Meditating on the Judgements of God: 2.7 General Warnings
Jn 9:1-3 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”
We have been considering ways that the Bible shows us that God brings judgments but there is a real difficulty to be faced before me move on to consider specific judgments in Scripture. It is the difficulty of application. Whenever we do Bible Study, we always say that after considering what it meant to the original readers, we need to ask what it means to us today and how do we apply it, but then we come to the difficulty. It is not the difficulty of understanding the Scriptures but of saying what things that have happened in history, subsequent to the completion of the Scriptural canon, and what things today, can be considered judgments of God. In my lifetime lightning has struck York Minister, floods have come, earthquakes, tornadoes and such like have come and people – Christian people – have sought to declare, “This is God’s judgment!” It may be but there are difficulties with that, and that is what this study is all about.
A case can be made from Scripture to suggest that wherever judgment is brought (i.e. destruction) it either comes to a people who are warned (e.g. Pharaoh in Exodus) or people who clearly should have known (e.g. Herod in Acts 12). Examples of this abound in the Old Testament. In the case of the folly with the Golden Calf at Sinai, and the judgments that followed, there was no way that Israel could say that they had not been warned (see Ex 19 and 20:18-20). When judgments fell on Israel in the wilderness, again there was no question of them not knowing beforehand who was with them and His requirements of them and the consequences that would follow their sins.
In the famous case that followed, of Israel ousting the inhabitants of Canaan, with the destruction that fell on them when they resisted, it is very clear, in respect of those inhabitants, that:
- a) God first told Israel to push them out of the land and that their destruction would only follow if they resisted and
- b) those inhabitants knew exactly who they were taking on as the fear of the Lord went ahead of Israel wherever they went at that time and all who were ahead of them knew exactly who was sending them and what to expect.
The warning was very clearly there.
Intriguingly Jesus never brought judgment down on unbelievers and berated James and John when they wanted to (Lk 9:54,55). All he ever did curse was a fig tree – Lk 11:13,14,20. But Jesus specifically spoke into this difficulty: “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them–do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem ? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Lk 13:1-5)
This teaching specifically denounces this way of thinking that so many have that wishes to attach guilt and blame to misfortunes. In so doing we ignore the sins of many others. When we focus on one misfortune and one group of people, we then miss all the other sinful people of the world. That same desire to attach blame is classically seen in the verses at the beginning of this study from John 9. The disciples were looking for someone to blame for the man being blind from birth but Jesus would not be drawn on it but insisted they looked to God for healing – now! I wonder if the Lord would prefer, instead of denouncing a people when a disaster falls, we look for a way to bless them and bring the knowledge of the Lord to them? Rhetorical question!
A much more plausible reason for natural catastrophes is that ever since the creation of a perfect world, the effects of Sin, and the presence of Satan and powers and principalities, have meant upheaval in the creation. If the last times ARE more godless days as scripture clearly suggests, then it is not surprising that the activities of the enemy are empowered by that sin and such things become more regular. In totally secular terms, if we are witnessing global warming (and there are voices raising real questions about that) and the consequent effects causing almost ‘regular’ extremes of weather, then that too can be attributed to man’s wrong use of the world, and from our perspective this operates as the second of God’s two forms of judgement.
My personal beliefs are that the First and Second World Wars were judgments on the earth, where the Lord lifted off His hand of restraint and allowed foolish men to be even more foolish and bring about what one writer has described the two wars as ‘a Catastrophe’ and ‘All Hell breaks Loose’ respectively, and when you read the details of what took place you realise those are good descriptive titles! But am I sure they were God’s judgments? No, but fairly certain. Did we learn from them? A little.
But when you look at Scripture you realise that judgments don’t necessarily turn the hearts of mankind: “The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood–idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.” (Rev 9:20,21) One of the things we’ll need to look at is the effect of a particular judgment because if it is a judgment from God, surely the effect will be something He takes into account when considering bringing it. This we’ll do as we now move on to consider individual judgments found in the Bible. We will work our way through the Bible starting from Genesis.