6.3 Reasons

Meditating on the Judgements of God:  

6.3 Reasons

Lev 18:24,25   Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.

We need to clearly understand just WHY God has planned for Israel to take this land. We have already had a hint in the first meditation this part when we observed,  In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” (Gen 15:16) and the quote, “Just how sinful many Canaanite religious practices were is now known from archaeological artefacts ….. Their “worship” was polytheistic and included child sacrifice, idolatry, religious prostitution and divination,” and there I commented, they had seriously strayed from God’s design for human beings!

Our verses above start with “Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways,” and therefore it is necessary to look at the previous verses to see what ‘these ways’ refers to: “Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.  Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.  `Do not have sexual relations with an animal and defile yourself with it. A woman must not present herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it; that is a perversion.” (Lev 18:21-23) We see more previous verses but these immediate verses will give enough of a feel of what life in that land was like – child sacrifice, homosexual practice and bestiality. By most people’s standards behaviour less than a civilized society. Note the Lord uses such words as profane, detestable, defile and perversion.

These things then, says our verse above, defiles people. Defile means to make filthy or dirty, to pollute or make unclean, to spoil and to corrupt. It is all about changing God’s good creation and making it less than it should be and that can apply to people or land.  The tenses in these verses appear a little unclear: “this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.” (Lev 18:24,25) The Lord seems to use the past tense about what He has already done and yet they follow clearly what He is about to do. Whether it has already happened  once in the past or He simply speaks from outside time, is unclear. Nevertheless what is clear is that He is going to act against an unholy people.

In the previous meditation we also noted,  “My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out(Ex 24:23) Now when we see that in the light of the many references to Him driving them out, it would appear to mean He will simply bring an end to them as nations. Of course if He sees they will not be driven out, then it is a clear judgement to bring an end to this awful culture.

In Leviticus in the midst of the teaching, we find, “Keep all my decrees and laws and follow them, so that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. You must not live according to the customs of the nations I am going to drive out before you. Because they did all these things, I abhorred them.” (Lev 20:22,23) The first reason for the Lord’s actions is clearly an act of judgement to remove and stop a culture that ran entirely counter to God’s design for humanity and which if left, could spread.

These verses also provide as link to the second reason – to provide a home for a new holy nation, a nation which would reveal Him to the rest of the world. After instructing them what to do with the land, the Lord, in Deuteronomy declares through Moses, “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” (Deut 7:1-6)

However, they are always to keep it in perspective: “After the LORD your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, “The LORD has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.” No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is going to drive them out before you. It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.” (Deut 9:4) Yes, they will be a holy nation revealing Him but the primary reason for this action is judgment on these people who have strayed so far from God’s design and who, if left, may spread to other nations. There is no alternative to stop the earth being polluted. It is a surgical operation.

We will see from studying all that went on that there were, in fact, three possibilities for the inhabitants of Canaan – but the choice was theirs. They could leave the land and resettle elsewhere, they could change and become part of Israel (as did happen with one group) or they could stay and resist Israel and suffer the consequences of war. The choice was theirs.

6.1 Origins

Part 6: The Struggle for Canaan

Meditating on the Judgements of God:  

6.1 Origins

Gen 15:16   In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.

Of all the questions I have been asked about God, the one that comes most is why did God instruct Israel to wipe out the inhabitants of Canaan? Not only is that perception inaccurate but the understanding of all that went on is complex because it is covered over quite a wide area of the early books of the Bible. Nevertheless, dealing with the Canaanites, one way or another, was clearly on God’s agenda and if it did involve their destruction – or even some other act – then it could constitute a judgement and we need to consider it here.

Our starting point must be to consider ‘the Promised Land’ in a wider context. Our starting place must be with Abram’s family: Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there.” (Gen 11:31) Although the patriarch, Terah, seems to have led the family to leave their home in the area of Mesopotamia, we find that the motivator to do it came from Abram for, “The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” (Gen 12:1) So Abram and his family (less his father who had died in Haran) end up in the land of Canaan.

Later on in his story we find, “The LORD said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.” (Gen 13:14,15) Hence we refer to it as ‘the Promised Land’. God promised Abram that this would be his land and the land of his descendants. Later the Lord reiterates this: “He also said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.” (Gen 15:7) It is as they act out a covenant procedure that our verses above appear.

The name Amorites appears to have been used to cover all the inhabitants. As one dictionary says of the state of Canaan 400 years later, “Just how sinful many Canaanite religious practices were is now known from archaeological artefacts and from their own epic literature, discovered at Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit) on the north Syrian coast beginning in 1929. Their “worship” was polytheistic and included child sacrifice, idolatry, religious prostitution and divination.” They had seriously strayed from God’s design for human beings!

