Yahweh Alone is God

1 The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy, and say, Thus says the Lord God:

“Wail, ‘Alas for the day!’
    For the day is near,
    the day of the Lord is near;
it will be a day of clouds,
    a time of doom for the nations.
A sword shall come upon Egypt,
    and anguish shall be in Cush,
when the slain fall in Egypt,
    and her wealth is carried away,
    and her foundations are torn down.

Cush, and Put, and Lud, and all Arabia, and Libya, and the people of the land that is in league, shall fall with them by the sword.

“Thus says the Lord:
Those who support Egypt shall fall,
    and her proud might shall come down;
from Migdol to Syene
    they shall fall within her by the sword,
declares the Lord God.
And they shall be desolated in the midst of desolated countries,
    and their cities shall be in the midst of cities that are laid waste.
Then they will know that I am the Lord,
    when I have set fire to Egypt,
    and all her helpers are broken.

“On that day messengers shall go out from me in ships to terrify the unsuspecting people of Cush, and anguish shall come upon them on the day of Egypt’s doom; for, behold, it comes!

10 “Thus says the Lord God:

“I will put an end to the wealth of Egypt,
    by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.
11 He and his people with him, the most ruthless of nations,
    shall be brought in to destroy the land,
and they shall draw their swords against Egypt
    and fill the land with the slain.
12 And I will dry up the Nile
    and will sell the land into the hand of evildoers;
I will bring desolation upon the land and everything in it,
    by the hand of foreigners;
I am the Lord; I have spoken.

13 “Thus says the Lord God:

“I will destroy the idols
    and put an end to the images in Memphis;
there shall no longer be a prince from the land of Egypt;
    so I will put fear in the land of Egypt.
14 I will make Pathros a desolation
    and will set fire to Zoan
    and will execute judgments on Thebes.
15 And I will pour out my wrath on Pelusium,
    the stronghold of Egypt,
    and cut off the multitude of Thebes.
16 And I will set fire to Egypt;
    Pelusium shall be in great agony;
Thebes shall be breached,
    and Memphis shall face enemies by day.
17 The young men of On and of Pi-beseth shall fall by the sword,
    and the women shall go into captivity.
18 At Tehaphnehes the day shall be dark,
    when I break there the yoke bars of Egypt,
and her proud might shall come to an end in her;
    she shall be covered by a cloud,
    and her daughters shall go into captivity.
19 Thus I will execute judgments on Egypt.
    Then they will know that I am the Lord.” Ezekiel 30:1-19 ESV

Here we have yet another oracle pronouncing Egypt’s “death” at the hands of the Babylonians. This divinely ordained prophecy describes it as “the day of Egypt’s doom” (Ezekiel 30:9 ESV), and Ezekiel is to announce that “the day of the Lord is near” (Ezekiel 30:3 ESV). The content of his message is not to be taken as conjecture or a remote possibility but as an undeniable fact. This event will be the sovereign work of God Almighty. Egypt’s doom will be God’s doing.

Four separate times, the oracle states, “Thus says the Lord God…” (vs 2, 6, 10, 13). This repetitive feature is intended to give Ezekiel’s message divine authority. These are not the words of a man but the promises of God. Yahweh is decreeing the fate of Egypt and her allies, making the outcome of the oracle a foregone conclusion. It will all take place just as God has spoken.

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? – Numbers 23:19 ESV

This “day of the Lord” will be devastating in its impact and broad in scope. Not only will the Egyptians suffer the judgment of God, but their neighbors and allies will feel the full weight of God’s wrath.

Cush, and Put, and Lud, and all Arabia, and Libya, and the people of the land that is in league, shall fall with them by the sword. – Ezekiel 30:5 ESV

All of these nations had direct ties to Egypt through trade or conquest. They had allied themselves to the Egyptian Empire and, therefore, were considered to be complicit in Egypt’s guilt. Cush refers to the African nation of Ethiopia, which shared Egypt’s southern border. The reference to Arabia has been debated because it can mean the Arabic region but can also be translated as “the mixed multitude.” There are those who believe it refers to the various ethnic groups who settled in the region and who served as mercenaries in the Egyptian army. It may also include the Jews who had fled to Egypt in an effort to escape the Babylonian invasion.

But God announces that any nation or individual who allies themselves with Egypt in any way or for any reason will share Egypt’s fate.

“For this is what the Lord says:
All of Egypt’s allies will fall,
    and the pride of her power will end.” – Ezekiel 30:6 NLT

For many of these nations, Egypt had become their savior. As the Babylonians continued their seemingly unstoppable conquest of the known world, the Egyptians stood as a last-chance hope against Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of global domination. They were the only other superpower capable of stemming the Babylonian tide and preserving the status quo. But God warns that Egypt will prove woefully inept in its role as savior.

“…they will be slaughtered by the sword,
    says the Sovereign Lord.
Egypt will be desolate,
    surrounded by desolate nations,
and its cities will be in ruins,
    surrounded by other ruined cities…” – Ezekiel 30:6-7 NLT

God describes the slow but steady march of the Babylonian troops as they march through the cities of Egypt, leaving a path of destruction in their wake. The mighty Egyptian army will be no match for Nebuchadnezzar’s forces. Ships will sail down the Red Sea carrying news of Egypt’s fall to the people of Ethiopia, and God declares that “Great panic will come upon them on that day of Egypt’s certain destruction” (Ezekiel 30:9 NLT). The nations of the region will fall like dominoes. One after the other, their cities will be invaded, their people captured, and their hopes destroyed by God’s servant, Nebuchadnezzar. 

“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says:
By the power of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon,
    I will destroy the hordes of Egypt.
He and his armies—the most ruthless of all—
    will be sent to demolish the land. – Ezekiel 30:10-11 NLT

God makes it clear that Nebuchadnezzar will be acting as His agent of judgment. It will be God who brings about the destruction of the nations. He will be the one who sends the Babylonians to demolish the land and its inhabitants. And God predicts a catastrophic outcome to the Babylonian invasion. Cities will be leveled, the land will be completely destroyed, and the fabled Nile will dry up. The bodies of the victims will be everywhere, polluting the land and the water. It will be a scene of cataclysmic destruction and no part of Egypt will go unscathed from God’s wrath.

Pathros, Zoan, Thebes, Pelusium, Memphis, On, Pi-beseth, and Tehaphnehes – all of these cities would suffer the same fate. From north to south, from Upper Egypt to lower Egypt, the destruction will be widespread and indiscriminate. And not only will the people of Egypt suffer, but their plethora of gods will be humiliated and exposed as frauds.

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
I will smash the idols of Egypt
    and the images at Memphis. – Ezeziel 30:13 NLT

It has been estimated that the Egyptians worshiped as many as 1200 different gods, from Osiris, the god of the underworld, and his wife, Isis, to Ra the sun god. But God announces that He will smash all these false gods and have their idols removed from the land. They will provide no defense against the Babylonian advance and no hope of deflecting God’s judgment.

And even Pharaoh, the god-king, will be of no help against Nebuchadnezzar and his army. When God’s divine judgment is complete, Pharaoh’s dynasty will come to an end, and foreigners will rule over the nation for the foreseeable future. The destruction will be complete. God vows to “break the proud strength of Egypt” (Ezekiel 30:18 NLT). Its cities will fall, its leaders will be replaced, the young men will die in battle, and the women will be taken as slaves. And God assures them that, when the dust settles, they will all know that He is Lord. With their nation destroyed and their gods exposed as frauds, the people of Egypt will have to face the undeniable truth that Yahweh alone is God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Righteous Wrath of God

The word of the Lord came to me: “And you, O son of man, thus says the Lord God to the land of Israel: An end! The end has come upon the four corners of the land. Now the end is upon you, and I will send my anger upon you; I will judge you according to your ways, and I will punish you for all your abominations. And my eye will not spare you, nor will I have pity, but I will punish you for your ways, while your abominations are in your midst. Then you will know that I am the Lord.

