26. Why this history

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 26 :  Why this History

(Focus: Deut 9:4-6)

Deut 9:4 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.

When God calls us or blesses us, there is a temptation to think we have some merit that has caused Him to do it. I have concluded after many years of thinking about this, that the only reason the Lord saves us (apart, obviously, from His love) is because He sees what He can do for us and with us; He sees that we are people who will surrender to Him and in our place of surrender, He can take us and lead us and use us and bless us and change us more in to the likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ. Your only merit is your ability to surrender! The apostle Paul wrote, He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him,” (1 Cor 1:28,29)  and then, For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Cor 4:7) i.e. God chose you because you were weak and you are what you are because of all that He has given you. We have absolutely no grounds for boasting!

Previously Moses had said to Israel, “The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery.” (Deut 7:7,8)  No Israel, you are what you are, and chosen by God, NOT because you were big and powerful because in fact you are a small nation. It was God’s love and His desire to express good-will towards a nation that He chose you and, perhaps in the light of what we have read in the New Testament, because they had been weak and desperate as slaves.

Thus now Moses seeks to put their call into perspective again. Don’t say the Lord is doing this because we are a righteous people because, in fact, he will conclude this paragraph with “for you are a stiff-necked people.” Oh no, it will be despite you that you will go in and triumph!  No, the primary reason that is now given for what is taking place is because God is going to deal with a bunch of very wicked nations and bring judgment on them and end their national status by either driving them out of the land or utterly destroying them – and He’s going to use Israel to achieve that. In fact, as we’ve noted before, it goes right back to Abraham etc., (the oath he swore to your forefathers), to promises that the Lord made to bring blessing to them, their families and their future people, and part of that included dealing with a very ungodly, unrighteous, occult-driven, pagan, idol-worshipping part of the world! (see Gen 15:12-16)

Moses presses the point: “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.” (9:5). One commentary declares, “Just how sinful many Canaanite religious practices were is now known from archaeological artifacts 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.” That was the ‘wickedness’ of the inhabitants of Canaan. It had got to such a point that it was in danger of polluting the earth and so the time had come for the Lord to deal with it. That was part of the package that involved Israel! They were to be the instrument that dealt with this people.

If we hadn’t been sure about the reference just now to “the oath that he swore to your forefathers”, Moses explains it further: “to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” (9:5) As we noted just now, this was a promise that their families would inherit this land and at the same time bring judgment on a people who were sinking deeper and deeper into sin which was reaching its peak at this time. It is now time for them to be dealt with.

So, he concludes, “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.” This is not all about you and about how good you are, for indeed, history has shown how you are a rebellious and stubborn people who have a knack of getting it wrong!  The history of the people of Israel, in a nutshell, simply reveals that sinful mankind can’t get it right even when God talks to them and gives them guidance – it needs something much more to deliver the human race from its Sin; it needs the work of Jesus on the Cross and the Holy Spirit’s empowering and changing power today. Nothing less than this means we keep on in our foolish and sinful ways!

 

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36. Wickedness

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 36 :  Judgment & Wickedness

Eccles 3:16,17 And I saw something else under the sun: In the place of judgment–wickedness was there, in the place of justice–wickedness was there. I thought in my heart, “God will bring to judgment both the righteous and the wicked, for there will be a time for every activity, a time for every deed.”

We don’t like talking about Sin but a lot of the Bible is about that subject. Solomon moves on to speak about ‘wickedness’ which is Sin by another name, purposeful wrong doing that rejects God and rebels against Him. There’s something else, he says, that I’ve seen as I’ve watched and studied what goes on here on this earth. I have looked for goodness, but even in the place that should be dedicated to bringing it to the world, it was absent. In the place of judgement – the courts – I found only wickedness. In the place of justice – the courts again – I found only wickedness.

Now there is something interesting to note here. I have often said that when you take God out of the equation you have nothing on which to base absolutes, nothing on which to fix what is right or wrong, and when that happens the very fabric of society starts disintegrating, as in the West at the present time. Push God out and you are only left with what each person thinks is right or, as it very often works out, what each person can get away with.

At the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, in Britain, we have seen incredible examples of bankers and Members of Parliament feathering their own nests, people who used to be pillars of society in the eyes of many at least. Yet they are merely clear examples of what is a prevailing attitude in  godless people.  The truth is that as we, as a society, have rejected God, we did not realise this truth, that we had also lost our ethical foundation and so anything goes – or at least anything that anyone can get away with.

Now Solomon had lost contact with God as he had turned to the idolatry of his foreign wives and in those days, what the king did, the rest of the nation followed, and so in fact the same thing had been happening as I referred to in our own times. So in one sense it is not at all surprising that Solomon acknowledges that even in the places of judgment and justice there was only wickedness. There was nothing to stop that moral drift!