So to summarise so far: God took Abram and his family to this land where he lived alongside the other people groups there. Isaac was born there, as was Jacob and although Jacob left there, fleeing from Esau’s wrath, he did finally come back and settle there, only to leave and settle for his final years in Egypt when a famine struck forcing them to go to Egypt for food provided by Joseph. (We considered the Lord using famines in an earlier study). There they stayed until some four hundred years had passed and Israel developed into probably well over a million people who were forced into slavery by the Egyptians.  In the mean time the state of Canaan was getting progressively worse. In fact it would seem that God waited for that people grouping to get so bad that His judgement was essential, and Israel to get so desperate that they would do anything to escape from Egypt.

The entry into Canaan had been postponed for forty years when Israel refused to enter the land initially in a crisis of confidence when the twelve spies returned with their reports of what they found there. Now the forty years has passed and the previous generation (all those over the age of twenty except Caleb and Joshua) had died off. The next generation are now ready to enter the land and so before we see them doing that we will (1) consider the instructions the Lord gave them, (which many people are confused about), and then (2) see how they progressed from their desert wanderings to arrive at the border of the land, before (3) we will finally see how they got on with the task of clearing the land that the Lord had given them. These will make up the next meditations.

There are two issues to be considered in what follows: judgment on the pagan practices in Canaan, and then providing a home for the nation of Israel. Before we finish this one let us note God’s purpose declared again and again. At the burning bush, the Lord said to Moses, “So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey–the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. (Ex 3:8) 

 Later he instructs him to tell the elders of this:  Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, `The LORD, the God of your fathers–the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob– appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites–a land flowing with milk and honey.’” (Ex 3:16,17).

Finally before the plagues start He reiterates this: “God also said to Moses, “I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they lived as aliens,” (Ex 6:2-4)before saying what He will do with the Egyptians but ending yet again with the promise: “And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD.’ ” (v.8)

The scene is well and truly set. God’s intentions are clearly stated. In the next meditation we will see how He intended to do that.

4.1 The Exodus

PART 4: Judgements in Exodus & Leviticus (5 studies)

Meditating on the Judgements of God:  

4.1 The Exodus

Ex 4:21-23  The LORD said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. Then say to Pharaoh, `This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, “Let my son go, so he may worship me.” But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your first-born son.’ “

The Exodus is both one major judgment and a number of lesser judgments all at the same time. To get the full picture you need to read chapters 5 & 6 for preliminaries and then 7 to 12 for the actual plagues. Let’s simply observe them and then make comment:

  1. The First Plague – Blood – Ex 7:14-18
  2. The Second Plague – Frogs – Ex 8:1-3
  3. The Third Plague – Gnats – Ex 8:16
  4. The Fourth Plague – Flies – Ex 8:20-23
  5. The Fifth Plague – Livestock – Ex 9:1-6
  6. The Sixth Plague – Boils – Ex 9:8-12
  7. The Seventh Plague – Hailstones – Ex 9:18-21
  8. The Eighth Plague – Locusts – Ex 10:1,2
  9. The Ninth Plague – Darkness – Ex 10:21-23
  10. The Tenth Plague – First born – Ex 11:1-5

Now first, the cause. At first sight it is simply  a judgment on a despot who refuses to heed God’s call to let His people go, to let Israel go. It is that simple and that call comes again and again and Pharaoh’s refusal is a demonstration of a hard heart and a pride that goes with it. However, when one considers the state of Egypt we find that not only was it ruled over by an all-powerful despot, but it was incredibly superstitious, worshipping ‘gods’ of all kinds and some suggest that the plagues attack the fundamental believe in the (occult) powers of these ‘gods’ and included in that might be the belief in the deity of the Pharaoh.

We may be able to suggest, therefore, that the Lord was bringing judgment on each of these things and specifically used the presence of His people in Egypt as the stumbling block over which Pharaoh would fall. In that case it was a plan that had been made known over four hundred years earlier when the Lord spoke to Abram, Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.” (Gen 15:13,14) This was no accident, something that caught the Lord by surprise. The Lord never made Israel stay in Egypt and in their early years there they could have easily returned to Canaan but perhaps their prosperity and well-being in Egypt kept them there psychologically.

The biggest two things to note about these plagues is that a) they were clearly spelt out to Pharaoh and his people and b) there is a gradual intensity in the power and effect of each developing ‘plague’. This has got to be the greatest example in history of God giving opportunity after opportunity to a people to repent. It is probably also, therefore, the greatest example in history of the crass stupidity of the despot and his people and may speak to the slave mentality that occultic activity and sin produces.

It underlines the Lord’s heart revealed 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 “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (Ezek 18:32) 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) A threefold declaration through the prophet! The plagues of the Exodus reveal a God who holds back and holds back destruction. He could have given one warning and then killed Pharaoh and then sent a plague to wipe out the rest of the country, but instead He chose to give them opportunity after opportunity to repent and be saved while Israel left them.

