6: Focusing God's Intentions
God's Greater Desire: restraint and redemption
6.3 The God of Second
Chances 6.4 God's
Reputation 6.5 The
Glory of God 6.6 God
of Anger & Favour 6.7
A Brief Testimony
the previous chapter we said that when God assesses, decrees and acts
in judgment, it is to bring justice in respect of the offender and
also for the rest of the world. In other words, justice brings
right order and outcome to the offender and everyone
else. A good life for all is the intended outcome of justice.
We cannot emphasise this enough in respect of the justice you find
applied in the Old Testament.
once wondered how one might summarise the whole Bible in a single
tweet with its limited number of characters. I came up with one offering:
“God has come to us to give us better lives than we have at
implications behind that over-simplified gospel is that He
has come to earth to redeem us from our unrighteous lives, deal with
our guilt (bring justice), empower us and give us hope for living
new (righteous) lives, that are more enjoyable than the previous lives
built into that should be the New Testament teaching that when we
become a Christian we embark on a life where God is constantly changing
us so that tomorrow will be better than today, because tomorrow I
will be more Jesus-like than I have become so far today.
we accept what we have said in the earlier chapters – that God is
love and God is good – then we may summarise it by saying God is benign
and wills good for us all the time and a ‘good life' means an enjoyable
life full of peace, purpose and power (the righteous Christian life)
is better and far more enjoyable than a life that is full of worry,
wandering and weakness (the unrighteous non-Christian life).
Old Testament summary equivalent to this is found in a prophecy of
Jeremiah to Israel:
“For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans
to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and
intent or objective is to do good to people but that often means they
need to change and that change is the means of brinign them into a
better life. As we will see as we continue in the following chapters,
acts of judgment come with a variety of reasons and anticipated outcomes
to stop wrong behaviour in an individual,
to punish an individual,
to correct and change the individual,
to act as a warning and teaching to
all onlookers, and
to bring a sense of wellbeing to society
as far as that is possible.
justice has been done, we can say, ‘The right thing has been done!
it was just and fair and right.' That is justice and it helps bring
righteousness (good living) to God's world.
may not have seen this before, but judgment can also be a blessing.
The removal of a terror or threat of evil, by the judgment, blesses
the world by
stopping and removing that terror
or evil and
leaves the world benefiting
because it is free from the effects
of that terror or evil and
it is now open to be blessed by
all of God's goodness
prevents God's goodness flowing and so sometimes it has to be removed
so that His goodness can be received.
God's Greater Desire: restraint and redemption
will see, when we get to look at the judgments in Genesis, for example,
a God of amazing restraint – and that is the message that comes throughout
the Bible. Bear in mind what the Bible tells us about the big picture.
Knowing that with free-will Sin would soon follow, the Godhead did
not say, “This is a bad idea, let's not make this world and these
humans, let's just do something else.”
Father, Son and Holy Spirit planned how to deal with this Sin in the
long term and instead of just ploughing the world and destroying every
sinner in sight, they planned how to redeem any one who would turn
back to them. The famous verses of Jn 3:16,17 tell us that God gave
His own Son to redeem us. His one and only plan throughout time has
been to save us – and Jesus was the way for that to happen and justice
knows our frailty and hence such verses as follows:
Jn 2:1 “My
dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But
if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence--Jesus
Christ, the Righteous One.”
the tenderness of the writer, John, and of the intent of the words
to something similar from the apostle Paul:
if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore
is for us”
is it in a nutshell. God is for us!
never tire of declaring the prophet's words from God in Ezekiel:
“I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign
LORD. Repent and live!”
It is only stubborn obstinacy that ever results in judgment.
Judgment is NOT God's first response!
a world of pain and anguish, hurt and destruction, we find a God who
does not stand afar off, but one who steps down into this world to
experience all that we experience – including the most hideous death
possible – to say, I love you, I am for you, I am with you, I have
come down to deliver you if you will let me.
is not the God of the ranting atheist; this is the God of the Bible
who shares in our anxieties. Look, if as Christians the Holy Spirit
indwells us (and He does!), then He feels all we feel, so He feels
your worries and your anxieties and your pains and hurts. God can't
get any closer than that. Bear all this in mind throughout all the
coming studies as we focus on the judgments of God. Remember the sort
of God we have seen.
