then his wife turns up not knowing what had happened and perpetuates the lie. Peter then pronounces a similar judgment on her and she drops down dead. Note now the outcome again: “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.” (Acts 5:11) A sense of the holiness of the Lord is felt and suddenly everyone is being just that bit more careful. To make the point, Luke notes twice that fear came on the church. I remember many years ago being in a small church that had invited a prophet to come and speak. His reputation preceded him. This man knew things, and suddenly we were all checking up on our lives. When the fear of the Lord comes, people start cleaning up their lives!
But sometimes it happens in such a quiet and subtle way that it needs a leader to point out what is going on. In the church of Corinth we find this: “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor 11:28-30) This church was taking communion, remembering Jesus at the Lord’s Supper, but were being careless and casual about the way they treated that which should be holy, and as a result a number had died! Some of them had been acting really badly in respect of this sacrament and the outcome was they were dying! It took Paul to point this out. Now we aren’t told how they responded to this but I would suggest they suddenly sharpened up how they treated the Lord’s Supper.
So yes, there may have been a punishment element to these things but it would seem that the bigger issue was that the Lord was using these things to teach His people about holiness and was working to bring change in them. We should note in passing that sometimes the judgment of God, perhaps seen as discipline came on people before they actually died, to give them opportunity to repent. Such was the case with Hezekiah: “In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.” (2 Kings 20:1) Now Hezekiah a good example of a man who understood something of the principles of repentance. He immediately called on the Lord in what was clearly an attitude of repentance and so the Lord told Isaiah to go and declare healing for him and an additional fifteen years on his life span.
This has taken us into the realm of those judgments or disciplines that are being applied to people so that they will repent; they are not terminal judgments. These will form the basis of our next meditation.