Listen to God’s intent: “I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.” (Ex 6:6,7) Note the words, “Then you will know”. At the end of this there will be no grounds for doubt. God wants His people to know! (also 7:17, 10:2)

But there is more: “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites. And the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.” (Ex 7:3-5)  By the end of all of this the remnant that is Egypt will also KNOW! (see also 8:10,22,  9:14,29,  14:4,18)

Again and again in Scripture we see that the Lord’s intent is to reveal Himself through these things, so that people will know and turn to Him. His desire is to draw all men to himself in order that they may receive all of His blessings.

2.3 Judgement. Was it God?

Meditating on the Judgements of God:   2.3  Judgement. Was it God?

Ex 25:10,11,22    Have them make a chest of acacia wood–two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. Overlay it with pure gold, both inside and out, and make a gold moulding around….. There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the Testimony, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.

Remember, in these first two Parts we are simply looking at various things that pertain to God and to judgment and are not really looking behind individual judgments to see the why; that will come in the later Parts.

Deaths appear, dare we say it, almost casually or without little further comment sometimes. Consider the following three examples:

  1. Judah’s son, Er. Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the LORD’s sight; so the LORD put him to death,” (Gen 38:6,7)
  2. Lot’s wife. “But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt,” (Gen 19:26)
  3. The bad reporters. “So the men Moses had sent to explore the land, who returned and made the whole community grumble against him by spreading a bad report about it– these men responsible for spreading the bad report about the land were struck down and died of a plague before the LORD. Of the men who went to explore the land, only Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh survived.” (Num 14:36-38)

Remember, here we are not so much interested in the ‘why’ but the ‘how’; the ‘why’ will come later.

  • In the first of these three examples the death is attributed to the Lord but we are not told how Er died.
  • In the second case Lot had been warned about this by the Lord but when his wife looked back and turned to a pillar of salt we are not told that it was the Lord, merely that it had happened. There are those who suggest that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah had been carried out by the equivalent of a nuclear explosion or something similar. Lot’s wife ‘looking back’ may be shorthand for her pausing some time to watch what happened and therefore remained in the blast range and was burnt to a pile of chemicals.
  • In the third example, the ten spies died from plague and although the text does not expressly say it was God who did it, it is implied.

So in these three examples we have one unknown cause, one speculative ‘natural’ cause, and one clear ‘natural’ cause. We have used the word ‘natural’ to describe a physical phenomena. However, rather like miracles, judgments like this are things out of time or out of nature, things that get attributed to God simply because they happen when He said they would happen and they happen within certain limitations (in the last one the ten unbelievers died and the two believers lived).

Now when we come to the history of the ark of the covenant, which commenced in our starting verses above, we see various things happening. The ark was supposed to be holy and, as the verses above indicate, was the place (modern sci-fi would say ‘the portal’) where God would meet with His people. Thus it was behind a heavy curtain in the Tabernacle where only the high priest ever went and that with great caution and appropriate procedure. However by the time of 1 Samuel the spiritual state of Israel had fallen and so when they went to battle against the Philistines they took the ark with them as a good luck charm. Now we don’t know whether they covered it up as it travelled but one way or another they were doing wrong – which is probably why they lost the battle and fled, losing the ark to the Philistines. This is where it gets interesting!

“After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then they carried the ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon. When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD! They took Dagon and put him back in his place. But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained.” (1 Sam 5:1-4) When this happened they fearfully moved the ark to Gath but there “He afflicted the people of the city, both young and old, with an outbreak of tumours” (v.9) They then moved it on to Ekrom and we find, “death had filled the city with panic; God’s hand was very heavy upon it. Those who did not die were afflicted with tumours.” (v.11,12) They eventually send it back to Israel.

Now the point here is that both Israel and the Philistines were tampering with the property of God and because of what it was, it was supposed to convey the sense of the holiness of God, and you did not mess with that. We say this as an aside that we’ll repeat when we come to ‘why’ or ‘causes’. But the forms of judgment are worth noting. In Israel people died in a battle defeat. In the Philistines (whose knowledge of the Lord and of His expectations were limited) they first simply suffered a broken idol, then tumours and then presumably plague (and death?), as well as tumours.

Now compare this with something that happened a number of years later. David and his men had been casually taking the ark up to Jerusalem from where it had been ever since, in another part of Israel, we find, “When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. The LORD’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God.” (2 Sam 6:6,7)

Now desperately trying to overcome the temptation to consider the ‘why’ we hold to our search of ‘how’. How did Uzzah die? Did he have a heart attack or what? Again we have something attributed to the Lord but not explained. It happened. End of story. But of course it is not the end of the story because we and David are left wondering ‘why?’ and the answer will mean a change of attitude and a change of behaviour.

What is strange about these accounts of the dealings with the ark are the different judgments that came – death in battle, broken idol, tumours, plague and instantaneous death. Now is this purely an academic exercise or does it teach us something? THE point must be – and it comes out very clearly in this last group of illustrations – that judgments have a reason, why they occurred in the first place, and that reason is linked to an intended outcome, what the Lord wanted them and us to learn through it.  A judgment like the last one we noted here, is devastating at first sight for the individual concerned (and his family) but its impact in history is enormous, and that is what this is all about, and what we must learn and consider further.