“Thus says the Lord God: Disaster after disaster! Behold, it comes. An end has come; the end has come; it has awakened against you. Behold, it comes. Your doom has come to you, O inhabitant of the land. The time has come; the day is near, a day of tumult, and not of joyful shouting on the mountains. Now I will soon pour out my wrath upon you, and spend my anger against you, and judge you according to your ways, and I will punish you for all your abominations. And my eye will not spare, nor will I have pity. I will punish you according to your ways, while your abominations are in your midst. Then you will know that I am the Lord, who strikes.

10 “Behold, the day! Behold, it comes! Your doom has come; the rod has blossomed; pride has budded. 11 Violence has grown up into a rod of wickedness. None of them shall remain, nor their abundance, nor their wealth; neither shall there be preeminence among them. 12 The time has come; the day has arrived. Let not the buyer rejoice, nor the seller mourn, for wrath is upon all their multitude. 13 For the seller shall not return to what he has sold, while they live. For the vision concerns all their multitude; it shall not turn back; and because of his iniquity, none can maintain his life.” Ezekiel 7:1-13 ESV

Despite all the judgments God had already brought upon them, the people of Judah remained stubbornly persistent in their spiritual infidelity. King Nebuchadnezzar and his army had left a wake of destruction throughout the land but it had done little to convince the Israelites that reconsider their pattern of unfaithfulness. As God made clear in His last message, the land of Judah was still filled with altars, pagan shrines, and places of worship for their many false gods. Nothing had changed, including the condition of their hearts. Even after having seen their besieged capital city fall to Nebuchdezzar’s forces and tens of thousands of their fellow citizens transported as captives to Babylon, they continued to live as they did before.

But God gave Ezekiel a message intended to communicate that His patience had run out. He would no longer tolerate their impudence and their blatant displays of spiritual adultery.

“Son of man, this is what the Sovereign Lord says to Israel:

“The end is here!
    Wherever you look—
east, west, north, or south—
    your land is finished.
No hope remains,
    for I will unleash my anger against you.
I will call you to account
    for all your detestable sins.
I will turn my eyes away and show no pity.
    I will repay you for all your detestable sins.
Then you will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 7:2-4 NLT

Once again, God informs His rebellious people that they will come to know Him as Lord, one way or the other. For generations, they had enjoyed the benefit of His power and presence. Under King David, they had grown to be a mighty nation that was a force to be reckoned with in that part of the world. Under the reign of David’s son, Solomon, the kingdom of Israel enjoyed a period of peace and prosperity. God had even allowed Solomon to construct a magnificent temple in His honor and, at its dedication, God delivered a message to the king.

“I have heard your prayer and your petition. I have set this Temple apart to be holy—this place you have built where my name will be honored forever. I will always watch over it, for it is dear to my heart.” – 1 Kings 9:3 NLT

God promised to inhabit the house Solomon had built for Him, but He demanded that Solomon remain faithful and obedient to His commands. As long as Solomon followed his father’s example, leading the people with integrity and godliness, then God promised to extend the Davidic dynasty for generations. But there was a caveat.

“But if you or your descendants abandon me and disobey the commands and decrees I have given you, and if you serve and worship other gods, then I will uproot Israel from this land that I have given them. I will reject this Temple that I have made holy to honor my name. I will make Israel an object of mockery and ridicule among the nations. And though this Temple is impressive now, all who pass by will be appalled and will gasp in horror. They will ask, ‘Why did the Lord do such terrible things to this land and to this Temple?’ – 1 Kings 9:6-8 NLT

And history records that, while Solomon started out well, his reign ended poorly. He was a wise king who made many foolish decisions that ultimately led to the fall of his kingdom. He violated many of God’s commands, but one that led to his downfall was his many marriages to foreign women. He ended up with 700 wives and 300 concubines, and he adopted many of their gods as his own.

In Solomon’s old age, they turned his heart to worship other gods instead of being completely faithful to the Lord his God, as his father, David, had been. Solomon worshiped Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech, the detestable god of the Ammonites. In this way, Solomon did what was evil in the Lord’s sight; he refused to follow the Lord completely, as his father, David, had done. – 1 Kings 11:4-6 NLT

As a result, God determined to divide his kingdom, creating the northern kingdom of Israel and leaving Solomon’s successor to rule over the southern kingdom of Judah. From that point forward, the two rival kingdoms seemed to vie for the reputation of which was the most apostate. King after king came to the thrones of both nations, leading their people to forsake the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, by pursuing the false gods of the Canaanites.

Eventually, in 791 BC, God sent the Assyrians to conquer the northern kingdom of Israel. And while the southern kingdom witnessed the fall of their northern neighbor, they refused to alter their behavior. They believed that they were invincible because their capital city contained the temple of God. But they had not been faithful to the One for whose name and honor the temple had been dedicated.

Jeremiah, another prophet of God and a contemporary of Ezekiel, had the responsibility of ministering to the people living in Jerusalem. And God gave him a stern warning for all those who believed that they were immune from disaster because they were protected by the temple’s presence.

“Go to the entrance of the LORD’s Temple, and give this message to the people: ‘O Judah, listen to this message from the LORD! Listen to it, all of you who worship here! This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says:

“‘Even now, if you quit your evil ways, I will let you stay in your own land. But don’t be fooled by those who promise you safety simply because the LORD’s Temple is here. They chant, “The LORD’s Temple is here! The LORD’s Temple is here!” But I will be merciful only if you stop your evil thoughts and deeds and start treating each other with justice; only if you stop exploiting foreigners, orphans, and widows; only if you stop your murdering; and only if you stop harming yourselves by worshiping idols. Then I will let you stay in this land that I gave to your ancestors to keep forever.

“‘Don’t be fooled into thinking that you will never suffer because the Temple is here. It’s a lie! Do you really think you can steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, and burn incense to Baal and all those other new gods of yours, and then come here and stand before me in my Temple and chant, “We are safe!”—only to go right back to all those evils again? Don’t you yourselves admit that this Temple, which bears my name, has become a den of thieves? Surely I see all the evil going on there. I, the LORD, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 7:2-11 NLT

The temple would not save them. In fact, centuries earlier, God had warned Solomon the temple would be completely destroyed if the people of Israel failed to remain faithful to Him alone. Now, the time had come for God to fulfill His promise, so He gave Ezekiel a message to deliver to all those living in exile in Babylon.

“O people of Israel, the day of your destruction is dawning.
    The time has come; the day of trouble is near.” – Ezekiel 7:7 NLT

Those to whom Ezekiel spoke had long dreamed of returning to their homeland. As long as Jerusalem remained and the temple stood, they believed there was hope that their fortunes would be restored. But they failed to understand the gravity of their sin and God’s hatred for their persistent unfaithfulness.

They had placed all their hope in a place, having turned the temple into little more than an idol. All their dreams of future deliverance were housed within the walls of that man-made structure. It was there, in the Holy of Holies, that they believed the Shekinah glory of God dwelled. But God cannot be confined to a building. He does not reside in and cannot be restricted to a particular place. As He declared through the prophet, Isaiah: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Could you build me a temple as good as that? Could you build me such a resting place?” (Isaish 66:1 NLT).

