|Series Theme: The Truth about Guilt|
PART ONE: General Considerations
PART TWO: Specific Failures that produce Guilt
PART ONE: General Considerations
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 1. Introducing Guilt
1 Jn 1:9 (Living Bible) “if we confess our sins to him, he can be depended on to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong. And it is perfectly proper for God to do this for us because Christ died to wash away our sins.” (1 Jn 1:9 Living Bible)
Why? Why this series? Well, I had a dream, a remarkably clear dream and one that, unusually, stayed with me when I woke. In it a friend asked me to speak at college (although on reflection I realised it was in the Civic Centre), on ‘Guilt', and I ended up before a class of teens with a very clear idea of what to say to them. When I was praying later, this dream came back clearly with a bigger sense of where it should go.
The Approach: My sense is that this series should have two parts, the first thinking about guilt and then seeing what the Bible says about it, and then the second considering the guilt of the modern world. I am aware that thinking about ‘guilt' sounds heavy and not very enlightening as a daily study, but I believe it is essential ingredient for seeking to understand the days in which we live and what the Lord might be saying to the Church in these Days. In the Second Part we will seek to confront a number of aspects of today's world that from time to time seem to permeate the life of the Church. I thus hope it won't be heavy but enlightening and will motivate us to pray for the Church and for our nations in these days. I am fairly sure these is not going to be studies condemning and laying guilt; in fact the exact opposite.
Definition & Importance: A simple dictionary search tells us that
“guilt = the fact of having committed a specified or implied offence or crime” while
“guilty = the state of having committed, or responsible for, a specified wrongdoing.”
We don't like thinking about guilt – at least when it applies to ourselves – and that may be because we don't realise that guilt is a symptom of something that needs confronting and addressing. Often it is only when the symptom appears that we realise we have the problem. One approach says that thoughts lead to emotions and feelings of guilt, the emotion of guilt, and is because we think we have done wrong. If the thoughts we have accurately record the truth of what happened – a wrong for which we are responsible – then the feelings of guilt accurately convey the truth – we ARE guilty. If the thoughts only pick up part of what happened, then it is easy to allow them to convey the emotion of guilt but the reality may be that we did not do wrong, we are not guilty, as we'll see in the following studies.
The Process: From these simple starting thoughts we see a progression that is in fact very obvious: first there is the act of wrong, second there is the recognition that we did wrong, the thoughts that put the act into a context and realise it was wrong, and then there is the emotion or feeling. Sometimes we talk about our ‘conscience' or, in the spiritual realm, our conviction. Now the feelings help us identify the thoughts and the thoughts help us pin down the act, and all of these things for us as Christians highlight a need for further action.
The Way Through: From the outset let's remind ourselves of the most basic of New Testament teaching: “if we confess our sins to him, he can be depended on to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong. And it is perfectly proper for God to do this for us because Christ died to wash away our sins.” (1 Jn 1:9 Living Bible) So we have seen two processes. First the process of diagnosis : the act, the thinking, the emotion, the conclusion (I am guilty!). Second there is the process of response : first our part, the act of will that confesses and acknowledges and repents of the wrong, then God's action that forgives and cleanses and restores us.
John is seeking to be remarkably simple in this verse and just uses the word ‘confess' but as we go on we will see that actually it means what I wrote above – also acknowledges the sin and repents of the sin. Simply to say, Oh yes, I did wrong, and leave it at that isn't enough; it needs to be accompanied by a determination to repent – which means utterly change – and be done with that sin, and let God deal with me. We will need to think about these things more fully in the studies ahead I suspect.
And Us? John in his pastoral role in that first letter is extremely helpful because in the second chapter he says, “I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1) His goal is to reinforce the teaching that Christians have been set free from the power of sin and yet there will be times where we will get it wrong. I would suggest that this should take away any defensiveness we may feel about considering guilt. Guilt is merely the signpost that needs to be observed, or an additional motivator to recognise, that guides us along the path of sanctification, our lives being cleaned up and changed by God. I would hope that I am dealing with any issues that arise in my life at the present time, but I would be foolish to think that before I go to be in heaven, there will not be further issues of which at the present time I am not aware. Perhaps these studies will help us face what we have seen in the past as an uncomfortable subject and come see it as a useful tool that God can use the enable us to be more open to His moving in these times. May it be so.
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 2. Understanding God
Ex 34:6,7 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord , the Lord , a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty , visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
Recap: In the first study we faced the words ‘guilt' and ‘guilty' and sought to show that although they are words we prefer to keep in the background of our lives, and hope preachers won't talk about, nevertheless they are essential to help us face our shortcomings or our blind spots. In this study we are going to confront two verses from the Old Testament that are regularly mis-translated and which, therefore cause many people difficulties and in the midst of them is this subject of guilt.
Not Clearing the Guilty: Our starter two verses are key verses for understanding God. They start out by extolling God as the God who is, “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,” words that are repeated in whole or part again and again throughout the Old Testament. That part we like but then it starts getting uncomfortable: “but who will by no means clear the guilty.” This needs thinking about because most Christian teaching seems to suggest a God who, as we considered previously, forgives and cleanses us of our sin, our guilt. But that forgets the word ‘confess' we've already considered. The work of the death of Christ on the cross is not applied to the unrepentant. The guilty remain the guilty and their guilt stands before justice which demands action. God isn't going to ‘clear the guilty', pretend the guilt isn't there. The Cross is about forgiving and cleansing the guilty – those who acknowledge their guilt. The unrepentant are still in trouble.
Confusion over Ongoing Sin: But our verses get worse: “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.” This again needs thinking about. “visiting the iniquity”? Now most translations impose on this passage a sense of guilt and blame but, I suggest, this is more the translators' poor appreciation of God's grace than of accurate conveying of the meaning. For example, the Message version (which I like and use a lot) very badly puts it, “He holds sons and grandsons responsible for a father's sins to the third and even fourth generation.”
Now the Israelites so misunderstood this that the Lord had to correct them through Ezekiel. Read Ezek 18 which challenges a proverb they used, “The parents eat sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge'” (18:2b) i.e. the kids suffer because of their parents' wrongdoing. No, says the Lord, “The one who sins is the one who will die.” (v.4b) He then cites a righteous man (v.5-9) who then has an unrighteous son (v.10-13) and only that son will die. The other way round, suppose there is an unrighteous man (v.14) but the son refuses to follow his father's path, the son will not die: “He will not die for his father's sin; he will surely live.” (v.17b)
Resolution: Now I don't believe the Bible is full of contradictions, so how do we resolve this? Back to “visiting the iniquity”. We need to distinguish between the meanings of practical expression, guilt or blame, and freedom of opportunity. I believe a better way to put part of these verses would be to speak of the ongoing expression of sin and their effects as seen in a father which the sons can (or may not!) follow. Because of the closeness of family life, and we see this so often we perhaps miss or forget it, it is almost usual for children to follow in the footsteps of their parents and that includes copying or continuing their iniquities.
Visiting the iniquities of the father on the following generations simply means that father's example is there confronting the children who may or may not follow it. IF they do follow that bad example, it is probable that they follow the description that comes up in a similar passage in the Ten Commandments: “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” (see Ex 20:4-6 & Deut 5:9,10) Following a bad example indicates a wrong heart towards God. That son or grandson has a problem with God, they carry their own guilt. There is an interdependence of father and child which includes the moral or ethical dimension, and thus a bad father is simply leading his child down a similar bad path, if he is unwise enough to follow it and not go his own better way. Love of God restrains sinful behaviour and if that is seen in the father it will reflect into the life of the son.
And Us? There are very strong lessons about family life here. First that each individual, father or child, is accountable to God for their own life. Where there is guilt (i.e. wrongdoing) the individual is responsible for their own life. Second, the older generation can provide a good or bad example and subsequent generations, although vulnerable to bad examples, are responsible for the way they react to those examples, good or bad. Guilt is uniquely individual but behaviour can be transmitted down the generations if the younger ones do not recognise and reject bad. Don't blame your parents. God will do that. Yet learn from them. If they provided good examples, follow them, if bad examples, reject them. These are vital words for the very mixed up and confused world of family life we have in the West today.