1.6 God’s Will and Purpose

Meditating on the Judgments of God: 1.6  God’s Will & Purpose

Rom 12:2  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.

We’ve just noted in the previous meditation that God rules on a throne in heaven and a ruler rules with a purpose always. He establishes laws and seeks to maintain order in his kingdom. Now I’m told that painters using water colours lay a background ‘wash’ on the paper, let it dry and then start the painting proper with all its details on top of the wash. As we approach the whole subject of God’s judgments there is a background factor which is easy to forget but which should be held in mind at all times, and that is that God has a will, a purpose, i.e. God has desires, wishes, plans, purposes for His world, things He wants to happen. These are the things that form the basis of His rule from His throne in heaven.

Now we have already considered some of the characteristics or attributes of God – love, goodness, wisdom, perfection etc – and His will is simply an expression of all these, and having just considered the fact that God rules on a throne from heaven, we noted that He works to bring righteousness and justice, although previously we didn’t have time to think much on them.

So God works to bring righteousness on the earth. What actually is that?  If it is His will to bring about righteousness on the earth we ought to understand what that means. Let’s give a very simple definition:

  • righteousness is behaviour that conforms to the way God has designed us to live.

 When He created the world we read it was “very good” (Gen 1:31) – including us.  He made us to live in harmony with Him and in harmony with each other and with His world.  Now any behaviour that is contrary to that is unrighteousness.

Now of course we live after the Fall and so God’s will and God’s activities are given over to seeking to restore us to the place we were in before the Fall. Of course He starts by having to work with sinners, those who have fallen, and even after He has saved us we will still be battling against that old life.  God’s way of redeeming us, or buying us back from that old sinful, unrighteous life, was to send Jesus to die for us to pay the penalty for every sin we’ve ever thought, said or done, and then when we repented and received that work for us personally, He put His Holy Spirit within us and we were born again – washed, cleansed, forgiven, adopted and empowered to live the new life.

Once that has happened His intent is to help and encourage us to live out that life, a life living in harmony with Him, with other people and with His world, i.e. to live righteously because we have been restored to the position of righteousness. Thus when you read in the Bible references to ‘the righteous’, that is us Christians.

Now it may be that you are thinking, ‘Hold on, what does all this to do with God’s judgment?’ Well perhaps there are two answers to that. First, when we are thinking of God’s activities, and especially when we are focusing on this subject, we can become judgment-focused and that is all we see – an angry God who deals with the sin of the world by bringing judgments – but that is only part of the picture. The ‘wash’ in the background on which all else is painted, is God’s will which is to bless and restore whoever will come.

God’s word through Jeremiah, although first meant for another context, is applicable here: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jer 29:11-13)  That does sum up God’s will for each one of us – to prosper us and give us hope and a future. That hope and future is about living righteous lives, lives lived in accord with God’s perfect design for us.

But there is a second answer to that question about blessings being spoken of in the same sentence as judgment, so to speak. In that previous study on the throne of God there were two words that go together that we noted above: righteousness and justice.

  • Righteousness is for those who will respond to God and repent and turn to Him to receive all of His goodness.
  • Justice is for those who refuse to heed Him and turn back,

and that’s where judgment so often comes in. It is a necessary part of bringing justice.

We need to reiterate what we said in that previous study to ensure we take it in. In His role as Judge we may suggest that:

  • 1) He assesses all that happens and determines whether it was righteous or unrighteous (i.e. conforming to His original design, or not!),
  • 2) He decrees what should happen in respect of those events, and specifically in respect of the people involved, and
  • 3) He then acts in accordance with that decree, and this we see as the act of judgment that appears in the records of Scripture.

When He assesses, decrees and acts in judgment, it is to

  • bring justice in respect of the offender and
  • also for the rest of the world.

In other words, justice brings right order and outcome to the offender and everyone else. As we will see as we progress through these studies, acts of judgment come with a variety of reasons or anticipated outcomes:

  • to stop wrong behaviour in an individual,
  • to punish an individual,
  • to correct the individual, and
  • to act as a warning and teaching to all onlookers.

When justice has been done, we can say, ‘The right thing has been done!’, it was just and fair and right. That is justice and it helps bring righteousness to God’s world.

But remember, the focus is not on the hard aspects of the judgment, but on God’s blessing of His world. We may not have seen this before, but judgment also is blessing. The removal of a terror or threat of evil by the judgment, blesses the world by leaving it free from the effects of that terror or evil. It stops and removes that terror or evil and leaves the world open to be blessed by all of God’s goodness. Evil prevents God’s goodness flowing and so sometimes it has to be removed so that His goodness can be received. That we will see in future studies.