The God of Second Chances
acrimonious denunciations of the crusading atheists just do not fit
the Biblical Testimony. Instead of a harsh and judgmental God out
to destroy everything in sight, consider the following summaries of
what the Bible tells us about God's activities:
As we have noted before, when God
finished creating the whole of the earth, including us, His assessment
of it was that “it was very
good” (Gen 1:31).
As a world without strife or disharmony
in any shape or form, it was good to live in and the provision of
fruit and vegetables was amazing. (I am told there are over twelve
hundred varieties of edible bean in the world today!)
provision for us is all about pleasure and enjoyment within the
boundaries He established. Wonderful!
When Adam and Eve fell (rejected and
disobeyed God) He did not destroy them but simply put them outside
the garden area where they had known the Lord. (we will look at
this in detail in a later chapter)
He did not give up on His plans for
When we come to look at the judgments
of Genesis we will discover that although mankind constantly got
it wrong and went from bad to worse, God's activity was incredibly
restrained when it came to dealing with them.
We then find Him starting to build
a relationship with a man called
Abram and when he doesn't do very well on occasion, God still keeps
on with him – and with his son, Isaac, and his grandson, Jacob.
In fact His dealings with mankind
simply reveal the folly of sin in man and the grace and goodness
of God who does not give up on us.
Moses & Israel
Indeed God works within the sin framework
of the world that exists after the Fall, and so copes with Jacob's
self-centred twisting, uses spoilt brat Joseph and allows the chosen
family to end up in Egypt where they settle and prosper but end
up as slaves.
He then takes a failure called Moses
and uses him to confront the awful pride of the Pharaoh of Egypt
and delivers Israel out of his hands.
He puts up with the moanings and groanings
of Israel as they travel to Sinai and eventually when they refuse
to enter the land God has chosen for them, He waits patiently until
the generation of unbelief has died off and then takes the next
generation into this land described as “a
land flowing with milk and honey,” (Ex 3:8) a picture
of wonderful provision.
Saul, David and Solomon
When, long after they have settled
there, they demand a king, the Lord does not give up on them but
gives them one who fits exactly the king they have in mind, “an
impressive young man without equal among the Israelites--a head
taller than any of the others,” whose name is Saul (1
Unfortunately he fails and so God
give them another to be king, David, who does unite and establish
When it comes to his son, Solomon,
we see the peak of God's blessing when the Queen of Sheba comes
to visit and is absolutely overwhelmed by God's provision (see 1
Kings 10, esp. v.7-9)
Solomon and future kings
When Solomon eventually drifts away
from the Lord, the Lord does not give up on them but splits the
kingdom to give two opportunities for blessing to flow out of relationship
The northern kingdom fails from the
word go and the southern kingdom has good, bad and very bad times.
The northern kingdom eventually fails
and is carried away and when the southern kingdom settles in for
very bad, they too are eventually swept away in what we call the
Now we might have expected God to
have given up on these people and utterly destroy them but to our
surprise we find He brings them back to the land and restores them.
Four hundred years later His Son, Jesus, is born into this land.
When we observe the ministry of Jesus
the simplest way of describing it is to say he simply did good and
kept on doing good in his Father's name. Through him blessing followed
When he formed a group of disciples
he did not give up on their misunderstandings but patiently taught
He allowed himself to be arrested,
falsely tried, condemned and crucified. Three days later he rose
from the dead and instead of preaching death and destruction for
this foolish world (both Jew and Gentile), he promised blessing,
which came in the form of the outpouring of his Holy Spirit in what
was to become the Church.
The Early Church
When you watch the movement of the
Holy Spirit you see power and joy and then gifting of both spiritual
gifts (1 Cor 12) and spiritual ministries (Eph 4:11,12), all of
which are expression of his ongoing loving intent for us.