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 3. All about Boundaries
Num 5:6 “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any man or woman who wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the Lord is guilty
Deut 24:15 Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the Lord against you, and you will be guilty of sin.
Deut 25:1 When people have a dispute, they are to take it to court and the judges will decide the case, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty.
Recap: We have made, in the first study, some introductory comments about the meaning of guilt, recognised it as one element of all human experience and noted the biblical processes of diagnosis and recognition of our guilt and then the process of response to that diagnosis of confession AND repentance. In the second study we noted that God does not pretend that the cause of the guilt didn't happen, He doesn't just clear the guilty, but holds each individual accountable for their own behaviour. Although, in a family context, wrong behaviour can act as an example to the next generation and lead them astray, the next generation is responsible for the way they respond, to go down a similar wrong path or reject that path and determine to live righteously. Now we need to bring into focus another aspect of this whole subject.
Boundaries: A boundary is a line of demarcation, that separates one piece of land, say, from another. Owners of property are always conscious of the boundaries to their property. Now when we come to the Bible we find that God lays down many boundaries of behaviour. When it comes to talk about the kingdom of God, the apostle Paul clearly expressed this: “the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” (Col 1:12,13) He uses the language of two countries, one a kingdom full of light, ruled over by a king (Jesus), the other a land of darkness with a temporary governor. There are distinct differences between them. The boundaries that we find in the Bible are simply God's instructions for us, how to live in accordance with His design.
First Boundary Crossed: The first boundary not to be crossed involved the tree of life: “God commanded the Man, “You can eat from any tree in the garden, except from the Tree-of-Knowledge-of-Good-and-Evil. Don't eat from it. The moment you eat from that tree, you're dead.” (Gen 2:16,17 Message version) ‘Life', as given by God, flowed in Adam and Eve out of their relationship with God, an eternal life that was pure and holy and thus sin-free. That one instruction was quite specific and the reason given, even if God didn't spell it out as I have just done. The moment they disobeyed they felt guilt, were ashamed, and were afraid. The guilt was the natural built-in reaction to having done what they knew was wrong, the shame was the sense of self-realization of failure that made them self-conscious and aware they were naked, and the fear was the wondering what might happen to them when God turned up and found out. We also see a fourth outworking: a tendency to blame others, i.e. off-load the guilt.
We see this fourfold outworking in modern life again and again. Infidelity in relationships, unfaithfulness and betrayal, that is so often at the heart of family breakups, are characterized by the first three that seek to be assuaged by excuse-making, blaming others, and thus refusing to accept responsibility. We see it in big business as CEO's and board members pay themselves massive bonuses while their workers are paid a pittance by comparison. The word they use to cover up the wrong is ‘self-justification'. It is how sinful men and women seek to cover up their nakedness but God still sees the truth and will hold them accountable.
Design Boundaries: When we look at the Law of Moses, we find example after example of these ‘boundaries' that are not to be crossed. For instance, “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any man or woman who wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the Lord is guilty.” (Num 5:6) That is quite remarkable. Doing wrong to any other person is crossing a boundary and takes you into the land of guilt and accountability! Similarly in employment situations, “Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the Lord against you, and you will be guilty of sin .” (Deut 24:15) i.e. don't withhold proper payment of your employees otherwise you are in trouble with God. One wonders how may big employers today can stand the scrutiny of God when they make excuses for taking large dividends while keeping their employees at or near minimum wage.
And Us? The lessons are clear: wrong behaviour, treating others badly, whether in domestic relationships (and sexual and physical abusers are high on God's Final Judgment agenda) in business, or anywhere for that matter, means you are guilty before God and will be accountable to Him either here in this life or in the Final Judgment. These are sobering truths in scripture but they are truths that need to be heeded.
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 4. It's an Issue with God
Lk 15:18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.
Unbelief: The biggest thing about unbelief is that you think you are alone in the world and thus you can do what you like so, behind closed doors no one knows what you do, behind a closed mind no one knows what you are thinking or planning or scheming; there is no one to hold you accountable. You are a free agent who can do what you like, go where you like and, as long as there is no one to retrain you, say what you like. But that is a world of complete deception for the truth is that God is here, God sees and God knows and, even more scarily, God acts into this world.
All the Same: Reality, as we see it in our mind at least, on one hand says we are all the same and so the attitude is expressed, “Don't tell me I'm a sinner, we're all just the same so who are you to say that?” The answer of course is just another sinner but one who has learned there is more to life than this isolated bubble approach that so many have. Because, yes, there's the other side of the coin, we may be all the same but we also have this sense of isolation; I am different, what happens to me doesn't happen to you, you don't know what I'm going through, no one else has experienced this. Within both outlooks there are partial truths.
Yes, we are all sinners, yes we are all unique. But neither of these perspectives should be used as an excuse. The fact that we are all sinners doesn't let me off the hook. I am still guilty. My uniqueness with my personal inadequacies that I appear to have been born with, or brought up to accept as normal, can never be used to justify my bad behaviour, wrong thinking or wrong speaking. However you look at it, I am guilty. That is why the Biblical answer we considered in Study no.1 is so important, and we will need to unpack it some more in the days ahead.
Before God: The view from the outlook point of unbelief simply scans the horizon and creates in me (the unbeliever) complacency, a contentment with my own little world (which I'm working to improve for my own benefit). But that is purely a materialistic panorama, a view seen only through physical eyes, yet a wider scan of the affairs of the world, present and past, reveals things that cannot be understood in purely material terms. Religious outlooks, that may or may not be rooted in fearful superstition, reveal mankind that thinks there must be something more than just the physical.
This is backed up by holy preachers who called crowds to follow a different outlook. And then there is the phenomenon of the people of Israel, a people whose very existence is predicated on the belief in a God, the only God, Creator of heaven and earth. And then comes Jesus Christ who, for the open-hearted scholar-researcher cannot be written off as simply a holy preacher, with his three-year ministry life filled with impossibilities, things that challenge to the very core that obstinate self-preserving belief that there can be nothing beyond the material world. The claim to be the unique Son of God, come down from heaven to reveal something of the God who is, rocks us and we either hastily turn our backs and harden our Pharaoh-like hearts even more, or we bow the knee, surrender and worship.
Standing before God: Yes, this is the truth that the sinful mind struggles with: God IS, God is here, God sees me and knows me and everything I think say or do is known by Him. This is God who designed the world to work perfectly and yet, giving us free will, knew that it wouldn't and planned accordingly. This is His world, His design and His to act into as He sees fit. In the previous study we observed a ‘boundary' not to be crossed as designated by the Law: “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any man or woman who wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the Lord is guilty,” (Num 5:6) noting the all-embracing nature of the command, but now note this failure is seen as a sign of being unfaithful to God.
Years later, when Jesus stood on the earth he told the famous story of the Prodigal Son and he puts these words into the mouth of the prodigal in his story: “I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.” His prodigal recognised he hadn't merely abused his father; he had also sinned against God. That is the truth about every wrong, every sin, every transgression, every failure. It is against the One who designed us and brought this world into being and is still here holding each one of us accountable. It's not just those we hurt we have to be concerned about (though it is important), it is about God who doesn't just ‘clear the guilty' but confronts them with how their guilt is to be dealt with. Is it by self-effort or cover up, or by open confession, repentance and belief in the finished work of Christ on the Cross? Those are the only options. One produces death, the other life.
And Us? Guilt towards others AND God? The apostle Paul's instruction that “Everyone ought to examine themselves ,” (1 Cor 11:28) is used by the wise on a much wider base. Recognition of these things drives one to the foot of the Cross. Not only can I do nothing (Jn 15:5) but I am nothing without Christ, merely fuel for the fire of destruction. With Christ I am a child of God with a destiny, guilty yes, redeemed yes, forgiven and cleansed yes. Hallelujah!