1.4 Love, Anger and Judgment

Meditating on the Judgments of God: 1.4  God’s Love and Anger and Judgment

Deut 9:18-20  I ate no bread and drank no water, because of all the sin you had committed, doing what was evil in the LORD’s sight and so provoking him to anger. I feared the anger and wrath of the LORD, for he was angry enough with you to destroy you. But again the LORD listened to me. And the LORD was angry enough with Aaron to destroy him, but at that time I prayed for Aaron too

While we are still in this first part laying down foundations of understanding God before we move into considering specific judgments, there is an aspect of the Lord that is vital to investigate. So often, it appears, God seems to be motivated by anger. The Bible often refers to the ‘wrath of God’ and wrath is just strong anger. So how does this fit with a God of love. I believe we need to understand here two things. First that love shows itself in a number of different ways, and then, second, how emotions and rational assessment of wrong are related.

Let’s try and understand how love is there but may be expressed in different ways. Let’s think about a loving human father. Some of us may be turned off because we haven’t experienced a loving father, but stay with me if you will as we consider how a loving father might express his love for his child or children. Here are a variety of ways, and they are ALL expressions of love:

i) Sacrificial Earner: He works long hours to earn money to provide for the needs of the family. It often means he is not there for them –  but it is an expression of the strong love he has for them

ii) Gentle listener and encourager: He sits with his children, reading to them and listening to them, and encouraging them. He is there for them and they feel secure with him there.

iii) Firm Limiter: When they ask for things that are harmful, he withholds them and gently says no. They don’t understand and think him mean, but it is an expression of his caring concern for their protection and wellbeing that makes him say no.

iv) Strong Corrector: From time to time he brings necessary correction for he can see destructive traits growing in his child and so he brings correction to try to encourage them to not go in that direction. Sometimes that correction appears hard and painful, but he only brings it when it has become obvious that his wilful child will respond to no other correction.

v) Shadows Watcher: Sometimes he stands back and simply watches his child from a distance. He has conveyed his wisdom but his child needs to learn it for himself or herself, sometimes by the hard way of failure. Yet he is always there in the shadows watching them, ready to come the moment he is called and always there for them.

Similarly we may see God doing things that perplex us, but we must realise that they will always be expressions of His love.

  • Sometimes He provides, and sometimes He seems to be there for us and encourages us, and those times seem good to us.
  • But then sometimes we ask for things and He either says no or remains silent, for He knows that either now is not the right time or there is something better He wants for us.
  • Sometimes bad things seem to come into our lives and for a time we can see no good reason for them. Yet in the fullness of time we see how they benefited us,  or what God was able to bring about and achieve through them.
  • Sometimes God seems distant and we wonder why, and it is only later that we come to realise that He was teaching us to stand on our own two feet, or to appreciate Him more.

In a whole variety of ways God’s love is expressed differently – but it is still love.

Now to move on to the second aspect, and that is of emotion versus rational assessment. When something wrong or very bad is done, it is right to be angry about it. At Lazarus’s tomb, when Jesus wept, there was also in the original Greek a sense of anger involved, anger at sin that had brought death, and anger at the grief it had caused. If we are complacent about wrongs, it means we have become hard hearted and callous and indifferent to injustice. Sometimes it needs something to strike close to home before we wake up and accept that strong emotions rightly arise when evil hits. Righteous anger is, as a dictionary puts it, “passionate displeasure”

Please distinguish angers from reactive hostility or revenge. Righteous anger is simply an objective emotion that responds rightly to wrong. What follows, when it is God, is a dispassionate objective assessment of what to do about it.

God’s judgement is His dispassionate objective assessment of what to do about the wrong which has been highlighted by His instinctive anger.

Our passionate displeasure rises up in the face of something awful, something wrong. If it is us, we react and may over-react and get it wrong but God, we saw, is perfect so He looks and He assesses what is the right thing to do, the perfect thing to do, the thing to be done in the light of ALL of the facts of both past, present and future. Only He can do this, for He knows all things and He knows how things could work out and how they can work out and how they will work out, and all the differences depend on His actions now. He chooses that which is perfect.  But all of that follows His anger which triggers this assessment, a righteous anger that highlights the awfulness of what is being observed. His anger leads to His judgement but that judgement is objective.

So when we look at His acts of judgment in the Bible, realise you don’t have all the facts, your emotions are stunted, you see imperfectly, but God has seen, God has assessed perfectly, and even though you cannot see it, know that what He has done has been The best, The only right thing to be done.  Bear ALL of this in mind when you think of the Judgment of God.  This may give us a great deal of fuel to ponder on WHY God brings a particular judgement and why having made a dispassionate objective assessment of what to do about it, God’s judgement is this particular thing – which, with all the facts and information available to Him, is faultless!

26. The Judgement of God

Meditating on the Will of God: 26:  The Judgement of God

Rom 1:24, 26,28    Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another….. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones….. Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.