In and through the Church we see his
ongoing blessing of individuals; it is an ongoing picture of the
love of God being poured out and poured out in abundance on a less
than perfect people.
is as brief a potted history of the Bible that we can manage and what
it shows is that every single figure (with the exception of the Son
of God, Jesus Christ) was flawed, frequently failed and fell down
morally in some way or other in their life.
other side of the coin, however, is that God never gave up on them
and persevered in seeking to bless them again and again. The only
times that did not see that happening, was when an individual or a
nation set its heart against God and refused to listen and therefore
refused to receive His love and goodness.
overall picture is NOT of a capricious and unkind God, a God who looks
for any and every opportunity to condemn and destroy people. The truth
is exactly the opposite.
researching for my previous book, “God's Love in the Old Testament”,
I was amazed to find out just how many times in the Old Testament
God's reputation, as far as the rest of the world was concerned, came
to the fore. All of the early leaders of Israel realised that their
calling was to be as a light to the rest of the world, revealing God
to this world.
this is another of those things seldom thought of by God's detractors.
The truth is that throughout the entire Bible, His desire to reconcile
mankind to Himself is paramount, therefore it was important the sort
of God that was being portrayed to the rest of the world through Israel.
Very often so-called acts of judgment were God intervening to stop
the downward decline of Israel, to turn them around, and get them
back on an upward path where God's goodness was revealed through them.
pinnacle of this was the revelation that the Queen of Sheba had when
she came to visit king Solomon, that we mentioned earlier. Although
I covered this in the previous book, it bears repeating here. First
of all the description of what God did for Solomon:
Kings 4:29-34 God
gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding
as measureless as the sand on the seashore. Solomon's wisdom was greater
than the wisdom of all the men of the East, …. And his fame spread
to all the surrounding nations. He spoke three thousand proverbs
and his songs numbered a thousand and five. He described plant life,
from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He
also taught about animals and birds, reptiles and fish.
Men of all nations came to listen
to Solomon's wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard
of his wisdom
the testimony of the Queen of Sheba:
Kings 10:1-10 When
the queen of Sheba heard
about the fame of Solomon and his relation to the name of the LORD,
she came to test him with hard questions… When the queen of Sheba
saw all the wisdom of Solomon and the palace he had built, the food
on his table, the seating of his officials, the attending servants
in their robes, his cupbearers, and the burnt offerings he made at
the temple of the LORD, she was overwhelmed. …… happy your men must
be! How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and
hear your wisdom! Praise be to the LORD your God, who has delighted
in you and placed you on the throne of Israel . Because
of the LORD's eternal love for Israel , he has made
you king, to maintain justice and righteousness."
also in that amazing passage that she recognised that under God he
had been called to establish a kingdom of justice and righteousness.
Remember all we said about that in the previous chapter.
The Glory of God
an extension of what we have been considering about God's reputation
we would do well to briefly consider the subject of the glory of God.
The glory of the Lord refers to, as the dictionary says, “great
honour and admiration won by doing something important or
valuable; fame; renown, the condition of highest achievement, splendour,
etc., radiant beauty or splendour; magnificence.”
Moses and his people sung a song of victory they sang, “Who
among the gods is like you, O LORD? Who is like you-- majestic in
holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (Ex
other words they sang, who is like you with such a wonderful reputation.
All that we saw above in the potted history of the Bible
under the heading, “The God of Second Chances” goes to confirming
that reputation. The message that comes through the Old Testament
and then the New Testament again and again, is that God wants us to
know about Him and then know Him personally. The Old Testament is
full of the phrase, “so that they will know” and the knowing is knowing
that He is God, that He exists and desires to have a relationship
with us based on His love.
cannot say enough times that this is one of His primary goals that
is revealed in the Old Testament. As we will later go on to consider
individual judgments, we will see again and again that the Lord's
intent is that the judgment will not only correct a wrong situation,
but it will also teach the surrounding onlookers something of the
glory of the Lord. A few verses will suffice as we close to make this
will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make
your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who
bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples
on earth will be blessed through you.
is reiterated a number of times more with Abram, then with Isaac and
even through Jacob. See also
Josh 4:23,24, 1 Chron 16:8,24, Psa 57:9,
1 Kings 4:29-34, 1 Kings 8:41-43, Isa 11:10, Isa 42:6 and
lots, lots more verses. God wants the world to see and know the wonder
of who He is, and His love for His world, and thus turn to Him and
enter into a loving relationship with Him. This is vital to remember
throughout these studies, this glory or reputation of the Lord.