From their desolate and desperate vantage point as exiles in the land of Babylon, Ezekiel’s audience must have been shocked to hear the finality of the prophet’s words.

The end is here! Wherever you look—east, west, north, or south—your land is finished.” – Ezekiel 7:2 NLT

The end has come. It has finally arrived. Your final doom is waiting!” – Ezekiel 7:6 NLT

The day of judgment is here; your destruction awaits! – Ezekiel 7:10 NLT

“Yes, the time has come; the day is here!” – Ezekiel 7:12 NLT

The fall of Jerusalem was imminent. The destruction of the temple was impending. And the punishment of God’s people was inevitable and inescapable.

“For what God has said applies to everyone—
    it will not be changed!
Not one person whose life is twisted by sin
    will ever recover.” – Ezekiel 7:13 NLT

The people would pay dearly for their mistaken priorities and misplaced hope. They had turned their backs on God and now He was preparing to pour out His wrath on them. He had endured their rebellion long enough. They had been warned. He had pleaded with them to repent. But they had refused. So, now it was time to pay the piper.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

 

The Just and the Justifier

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” Genesis 9:8-17 ESV

God had just destroyed the majority of the human population because “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 4:5 ESV). Yet, because “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 4:8 ESV), he and his family were spared. And after delivering Noah from the floodwaters of judgment, God had “blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth’” (Genesis 9:1 ESV).

God was beginning again. He had preserved a remnant of His original creation in the form of a single human family and an assortment of living creatures, all of whom He had protected on the ark. Now, it was time to restart the process of repopulating the planet. So, God reiterated His kingdom mandate a second time.

“And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.” – Genesis 9:7 ESV

Noah, “a righteous man, blameless in his generation,” who “walked with God” (Genesis 6:9 ESV), was given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become the new father of the human race. This descendant of Adam was charged with the responsibility of procreating and repopulating the earth with more of his kind. And because Noah had proven himself faithful to God by doing everything he had been commanded to do, the future for humanity seemed bright. Surely this man would fare better than his ancestor. But as “righteous” and “blameless” as Noah may have been, he was far from perfect. As a descendant of Adam, Noah had inherited the same sinful disposition. He was faithful but still fallen.

In the Adamic genealogy recorded in chapter five, it opens with the words:

This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. – Genesis 5:1-2 ESV

“Adam”(אָדָםāḏām) had been the name God gave to all mankind, and all mankind had been created in God’s likeness. When He had formed the first man and woman, they bore His image. They were intended to reflect His glory and to spread His image all across the planet by creating more of their own kind. More image-bearers. But Adam and Eve were not content to be mirrors reflecting God’s glory. Instead, they succumbed to the temptation of Satan and the desires of their own hearts. Rather than obey God, they chose to rob Him of glory by declaring themselves to be gods, with the sovereignty to decide for themselves what was right and wrong.

Adam and Eve dishonored God by disobeying Him. They rebelled against His divine authority and attempted to preempt His sovereign power with their own. And the apostle would later describe the nature of their crime.

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. – Romans 1:21-23 ESV

And Paul goes on to sum up the sin of Adam and Eve in far-from-flattering terms.

they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator… – Romans 1:25 ESV

This predisposition for self-worship was passed on to the next generation. Their son, Cain chose to play god and took the life of his brother, Abel. And the genealogy recorded in Genesis chapter five reveals that Adam and Eve attempted to fill the void left by their murdered son.

When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. – Genesis 5:3 ESV

But something has changed. It’s subtle but highly significant. More than a century after God had created Adam to bear His image, Adam fathered a son in his own likeness. Seth proved to be the spitting image of his father, Adam. He was born under the curse and, as a result, inherited his father’s sinful disposition. Adam’s “one trespass led to condemnation for all men” (Romans 5:18 ESV), including his own progeny.

All those who descended from Adam were guilty of exchanging “the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man…” (Romans 5:23 ESV). And that list included Noah and his sons. They had been delivered by God but still remained damaged goods. And God was well aware that the future of mankind was far from bright. He knew exactly what was going to happen. This is why He declared His covenant commitment to Noah and his sons.

“Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” – Genesis 9:9-11 ESV

Inherent in this promise is God’s understanding of mankind’s condition. He knew that humanity would continue to rebel against Him. It was only a matter of time before the wickedness of man spread through the earth like an infectious disease. Noah and his sons would soon father children, made in their own likeness. And the pre-flood moral conditions would be replicated all over again. But God made a covenant commitment to not repeat the judgment of the flood.

God is not suggesting that mankind will never again deserve His judgment. He is simply giving His commitment that He will never again punish mankind’s inevitable wickedness through a cataclysmic, worldwide flood. And what sets this covenant apart is that it is universal in scope and unconditional in nature. It applies to all humanity, and not just Noah and his sons. And it comes with no conditions or requirements on man’s part.

This covenant is based on the faithfulness of God. He knew all along that Noah and his descendants would fail to live up to their calling as His vice-regents. He had given them authority to rule over His creation as His stewards. But like Adam, they would prove to be less-than-faithful in their oversight of God’s kingdom. Inevitably, the descendants of Noah would repeat the sins of their ancestors. It was only a matter of time before God looked down and saw “that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5 ESV). And while humanity would deserve God’s righteous judgment, He would refrain from destroying them.

And as a symbol of His covenant commitment, God provided Noah with a sign. He established the rainbow as a reminder of His glory and goodness. When the storm clouds of God’s judgment appeared in the sky, the rainbow would form, providing a powerful sign of God’s covenant commitment. Man would continue to sin, but God would refrain from meting out the full measure of His righteous indignation against them. Why? Because He had a plan in place that would one day resolve the problem of mankind’s obsession with sin and the divine requirement to deliver justice. Once again, the apostle Paul provides insight into this divine strategy for mitigating the problem of sin and the need for judgment.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. – Romans 3:23-26 NLT

According to His covenant with Noah, God would hold back and not pour out His judgment on sinful humanity. It would be well-deserved but God was willing to delay it until He could send His Son as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. In sending Jesus, God would prove Himself “just and the justifier” (Romans 3:26 ESV). Through the sacrifice of His Son’s innocent life, God would satisfy His righteous judgment against sin and provide a way for sinful men to be made right with Him.

He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. – Romans 8:3 NLT

The sins of mankind would continue, and God’s obligation to judge sin would remain. But He was willing to delay that judgment until such a time that He could pour it out on His Son. Adam’s sin left humanity under the curse of God’s wrath. But God had a plan in place that would fully satisfy His need for justice and His desire to justify.

For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins. For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ. – Romans 5:16-17 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Judge, Jury, and Executioner

Hear, you peoples, all of you;
    pay attention, O earth, and all that is in it,
and let the Lord God be a witness against you,
    the Lord from his holy temple.
For behold, the Lord is coming out of his place,
    and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth.
And the mountains will melt under him,
    and the valleys will split open,
like wax before the fire,
    like waters poured down a steep place.
All this is for the transgression of Jacob
    and for the sins of the house of Israel.
What is the transgression of Jacob?
    Is it not Samaria?
And what is the high place of Judah?
    Is it not Jerusalem?
Therefore I will make Samaria a heap in the open country,
    a place for planting vineyards,
and I will pour down her stones into the valley
    and uncover her foundations.
All her carved images shall be beaten to pieces,
    all her wages shall be burned with fire,
    and all her idols I will lay waste,
for from the fee of a prostitute she gathered them,
    and to the fee of a prostitute they shall return. Micah 1:2-7 ESV

Like a prosecutor in a court case, Micah is going to present damning evidence against the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. These two nations came into existence after God divided Israel as punishment for the idolatry of King Solomon.