Although I didn’t state it at the beginning of this set of meditations, I felt that I wanted to approach this subject, rather than going down a carefully delineated logical path, more like a person wandering rather aimlessly around an art gallery, coming across paintings that are different. Yes, they are linked by the medium used, the fact that they are all framed and hand on walls and so on, but they are individual. I have sought to pick up links of thought but basically wander around this subject, which is why I  have looked at a subject, moved on, and then meandered back to it.

I say all this to explain where we are in this present study. We have lightly looked at the subject of God dealing with bad people and we noted Ezekiel’s question and answer: “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)  but I want to return to the general subject of the judgment of God and I want to approach it from a angle I have never seen before.

In an earlier meditation we noted that Scripture declares that God is perfect and all His ways are perfect and we suggested that perfection means that it is impossible to improve on it. Therefore if God is perfect, and the Bible says He is, then everything He thinks, says or does is perfect and cannot be improved upon. It is the very best when you take all things into account. And there is our difficulty because we have such limited knowledge, and therefore we struggle to understand sometimes, or if we don’t understand we simply (and I suggest callously) take at face value what we read without any thought, and so if we read about God killing someone we just look and say, “God is holy, he was wrong and so he deserved it,” but God isn’t like that. We’ll come back to this thought, but again and again He tries to avoid the ‘death outcome’.

No, take this in, this incredible thought: God is perfect and so nothing He thinks, says or does can be improved on – including acts of judgment! If we were able to see with the knowledge of God, we would conclude that whatever act of judgment was before us, it was essential in the face of all the facts!  Now I know that is so contrary to what so many of us think, but it is THE only logical outcome. What it leaves for us, is a massive challenge to see what is the thinking behind the will of God that results in death and destruction.

I would like to wander into this minefield using the verses above from Romans 1. There are most revealing. Three times it says that “God gave them over” to some perverted behaviour or perverted thinking. What does that mean? It suggests that so much of the time, in some way or other, God restrains human sinfulness. I can only assume He does this my speaking into our minds either directly or through His servants. The result is restrained sin. Thus far and no further. But then there comes a time when a people or nation so set their hearts of going away from God and from His laws, that He says, “Very well, if that is what you want, go for it,” and He lifts off His hand of restraint, if you like, and allows society to ‘do its own thing’. That doing its own thing is a form of judgment. It is self-imposed but it is nevertheless judgment. God is bringing discipline on a people by allowing them to see the folly and pain of going their own way. It is what our own society is going through today.

The object of such a course of action is, as we have just said, to bring a people to their senses and realise their folly and turn back to God. Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-24) shows this perfectly. The son wants to turn away from the father (God) and so the father allows him to do that. The son goes away and lives a dissolute life until he reaches rock bottom and realises his folly and returns in repentance to his father.  That epitomizes this strategy perfectly. But notice the almost gentle bringing of pain to the son. It happens gradually and it happens because he brings it on himself.

Because we live in a fallen world where Sin prevails and Satan provokes, in order for human beings to be brought back to their senses, God often uses this strategy. It is this strategy that is behind the apostle Paul’s instructions to the Corinthian church in respect of a man committing sexual immorality: “hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.” (1 Cor 5:5) i.e. put him outside the protection of the church, leave him to the ways of the world and the enemy until he comes to his senses and repents  (which 2 Cor shows us he did).

What we have seen in these examples are times where individuals are allowed to go into deeper trouble until they come to their senses but, of course, that will not always happen, as we saw in one of the early studies about Pharaoh. What is incredible about the plagues, apart from the fact of them, is that they gradually intensified and became worse and worse thus making the recipients of them gradually aware that this is the hand of God and it was going to get heavier and heavier until they repented. Pharaoh appeared to repent and then backtracked and ended up dying – but it was his choice! Thus this form of disciplinary judgement allows the individual to face what is happening and come to repentance in a gradually worsening situation.

11. Judgement

Meditations in 1 Thessalonians

Part 2 :  11 :  Judgement

1 Thess 1:9,10   They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead–Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath

I said in the previous meditation that it is very easy to pass verses or words by with little thought – especially when we don’t like the word and ‘Idolatry’ was just such a word. “Wrath” is another of those words. It occurs here in verse 10 and it also appears later in respect of the unbelieving Jews: The wrath of God has come upon them at last,” (2:16) and then later more generally, “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (5:9)

Now before we look at what it actually means, may I deal with our psychological or ethical hang-ups about this word. We’ll accept from the outset that it means righteous anger, but I want to remind you of a particular teaching that comes out again and again in the Bible – that God is perfect. Now be under no illusion that perfect means complete and faultless, and cannot be improved upon. Therefore whatever God thinks, says or does is perfect, is faultless and cannot be improved upon.