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 5. Off-Loading Guilt by Off-loading Blame
Gen 3:12 (Msg) “The w oman you gave me as a companion, she gave me fruit from the tree, and, yes, I ate it.”
Misconceptions: There is perhaps no subject like guilt to create misconceptions, wrong ways of thinking, and so in this and the next few studies we are going to eyeball some of these. The first misconception we need to consider is that off-loading absolves from blame - it doesn't!
Wrong Belief: We have touched on this before but we do need to slowly consider this because it is something that is so common in modern life and Christians are not immune from it. It is the belief that if I can give a reason for my perceived wrongdoing, especially one that off-loads the cause of it onto other people, then is absolves or clear me from the guilt of it. We see this so clearly in the case of the Fall. Adam has been told not to eat of this particular tree, we assume Eve knew about the prohibition, but she went against it and then got him to go against it. They both did what God had said not to do. They were guilty.
Confrontation: But then God confronts them with their changed state, they have become self-aware in a new way: “Who told you that you were naked?” (Gen 3:11a) Guilt always changes our state. However we appear, we all know, deep down at least, that what we do is wrong, which is why we move into a defensive, self-justifying mode. There can only be one reason for this and so God makes them face it: “ Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (v.11b) If we are to prosper in life and in eternity, we need to be confronted with the things we've got wrong; we can't take them to heaven!
Justifying: Then we get Adam's excuse: “ The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” (v.12) I can't help feeling if I had been God I would have laughed at Adam and retorted, “Adam, you've got to be joking! Are you saying it's my fault because I gave you the woman, that if I hadn't given her to you, she wouldn't have been there to lead you astray?” But it continues with the women when the Lord questions her: “The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (v.13b) There is almost behind her offloading, the objection, ‘well this is your world God, you made the snake, he was the one who led me astray.'
Sources of Excuse: I don't know if you see it yet, but there are the things that go to the heart of all our offloading of guilt – to blame someone else. When things go wrong, very often people blame God: ‘how could a God of love allow this to happen, why didn't He step in and stop me doing this?' Because He respects you too much to take away your free will. But often that is too blatant a call so we focus our bad attitudes, our bad behaviour, on other people.
Marriage Breakdown: Whether it is cohabitation or marriage, when one partner commits adultery and enters into an illicit sexual relationship with someone outside the partnership, it becomes The most fertile ground for self-deception, half-truths, and self-justification by offloading blame. My wife stopped loving me, she was no longer physically attractive, we just couldn't get on any longer, she was taken up with her women's groups, her clubs, her hobbies etc. etc., and never had time for me so when my assistant showed concern and care, it was just natural to find love with her.
Teenage Rebellion: My parents don't love me, and they clearly don't love each other, they don't understand what I'm feeling, the struggles I have with life, so why shouldn't I go off and try and find peace and pleasure in drugs and sex with my friends.
The Lie: There is an untruth that each person in this sort of situation (and with time and space we could find many more) cons themselves into believing: “I can't do anything about this weak marriage relationship, this bad relationship with my parents,” and so on. Adam and Eve made choices – wrong choices. You and I have the capability of making choices. That's how God has made us and He expects us to make good decisions – I will work on my marriage, we will take time and effort to start communicating again, listening to one another, responding in love again to one another, I will not look outside my marriage for comfort. Or perhaps – I will wait for an opportune time to talk honestly with my parents, to ask them about where they are at with me and become the catalyst for change in our family. Yes, of course we cannot do these things without God and maybe without the help of someone outside my situation – that's why I'm here.
The Starting Point: If we are going to start taking back control and bringing change then the starting point has to be to confess to the Lord you've got it wrong and you need His forgiveness and His help to put things right. Whatever steps you need to take, you need His grace and His wisdom, but please stop believing the lie. The truth is that with God's help you can bring change, you can step back from your bad attitude, words and behaviour, you can restore the relationship. Ask Him.
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 6. False Pleasure Goal
Gen 3:6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.
Misconceptions: Yesterday we considered the misconception that off-loading absolves from blame. Now we move on to the misconception that this temptation before me will create pleasure in me. It is a misconception that falls down on at least three levels: i) it fails to realise that such self-gratification is very transient and ii) it forgets that such a wrong approach also carries with it various negative consequences, and iii) it does nothing to assuage guilt. Let's look at this, first of all, in the example of Adam and Eve.
The Folly of the Fall: Satan's approach was to question what God had said: “ Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?” (Gen 3:1) Let's not get into his motivation or approach but simply note the clarity of Eve's response: “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'” (v.2,3) She knows intellectually, at least, the truth. Satan then challenges that: “You will not certainly die, for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (v.4,5) He denies the consequence and makes her forget it by focusing on the apparently ‘good' outworking so, “When the woman saw (i) that the fruit of the tree was good for food and (ii) pleasing to the eye, and also (iii) desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.” (v.6) None of these three things in this verse are of any importance, the big issue is that you will die if you eat of it! The other big issue is that this is disobeying God and your relationship with Him that you have at the moment will never be the same again.
The Illustration: People argue over whether that chapter is literal history or allegorical teaching story. You can argue that before God but the truth is that whichever it is it conveys the same essential truths:
i) God knows best, God knows how He designed you to live, He designed life to be good for you,
ii) Within that design the truth is that you can go beyond it so it becomes harmful, e.g.1. food is good and there is an incredible range of genuinely nice food but eating too much food causes obesity and obesity kills, e.g.2. sex within the marriage context is designed to be beautiful, but outside it, it has a whole range of harmful effects, physical and emotional and relational.
iii) Looking only to short-term immediate gratification, walking the forbidden path appears pleasurable, but in the longer term is harmful, as the two examples above show.
The Dilemmas of the Twenty-First Century: We are living in an age that is prosperous and affluent in a measure never before dreamed of. We have achieved amazing things in science and technology and yet as one modern writer has put it, “On the face of it, we could not be in a better place. Yet there are signs that this is far from the case. In the United States, more than 70,200 Americans died from drug overdose in 2017, a doubling of the figure in a decade…. Alcoholism is killing more people and more younger people. Suicide rates are up 33% in less than twenty years.” And so he documents from all walks of life, falling levels of life-satisfaction, growing depression and many other negative effects that our consumer society is experiencing.
Seeking Pleasure: Eve thought ‘pleasure' came through accumulating wisdom and being like God. So do modern people seeking after more and more knowledge, training and skills. Modern man, woman and child are taught by ever more persuasive advertising and marketing that pleasure – and more pleasure – is to be sought. Pleasure may be achievement or simply immediate gratification, but all the surveys, all the statistics of life in the West today say that more and more and more people are feeling bad about themselves and bad about life, especially in the younger generations. Is this why in the summer of 2020 we see a surge in campaigning for a cause among the young, a desperate attempt at meaning and achieving something purposeful, in a world that says there is nothing except seeking personal pleasure and achievement.
Two Types of Pleasure: May I suggest two types of pleasure. First, what I will call object pleasure – focuses on things, experiences – needs repeating to be maintained - seen in constantly remodeling the home, more food, more drink, more drugs, greater experience with greater buzz. Then there is what I would call attitude pleasure – knowing who I am and being contented in that.
Us Today: So many younger people (but old also) today lack contentment. The things they have bought, the social media they use, the experiences they have had, have proved bankrupt. They are left, to quote the words of one survey, ‘tired, listless, bored and worn out'. And then there are those who have rejected these ‘ways of the world' as their motivating energy and have received it instead from their knowledge of God. They are the ones who experience deep-seated peace, a sure sense of fulfilment, a certain confidence and contentment of living in the midst of this frenetic world while not being tainted by it. Sounds like Jesus among the tax-collectors and sinners, I suggest. Let's copy him.
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 7. Beware Assessment of Guilt
Gen 38:24 About three months later Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant.” Judah said, “Bring her out and have her burned to death!”