Then he said to Jeroboam, “Take ten of these pieces, for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon, and I will give ten of the tribes to you! But I will leave him one tribe for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel. For Solomon has abandoned me and worshiped Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians; Chemosh, the god of Moab; and Molech, the god of the Ammonites. He has not followed my ways and done what is pleasing in my sight. He has not obeyed my decrees and regulations as David his father did.”’ – 1 Kings 11:31-33 NLT

Jeroboam was one of Solomon’s officials and he would be used by God to lead a rebellion against the king, convincing 10 of the 12 tribes to align with him and form the northern kingdom of Israel. Solomon would maintain control over his own tribe, Judah, as well as the tribe of Benjamin. Both Solomon and Jeroboam would be followed by a succession of different kings who would rule over the two kingdoms. And the majority of these men would continue to lead the chosen people of God to serve the false gods of the Canaanite nations. This idolatry and apostasy is the basis of Micah’s message.

So, he calls all the nations of the earth to act as jurors in the trial of God’s people.

Let all the people of the world listen!
    Let the earth and everything in it hear. – Micah 1:2 NLT

And the star witness in this divine courtroom drama will be God Himself.

The Sovereign Lord is making accusations against you;
    the Lord speaks from his holy Temple. – Micah 1:2 NLT

Interestingly enough, God had predicted this moment in time. Even before the people of Israel had ever set foot in the land of promise, God had warned that they would be unfaithful to Him and worship other gods. So, He dictated the words of a song to Moses and instructed him to teach it to the people of Israel in order that they might never forget what would happen if they disobeyed and deserted Him.

“So write down the words of this song, and teach it to the people of Israel. Help them learn it, so it may serve as a witness for me against them. For I will bring them into the land I swore to give their ancestors—a land flowing with milk and honey. There they will become prosperous, eat all the food they want, and become fat. But they will begin to worship other gods; they will despise me and break my covenant. And when great disasters come down on them, this song will stand as evidence against them, for it will never be forgotten by their descendants. I know the intentions of these people, even now before they have entered the land I swore to give them.” – Deuteronomy 31:19-21 NLT

Since Moses had been warned by God that his time on earth was drawing to a close, He took this lengthy “song” and gave it to Joshua, with instructions to keep it in a safe place.

“Take this Book of Instruction and place it beside the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord your God, so it may remain there as a witness against the people of Israel. – Deuteronomy 31:26 NLT

And the “Book of Instruction” had remained beside the Ark of the Covenant within the Holy of Holies of God’s temple all during the reigns of David and Solomon. Even as Micah penned the words of this book, the “song” God had given to Moses was safely ensconced in the inner sanctum of the temple, its words acting as a witness against both Israel and Judah.

Micah describes God leaving His heavenly throne room and making His way to earth, where He will provide personal testimony against His ungrateful and unfaithful people. Isaiah used similar imagery to describe God’s divine judgment of His people.

The Lord takes his place in court
    and presents his case against his people.
The Lord comes forward to pronounce judgment
    on the elders and rulers of his people… – Isaiah 3:13-14 NLT

And Micah warns that God’s arrival will be anything but ordinary.

…the mountains will melt under him,
    and the valleys will split open,
like wax before the fire,
    like waters poured down a steep place. – Micah 1:4 ESV

This imagery is intended to get the attention of the residents of Judah and Israel. Their all-powerful God, the one they had abandoned for false gods, was about to make Himself known in ways that would prove His power and guarantee their destruction. For generations, they had acted as if God did not exist or as if He was unconcerned with their behavior. They had flagrantly flaunted their idolatry in His face and gotten away with it. They had repeatedly committed spiritual adultery with no ill effects. But Micah wanted them to know that their God had run out of patience. He was leaving His throne room in heaven and descending to earth to pronounce judgment against them.

And just in case the people might wonder why God would bother to leave heaven and come all the way to earth, Micah provides them with the answer.

All this is for the transgression of Jacob
    and for the sins of the house of Israel.
What is the transgression of Jacob?
    Is it not Samaria?
And what is the high place of Judah?
    Is it not Jerusalem?
– Micah 1:5 ESV

Micah’s reference to Israel as “Jacob” was intended as a not-so-subtle reminder of the rebellious background of the patriarch for whom they were named. The book of Genesis records the early years of Jacob, portraying him as a manipulative, scheming individual who spent years trying to do things his way, rather than trust in God’s will for his life. And it was only when Jacob came to an end of himself and decided to submit his life to God, that he received a new name and a divine promise of fruitfulness.

“Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body.” – Genesis 35:10-11 ESV

By referring to the northern kingdom of Israel as “Jacob,” Micah is linking them to the rebellious years of their patriarch’s life. They had more in common with the earlier version of Jacob than they did with his post-name-change behavior.

And Samaria, the capital city of Israel, had become the epicenter of idolatry and unfaithfulness for the entire nation. The same thing was true for Jerusalem, the capital of the southern kingdom of Judah. In spite of the presence of the temple of God, the city of Jerusalem had become home to shrines and high places for a pantheon of false gods. Both of these cities had become icons for the wickedness of their respective nations.

For the people of Judah and Israel, these capital cities were representative of their wealth, power, and prestige. They were filled with gold, precious gems, beautiful buildings, and the trappings of their own success. But God was about to turn these man-made symbols of self-importance into piles of rubble and ashes.

“So I, the Lord, will make the city of Samaria
a heap of ruins.
Her streets will be plowed up
for planting vineyards.
I will roll the stones of her walls into the valley below,
exposing her foundations.
All her carved images will be smashed.
All her sacred treasures will be burned.
These things were bought with the money
earned by her prostitution,
and they will now be carried away
to pay prostitutes elsewhere.” –
Micah 1:6-7 NLT

God wasn’t just coming down from heaven to offer testimony against Judah and Israel, He was showing up as their judge, jury, and executioner. Their fate was already sealed. God had already told them what would happen if they failed to worship Him alone. He had dictated the words of the song to Moses and they cried out from the Holy of Holies, condemning the people of God for their unfaithfulness. The Israelites may have forgotten the lyrics, but God had not.

All the symbols of Samaria’s success were about to be destroyed. The walls of the city would be toppled. Its streets would be plowed up and turned into fields. All the statues and idols erected to her many false gods would be smashed and burned. And the wealth amassed through their use of temple prostitutes cleverly disguised as “priestesses,” would become loot for the invading forces of the Assyrians.

Judgment was coming. And the Judge of the universe was leaving His judgment seat in heaven to ensure that their crimes receive the condemnation they deserve.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Our Righteously Wrathful God

39 Look now; I myself am he!
    There is no other god but me!
I am the one who kills and gives life;
    I am the one who wounds and heals;
    no one can be rescued from my powerful hand!
40 Now I raise my hand to heaven
    and declare, “As surely as I live,
41 when I sharpen my flashing sword
    and begin to carry out justice,
I will take revenge on my enemies
    and repay those who reject me.
 
– Deuteronomy 32:39-41 NLT

36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.John 3:36 ESV

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. – Romans 1:18 ESV

The wrath of God seems to be a forbidden topic among many Christians. We’re almost embarrassed to bring it up in polite conversation. We treat it as if it’s some kind of flaw in the character of God that no one wants to admit or talk about. Like that drinking problem that your favorite uncle has struggled with for years. Everybody knows about it, but it’s just easier to treat it as if it doesn’t exist.