We need to let this truth sink in. Let’s see it as it crops up through the Bible: “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.” (Deut 32:4 – song of Moses). “As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless.” (2 Sam 22:31 – song of David). “From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth.” (Psa 50:2 – song of Asaph).  “O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done marvelous things, things planned long ago.” (Isa 25:1 – Isaiah). “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48 – Jesus). “You will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Rom 12:2 – Paul). “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:8,9 – writer to the Hebrews)

There you have it: Jesus was begotten and was thus perfect because he was God.  God is perfect and everything He says or does is perfect – they cannot be improved upon!  Now start thinking about these difficult subjects from that angle or through that lens if you like. If God is angry about something then it is right, proper and appropriate to be angry and we can even go further and say it would be wrong not to be angry. We tolerate wrong and shrug our shoulders over it, but God sees it and sees it spoils the Creation that He made which was “very good” (Gen 1:31) and if God says something was “very good” you may take it that it was perfect. And now sin spoils it. The wonder and the beauty and the perfection has been spoiled and marred and desecrated. Imagine you were a master painter and you had spent months creating a most beautiful masterpiece and a teenager, say, comes in spits on it, writes on it in felt pen, throws paint on it and finally cuts it to pieces with a Stanley knife. Would you still be as calm and equitable about it as we so often are about wrongs in our world? No, we would be livid that this wonderful masterpiece with all its beauty has been utterly desecrated.

Why don’t we get angry? It’s all a matter of perspective. If we could see the whole picture with the completeness and perfection of God our emotions would be different. It is right to be angry, it is right to be upset and indeed, to go further, it is wrong not to be. Righteous anger is, as a dictionary puts it, “right and just passionate displeasure”. Please distinguish angers from hostility or revenge. Righteous anger is simply an objective emotion that responds rightly to wrong. What follows, when it is God, is a dispassionate assessment of what to do about it. God’s judgment is His dispassionate assessment of what to do about the wrong which has been highlighted by His anger. Anger is instinctive. Our passionate displeasure rises up in the face of something awful, something wrong. If it is us, we react and may over-react and get it wrong but God, we saw, is perfect so He looks and He assess what is the right thing to do, the perfect thing to do, the thing to be done in the light of ALL of the facts of both past, present and future, for only He can do this, for He knows all things and He knows how things could work out and how they can work out and how they will work out, and all the differences depend on His actions now. He chooses that which is perfect.

So when we look at His acts of judgement in the Bible, realise you don’t have all the facts, your emotions are stunted, you see imperfectly, but God has seen, God has assessed perfectly and even though you cannot see it, know that what He has done has been The best, The only right thing to be done.

Bear ALL of this in mind when you think of the Judgment of God.  This may give us a great deal of fuel to ponder on WHY God brings a particular judgement and why having made a dispassionate objective assessment of what to do about it, God’s judgement is this particular thing – which, with all the facts and information available to Him, is faultless!

So note again what Paul writes in this letter: Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath  (1:10) and God did not appoint us to suffer wrath (5:9). The Old Testament reveals a “day of the Lord” when He will come to judge all sin and unrighteousness. Rev 19 shows us Jesus coming again to bring in that ‘day’. But we, now as God’s people do not, as Paul says, have to suffer wrath for Jesus rescues us from it by his death on the Cross dealing with all our guilt and shame, so we no longer fear a punishment. The second reference to the Jews, The wrath of God has come upon them at last,” (2:16) can be rendered, “upon them to the uttermost,” or “on them entirely” or “on them fully”. It is suggested that this simply refers to them being rejected while they stay in unbelief. Scripture seems to indicate a possibility that before the end they will turn and believe and those will be saved, but salvation follows belief; wrath and judgement follows rejection and unbelief.

4. God is Light

Meditations in 1 John : 4 :  God is Light

1 John  1:5   This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

This verse is so powerful in the light of the condition of the world (sorry pun not intended!) that we must ponder on it and not move on. Ask people what they think of God (outside the church) and mostly they assess Him on the basis of what they see of the world.  What do they see? Violence, illness, infirmity, injustice, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and so on. Not a very good picture and so they say, “Well God can’t be a good God if He allows all this!” Now of course that it s a very short-sighted assessment and it does not take into account that we live in a Fallen World where the free will of mankind is expressed through sin and that sin creates the picture we’ve just observed.

So then they look away from the world and may look into the Old Testament, and then say, “I don’t like this God. He is harsh and judgemental.” Now again that is an incredibly limited and short-sighted view that ignores the teaching and illustrations of the Old Testament that God is loving and good and makes a shallow assessment of those times when God does bring discipline and correction in the form of judgement. Through the eyes of self-centred and godless Sin, the twisted and distorted mind makes poor assessments.

Even when you examine world religions (and I exclude Christianity and Judaism from this assessment) you find a fearful mankind who feel it is necessary to appease in some way this fearful God they seek to worship. Even in world religions Sin distorts thinking to suggest a harsh or angry holy God who is at a distance because he is utterly holy and we are not. (What holy means in their context is questionable).