God of Anger & Favour
have already touched on the subject of Gods anger but we need to refocus
it here in this chapter in the light of all we have been saying.
a wholesome family. Despite how good this family is, there will be
times when a child does wrong and it is right and proper for that
to stir displeasure in the parents, and that we may call anger. But
the wise parent lets the anger disperse before correction is brought
(we implied that in an earlier chapter when we envisaged God making
objective assessments of wrong, provoked initially by His anger.)
the wider life span of this family and times of anger over wrong doing
are few and far between and they last only a moment – that is in a
wholesome godly family. That is how wrongdoing and anger is – momentarily.
And that is how it is with God. It is right that He becomes angry
when He sees wrong but His anger gives way, we saw previously, to
a dispassionate, objective assessment of what to do about that wrong
doing. This brief anger is always tempered by His overall desire to
bless and redeem His world.
prophet Isaiah saw this when the Lord spoke through him:
a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I
will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for
a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion
on you," says the LORD your Redeemer.”
is first and foremost a redeemer. Everything else is tempered by that.
In the midst of the Ten Commandments and then later in Exodus we find
the Lord speaking:
the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the
sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who
hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love
me and keep my commandments.”
the Ten Commandments, it follows the prohibition against making idols.
It says that sin tends to be
passed on to the immediate next generations and He will deal with
them – all of them in each generation who follow the example of their
fathers so that they may not give the excuse, ‘we were led astray
by our parents'. (He also deals with the fathers who led the family
astray.) It may take four generations for them to come to their senses
but each of them will be held accountable. He is not like a powerless
block of wood carved into a human shape, He is a living God who will
deal with those wayward ones, but He will love and go on living all
who will hold fast to him for ever. So yes, while there is warning,
there is also great encouragement and reassurance – He is a God who
WILL love all who turn to Him, for ever and ever. He will never change
and give up on mankind's imperfections. As we said before, when the
heart is inclined towards Him He will be there for us, even while
we are still imperfect.
A Brief Testimony
early part of this chapter has sought to refocus our thinking on the
good works of God in His people in what we have referred to as the
good life. The Christian Church has been notoriously bad at defending
itself, but gradually that is changing. Increasingly, something that
the crusading atheists have been very bad at noticing, testimonies
of the effects of the Christian life have been increasing in the media.
Note this one expression of the good life that comes from the pen
of Philip Yancey in his book, ‘Vanishing Grace':
study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry reported on
Harvard undergraduates who experienced a religious conversion in their
student days. The students had a 'radical change in lifestyle' shown
by a marked decrease in the use of drugs, alcohol and cigarettes.
Not only that, their academic performance improved and they seemed
less prone to depression, preoccupation with death and bouts of 'existential
goes on to testify: “I have seen many
examples of ordinary Christians who cheerfully serve the common
good, a fact that gets overlooked in the media's focus on Christians
and, politics. Robert Putnam, author of the ground-breaking book Bowling
Alone, documents that religious Americans are more likely to give
money to a homeless person, return excess change to a shopkeeper,
donate blood, help a sick neighbour with shopping or housework, spend
time with someone who is depressed, offer a seat to a stranger, or
help someone find a job.”
sort of testimony, about the good life that God leads His people into,
could be multiplied a million times over. For every verse about judgment
or discipline in the Bible there are probably well over a hundred
about God dealing with His people in other ways, ways that bring what
we have been calling the good life. This balance should always be
held in the back of our minds as we progress through this book.