Misconceptions Again: We have been considering popular misconceptions in respect of guilt, first that off-loading absolves from blame, and then that the fruit of temptation create pleasure in me (without negative effects). Now we consider a further misconception, to do with misjudging a situation
Beware Appearances: Judging by appearance can be a dangerous thing. The Lord tells us “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart,” (1 Sam 16:7) and that can apply to motives, circumstances and behaviour; it is so easy to misjudge a person and we're told not to judge in case we find ourselves being judged by the same standard and fail the test (Mt 7:1). Put another way, we can so easily jump to wrong conclusions about people, declaring them guilty of something when in fact they are completely innocent and thus we condemn ourselves. The problem often is that we judge other people by imposing on them the way we would act or speak; that really does reveal what we're like! The simple lesson here is that it is so easy to assume guilt when it may not be true. Even more, and we will see this shortly, we may condone the guilty and condemn the innocent.
Tamar: Our verse from Gen 38 above brings to our attention the strange incident involving Tamar. She was the widow of one of the sons of Judah and when one of the other sons refused to continue the family line with her, a practice later to be enshrined in the Law (Deut 35:5), she disguised herself and got Judah to make her pregnant to continue the family name, and earned herself a place in the Messiah's family tree (Mt 1:3). In a way that appears strange to us, involving getting Judah drunk and having sex with him, she continued the family name, something seen as very important in God's eyes. When it became obvious she was pregnant, the worst was assumed, wrong judgment! Now that is a summary of the story, as brief as I can make it, but it demands further investigation.
Judah's Background: We need to look more carefully at Judah (and we'll see him in the next study as well). He is one of the twelve sons of Israel, one of the older sons, the fourth son of Leah (see Gen 29:31-35). When Joseph, one of the youngest of the twelve, the first of Rachel's two sons (Gen 30:22-24), the other being Benjamin the youngest born as his mother died. These are significant facts that explain something of what followed.
Judah's Descent: Joseph had been just seventeen (Gen 37:2) when he started receiving prophetic dreams and his immature way of handling them, together with the fact that he had become his father's favourite (Gen 37:3), meant his brothers hated him and eventually decided to kill him. It was Judah who suggested instead of killing him they sell him to slave traders (Gen 37:26,27), a fate almost as good as death. Shortly after this (was it because of guilt) Judah separates from his brothers and lived elsewhere in Canaan and married a Canaanite woman, having three sons by her. (Gen 38:1-5) Now he must have known the family history, how they had been called by God to be a separate and distinct people, but the idea of family loyalties had become distorted in his thinking and so he has married a Canaanite. “Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the Lord 's sight; so the Lord put him to death.” (Gen 38:6) Oooops!
Now the cultural practice in Canaan, as we said, later enshrined in the Law of Moses, was that when a husband died, as a means of honouring his name and continuing the family name (as well as protecting the now vulnerable widow), the next son took over the role of the previous brother and married the widow, and if they ran out of brothers, the father could take over the role and marry the widow to honour her and protect the family name. Judah knows this so instructs the next brother to marry her but he refuses to allow her to get pregnant by him. He too dies! The third son is obviously too young and Tamar returns home to her father to be cared for by him. Judah's wife dies and still Judah does nothing about Tamar so she takes matters into her own hands and, as we said, gets Judah drunk and gets pregnant by him. She may be a Canaanite but she has honour and in the culture this puts things right.
Wrong Assessment: The word gets out she is pregnant and you'll need to read the story (Gen 38:11-30) to see Judah declaring she should die until she proves he is the father of the child she is carrying. At last he declares the truth: “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn't give her to my son Shelah.” (v.26) Judah, the man of the house, looks and sounds righteous, but he is not. He is guilty of lack of care, failure to honour the family name and his daughter-in-law and of wrongly judging her. She looks guilty of shaming the family as a prostitute but is innocent and in fact is honouring the family name. Worthy of a Shakespeare plot!
And Us? We will consider this more fully in the next study, but for the now, let's be very careful about how we judge people and situations. In Jesus' day the Pharisees looked the righteous ones of the community but turn out to be agents of the enemy who killed the Son of God. In their eyes Jesus was the sinner mixing with the other sinners, lacking discernment, yet he turns out to be the Saviour of the world. Let's be very careful in this subject of guilt how we assess others. It may rebound on us!
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 8. Beware being conned into Guilt
Gen 44:16 “What can we say to my lord?” Judah replied. “What can we say? How can we prove our innocence? God has uncovered your servants' guilt. We are now my lord's slaves—we ourselves and the one who was found to have the cup.”
More Misconceptions: So, examining popular misconceptions in respect of guilt, we've seen that off-loading does not absolve from blame, and then the fruit of temptation may create only temporary pleasure and then lastly it is easy to misjudge a situation. Now the enemy loves to try and dump a sense of guilt and failure on us, but when he does, let's learn from it and see it as a test where the Lord wants us to learn to discern truth and not be put upon by the enemy.
Another Wrong Assumption: Now so far we have been considering assessments of other people, but such wrong assumptions can be in respect of ourselves and to observe this we were going to follow on the previous study in the history of Israel as a family. It is interesting that again it is Judah who provides an illustration for us, again of misjudged guilt. If you are not familiar with the story, put most briefly as we noted previously, Israel's sons had years before sold Joseph a younger spoilt son into slavery where, through a series of incidents he eventually becomes second to the Pharaoh of Egypt and oversees the provisions to feed the whole of the Middle East when there is a famine. The sons go to Egypt to plead for food but because many years have passed don't recognise Joseph. Joseph plays games with them to determine what sort of men they have grown into. He does it by having his servants plant riches in their sacks of food as they are about the leave for home, and then has it discovered. He is the all-powerful ruler and although Judah cannot understand what has happened he bows to the power and accepts the guilt for what (he thinks) they have done. But they are not guilty – of this at least! This was contrived guilt or imposed guilt, a guilt created to be seen but in reality NOT guilt by the brothers in this case.
Real & False Guilt: Yes, Judah had been previously guilty of being part of the plot to get rid of Joseph, and yes, he had been guilty of not acting rightly in respect of Tamar but now he is NOT guilty of having stolen goods belonging to the Pharaoh. And there is the problem so often, we know what we are like, we know that left to ourselves we are prone to getting it wrong and so a situation blows up and the enemy plays on our already over-sensitive conscience: I have got it wrong before, what they are saying about me now must be true! The key at the centre of this is your heart: I have known times when I have spoken into situations and my heart for God and for individuals has been good. I am submitted to God and my heart towards others is good, I want the best for them, my heart is to serve them, and then someone takes my words and distorts them and attributes a wrong attitude (that wasn't there!) to them, they reflect their heart, what they feel, which may be defensive and so they speak negatively about you. The only problem is that they have friends who are also defensively and ungraciously attributing wrong motives to you!
Early Day Evangelicalism: It is not so prevalent today, but in my younger years Evangelicalism was riddled with legalism. This is what you ought to do, these are things you must not do, and that included areas such as entertainment and use of Sundays, man-made rules that imposed guilt on many young Christians in those days, and many of them have been spending a lifetime trying to get out from under that imposed false guilt. But mostly this imposed guilt is about wrongly attributed motivation.
Example from Ezra: In Ezra we find the people back in Jerusalem, in the process of rebuilding the temple, but there are enemies who come and falsely accuse them. We see they, “wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king,” (Ezra 4:8) and said, “if this city is built and its walls are restored, no more taxes, tribute or duty will be paid, and eventually the royal revenues will suffer.” (v.13) Note three things about this accusation: first it is about something that is not yet happening. They are rebuilding the Temple not Jerusalem itself. Such accusations are often error in fact . Second, their accusation is about a wrong motive – rebellion. There is no indication whatsoever that that is true. They are rebuilding the Temple because Cyrus told them to (and that comes out later – see ch.5 & 6). Error in respect of motive . Third, their accusation is about a future possibility. Such untruths often seek to play on fear about what these people ‘might' do. Error in respect of possible future behaviour .
