"Judgments of a Loving God" - Chapter 8

    

     

    

    

Chapter 8: Terminal Judgments of God - Warnings & Refusals

(i.e. Judgments of Last Resort)

Chapter 8 Contents 

8.1 Introduction
8.2 God's Warnings
8.3 Refusal to Listen
8.4 A Study in Hardness
8.5 Recap

   

8.1 Introduction

In this chapter we are going to examine this idea of a "terminal judgment", or what I have come to see is a "judgment of the last resort", i.e. God only takes life if there is no other action that will remedy or correct a situation, or protect the earth (including humanity) from destruction.

What we have seen in the examples in the previous chapter are times where individuals are allowed to go into deeper trouble until they come to their senses but, of course, that will not always happen. We need to now consider those other times.

 

The classic illustration of this we see if we look at Pharaoh who opposed Moses (Exodus 5-12). What is incredible about the plagues, (disciplinary leading to direct judgment) apart from the fact of them, is that they gradually intensified and gradually became worse and worse thus making the recipients of them gradually aware that this is the hand of God and it was going to get heavier and heavier until they repented. The key thing about them is that they allowed the recipients of them to learn and repent, at any point prior to the last one.

 

Pharaoh appeared to do so and then backtracked and ended up dying – but it was his choice after ten warnings! Thus this form of disciplinary judgment allows the individual to face what is happening and come to repentance in a gradually worsening situation. If he fails to learn it results in a terminal judgment.

 

When we examine Scripture, we can see two sorts of judgment that end in death:

  • that which comes as gradual discipline but which, if ignored or rejected, results in death, as we have just noted above in the case of Moses and Pharaoh,
  • that which comes as a bolt out of the blue resulting in death.

Now it is probable that the critics of God will assume that the second of these two is the way God usually works, but in reality that is completely untrue and very far from the truth.

 

MOST judgments ending in death come with a period of possible reflection beforehand that enable those facing the judgment to think on what is happening and determine how they will respond. Whereas you might think that this would enable anyone and everyone to avoid judgments from God, the truth is far from this. Such is the reality of this thing the Bible calls Sin, which is a characteristic of each and every one of us, this propensity to self-centred godlessness.

    

    

8.2 God's Warnings

 

When we look at the terminal judgments of God we will see that His warnings may be

•  specific – He warns

•  implied – the circumstances shout out what is happening.

God's Specific Warnings

 

The bigger the event, the greater the warning. The two biggest judgments seen in the Old Testament, in respect of Israel, are i) The Exodus and ii) The Exile. We will look at them both again in the next chapter but for now we simply consider them in respect of the warnings given.

 

i) The Exodus (Ex 5-12)

•  the judgments here (and there are ten of them altogether) are preceded by very specific warnings from God, through Moses, to Pharaoh.

•  There is no way that Pharaoh could have said he wasn't warned.

•  Not only that, as we have already indicated above, they came gradually and with increased intensity.

•  The cause of his eventual destruction is clearly down to Pharaoh's hard heart.

     

ii) The Exile (2 Chron 36)

•  When we refer to ‘The Exile' we refer to that disaster that came upon Judea and Jerusalem that ended up with the vast majority of the population being taken to Babylon, and Jerusalem burnt to the ground.

•  This disaster should have taken no one by surprise because

•  Invasions had taken place as an almost regular occurrence in the decades before the final destruction in 587BC,

•  God's word had been coming, giving constant warning to Israel, through both Jeremiah and Ezekiel for decades beforehand. The warnings were most specific.

•  The whole affair is summed up by the scribe who put 2 Chronicles together:

 

2 Chron 36:15,16 The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. But they mocked God's messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the LORD was aroused against his people and there was no remedy.

 

•  Again the folly of the exile was the constant refusal by king after king, and their followers and people, to heed these warnings.

 

God's Implied Warnings

 

In those two situations above, the warnings were very specific but terminal judgments also come when the recipients should have known, and should have realised what was going on. The warnings are implied within the circumstances.

 

i) The Invasion of Canaan

•  Probably the best illustration of this is seen in the run up to the invasion of Canaan by Israel.

•  Israel had moved from the desert in the south, up the eastern side of the Dead Sea, ready to enter the land by crossing the River Jordon opposite Jericho.

•  Now when we come to look at this invasion we will see that God's intent was for the Canaanites to be driven out of the land, not destroyed, as most people think.

•  Israel were going to come as a terminal or final judgment on this land but ONLY IF the inhabitants remained in it and refused to go.

•  So how were the Canaanites warned of this impending judgment?

•  It is obvious in Scripture that the word spread about what was happening and so at one point Moses was able to say:

  

Num 14:14 “They have already heard

•  that you, O LORD, are with these people and

•  that you, O LORD, have been seen face to face,

•  that your cloud stays over them, and

•  that you go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.”

