The book of Isaiah portrays the truth of God’s judgment.
Yet some people reject the God of the Old Testament for this very reason—He brings judgment.
In reality, however, He first brings warning.
It’s something I was taught to do as a teacher. I had one principal in particular who required that we reduce our classroom rules to a basic group, then post them along with consequences for breaking them. In other words, no surprises. We were not to expect kids to abide by some standard they didn’t know existed.
My principal didn’t invent that process. Instead, by proceeding in that fashion, we were mirroring the way God works. He clearly set the standards for Adam and Eve, for instance, and spelled out the consequences. No surprises.
He did the same for the nation of Israel. First the directive — obey these laws, which He wrote down for them. Then the consequences, this time accompanied with a list of benefits for obedience.
In the same way, He worked with individuals such as Saul, David, Solomon, even Nebuchadnezzar.
His approach was the same for a city like Nineveh, to whom He sent the prophet Jonah, and for a nation like Moab, to whom He sent the prophet Balaam.
In other instances, God sent affliction as a warning:
So they forsook the LORD and served Baal and the Ashtaroth. The anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and He gave them into the hands of plunderers who plundered them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies around them, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies. (Judges 2:13-14)
When Israel cried to God for help, He raised up judges to deliver them.
Ultimately He brought about the exile of His people — the fulfillment of His judgment which He’d warned Israel about from the beginning — and still He brought back a remnant.
So here’s the first think people mistakenly think about God’s judgment: He acts out of uncontrolled rage against people He perceives to have messed up, however slight the offense might be. Such a characterization of God is not consistent with Scripture.
Another thing I learned about God’s judgment from Isaiah is that lots of people will be cheering for Him because His judgment frees those who are being oppressed.
The afflicted also will increase their gladness in the LORD,
And the needy of mankind will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
For the ruthless will come to an end and the scorner will be finished,
Indeed all who are intent on doing evil will be cut off;
Who cause a person to be indicted by a word,
And ensnare him who adjudicates at the gate,
And defraud the one in the right with meaningless arguments. (Isaiah 29:19-21 – emphasis mine)
People who misunderstand God’s judgment believe He brings wrath down on innocent people, not guilty people.
Society agrees that those who harm children should be stopped, that someone gunning down people in their homes should be held accountable, that drunk drivers putting others at risk ought to be taken off the road. In other words, we believe in justice. We believe that authorities should stop and should punish those who do harm.
Consequently, if we understood that God’s judgment is and has always been upon guilty people, we would be like those Isaiah talked about — rejoicing in Him.
Instead, we take to ourselves the right to judge God — to determine if, in fact, He is only bringing down judgment on the guilty, or if He might be bringing down judgment on the innocent.
The most popular view today is that of course the people God judged were innocent — by reason of the fact that we are all innocent until proven guilty. Apparently that legal guarantee of the US Constitution has become our operating principle — Man is innocent, Man is good. Consequently, God has to prove to our satisfaction that Man deserves to die, and quite frankly, simply eating a piece of fruit does not qualify.
The truth is, since Adam, Man has not been innocent.
For this is a rebellious people, false sons,
Sons who refuse to listen
To the instruction of the LORD;
Who say to the seers, “You must not see visions”;
And to the prophets, “You must not prophesy to us what is right,
Speak to us pleasant words,
Get out of the way, turn aside from the path,
Let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.”
Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel,
“Since you have rejected this word
And have put your trust in oppression and guile, and have relied on them,
Therefore this iniquity will be to you
Like a breach about to fall…”
For thus the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, has said,
“In repentance and rest you will be saved,
In quietness and trust is your strength.”
But you were not willing…
Therefore the LORD longs to be gracious to you,
And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you.
For the LORD is a God of justice;
How blessed are all those who long for Him. (Isaiah 30:9-18)
What’s the truth about God’s judgment? It is handed down to guilty people after He has given clear commandments and warned of the dire consequences of rejecting or neglecting God’s word, God’s way. In the end, some choose not to listen to God who in His goodness and mercy has reached out to them.
Any other characterization of God’s judgment comes from the father of lies, that serpent of old who first said to Eve, Has God really said …
This post was first published here in March 2012.