But it’s difficult to ignore the wrath of God. It’s an unpleasant yet unavoidable reality that shows up throughout the Scriptures. And it’s can’t be relegated to the pages of the Old Testament.  Many believe that the God described in the gospels is far more loving, gracious, and kind than the God who commanded Abraham to sacrifice His Son, told the Israelites to massacre entire communities, and decreed the stoning of rebellious sons . And yet, Jesus Himself said, “anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment” (John 3:36 NLT).

The prophet Nahum provided a stark warning regarding the pagan people of Nineveh:

The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies. – Nahum 1:2 ESV

Ezekiel delivered God’s warning regarding the Philistines, the enemies of Israel:

I will execute great vengeance on them with wrathful rebukes. Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I lay my vengeance upon them.”Ezekiel 25:17 ESV

Isaiah prophesied of a future day when God’s wrath would come on all mankind:

Look! The Lord is coming from heaven to punish the people of the earth for their sins. – Isaiah 26:21 ESV

And if you fast-forward all the way to the end of the final book of the Canon of Scripture, you find the wrath of God revealed yet again.

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 ESV

So, what are we supposed to do with this uncomfortable aspect of God’s nature? Do we simply ignore it, rationalize it away, or reject it out of hand? A. W. Pink provides us with a powerful response to those questions.

It is sad to find so many professing Christians who appear to regard the wrath of God as something for which they need to make an apology, or at least they wish there were no such thing. While some would not go so far as to openly admit that they consider it a blemish on the Divine character, yet they are far from regarding it with delight; they like not to think about it, and they rarely hear it mentioned without a secret resentment rising up in their hearts against it. Even with those who are more sober in their judgment, not a few seem to imagine that there is a severity about the Divine wrath which is too terrifying to form a theme for profitable contemplation. Others harbor the delusion that God’s wrath is not consistent with His goodness, and so seek to banish it from their thoughts.

Yes, many there are who turn away from a vision of God’s wrath as though they were called to look upon some blotch in the Divine character, or some blot upon the Divine government. But what saith the Scriptures? As we turn to them we find that God has made no attempt to conceal the fact of His wrath. He is not ashamed to make it known that vengeance and fury belong unto Him. – A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God

At some point, we have to ask the question: What is the source of God’s anger or wrath? We inherently know that God does not have an anger “problem.” He’s not an angry individual who lacks self-control and is unable to manage His emotions. It is far too easy to view God through a lens that is heavily distorted by our own human flaws and frailties. We struggle with anger, so we assume that God’s anger manifests itself in the same way. In our minds, anger is a liability, not an asset. It is negative, not positive. But because we are talking about the holy, righteous, perfectly sinless God of the universe, we can’t attribute His anger to some flaw in His character. His anger, like every other one of His character qualities, is fully justified and holy.

So, why would anger be an attribute of God? It is because He is holy. The apostle John wrote, “God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all” (1 John 1:5 NLT). Darkness is a metaphor for evil or wickedness. It stands in stark contrast to the “light” or righteousness of God. That’s why Paul wrote, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18 ESV). What truth? The truth of God’s existence as revealed in His creation.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. – Romans 1:19-20 ESV

But Paul goes on to point out that, despite God’s revelation of Himself in creation, mankind “became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21 ESV). And “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25 ESV). As a result, God’s wrath was revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.

But what is the nature of God’s wrath? Is it some kind of out-of-control, vengeance-laced tirade against those who don’t agree with Him? Is God some petty tyrant who uses His power to punish those who refuse to do what He wants? To understand God’s wrath, we have to see things from His perspective, not ours. Again, A. W. Pink provides some helpful insights into this matter.

The wrath of God is His eternal detestation of all unrighteousness. It is the displeasure and indignation of Divine equity against evil. It is the holiness of God stirred into activity against sin. It is the moving cause of that just sentence which He passes upon evil-doers. God is angry against sin because it is a rebelling against His authority, a wrong done to His inviolable sovereignty. Insurrectionists against God’s government shall be made to know that God is the Lord. They shall be made to feel how great that Majesty is which they despise, and how dreadful is that threatened wrath which they so little regarded. Not that God’s anger is a malignant and malicious retaliation, inflicting injury for the sake of it, or in return for injury received. No; while God will vindicate His dominion as Governor of the universe, He will not be vindictive. – A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God

To add further clarity to this topic, J. I. Packer gives us a much-needed word study on the meaning behind “wrath” and “anger.”

“Wrath” is an old English word defined in my dictionary as “deep, intense anger and indignation.” “Anger” is defined as “stirring of resentful displeasure and strong antagonism, by a sense of injury or insult;” “indignation” as “righteous anger aroused by injustice and baseness.” Such is wrath. And wrath, the Bible tells us, is an attribute of God. – J. I. Packer, Knowing God

A sense of injury or insult. About what? Deep, intense anger and indignation. Against what? Against the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. Or to put it in more simplistic terms, against sin. Sin is an affront to a holy, righteous God. Mankind was created by God. Mankind exists because of God. And when men reject Him as their God or rebel against His divine sovereignty as their creator, provider, and sustainer, God is rightfully offended.

Robert L. Deffinbaugh describes divine wrath as “God’s righteous anger and punishment, provoked by sin.” It is never arbitrary or unwarranted. God’s wrath is never unjustified or undeserved.

The wrath of God is His eternal detestation of all unrighteousness. It is the displeasure and indignation of divine equity against evil. It is the holiness of God stirred into activity against sin. It is the moving cause of that just sentence which he passes upon evildoers. God is angry against sin because it is a rebelling against His authority, a wrong done to His inviolable sovereignty. – A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God

The God of the universe is the ultimate master of the domain which He created and over which He rules. And He will vindicate His sovereign rule, but He will never do so vindictively.

One of the things we overlook when discussing the wrath of God is how it demonstrates God’s hatred for sin. We tend to tolerate sin and view it as little more than a flaw in the human character. But God sees sin as rebellion. It is a rejection of His Word, His ways, and His divine will for mankind. That is why Paul describes it as ungodliness and unrighteousness. Sin is ultimately anti-God and anti-righteousness. It is the anthesis of all things having to do with God. It stands in direct opposition to the very essence of God.

Paul paints a bleak picture of man’s rebellious condition, revealing that sin has serious consequences.

…since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. – Romans 1:28-32 ESV

Notice those three simple words in the middle of the preceding paragraph: Haters of God. Ultimately, sin is an expression of hate for the Almighty. And that hatred results in godless actions and attitudes, each of which is a proof of man’s rejection of God. These outward displays are God-directed, but also self-destructive. Sin does irreparable damage to the individual, a family, a community, the nation, and the world. And that is not something a holy God can or will tolerate. But more on this in tomorrow’s post.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Doom, But Not All Gloom.

My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain!
    Oh the walls of my heart!
My heart is beating wildly;
    I cannot keep silent,
for I hear the sound of the trumpet,
    the alarm of war.
Crash follows hard on crash;
    the whole land is laid waste.
Suddenly my tents are laid waste,
    my curtains in a moment.
How long must I see the standard
    and hear the sound of the trumpet?

“For my people are foolish;
    they know me not;
they are stupid children;
    they have no understanding.
They are ‘wise’—in doing evil!
    But how to do good they know not.”

I looked on the earth, and behold, it was without form and void;
    and to the heavens, and they had no light.
I looked on the mountains, and behold, they were quaking,
    and all the hills moved to and fro.
I looked, and behold, there was no man,
    and all the birds of the air had fled.
I looked, and behold, the fruitful land was a desert,
    and all its cities were laid in ruins
    before the Lord, before his fierce anger.