•  i.e. the word had spread across the whole region that this nation (probably of over a million people) were coming, with some very supernatural accompaniments.

•  Moreover the story of how they had left Egypt miraculously forty years ago, and how they have now defeated two pagan kingdoms to the east of the Dead Sea has also spread widely.

•  Rahab was able to say to the spies,

Josh 2:8-11 "I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us , so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard

•  how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt , and

•  what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed.

When we heard of it , our hearts melted and everyone's courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.”

 

•  Now in that instance it may have been simply the news coming that made them feel like that or it may be that the Lord spoke doubt and fear into their minds.

•  However we may look at it, it is an incredible testimony.

ii) The testimony of God's People

Although the records indicate this so clearly in respect of the invasion of Canaan, the truth is that again and again the knowledge of what was happening in and through Israel was spread throughout the surrounding people. Incident after incident suggest that people knew what was coming – but ignored it!

 

iii) The Flood

Probably the greatest judgment outside the life of Israel is that of the Flood. Consider the details:

•  The world was described as corrupt in God's sight and was full of violence, (Gen 6:11) and

•  they clearly knew of their past history and of God's part in it (because it was passed on down through the generations by word of mouth) but they chose to ignore God,

•  yet Noah was described as a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God (Gen 6:9) and

•  the people all around him would know what he was like and he would have acted as a constant reminder that there was a God and it was possible to have a relationship with Him, AND that there was an alternative way to live.

•  He was given a task by God to build an ark, a very big boat which was to be 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high and

•  that is a big boat and was clearly visible and would have taken months if not years to build. Almost certainly through this time Noah would have shared with his questioning neighbours what he was doing and why – they would have known! The word would have spread far and wide.

•  It gets worse: animals start turning up. This will be the biggest gossip subject for years! One way or another, the people knew something big was going on and no doubt Noah explained – yet no one repented and said, “God please save me,” or "Can I come on your boat with you?"

   

8.3 Refusal to Listen

 

•  We should not be surprised that even though God warns people again and again they refuse to heed Him. Such is the power of Sin that blinds people to the truth.

•  At the time of the flood, they had plenty of time to repent.

•  In the face of the impending ten plagues, Pharaoh had every opportunity to repent.

•  In the face of the ongoing words of the prophets before the Exile, there was plenty of time to repent.

   

Perhaps nowhere is there such a catalogue of judgments as in the book of Revelation and yet after terrible things have happened we read –

 

Rev 9:20,21 “The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood--idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.”

 

Jesus proved the truth of what is here, that amazing things can be done by God and yet people wilfully refuse to acknowledge them for what they are. Listen to his words:

 

Mt 11:23,24   And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you."

  • Sodom and Gomorrah had been examples of unrepentant cities that had been destroyed in God's terminal judgments.
  • Yet the people of Capernaum (and no doubt many other places in Galilee, if not Judea, had seen such miracles that they ought to have turned to God. If such miracles had been done, says Jesus, in those two cities, they would have repented (implied) and not been destroyed.

 

As we said, such is the blindness that comes with Sin.

 

 

8.4   A Study in Hardness

 

In my previous book I looked in some detail at the case of Pharaoh and his hard heartedness. I fear that some reading these pages will not accept the generalisation that we have made about unbelief and might think that Pharaoh's hardness was exceptional. For that reason (and because they are rarely read passages of the Old Testament) I want us to take in, in more detail, something of what we have already referred to, the folly of Israel in failing to heed the warnings that came through the prophets about the impending disaster that would bring about the Exile. We start with Jeremiah:

 

Jer 16:12-15  you have behaved more wickedly than your fathers. See how each of you is following the stubbornness of his evil heart instead of obeying me. So I will throw you out of this land into a land …… However, the days are coming," declares the LORD, "when men will no longer say, `As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,' but they will say, `As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.' For I will restore them to the land I gave their forefathers.

   

•  This is both a message of warning AND a message of hope.

•  The warning is, “I will throw you out of the land”

•  The hope is “I will restore them to the land”

•  Jeremiah warned and warned again

•  Similar warnings had been coming in a steady stream through Jeremiah, for example,

   

Jer 10:17,18 “Gather up your belongings to leave the land, you who live under siege. For this is what the LORD says: "At this time I will hurl out those who live in this land; I will bring distress on them so that they may be captured.”

- leave – siege – hurl out – distress – captured – little left to the imagination!

 

Jer 12:7 “I will forsake my house, abandon my inheritance; I will give the one I love into the hands of her enemies.”

- forsake – abandon – enemies.

 

Jer 14:11,12 “Then the LORD said to me, "Do not pray for the well-being of this people. Although they fast, I will not listen to their cry; though they offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Instead, I will destroy them with the sword, famine and plague.”

