Meditations on “The Big Picture” 10. The Grace & Mercy of God
Zech 3:3-4 Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.”
Now the example I have chosen above to start off this particular meditation comes from a long way into the Old Testament but it strikes me as being an exceptional illustration of the love and goodness of God. We have just considered “A People of Failure”, seeing how so often the people of Israel demonstrated the reality of Sin in the human being, time and time again rejecting the goodness of God, expressing their self-centred godlessness to bring about their own ruin. Now that is not so much a stepping stone as a cloud hanging over the whole of Old Testament history. But if that cloud hangs there – and it does – then so also is there a regular breakthrough of sunlight from heaven as God again and again seeks to bless His people and bring them back to Himself. It is that breakthrough of divine sunlight from heaven that we consider here now.
There are those who say that God is harsh, that He is capricious and spiteful but having been researching the Old Testament for the last year or so to write a book, “The Judgements of a Loving God”, I find that such descriptions are way out of place. It you were God and you were hasty and spiteful, at the first signs of the Fall you would have wiped them both out and started with some other life-form, possibly without free-will, instead of simply casting them outside the area of your blessing so that they could learn to appreciate it and maybe even repent and come back to you. If you were that sort of God when Cain killed Abel you would have killed him straight off instead of arranging things so that he went off and learned afresh what mercy is.
If you were that sort of God you would have given up early on, with Abram, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, at the first sign in each of them of their self-centred foolishness, instead of persevering and persevering and persevering with them. If you had been that sort of God you would have given up arguing with Moses at the end of Exodus 3 and 4 and simply gone and destroyed Pharaoh and the occult and superstition-driven Egypt, instead of pressing on with this eighty year old shepherd. If you were that sort of God the moment Israel started grumbling on their way out of slavery you would have abandoned them back to a life of slavery, and as they continued to grumble and grumble all their way to Sinai, you would have given up on them long back, and when they created and worshipped a Gold Calf idol you would have wiped them all out in an instant and gone to find another universe to work with because if this human race was all you had here, it was going to be a long and hard job – but you did persevere with that long and hard job.
As I have studied Israel in the historical books of the Old Testament, I have almost despaired over David’s sin with Bathsheba but that was nothing compared with the folly of Solomon who started off with such wisdom but fed his desire for more female flesh and ‘married’ foreign princess after foreign princess, allowing them to each bring their own false religion into the palace which he then succumbed to and drifted right away from God. How can sin be so stupid! But God didn’t kill him! Why not? It can only be God’s love, mercy and grace. Instead He divides the kingdom to give them two chances to get it right, but they don’t learn and so the northern kingdom lasts for 208 years before being carried off. Why did God tolerate them that long; nothing changed in that time, they kept of worshipping two idols and having a counterfeit copy-cat religion – without God? The answer can only be His mercy, and perhaps, just perhaps, He wants us to learn that mankind left to themselves are not good, are not wonderful, are in fact sinful and stupid, and so need a salvation from outside of them. In 2 Kings 17:7-17 I have counted 20 sins listed there that reveal the folly of the kings of that northern kingdom.
When you come to the southern kingdom it is marginally better, but not much. Yes, there are a number of ‘good’ kings, but even they have feet of clay and reveal their imperfections. Without going into detail (you can read the book as far it has got so far on www.readbiblealive.com), the thing that amazed and left me perplexed as I worked through the historical books was why God didn’t destroy these people. Yes, of the 20 kings in the northern kingdom, 11 of them died violent deaths but for 9 of them there is no record of how they died. Yes, He did use other nations to discipline 4 of the kings but so often, it would appear that the Lord simply let this northern kingdom get on without much interference but also often allowed the sinful nature of powerful men to kill other powerful men. Of the twenty kings of the southern kingdom, 3 got away with no rebuke or judgment in any form, 3 were rebuked only, 5 were disciplined by being put under pressure from neighbours, 4 were killed, either assassinated or executed, and 4 were disciplined by being carried off to Babylon; it was a really mixed bunch and that kingdom lasted for 343 years before the Exile.
The Exile!!!! Why did He bring them back after forty years and re-establish Jerusalem? It has got to be His grace and mercy, together with the determination to have a people in existence to create a working environment into which to bring His Son, Jesus Christ. Read the Old Testament (and New of course) carefully and you will never say nasty things about God. He was there working in the background the whole time, seeking to bring the people back into a place where He could bless them, reveal His love to them and to the rest of the world – but it was hard going! It is in inadequate picture but it seemed as if sin was like an incoming tide and time and time again He sought to prevent it coming in and yet He knows that without removing the ‘sea’ completely that IS going to happen. Give mankind free-will and Sin is going to abound. The only way to overcome it is by love and more love, that is there when the individual comes to the end of themselves; that is God’s way, winning back the hearts of individuals. You can’t do it as a nation and you can’t do it as a community; it has to be one by one being convicted of their sin and shown the wonder of God’s love that is there and revealed through the person and work of Jesus Christ. THIS is the God who reaches out to us with His love in our folly. It is seen again and again in incidents in the Old Testament and then it is revealed in its fullness in the New Testament in the coming of Jesus. Hallelujah!