For thus says the Lord, “The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end.Jeremiah 4:19-27 ESV

As has been discussed before, the role of a prophet of God was far from easy. They were not automatons who mechanically went about their business. They were not heartless, unfeeling robots who simply mouthed the words given to them by God. They were flesh-and-blood human beings who were being required by God to deliver devastating news of pending destruction to their own people. In this section, we have the first of Jeremiah’s laments or confessions of anguish over what is about to happen to the people of Judah. He fully believed that what God said He was going to do, He would do; but he found no joy in that fact. He was emotionally distraught over the prospect of his people having to endure the suffering that was headed their way. His description of his physical condition speaks volumes concerning his mental and emotional state:

My heart, my heart—I writhe in pain!
    My heart pounds within me! I cannot be still. – Jeremiah 4:19 NLT

Whether God had given Jeremiah an actual vision of the coming invasion by the Babylonians is not clear. But Jeremiah describes those future events as if he has already witnessed them.

For I have heard the blast of enemy trumpets
    and the roar of their battle cries. – Jeremiah 4:19 NLT

For Jeremiah, the future events that God has prescribed were unavoidable, but also unbearable. He was already tired of hearing about them and having to constantly describe them to the people. So, he calls out to God:

How long must I see the battle flags
    and hear the trumpets of war? – Jeremiah 4:21 NLT

It was all too much for him. But God reminds Jeremiah not to forget why he is having to suffer so much inner turmoil. There is a very good reason for his visions of destruction and his personal grief. Rather than point the finger at God, Jeremiah needed to recall the true cause of his unbearable sorrow. So, God tells him:

“My people are foolish
    and do not know me,” says the Lord.
“They are stupid children
    who have no understanding.
They are clever enough at doing wrong,
    but they have no idea how to do right!” – Jeremiah 4:22 NLT

God speaks a powerful word of accusation over the people of Judah, claiming that they don’t even know Him. He describes them as ignorant and devoid of understanding. The only thing they know how to do well is sin. But they lacked the capacity to do what is right. This is a description of a people who had gone off the moral cliff and plunged themselves into a black hole of sin and immorality. They were not coming back. God knew that they were not going to repent of their sins and return to Him. Their destruction was not inevitable, it was unavoidable. As a righteous, holy and just God, He was obligated by His very nature to deal with their sins and keep the covenant He had made with them. He had told them that disobedience would bring curses upon them and He had been quite explicit in what those curses would entail.

“Because you have not served the Lord your God joyfully and wholeheartedly with the abundance of everything you have, instead in hunger, thirst, nakedness, and poverty you will serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you. They will place an iron yoke on your neck until they have destroyed you. The Lord will raise up a distant nation against you, one from the other side of the earth as the eagle flies, a nation whose language you will not understand, a nation of stern appearance that will have no regard for the elderly or pity for the young.” – Deuteronomy 28:47-50 NLT

God had done what He had promised to do. He had brought them into the land of promise. He had given them victories over their enemies. He had blessed them in innumerable ways, just as He had said He would do.

“The Lord will designate you as his holy people just as he promised you, if you keep his commandments and obey him. Then all the peoples of the earth will see that you belong to the Lord, and they will respect you. The Lord will greatly multiply your children, the offspring of your livestock, and the produce of your soil in the land which he promised your ancestors he would give you. The Lord will open for you his good treasure house, the heavens, to give you rain for the land in its season and to bless all you do; you will lend to many nations but you will not borrow from any.” – Deuteronomy 28:9-12 NLT

But the people of Judah and Israel had proven to be unfaithful and disobedient. They had not kept their side of the covenant. And so, God was bringing on them the very judgment He had said would come. He was keeping His word. And, evidently, God gave Jeremiah a look at the pre-release trailer of the coming destruction.

I looked at the earth, and it was empty and formless.
    I looked at the heavens, and there was no light.
I looked at the mountains and hills,
    and they trembled and shook.
I looked, and all the people were gone.
    All the birds of the sky had flown away.
I looked, and the fertile fields had become a wilderness.
    The towns lay in ruins,
    crushed by the Lord’s fierce anger. – Jeremiah 4:23-26 NLT

This was not going to be a slap on the wrist. What Jeremiah saw was total and complete destruction. The Babylonians were going to leave behind when they were done was a barren wasteland that was full of destroyed cities, but void of life. This was going to be an apocalypse. The once-great city of Jerusalem, the capital of Judah, would have its walls completely destroyed. The city would be laid waste. Even the beautiful temple built by Solomon would be turned into a pile of rubble. Anything of value would be taken as booty by the Babylonians, and the people of Judah would be gathered up and marched off as slaves. And it would all be the result of God’s righteous anger. But the cause of His anger would be the sins of the people. This was not going to be some arbitrary, unprovoked outburst of uncontrollable anger from God. It was going to be His judgment against the open rebellion of the very people He had set apart as His own and blessed in unprecedented ways. The nuclear winter-like vision Jeremiah saw was the direct result of the sins of the people. They were getting what they deserved.

But wait. There is a silver lining to this dark cloud. God gives Jeremiah a glimpse of the good news that lay hidden in all the darkness.

This is what the Lord says:
“The whole land will be ruined,
    but I will not destroy it completely. – Jeremiah 4:27 NLT

It’s not much, but in this one verse lies a message of hope. As bad as things might have appeared in Jeremiah’s vision, there was a glimmer of light. God was not going to destroy the land completely. This was not going to be a complete destruction. While the people of Judah deserved nothing but total annihilation for their sins, God was going to show them mercy. He was going to extend them grace. A remnant would survive the coming holocaust. Not all would be killed or taken captive. God was still going to bless the people of Judah – in spite of them. His love for them would not fade. Yes, He was going to punish them for their sins, but He was not going to abandon them. He was not going to give up on them. Because He is faithful. And because He had a plan for the nation of Judah that was bigger than that one generation. He had a purpose for them as a nation for which they were unaware. He was going to raise up a king from the nation of Judah who would rule and reign in righteousness. God had made a covenant with King David, telling him:

“Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever.’” – 2 Samuel 7:16 NLT

And that promise would eventually be fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ, as Gabriel made clear to Mary:

“Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” – Luke 1:30-33 NLT

Judah would be preserved. Yes, they would end up in captivity in Babylon, but God would one day restore them to the land. Why? Because He had made a promise and He was going to keep it. He had a much bigger plan in store for the world. He was going to bring a Savior into the world who would bring a solution to the very sin problem that got Judah in trouble in the first place. Through His Son, God was going to provide a means by which mankind might find release from their slavery to sin and death. So, while Jeremiah saw only doom and gloom, God wanted him to know that this story was going to have a very happy ending.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

You Reap What You Sow.

You have plowed iniquity; you have reaped injustice; you have eaten the fruit of lies. Because you have trusted in your own way and in the multitude of your warriors, therefore the tumult of war shall arise among your people, and all your fortresses shall be destroyed, Shalman destroyed Beth-arbel on the day of battle; mothers were dashed in pieces with their children. Thus it shall be done to you, O Bethel, because of your great evil. At dawn the king of Israel shall be utterly cut off. – Hosea 10:13-15 ESV

At times, even as believers, we are surprised at the outcomes of some of our decision making. We are somehow amazed that our lies have consequences. We are shocked when our love affair with materialism leaves us struggling with greed, envy, covetousness, worry and anxiety. We wonder why we are so angry, yet never connect the dots to our daily consumption of violence-filled media. We wrestle with lust, but never seem to associate it with the sexually explicit programming that fills our TV screens each and every night.