Now John has been writing succinctly and graphically about Jesus, who he is and how he has come, and how they have been eyewitnesses to all he said and did. So far he has simply focused on the nature of the One they have encountered, this One who has come down from heaven, but now John indicates that Jesus came with a message which he conveyed to them. We may say, in terms of his goals and the significance of them that Jesus’ ministry was in two parts: the first part was revealing the Father to his disciples, and the second part was dying on the Cross to take our sins and the punishment for them. It is the first part that John refers to now. During his three years of ministry Jesus was constantly revealing or reflecting something of the Father through all he said and did.

So what did he do? Jesus himself summarised it at one point: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:5) That was pretty good! At the beginning of his ministry Jesus had applied the Isaiah prophecy to himself: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Lk 4:18,19). On the day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter under the anointing of the Spirit summarized Jesus ministry: “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him.” (Acts 2:22) Later on to the first gentile believers he preached the same thing: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” (Acts 10:38)

It would be a foolish person who would deny that all of this says that Jesus came to bring good from God – because if, as we’ve seen previously, Jesus is the image or reflection of God, then what he does is what the Father does (Jn 5:17,19). Now again and again light and darkness are used as illustrations of good and evil. Jesus’ message that John and the others had received is that God is good and there is no evil in Him.

In his Gospel John wrote, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (Jn 3:19-21)  Note that those verses follow the more famous ones: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) That famous verse summarizes it all! God is good and His goodness is an expression of His love and His love was expressed by sending Jesus to die for us so that sin would not destroy us but that we would be saved and experience eternal life with Him. That is NOT the description of a harsh, unkind, evil God! No, God is exactly the opposite to those things, and that was the message that Jesus brought and was the message that John was now conveying. Hallelujah!

23. Condemnation

Meditations in 2 Peter : 23 :  Condemnation

2 Pet  2:10-12     This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority. Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings; yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not bring slanderous accusations against such beings in the presence of the Lord. But these men blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish.

Peter has just said, “the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment.” Thus when he continues, “This is especially true of those…” he is expanding his previous description of ‘the unrighteous’. Although we didn’t pick it up previously, he seems to indicate two sorts of God’s dealings with the unrighteous. The ultimate one is His judging them on the final day of judgment when they stand before him and will be condemned to hell. However there was also the reference at the end of that previous sentence: “while continuing their punishment.” This suggests that God does punish the ungodly and the unrighteous here and now.

The apostle Paul would agree with this way of thinking in his descriptions of God’s activity in Romans 1: “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.” (Rom 1:24) and “God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.” (Rom 1:26,27) and “Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.” (Rom1:28). In other words all of these increasing levels of sin are God’s punishment!!!!!

This increasing licentiousness is in fact bringing bad into the lives of these people and it is a direct outworking of God lifting off His hand of restraint. Now the more you turn from God the more this works, for this is God’s way of trying to show foolish men and women the error of their ways so that they may, perhaps, come to their senses and turn back to Him.

This is especially so, says Peter, of those who follow their corrupt sinful desires, are arrogant  and despise authority, say stupid things about angels and heaven’s activities. Now this isn’t a particularly easy passage to understand. When he talks about these people slandering celestial beings, we might say they are slandering all that goes on in heaven. Now if we put it in such general terms as that, we immediately see that this is exactly what the crusading atheists of today are doing. Without naming any well known and obvious names, sometimes the boldness and arrogance that is seen in their writings and their pronouncements on TV or in the press, are breathtaking.

Some of these men seek to convey a respectability, and one well-known American atheistic writer started his last book off with the tone of an elderly sage who was graciously tolerating these religious children who he hoped would one day grow up and abandon their silly ideas. However as the book developed the underlying harsh, arrogant, spiteful and hateful attitude in this writer became more and more obvious. These men are writing out of self-centred, godless arrogance and Peter says they are like animals in that they are operating purely on instincts and, by implication, not rationally and reasonably thinking through the issues. Although the media currently give these men credibility, one day we may look back on them and see them for what they are and will wonder how anyone ever believed what they said. It is interesting to note that one of these well known crusaders is particularly good at throwing up ‘possibilities’ and making them sound ‘probabilities’ if not facts! Yet I observe that other credible scientists now casually say, “Of course the idea of …. has now been generally discounted,” so that within a few years of them being put up even these ‘possibilities’ are seen for what they are – hot air!

Whenever we teach on cults, we always say, don’t only look at their teachings but also look at the people who started them off, see their lifestyle, see their character, and then judge. Look at the spite and venom that comes out of these people, these crusaders, and think again.

The reason these people that Peter is talking about, are doomed to destruction, is not so much the silly things they say or do, but the attitude that is fixed and unmovable and not open to correction. These are the people who will be condemned in the long ruin for these people will not come to repentance and will thus not be saved. (Please understand that we are not saying that individuals cannot be saved, but that if you absolutely refuse to ever think openly, refusing God until the end means you have no hope for eternity.) Shocking words, but the truth!