But there is still an echo of the knowledge of God in Solomon’s heart and so, deep down at least, he knows that the Lord will not let this go on indefinitely: “God will bring to judgment both the righteous and the wicked.” He knows that God will have to come and deal with the nation and that means that both righteous and unrighteous will feel the weight of God’s judgement. In our own times, those of us who are righteous are feeling the same pressures being put upon us as the world around us as God brings judgment on the land in the way Paul spoke off (see Romans 1:24-28). Unless we live righteously and receive the grace of God to cope, we too will suffer in the same way as the rest of the world, but that should not be.

Yes, God does not just sit back and let the world go to hell. He moves behind the scenes bringing a form of judgment that will shake people and bring them to their senses, for His desire is to bring them back to Him, not destroy them (see Ezek 18:32 and 2 Pet 3:9b). That is always His objective and He only brings destruction and death when He sees that nothing else will get people’s attention so change can come. The Bible is quite explicit about that and history clearly testifies to it. This is how God works.

So, concludes Solomon, “there will be a time for every activity, a time for every deed.” i.e. there is going to come a time of accounting for everything that is done, for every (wrong) activity and every (wrong) deed. God may appear slow in dealing with these things (and Ezekiel and Peter told us the reason why) but He DOES eventually act and deal with Sin.

There is a sense of negative gloom about Solomon’s comments but of course, we need to remind ourselves again and again, he was writing from a place of absence of relationship with the Lord and while he could see all the bad things of ungodly life, he couldn’t see any hope. The positives that are always there are that salvation IS there for those who will turn to the Lord, despite what the majority who are godless may be doing, and God’s grace IS there for the godly, even in the midst of the judgment that the land may be experiencing. There may be Sin and there may be unrighteousness and ungodliness prevailing in the land, but that does not mean that God is not there for those who will seek Him. Don’t be put off by the gloom and doom of a society in crisis; it is just the Lord bringing it to its senses. He is there for His children who He still wants to shine as light and to purify as salt. Nothing has changed!

15. Wrath of God

We return to our series in Romans

Meditations in Romans : 15 :  The Wrath of God

Rom 1:18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness

Mostly we associate ‘wrath’ or anger with unrestrained outbursts of extremely hostile emotions witnessed by words and even deeds. Because we are so often unclear on the characteristics of God we think of God’s wrath or anger in these terms but an examination of Scripture indicates that this is not so. The wrath of God is a cool, calm, purposeful bringing of judgment that is deserved. It is a bringing of justice. Yes God is upset by our foolish godlessness and unrighteousness and yes He does rise up to take action against such attitudes and behaviour, but God’s anger is never out of control.

Anger, a dictionary of pastoral ethics suggests, is… ‘a response to wrong doing… may be negative or positive, unloving or loving…. redemptive or destructive… a neutral emotion.’  Wrath it seems in Scripture refers to anger in action. It is right to feel emotional about wrong doing and anger is an emotion that says ‘this should not have been’ or ‘this should not have happened’. Anger shows an absence of complacency about such wrongdoing, and God is never complacent. Wrath is anger that has determined that action should be taken against this wrong-doing. It is anger moving into retribution or judgment or correction. God doesn’t get angry over our stumbling attempts as His children to get it right when we make mistakes.

From what Paul says in our verse today God’s ‘anger-in-action’ is directed at godlessness and wickedness. Wickedness is wrong that is done with evil intent. The intent of the person is to positively do evil, wrong, harm etc. It is righteous to be angry at wilful, positive-intent evil! God has made us with a wonderful world and with immense individual potential – specifically to be and do good, in the image of our Creator. To purposefully go in the opposite direction to cause hurt, harm or damage in a purposefully destructive manner whether it simply involves words or, more likely, specific acts or hurt or harm, is a cause for negative emotions of indignation and displeasure and these are the expression we call anger. God is right to show this indignation and displeasure when He observes this wilful godlessness and unrighteousness that we call evil.

Now we mustn’t confuse the outworking of God’s anger with the emotion of His anger. Anger is the emotion and the emotion, in some situations, is closely linked with His calculated decision to take remedial action. We do need to note in passing that when God brings discipline or judgement, it is a form of remedial action. It is either to stop permanently a course of action by removing the person who God sees will not change whatever He says or does, or it is corrective in the way it stops a person following the course they are following so that they follow a new path that is not hurtful, harming or destructive. Now we are going to see in the verses ahead that God takes action (wrath = anger-in-action) and the form of what we would call judgment is clearly corrective, i.e. designed to bring change of behaviour.

Thus we should see that although God’s wrath is obvious, it isn’t necessarily destructive, it isn’t designed to kill or destroy people. We will see that soon in the verses ahead. So, we shouldn’t misunderstand God’s ‘wrath’ and see it as a vindictive or spiteful act, which is what it so often is in human beings. God’s wrath is thus seen to be His anger or indignant displeasure that is of such a magnitude, because of the nature of the sin, that it results in action by God against those committing the sin.