The Israelites were also oblivious to the cause-and-effect nature of their lives. So God made it clear to them: “you have cultivated wickedness and harvested a thriving crop of sins” (Hosea 10:13 NLT). In other words, they were reaping exactly what they should have expected. No surprises. Just the natural consequences of living their lives apart from God. They had consumed a daily dose of lies about everything. They had been told that God would not punish them for their sins because they were His chosen people. They had been promised that alliances with foreign powers would protect them from destruction. They believed that the gods of pagan nations were anything but false. But while a steady diet of lies may taste good going down and make you feel good for the moment, it will leave you spiritually weak, malnourished, and starving to death. 

Self-reliance and misplaced trust were behind the behavior of the Israelites. “Claiming to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:22 ESV). The prophet, Jeremiah, recorded a similar indictment from God against the people of Judah. “My people are foolish and do not know me. They are stupid children who have no understanding. They are clever enough at doing wrong, but they have no idea how to do right!” (Jeremiah 4:22 NLT). They thought they knew better than God. They rejected His commands and ignored His warnings. They lived life according to their own terms. They stopped trusting God and, instead, placed their hope in false gods. When things got tough and they found themselves threatened by outside forces, they turned to alliances with countries like Egypt. They refused to rely on God. He had become small, insignificant and insufficient to meet their needs. The God who had delivered them from captivity in Egypt and given them the land of Canaan had become too weak to meet their needs. They had long ago forgotten the words of David:

Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed; he will answer him from his holy heaven with the saving might of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright. – Psalm 20:6-8 ESV

Not only did they doubt God’s salvation, they denied His judgment. They really did not believe that they could fall. They were so confident in their status as God’s chosen people, that they believed they were invincible. And yet, they never seemed to recognize the fact that their protection by God was based on their obedience and faithfulness to him. He had warned them that disobedience would bring His discipline. Unfaithfulness would have consequences. So God gave them the bad news: “Now the terrors of war will rise among your people” (Hosea 10:14 NLT). Their army would be impotent. Their alliances would prove useless. Their fortresses and defensive measures would be insufficient. And their false gods would be exposed for what they were: non-existent and, therefore, no help in time of need.

The devastation would be horrific. Referring to a past battle, God warned them that their fall would be brutal and merciless: “as Shalman destroyed Beth-arbel on the day of battle; mothers were dashed in pieces with their children” (Hosea 10:14b ESV). The Assyrians were going to show no mercy. Their destruction of the nation of Israel would be complete and no one would escape their wrath. From king to commoner, priest to prostitute, the influential to innocent infants – all would feel the wrath of the Assyrians and the judgment of God.

These kinds of passages make us uncomfortable as believers. They paint a picture of God that seems to contradict our view of Him as loving, gracious, forgiving and merciful. But too often, our understanding of God can become one-dimensional. We prefer to emphasize His love while downplaying His holiness and hatred of sin. We find comfort in His grace, but don’t want to think about His righteous wrath and divine obligation to punish sin. In doing so, we diminish the value of the gift of His Son. But it is in understanding the severity of sin’s offensiveness to God and His just and righteous obligation to punish sin that we fully comprehend the magnitude of what Christ has done for us. “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT). Jesus “was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God” (Romans 4:25 NLT). The inescapable reality was that “even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead” (Ephesians 2:5 NLT).

Our sin was real. God’s judgment against our sin was deserved. And yet He showed us mercy – in spite of our sinfulness. Grace does not diminish the gravity of sin. It actually reveals the amazing love of God as He provides a means of salvation that is capable of satisfying His wrath against sin. He gave His Son. It was the death of Jesus alone that could propitiate or satisfy the just judgment of God against the sinfulness of mankind. Nothing else would do. No other payment could have been made that would have paid the debt that was owed. So when we elevate God’s love while ignoring His wrath, we actually diminish the amazing nature of that love. He loved us in spite of us, not because of us.

And yet, we continue to sow and reap, sin and suffer, because we don’t fully appreciate the gravity of sin and the greatness of His grace. We justify our actions, rationalize our sinful behavior and then wonder why we reap discontentment, dissatisfaction, anger, joylessness, envy, greed, and immorality. It is an accurate understanding of the grace of God that should produce in us the fruit of righteousness. As God told the people of Israel, “Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love. Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you” (Hosea 10:12 NLT).

You Are My God.

And in that day I will answer, declares the Lord, I will answer the heavens, and they shall answer the earth, and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine, and the oil, and they shall answer Jezreel, and I will sow her for myself in the land. And I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People, “You are my people”; and he shall say, “You are my God.” – Hosea 2:21-23 ESV

Remember the three names that God commanded Hosea to give his children? His first son was to be named Jezreel, as a reminder of the sins of the Israelites committed in the Valley of Jezreel. His daughter was to be named Lo-ruhamah which means “no mercy”. His third child, a son, was to be named Lo-ammi, which means, “not my people”. As we have seen before, these names all held an important significance in God’s message that Hosea was to give to the people. His own family life was going to be a living testimony to the judgment, as well as, the love of God.

God was gracious to give Hosea a glimpse into the future so that the commands of the Lord regarding Gomer and their children would make sense. What God was telling Hosea to do  was not some arbitrary and unloving task designed to make his life difficult. It was meant to give the actions of God regarding the people of Israel an earthly and easy-to-understand picture of what was going to happen. And it was probably as much for Hosea’s sake as it was for the people of Israel.

God graciously informed Hosea about a day to come when He would renew and restore the people of Israel, but not because they would somehow deserve it. He would reach out and redeem them in spite of their spiritual adultery and unfaithfulness. And God told Hosea, “in that day…” He would do some pretty incredible things for the people of Israel, ultimately restoring them to their former position as His children. Even the land of promise, given to the people of Israel to Abraham by God would go through a physical transformation. God would bring about the miracle of agricultural rebirth. And it is interesting to note that Baal, one of the false gods that the people of Israel worshiped, was known as the Canaanite god of rain and fertility. What he had been unable to do for the people of Israel, God would do. This is where the names given to the children of Hosea come in. The name Jezreel meant “God will sow” and spoke of what God would do for the land of Israel “in that day”. The name Lo-ruhamah or No Mercy referred to God’s present attitude toward Israel, but God told Hosea that the day was coming when He would show mercy on No Mercy. The name Lo-ammi or Not My People, which was a reminder of the Israelites’ current status before God because of their sins, also plays an important role in God’s future plans for Israel’s restoration. He told Hosea, “I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’” (Hosea 2:23 ESV). In that day, things would be different. God would not only restore the Israelites to their former place of prominence as His people, He would make that relationship even better than it had been before. They would not just worship God out of duty, but out of delight. He would not just be another deity thrown in among their litany of false gods. He would be their one and only God. And they would say to Him, “You are my God” (Hosea 2:23 ESV).

There is a personal, intimate aspect to that phrase, “You are my God”. It conveys the idea of an up-close and personal relationship, in which God and His people enjoy unbroken and non-distracted community, free from unfaithfulness and idolatry. God would no longer have to compete for their attention and affection. He would be their only God. It is interesting to note that the apostle Paul used this very passage when speaking to the Gentile converts in the church in Rome.

As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’ And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’” – Romans 9:25-26 ESV

Paul was not appropriating the prophecy of Hosea regarding the people of Israel and transferring it to the church, but he was simply using it to illustrate that God grace and mercy regarding all mankind is one and the same. Regarding the Gentiles or non-Jews, God takes those who were not His people (Jews) and makes them His children. He does this when they place their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior. When they do, He shows them mercy and He makes them sons and daughters of the living God, not because of anything they have done or any merit on their part. It is all due to the grace and goodness of God.