Example from Nehemiah: Years later when Nehemiah had been sent back to Jerusalem by the King to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, again and again they received enemy opposition. On the fifth occasion (Neh 6:5) the accusation was, “It is reported among the nations—and Geshem says it is true—that you and the Jews are plotting to revolt, and therefore you are building the wall.” (Neh 6:6) Note Geshem is described as an Arab (v.1). Not exactly unbiased in respect of Israel! The accusation goes on declaring that they will be setting up a monarchy (v.6,7) Untruths. The returned remnant are guilty of none of these things!
And Us? The lesson is very simple and straight-forward. Don't take on board the lying accusations of the enemy. Don't accept a false form of spirituality built on ‘ought' or ‘must', don't take into your life the prohibitions of other people, and don't accept wrong accusations of guilt when you know your heart is pure. Yes, accept guilt when it is real, but reject it when others seek to impose it on you. Beware the preaching style that asks you to examine yourself for lots of supposedly wrong attitudes. The heart is deceitful and so you probably won't know the truth so don't accept the guilt UNTIL the Holy Spirit (not man) convicts you.
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 9. Responding to the Guilty: Expecting Repentance
Jn 8:11 “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Recapping Misconceptions: So we've been considering popular misconceptions in respect of guilt: off-loading does not absolve from blame, temptation may create only temporary pleasure, beware misjudging a situation, and finally rejecting a sense of guilt imposed by others but not God.
Moving On: In this subject of guilt there are various attitudes or ways of thinking that are important to consider:
- being honest and accepting when we've got it wrong,
- dealing with it scripturally – repenting and receiving God's forgiveness and cleansing,
- rejecting wrong misconceptions about guilt
But then there is the critical one of how we respond to the guilty person.
Wrong Responses: As a starter we should suggest that instant responses are usually wrong responses. Jesus before the guilty woman in Jn 8:1-11 suggested to her accusers (with their spiritual knives out!) that the one who had never sinned could cast the first stone. Someone has said that the Christian Church is the only army that kicks one of their soldiers when they are down. When someone has failed and got it wrong – and the Jn 8 woman had seriously got it wrong – we can have one of two responses: to slap them down or to seek to restore them. Jesus demonstrated the latter response.
The Repentance Element: Now repentance wasn't the main thing John was seeking to bring out in that story but it is a necessary ingredient in such things. Again the important thing is to trust that God sees if repentance is likely to be forthcoming so we should not make prior judgements. One also notes that when the Lord is moving powerfully, he holds His people to a higher level of accountability, hence the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. Peter didn't pronounce the death sentence over Ananias, he simply spoke out his sin of lying and deception (Acts 5:3,4). It was only when he saw God's judgment could he speak it over Sapphira (v.9). In a church in a state of revival, they should have known better. Similarly the saints in the church in Corinth knew the power and the presence of the Spirit and should have known better when they came to communion and when they were careless, Paul had to point out, “that is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor 11:30) Repentance should have been forthcoming without prior warning.
“Stop it!”: The point is that Jesus wants to restore us to a good place but that comes through repentance. He may not actually speak the word ‘repent' always – although he often does (see Mk 1:15, 6:12, Acts 2:38) – but he does expect it, hence his words to the woman: “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (see also Jn 5:14) We have seen how scripture (1 Jn 1:9) allows for us to receive forgiveness and cleansing and restoration (implied). Let's always seek to redeem the situation and restore one another, being slowly careful how we proceed, careful about what we believe of others. Be Jesus to one another.
Action by the Church: In a recent series we noted God spoke through Zechariah indicating that sins of action and of words have no place in the church (see Zech 5). Mostly it is down to the leaders to preach and teach and set the standards of scripture before the people; that is how the church comes to understand these things. However Mt 18:15-17 lays down a process where the individual finds obvious sin in the life of another believer, and the purpose in each stage is for the sinner to repent and be restored. When the last stage says, “tell it to the church,” (v.17) I suggest that means take it to the leadership so that they can take action, to check out the truth of the life of the other person, call them to repentance gently and graciously, and do all they can to facilitate repentance. If they fail, that is the point where they may need to put that person out of the church as Paul did in 1 Cor 5:1-5 (also 1 Tim 1:20) where the goal was to remove the protection of the church so that Satan would be allowed access to the rebel and deal with him and bring about repentance (which 2 Cor seems to suggest happened).
We should be very clear that dealing with a perceived sin is not achieved through gossip, but by handing it on to the leaders for their wisdom to prevail. Some sins, such as adultery, abuse etc. are sufficiently ‘big' that in the case of leaders they need to be stood down for the sake of the flock. Trust sometimes needs rebuilding and that often takes time, but the bigger point here must be, don't jump to wrong conclusions, let's not assume guilt until it is proved to be real and let's look to restore where possible.
And So? Let's state some simple basics:
- God does not want sin in the church.
- As human beings we will get it wrong and, hopefully, deal with it ourselves.
- Where we see it in others, don't jump to conclusions but seek God's humility, grace and wisdom to confront it in your friend.
- If it is a big issue, take it to the leadership and let them deal with it.
I am aware that for a large number of churches in the UK at least, this is an alien subject because of the oft-poverty of teaching and certainly the subsequent lack of authority in the church. Such leaders will have an accounting with the Lord (as I have had in the past), for their inability to deal with these things. But to think more on this, we need to go on to the next study.
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 10. Responding to the Guilty: Dealing with Offenders
Jn 8:11 “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Recap: In the previous study we recognised the truth that although we do sin, God doesn't want us to sin and therefore sin needs confronting. The power of sin over us has been broken by the work of Christ on the Cross and by the work of the now indwelling Holy Spirit, yet we can stumble and fall on occasion. As we'll perhaps see in a later study, if we do not deal with it, sin has a habit of multiplying and so the sooner it is dealt with the better. The best course is that we recognise it in ourselves and deal with it, but how about the situation when it needs confronting by another, or I am required to confront it in another? Are there guidelines for how we should do this?
First, Recognise Imperfection: Before we trample in on someone, let's start by remembering that we too are fragile, we too have a propensity for getting it wrong from time to time. We would do well to remember that. Even more perhaps ponder on what it feels like to be on the wrong end of accusation. It is always a difficult thing when you are falsely accused and the problem is that if you leap into the battle and defend yourself you often have to do it by making someone else appear bad. I have had this twice in my life. Yes, there have been times when the imperfect me has got it wrong and it has been entirely down to me, but life isn't always that simple. On two occasions I have struggled under unrighteous opposition but the truth is that in whatever messy situation we find ourselves, we will not come out 100% innocent. We could always have handled it better and the Lord uses such times to humble us and prove us. Leaders in the Church, in particular, often come up against opposition in the form of criticism, some of it right criticism but often criticism that doesn't understand the situation and fails to understand what the leader is going through. How do we feel under attack? Not good.
Do unto Others: Now I say the above things because ‘the sinner' will feel defensive, perhaps rightly so because they have a damaged or bruised ego that has blown it and is struggling to face that failure. Handling guilt – real or wrongly assumed – is like trying to traverse quicksand, a potential nightmare. Getting to the truth, facing it in ourselves, recognising the causes of it in others, and responding with wisdom, grace, humility and a servant heart, is often incredibly difficult. If you have to confront apparent guilt, ask yourself, “If I was the guilty person, how would I like to be treated here?” After thinking about this over many years, I have concluded that this is one of the best bits of advice I can give. This is not to ask to be whitewashed so my failure is ignored but if someone has failed, there is quite likely to have been an underlying cause.
Personal Testimony: On one occasion when I had failed publicly in the way I had responded without grace to a piece of hostile criticism, I was mortified and a day later another senior leader blasted at me, “I can't work with someone like you!” Another leader sided with him, and I resigned. It took an apostle to tell me I was the father figure with responsibilities and should get back in there and work it through. I did. When I look back on that after many years of pondering on it, I wish that first leader had instead come with a gentle heart that said something like, “My old friend, you blew it didn't you. What happened? That's not like you. How can I help you get back to a good place and help the church see that is happening?” But it didn't come like that. The big knives were out. He had his own heart issues to work through.