•  destroy – sword – famine – plague

 

Jer 15:1,2 “Then the LORD said to me: "Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people. Send them away from my presence! Let them go! And if they ask you, `Where shall we go?' tell them, `This is what the LORD says: "`Those destined for death, to death; those for the sword, to the sword; those for starvation, to starvation; those for captivity, to captivity.”

- destined to death – sword – starvation - captivity

- again and again the same depressing message comes, but they refuse to heed it.

 

See also how the words came through Ezekiel :

 

Ezek 7:5-9 "This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Disaster! An unheard-of disaster is coming. The end has come! The end has come! It has roused itself against you. It has come! Doom has come upon you--you who dwell in the land. The time has come, the day is near; there is panic, not joy, upon the mountains. I am about to pour out my wrath on you and spend my anger against you; I will judge you according to your conduct and repay you for all your detestable practices. I will not look on you with pity or spare you; I will repay you in accordance with your conduct and the detestable practices among you. Then you will know that it is I the LORD who strikes the blow.

- it seems this word is designed to be even more fearsome as a warning

 

Ezek 9:8-10 I fell facedown, crying out, "Ah, Sovereign LORD! Are you going to destroy the entire remnant of Israel in this outpouring of your wrath on Jerusalem?" He answered me, "The sin of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great; the land is full of bloodshed and the city is full of injustice. They say, `The LORD has forsaken the land; the LORD does not see.' So I will not look on them with pity or spare them, but I will bring down on their own heads what they have done."

- their sin is spelled out

 

Ezek 33:27-29 “Say this to them: `This is what the Sovereign LORD says: As surely as I live, those who are left in the ruins will fall by the sword, those out in the country I will give to the wild animals to be devoured, and those in strongholds and caves will die of a plague. I will make the land a desolate waste, and her proud strength will come to an end, and the mountains of Israel will become desolate so that no one will cross them. Then they will know that I am the LORD, when I have made the land a desolate waste because of all the detestable things they have done.”

- similarly words of destruction, a clear warning

- nevertheless there were words of hope - Ezek 34:11-16, 25-31 – and even more -

 

Ezek 36:24-31 "For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God. I will save you from all your uncleanness. I will call for the grain and make it plentiful and will not bring famine upon you. I will increase the fruit of the trees and the crops of the field, so that you will no longer suffer disgrace among the nations because of famine. Then you will remember your evil ways and wicked deeds, and you will loathe yourselves for your sins and detestable practices.

- thus there are prophecies of hope as well as warning

- being brought back to the land, with a new heart and a new spirit and a new relationship on which the Lord decrees His blessing.

 

One might have expected the words of warning to have scared the listeners into changing their ways or, failing that, the words of future encouragements might have melted them in favour of the Lord – but neither of these things happened – they simply pressed on with their ungodly and unrighteous lives and disregarded the prophets. Such is the folly of sin.

 

Remember, when considering these judgments in the chapters ahead, to keep this big picture in mind. There is nothing of a capricious God here, but one who comes with warning after warning after warning, who seeks to turn the people away from the awful ways they were going.

We have focused on verses giving straight warnings of disaster rather than those which picked up on the sins of the people, but one of them summarized it as the land… full of bloodshed and the city… full of injustice, but there is much, much more that could be said in summing up the case against these people, but we will leave it to the chapter that covers that particular judgment.

 

If our children disregarded our warnings to the extent this people disregarded God, we would take disciplinary action against them much earlier. Perhaps the apostle Peter's words are applicable here: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish , but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9)

 

The testimony of the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, perhaps more than any other books of the Old Testament shout to us, ‘This God is patient and merciful, not desiring that any should die but all should repent and live.” The number of times He warned His people is a testimony to His grace, a grace that exceeds anything else we know.'

 

   

8.5 Recap

 

Because there is a lot to take in here in this chapter, let's just recap what we have seen:

 

1. Disciplinary judgments seek to change people's behaviour. Terminal judgment brings death when God knows that nothing more will change this people and turn them away from the awful lives they are living and the effects they are having on those around them.

2. All judgments come with (many) warnings from God and those warnings may be explicit or implied (seen in the circumstances).

3. Terminal judgments may come after a series of disciplinary judgments when people have failed to respond to the discipline. They may also come apparently ‘out of the blue' but there have always been implied warnings to be seen.

4. Terminal judgments only come about when the hardness of heart in sinful people refuses to respond positively to the warnings or disciplinary judgments that always precede the terminal judgment.

5. We therefore conclude that terminal judgments NEVER come in isolation and are always the ONLY options open to the Lord who looks on the earth with eyes and a heart that wants the best for it.

Now it is probable that these items above really do challenge the beliefs of many who have never before taken the time or made the effort to consider these things. Because of that we invite you to go back over this chapter in particular to see the truth and reality of the things we have been saying here. These things will be confirmed again and again as we look in more detail in the second half of this book at the individual judgments. Before we move on to see those, we will consider these things just once more from a slightly different angle in the following chapter.

 

 

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