In terms of the immediate future for Israel, things were going to get worse before they got better. Their destruction was coming. God’s punishment on their sins was unavoidable and inevitable. But there was going to be a happy ending to the story. Why? Because God is the author of that story and He is loving, gracious, merciful and forever faithful. The story of redemption is a love story. It reveals the love of God towards a rebellious and unloving people, both Jews and Gentiles. While some people may rail against the judgment of God, they fail to recognize that any mercy shown to any human being is due to God’s love, not man’s merit. As the apostle Paul so succinctly said it, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV) and the punishment for that sin is death (Romans 6:23). No one is righteous, no not one (Romans 3:10). Everyone human being on the planet is living in opposition and rebellion to God and deserve His just judgment. But He graciously offers mercy and restoration through His Son. He provided a remedy to man’s deadly sin problem by sending His Son to die on man’s behalf. Jesus lived the life we could not live and died the death we deserved to die – so that we might have eternal life and be able to say, “You are my God”.

Grace Abounded.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. – Romans 5:18-21 ESV

Paul continues his contrast between Adam’s one act of unrighteousness and Christ’s one act of righteousness. Adam’s sin led to condemnation and death for all men, while Christ’s sacrifice led to “justification and life for all men” (Romans 5:18 ESV). But Paul seemed to know that there were those in his audience who would question why God had bothered to give the law in the first place. Why would He have given a set of rules that no one could keep? And Paul clarifies that “the law came in to increase the trespass” (Romans 5:20 ESV). The law was not given to eliminate sin, but to expose it. In chapter seven, Paul writes, “it was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, ‘You must not covet’” (Romans 7:7 NLT). But not only that, “sin used this command to arouse all kinds of covetous desires within me! If there were no law, sin would not have that power. At one time I lived without understanding the law. But when I learned the command not to covet, for instance, the power of sin came to life, and I died” (Romans 7:8-10 NLT). The law was given to the Jews so that they might be a living proof that no man can live up to God’s holy and righteous standards. They had no excuse. They could not plead ignorance. They knew what God expected, but because of their sin natures, inherited from Adam, they could not accomplish what God demanded of them. And sin increased. But the good news is “that where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20 ESV). Man’s guilt required God’s grace. And what is amazing is that the wrath of God against the sins of man met the love and grace of God at the cross. It was there that God’s holy and righteous wrath was poured out against man’s sins and rebellion against Him. God is a holy and just judge and He cannot overlook or ignore sin. To do so would be an injustice. So God had to punish man’s sins. He required a proper payment for mankind’s sin debt. And that debt was paid by His own Son on the cross. God was required by His own law to punish sin. But the payment He required was the life of a sinless, unblemished sacrifice. It was not enough for a bull or goat to be sacrificed. It had to be a man. The author of Hebrews writes, “For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. That is why, when Christ came into the world, he said to God, ‘You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings. But you have given me a body to offer’” (Hebrews 10:4-5 NLT). It was the death of Jesus, the sinless Son of God, that propitiated or satisfied the just judgment of God against sin. And it all took place on the cross. It was on the cross that the love and grace of God appeared. His judgment fell on Jesus as He bore our punishment for sin. But His love was displayed as He provided a substitute to die in our place. As Paul stated earlier in this chapter, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). 

That amazing this is that God’s grace abounded even as the sinfulness of man increased. Paul has already told us, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:23-26 ESV). God had every right and even the righteous responsibility to deal with man’s sin. And yet, He delayed. He postponed judgment until such a time as He could send His Son to be the payment for man’s sin. “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children” (Galatians 5:4-5 NLT).

The grace of God, revealed through the life and death of Jesus Christ, is what makes it possible for men and women to be made right with God. Increased sin is no match for the grace of God. His grace super-abounds. It is more than sufficient. As the old hymn so eloquently says:

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
There where the blood of the Lamb was spilled.
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin!

Righteous Wrath.

All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him. He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our rulers who ruled us, by bringing upon us a great calamity. For under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what has been done against Jerusalem. – Daniel 9:11-12 ESV

Daniel 9-4-19

You don’t want to make God mad. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? But there is a growing sentiment among Christians today that believes God is incapable of wrath. It’s the “God is love” movement, and while it is not new, it is gaining influence like never before. There are countless spokespersons for this popular perspective on God who are writing books, giving talks, filling sanctuaries and persuading others that their view of God is not only the right one, it should be the only one. They reject the notion that God could ever be angry, because God is love. They downplay the notion of judgment because God loves everyone, including sinners. They take a tolerant view of sin, downplaying its significance and, in some cases, denying its existence. In essence, they have taken the biblically accurate statement, “God is love” and turned it around to say, ”Love is God.” They end up worshiping the attribute of love more than they do the One whose very nature defines what love really is.

Daniel would not have been a fan of this camp. He knew first-hand what the wrath of God looked like. He had experienced it. As a young man, he had watched as King Nebuchadnezzar and his troops had besieged Jerusalem, eventually breaking down its wall and destroying the great temple of Solomon. He had been one of thousands taken captive and transported to the nation of Babylon. He had heard the warnings of God spoken by the prophets of God. He and all the other Israelites had known full well what God had said would happen if they did not repent and return to Him. “For behold, I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, declares the Lord, and they shall come, and every one shall set his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its walls all around and against all the cities of Judah. And I will declare my judgments against them, for all their evil in forsaking me. They have made offerings to other gods and worshiped the works of their own hands” (Jeremiah 1:15-16 ESV). God was angry. But His was a righteous anger. He was justly upset with the people of Israel because of all that He had done for them and how they had ended up treating Him – over and over again. This was not the first time they had rejected Him and proved unfaithful to Him. They had a track record of infidelity and unfaithfulness. And because God is holy and righteous, He cannot overlook sin. He has to deal with it justly. He cannot turn a blind eye and simply love like it never happened. He is obligated by His very nature as a just God to punish sin.

That is the very nature of the gospel. Paul understood the love of God well. Listen to how he defined it. “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-8 ESV). Don’t miss his point. God showed His love for us by sending His Son to die for us. He took out His wrath on His own Son. He had to punish sin. He had to deal justly with injustice and God’s solution was to send His Son as the substitute or stand-in for us. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24 ESV). Isaiah was predicting the substitutionary death of Jesus when he wrote, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 ESV). Jesus took on the sins of all mankind and bore the full force of God’s righteous wrath in order to pay the penalty required. And that was a display of God’s love.

God loved Israel. But He could not and would not tolerate their sin. And contrary to popular opinion, it is IMPOSSIBLE to separate the sin from the sinner. God’s wrath against sin inevitably falls on the one who has committed the sin. We like to say, “God loves the sinner, but hates the sin.” But that is not accurate. It is unbiblical. Paul would remind us, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18 ESV). God’s wrath is poured out on people, not impersonal acts of sin. But God does love sinners, just not in the way we sometimes think. His love took the form of a personal sacrifice. He sent His son to die for them so that they would not have to suffer His righteous wrath. God’s love was made available to them through His Son’s death. All they have to do is turn from their sin and accept the gift of His love made possible through Jesus Christ. The wrath of God is against ALL sinners. The love of God is available to ALL sinners. Daniel knew both of these truths well. He understood that all He had to do was confess, repent and turn to God. “‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the Lord. ‘I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful,’ declares the Lord; ‘I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your guilt, that you rebelled against the Lord your God’” (Jeremiah 3:12-13 ESV).