Analyzing Failure: The pain that that incident, and all the followed caused me (and my wife), made me think deeply over the following decade about what had happened. My first step was to recognise that I had failed (sinned) by allowing a wrong situation to prevail. I had to repent before God. As a leader I had tolerated behaviour in another where they constantly criticized my leadership, not because I was wrong but because they had deep underlying personal problems stemming from their family background. In my immaturity and inability I had failed to draw alongside them and help them confront their situation and background and come through to a place of healing.
That is what leaders are supposed to do. I suspect this is one of the most common failures seen in leaders, who fear creating uproar if it goes wrong. It is underpinned by insecurity, lack of confidence in God. But I have learned and watched and seen that the Lord gives us plenty of leeway and space to work these things out (and that includes putting marriages on a firmer footing) but if we fail to address the problem, He will allow the rug to be pulled out from under us and we find ourselves under a stress situation where our grace runs out and the situation explodes. He will only tolerate sin in leaders for so long!
And So? Paul, speaking to the Ephesian elders, said, “Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28) Jesus bought this sinner with his blood which, as I have meditated on that, suggests they are very precious to him. Moreover, he yet knows what we can yet become if we are restored. He looks to restore; yes, to deliver from the sin, to forgive and cleanse from it, and to take us on to greater heights. He looks for our repentance and the moment He sees it, He's there for us! Realising His grace, realising what could yet be, means we will constantly be looking to restore one another. May it be so.
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 11. Looking for the Best
Ex 32:10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”
Recap: In the previous study we moved on from considering some misconceptions to thinking about how we respond to finding sin, either in ourselves or in others, what sort of heart we should have towards others around us who fail to come up to the mark, who stray off God's path, who blow it, lose contact with the truth, or whatever other way we may soften the word ‘sin'. Today we consider another aspect of being faced with sin, what could come out of it (in one specific way).
The Example of the Golden Calf: Israel have arrived at Mount Sinai, have had an amazing encounter with God, received the Law and committed themselves to following the Lord. And then Moses goes up the mountain again – and stays there. He stays there forty days! i.e. over a month passes and no sign or sound from Moses or God. Israel down on the plain below the mountain are getting bored. Their leader has gone, the memory of hearing God has gone and some of them at least start getting restless. They want some visible sign of leadership, they want some visible sign of God in their midst and so rashly, despite what they have heard from God, they demand that Aaron does something. He is at a loss. He doesn't know when Moses will be coming back – IF he will ever come back. He doesn't know how to handle the situation and so concedes to their demands and he makes a calf of gold for them to worship. In retrospect, from our viewpoint, it is crass stupidity, but mankind does this sort of thing in the face of a crisis. It is wrong, it is idolatry but they are grasping at straws, they are not mature in their faith and do something stupid.
God's Initial Response: The next part demands maturity of response because when Moses hears the sound of revelry down below – and initial wrong so often leads on to further wrong, and they are now indulging in self-centred revelry – God tells him what has happened and declares our starter verse above, that He will destroy them and make a new nation from Moses. So often our response would be ‘cut and run' give up and go home, call it a day, but not so with God. Don't see this as God giving up on Israel. He is first of all testing His man, how will he respond to this?
The Heart of a Man of God: Moses argues with God and pleads, don't waste what you've achieved (v.11), don't let the Egyptians hear about this and laugh at your inability to deal with these people (v.12), remember your big plan that started out with Abraham (v.13), don't destroy this people (v.12b). And so God ‘relents' (v.14), He appears to agree with Moses. (There is an accounting for those who instigated this, the revelers, but the vast majority will be saved.)
The Big Lesson: When we come across a fellow believer who has blown it, etc., let's remember these three things, and remind God of them in prayer – although they are more for our benefit as we slowly comprehend the heart of God:
i) Consider the testimony of this ‘sinner', what has happened to them before this fall, all that they have achieved, all that God has done previously in and through them. Will this be wasted?
ii) Consider how this will appear to the watching world. Will they just laugh with scorn at Christians who are really, “just the same as me!” and deride God's name?
iii) Consider the ‘big plan of God', His desire to redeem the world, to redeem individual ‘sinners'. That plan wasn't just to sort you out when you first turned to Him, but to continue to keep on sorting you out throughout your entire life. As long as your heart is inclined towards Him, He will continue to work with you when you occasionally stumble and fall. His desire is to pick you up and restore you. And if it is that for you – and it is – then it is also for your sinning friend!
So what is the big lesson here? It is not to see this as an opportunity to write off this other person but an opportunity to restore and redeem them. Jesus didn't write off
No, in every chapter he redeemed the situation and the people.
And Us? Will we see failure in those around us, not as a time to exalt in their guilt, but an opportunity to seek the Lord for His wisdom and grace to bring correction, repentance, restoration, healing and redemption, maybe even bringing them into a better place than they had been before. That is the sort of Saviour we follow. Let's not disappoint him with heart responses that are less than his.
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 12. Inadequate Grace (1)
Judg 11:30 “ And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord .”
Moving On: We now move on from considering how we view others' guilt, to two instances that provide us with severe challenges in the way they are contrasts with the way Moses responded to guilt. We will consider one now and the other in the following study.
Jephthah: “Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior,” is how Jud 11 starts off. Great warrior he might have been but knowing about the grace of God he did not! If you want a contrast to Jephthah look at Naaman who appears in 2 Kings 5 and observe the way that initially he was a bumptious warrior, but once he was healed he appeared before Elisha with humility and grace. There is none of that about Jephthah. He is an idiot. Sorry to put it so strongly but read the story in Jud 11 and you'll see why.
The Situation: In v.30 he makes a vow. It follows conflict with the Ammonites (v.4) where local leaders call on him to lead them (v.5-11) and then confronts the Ammonite with the truth of the situation (v.12-28) but the Ammonite king will have nothing of it, so battle is the only way out. At this point something happened that we see happen again and again in Judges: “Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Jephthah.” (v.29) Now for the naïve we need to say when God comes and gives gifting – courage in this case – that doesn't mean the individual has got any more than that gifting. So Jephthah is motivated by the Spirit to go and defend Israel and, sadly, it is at this point he starts bargaining with God. He doesn't realise that because he has this fresh impetus of courage, it is God's provision and therefore God will give him the victory he needs. So he makes this vow.
The Vow: The vow is unnecessary and even more, it is stupid! Don't call it anything else. What did he have in mind when he talked about sacrificing, “whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me” ? (v.31) A stray goat??? He is, I suggest, guilty of the sin of godless unrighteousness. But it gets worse. When his daughter comes out he agrees to sacrifice her to the religious superstitious rubbish he has in his mind. I get angry when I read this. Today, you and I know Jesus died for all our sins and if I have to ‘sin' by breaking a most stupid oath that will harm others, I will trust the Lord to judge me, discipline me or take my sin to the Cross.
The Law: Years later Solomon would write about fulfilling vows (Eccles 5:1-6) but that was about promises of offerings you said you would bring to the Temple. The Law in Leviticus lays down the sacrifices that should be offered for stupid (sinful) acts. This man should have known about sacrifices for sin and relied on them for his stupidity. This is the sinfulness of mankind in the form of ‘religion'. Let's not have any of it!
Beware Wrong Sacrifices: There is a wrong teaching that sometimes surfaces in Christian preaching that uses the illustration of Abraham called to sacrifice Isaac (Gen 22) ignoring the fact that God didn't want Isaac dead, He just wanted to test Abraham's willingness to be obedient. This teaching revels in the thought of us sacrificing those nearest to us in our call to follow God. As guardians of our children we are never to do anything in the name of religion that might harm them. As husbands or wives we are never to do anything in the name of religion that might harm our partner. If you want to see the contrast in apostolic teaching, read 1 Pet 3:1-6!
Foundational Verses: Almost my favourite verses in the Old Testament are found in Ezek 18: “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord . Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (v.23, repeated in v.32 and 33:11) Now I know that is taking verses out of context but the meaning is clear: i. God doesn't desire the death of sinners. ii. He rather looks for repentance that will deal with the situation. iii. In the Law sacrifices were to be a sign of repentance and would cover any and every sin confessed. The Law was there expressly to save people from themselves.