Perhaps a final thing we should emphasise is that so often men’s wickedness is both an expression of and an outworking of men suppressing the truth. First of all they suppress the truth by denying it, denying God and denying the way He has designed the world to work best, and they then proclaim and live a lie. Second, in the way that they do evil and wickedness, they prevent truth, the truth of God’s design being lived out as He wants it to be. They stop goodness prevailing, and they stop love prevailing.

This is the truth of how God has designed us to live and they stop that happening. It is a wilful, self-centred, pride thing and it is something human beings do purposefully. We don’t accidentally fall into it. It may happen gradually as we take one small step after another into a life of utter godless self-centredness, but each step involves an act of will. It is not just one step but many steps, many times when we make these acts of will in rebellion against God and rebellion against the truth. It is a downward spiral away from the truth and into a life of deception that is destructive in every way. If we live like this then let us not make any foolish talk about God’s harshness. It is right to be angry against such lifestyles and it is right of God to take action against such things to protect His world.

49. Wicked Punished

Meditations in Job : 49.  The Wicked Punished

Job 20:4,5   Surely you know how it has been from of old, ever since man was placed on the earth, that the mirth of the wicked is brief, the joy of the godless lasts but a moment.

It’s Zophar’s turn to come back again on Job. His message of this chapter can be summed up: “surely it’s the wicked that God punishes” – and that has a logical conclusion in respect of Job, but he doesn’t actually spell that out!

His opening is a justification for speaking: “My troubled thoughts prompt me to answer because I am greatly disturbed. I hear a rebuke that dishonours me, and my understanding inspires me to reply.”(v.2,3) This is disturbing, this is dishonouring, he says, and needs a response.  He then appeals to history as we see in our verse above and essentially declares, “The wicked don’t get away with it; it will only be short lived,”  and the rest of the chapter is an expansion of that.

Look, he goes on, he may esteem himself and look a big man (v.6) but he’ll soon disappear (v.7)  Like a dream in the night, he will soon be gone (v.8) and whoever looks for him won’t be able to find him (v.9). God (implied) will make him give back his ill-gotten gains, or if not him, his children will have to do it (v.10) but all the energy he shows will soon be gone (v.11).  He will enjoy evil like he enjoys tasty food (v.12,13) but it will turn sour in him (v.14a), indeed it will become like snake poison in him (v.14b,16)  but will eventually kill him, and he’ll have to give up all the riches he obtained (v.15).

He won’t be able to enjoy any of this (v.17,18b) but will have to give it back (v.18a). Why because all his wealth came by oppressing the poor and leaving them poorer still (v.19).  Despite his yearnings, none of his riches will help him (v.20,21) for in the midst of his apparent prosperity calamity will come (v.22).  It will be God bringing His judgment on him (v.23) and although he dodges about pain, fear and terror will overwhelm him (v.24,25), darkness will surround him and fire will consume him (v.26).

This will all be the combined work of the wrath of heaven and the reaction of the people on earth (v.27)  and it will be like a flood carries off all he has on the day of God’s anger (v.28) because this is what God does for the wicked. (v.29)

Now of course there is an implication behind all this.  Look at the thrust of what he has been saying: the wicked will get their just deserts and that will be seen in the form of all their goods and possessions being taken from them. Now that, of course, is exactly what had just happened to Job.  The implication is that what has happened has, therefore, been the work of God as an act of judgement on Job’s wickedness.

When we hear this sort of thing, we think, yes that is so, for we can think of evil men to whom this happened. Yes, there are public names that we can think of that have been exposed for what they are and have lost everything, but it doesn’t always work like that.

Jesus once told a parable that illustrated this: Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mt 13:47-50) In that simple little story, the fish were only separated out at the end and although there will be a sorting out of the good from the evil, it will happen only at the end of time.  Sadly, from our point of view, the Lord allows wicked people to continue to live and carry on doing wrong.  Peter tells us why: “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9)  Jesus reiterated this principle in another parable, the parable of the weeds, which he concluded by saying, “Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.” (Mt 13:30) i.e. we’ll sort them at the end.

This isn’t to say that people completely get away with their wrong doing for Paul taught, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction.” (Gal 6:7,8).  The other side of this coin, to be thought about, is that bad does come to good people sometimes.  Again Jesus pointed this out when he was questioned: “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)  No, we are all sinners living in a Fallen World and sometimes things go wrong and we get affected. The answer is simply to make sure that we have come into a right relationship with God and so we can trust Him to care for us and work for us, even when things appear to go wrong (see Rom 8:28).  No Zophar, you have an incomplete picture here!