Application: The folly of Jephthah includes his absence of knowledge of the Law and understanding the heart of it. God doesn't want him to fulfil a stupid vow that involves the death of another. That is superstitious religiosity at its worst. Could God not have struck Jephthah down? Obviously yes, but the truth is that He gives us immense freedom on this earth, exercising our free wills badly, hurting one another, causing wars, causing genocide etc. but He calls us collectively as mankind to resist such things, to stop them happening. The Israelite leaders with him should have stopped him. This is an example of collective lack of godliness. But no one did and so the stain of this memory hung over them.
And Us? Never let religion be a cause for you harming another; Jesus' teaching is totally against letting that happen. When we do something stupidly wrong, very badly wrong, God is still there seeking to redeem you and your circumstances. Nothing is too bad that is cannot be covered by the blood of Jesus. This is not to be casual about vowing to serve God, but a wrong promise is wrong full stop. Confess it and seek and receive forgiveness. That is why Jesus died! never forget it.
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 13. Inadequate Grace (2)
1 Sam 3:18 Then Eli said, “He is the Lord ; let him do what is good in his eyes.”
Recap: We are considering two examples in the Old Testament that reveal a shortfall in understanding God's grace by God's people. The first one was Jephthah, a warrior, used to deal with enemy attack, but unfortunately extremely foolish in the way he tried to bribe God to be on his side, without realising He already was. This was in the early days of Israel's life in the Land, in the day when judges ruled. We move on from that period until a little later when the leader of the people appears to be Eli the priest, by now an elderly man.
Eli: So what do we know about him? Yes, he was the priest who watched over the sacrificial system at the Tabernacle that was located at Shiloh (1 Sam 3:9) but the administration of the sacrifices were overseen by his two worthless sons (1:3, 2:12) who abused those who brought sacrifices (2:16) and slept with women who also served at the Tabernacle (2:22). Although Eli remonstrated with them they ignored him (2:23-25) and he failed to do anything about it.
A Corrective Word: Now a ‘man of God' came and brought Eli a prophecy that challenged him over this behaviour (2:27-29) and then went on to bring a corrective word that said his family would be cut off and, specifically, his two sons would die on the same day (2:30-36). This word is reiterated when Samuel receives his first prophecy (3:11-14). Now we have to accept that that word included, “ Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli's house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.'” (3:14)
An Inadequate Response: When Samuel conveys this word to Eli, we find, “Then Eli said, “He is the Lord ; let him do what is good in his eyes.” (3:18) Now that sounds very spiritual but I have already pointed out the Lord's heart in respect of sin from Ezekiel: “ Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked…. am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23) I have to suggest that this is just giving up on life and failing to appreciate the grace and mercy of God. Eli is clearly an old man (2:22), with poor eyesight (3:2) and is heavy bodied (4:18) i.e. over-weight. It is perhaps easy to excuse him for he has allowed himself to deteriorate physically and spiritually, and morally in respect of his sons.
However, when you consider the words of the Psalmist, “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree …. they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green,” (Psa 92:12-14) you realise what a sad person he has become. When Moses was confronted with failure in others of his people, again and again he fell on his face before the Lord and pleaded with God. We've already seen how he did that on Mount Sinai. What should Eli's response have been here? To take leaders of the people, remove his sons from service and pray and fast and seek God for His mercy and a further opportunity. But he does none of those things, he simply acquiesces to the situation, submitting to it as if nothing can change.
The Grace of God: Yes, the warnings are out there. The word had come to Eli, “Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained,” (2:30) and yes, it is a strong word of warning, but we have already been shown the bigger picture: “The Lord , the Lord , a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty.” (Ex 34:6,7) This is God who forgives wickedness – when there is repentance! He wants to see repentance; He doesn't delight in the death of anyone – anyone! The disciples of Jesus got it wrong again and again, but their hearts were for God and received forgiveness and Jesus' acceptance. Even Peter who denied Jesus three times, repents, and is made a key leader in the church. This is the grace and mercy of God. No, as we've noted before, he does not clear the guilty, pretending they are fine and, yes He will punish such people – unless they repent.
And Us? We cannot drive this point in strongly enough: we live in the light of the wonder of the Son of God dying for us, to redeem us. The picture is quite clear: “God so loved the world,” (Jn 3:16) that He sent Jesus for us. We are part of those all-encompassing words, ‘the world'. When we sin willfully and knowingly God holds us to account but the moment we confess and repent, He forgives and cleanses us from sin (1 Jn 1:9) and there is no sin too bad to be covered by the blood of Christ when there is true repentance.
God can declare His judgment, as we saw on Mount Sinai, but He is watching for our right response, He is watching to see our hearts turning to Him, pleading with Him, seeking forgiveness. Eli didn't do that and when he heard of the death of his sons in battle, the shock made him start and fall backwards off his seat so his neck broke and he died. How tragic, how unnecessary. We perhaps need to see someone who did respond rightly to help this lesson be established in us, and that we'll do in the next study.
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 14. Receiving Grace
2 Kings 20:1 In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, “Thus says the Lord , ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.'”
Recap: We have just considered two examples of those who failed to receive the grace and forgiveness of God, and now we move on to consider two men who really did receive it in most amazing ways. The second we will consider in the next study but for now we consider the amazing experience of Hezekiah.
Hezekiah's Background: Before arriving at the act of grace and mercy, we need to see what has been going on in Hezekiah's life. In summary, we see in 2 Chron he cleansed and purified the Temple (29:1-36), celebrated Passover (30:1-27), cleansed the land (31:1), made provision for the priests & Levites (31:2-21), was threatened by Sennacherib & saved by God (32:1-23), but yet struggled with pride in his last years (32:24-33). But before we get to that last part, note the summary of his earlier works: “ This is what Hezekiah did throughout Judah, doing what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. In everything that he undertook in the service of God's temple and in obedience to the law and the commands, he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. And so he prospered.” (2 Chron 31:20,21)
A good guy, but then we read in the next chapter, “After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah.” (2 Chron 32:1) We aren't told why; perhaps it was just the time when Assyria were expanding, perhaps they heard that Hezekiah prospered, here was a ripe fruit for the taking. Then we read, “King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz cried out in prayer to heaven about this. 21 And the Lord sent an angel, who annihilated all the fighting men and the commanders and officers in the camp of the Assyrian king.” (2 Chron 32:20,21) Now we need to see all this because it shows us God's hand of blessing and protection on him.
Hezekiah's Illness & Healing: The summary of what happened in the 2 Kings account we are now using, seen in 2 Chron, declares, “In those days Hezekiah became ill / and was at the point of death. / He prayed to the Lord , / who answered him and gave him a miraculous sign. / But Hezekiah's heart was proud and he did not respond to the kindness shown him; / therefore the Lord 's wrath was on him and on Judah and Jerusalem. / Then Hezekiah repented of the pride of his heart, as did the people of Jerusalem; / therefore the Lord 's wrath did not come on them during the days of Hezekiah.” (2 Chron 32:24-26) The content or detail of what took place is seen in 2 Kings. Presumably the Lord saw what prosperity was doing to Hezekiah's heart and allowed a sickness to come on him as our starter verse shows. Hezekiah's response is good – he prays, he pleads on the basis of what he has so far done, and God heals him, even giving him a miraculous sign to confirm His blessing (see 2 Kings 20:2-11)
Hezekiah's Folly: But then representatives from Babylon turn up and Hezekiah shows off and shows them all his riches. Pride oozes out of him. Read 2 Kings 20:12-15. The prophet Isaiah rebukes him, warning prophetically that all that – and his future descendants – will end up in Babylon (v.16-18). Hezekiah's response is “The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,” … For he thought, “Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?” (v.19) The 2 Chron account takes that as repentance and he is saved but adds afterwards, “But when envoys were sent by the rulers of Babylon to ask him about the miraculous sign that had occurred in the land, God left him to test him and to know everything that was in his heart.” (2 Chron 32:31). The end appears to be that the former glory of Hezekiah is gone and although he appears to have died of old age (? in his mid fifties) that time did not have the blessing of God on it.
God's Grace? So we have seen Hezekiah being a good king and being blessed by God, saving him from Babylon, he becomes seriously ill and calls out to God who both heals him and gives him a miraculous sign. However following all that (good so far on the surface at least) the Lord saw the potential of the pride within him and tests him by allowing the envoys from Babylon to come. He fails the test and pride rises up. He is rebuked and repents and is allowed to live out his years in peace. His heart has been for God and yet the threat of pride in the face of great success is always lurking there. In sickness he calls on the Lord wisely and is healed. Yet the pride is seen to be still there and he has to be rebuked, and he repents but it seems rather halfhearted but it is sufficient to save him.
And So? Twice Hezekiah responds well (well, fairly well) to the Lord, and is spared. I'm not sure if you and I would have been so graceful as God was. I suspect my response might have been, “For goodness sake! After all I have done for him, blessing him with great success and affluence, and all he does is get puffed up thinking it was down to him! Stupid man!” But God is more gracious than you and me – and with us – and where there is repentance He does hold back judgment and give further opportunities to get it right, even when He knows our response might be somewhat half-hearted. Amazing. Never use that as an excuse to cross wrong boundaries but thank the Lord for the grace and mercy He has extended to us and let that motivate us to live well.
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 15. Receiving Grace (2)
2 Chron 33:1,2,9 Manasseh … did what was evil in the sight of the Lord , according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel….. Manasseh led Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem astray, to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel.
Recap: We are considering two cases where men were the recipient of God's grace, mercy, forgiveness, and restoration – men who were guilty of sin, very guilty! We have considered Hezekiah who did so well but ended up in pride. How success can be such a means of bringing down even the righteous, and in days of such abundance as we have in the West today, it is a temptation just waiting for the unwary. But the second example we are now going to consider, of Manasseh, Hezekiah's son, makes Hezekiah look a mere beginner.
Manasseh's Folly: “Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-five years. ” (2 Chron 33:1) So young to come to the throne and amazing how long he reigned. In a nation where Moses had gone to such lengths to warn against idolatry and to hold firm to the one true God, we read of Manasseh, “ He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had demolished; he also erected altars to the Baals and made Asherah poles. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them.” (v.3) Unbelievable! But it gets worse: “In both courts of the temple of the Lord , he built altars to all the starry hosts. He sacrificed his children in the fire in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, practiced divination and witchcraft, sought omens, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the Lord , arousing his anger.” (v.5,6) Why doesn't God just strike him down? This is about as bad as it can get.
God's Activity: What does God do? “The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people.” (v.10) What good with that do? “but they paid no attention.” Didn't we say! “Therefore the Lord brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon.” (v.11) About time! And what good will that do with a man like this who must be so hardened by occult activity? “And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to him.” (v.12,13a) He repents???? This sin-hardened, occult driven, self-centred man repents??? So did God ignore him and say, ‘It's too late, you brought all this on yourself!' Er…no…. “God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.” Oh my goodness!!! Who would have thought such a thing was possible. Yes, but what sort of man was it who returned to Jerusalem?
Manasseh, Part 2: “He got rid of the foreign gods and removed the image from the temple of the Lord , as well as all the altars he had built on the temple hill and in Jerusalem; and he threw them out of the city. Then he restored the altar of the Lord and sacrificed fellowship offerings and thank offerings on it, and told Judah to serve the Lord , the God of Israel.” (v.15,16) He does a clean-up and sweeps away all the signs of idolatry and the occult that he had installed in Jerusalem. He HAS repented and is bearing the fruit of it. He is a changed man.
And Yet? Yet we read, “ The people, however, continued to sacrifice at the high places, but only to the Lord their God.” (v.17) A distinct improvement but not perfect; they should only be worshipping the Lord in the Temple. But then there is a terrible postscript to all this that comes by the mouth of Jeremiah years later: “I will send four kinds of destroyers against them,” declares the Lord , “the sword to kill and the dogs to drag away and the birds and the wild animals to devour and destroy. I will make them abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth because of what Manasseh son of Hezekiah king of Judah did in Jerusalem.” (Jer 15:3,4) Manasseh may have repented and been restored but the truth was that Jerusalem was so blighted spiritually – and no subsequent king sacrificed and pleaded on its behalf – that with the ongoing sin of its kings and people, the only answer was to purge is by fire and total destruction at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar's army.
A Strong Lesson: There is a multi-sided lesson here. First, it doesn't matter how terrible the sin (and Manasseh demonstrates to worst possible leadership into occult evil), when genuine repentance is forthcoming God will ALWAYS forgive and restore. (And if we sometimes wonder why God isn't dealing with an obviously sinful person, perhaps it is that He knows He can yet redeem them. All the while He waits, He is watching for repentance – 2 Pet 3:9). However, second, the effects of the prior sin can be of such a nature that just saying sorry and even putting things back in order afterwards, is not sufficient to deal with the spiritual repercussions. Sometimes trust has to be regained, and people restored but, even more a seeking God for cleansing that goes deep into both the people involved and the ongoing circumstances. Perhaps we need to consider some more of the ongoing-ness of guilt sometimes and see what we can learn from it. That we will seek to do in the following studies.
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 16. Consequences – an Introduction
Gen 4:10-12 The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”
Recap: While we have been considering those who failed to apprehend the grace of God, and then who did, we have found ourselves observing the fact that sometimes our guilt, the thing we did wrong has ongoing consequences. Now the truth is that what I've just said is inaccurate because everything we do has consequences, whether it be something mundane like cleaning my teeth in the morning that results in healthier teeth and less need for dental treatment, or something much more consequential like deciding to set up a company that becomes successful and provides work and income for a number of employees and a good service or product for the world at large. If we considered every consequence we would be here forever but we are limiting our considerations here to the consequences that follow from when we do or say things that are wrong, things that are contrary to God's design and will.
God and Justice: It is a strange fact of being a human being that we all have a sense of justice, of dealing with unfairness. If we were purely products of chance-evolution there would be no explanation for this beyond something to do with self-preservation but actually desire for justice is nothing to do with that, it is far more altruistic, it goes beyond self, it appeals to an imaginary absolute belief that life should be morally equal. We talk about inequity when we talk of injustice but inequity is about being unequal. So we find at the most simple level the child appealing to its mother, “Mummy, it's not fair. You've given her more than me!” whether it be in respect of sweets, a piece of cake, or pocket money.
So where does all this feeling about the need for equality in dealing, fairness of treatment, come from? It has to be, surely, from the fact that we are made in the image of God and we get it from God. Now the Bible almost takes it for granted that God is the originator of justice because it is there incorporated so many times in the Law and it took the psalmists to declare, “The Lord is known by his acts of justice,” Psa 9:16) and, “the Lord is righteous, he loves justice,” (Psa 11:17), and, “The Lord loves righteousness and justice.” (Psa 33:5)
So? Why do we say all this? Because as we noted in an earlier study, He is a God “who will by no means clear the guilty,” (Ex 34:7) i.e. He will not turn a blind eye, as we say, and pretend it didn't happen. He ALWAYS sees everything that happens and therefore will act in respect of every wrong thing He sees happening. Now the moment we say that, we have to ask an even bigger question.
How God Acts in Respect of Sin: How does God deal with the sin He sees in mankind, how does He deal with our guilt. There are a number of ways and we will simply summarise them briefly here so as to catch the big picture. We will focus on details in later studies.
1. Terminal Judgement: He simply removes someone off this planet, i.e. they die. Sometimes in Scripture is happens with little explanation beyond the obvious, e.g. in Study No.7 about Tamar, we read, “Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the Lord 's sight; so the Lord put him to death.” (Gen 38:6) Sometimes it comes with warning, sometimes not (when the situation is so obvious people ought to see). Sometimes it is in respect of an individual, sometimes many people (e.g. with the Flood.)
2. Negative Outworkings: Sometimes the Lord does not bring death but He does bring about negative outworkings in the life of an individual. This, I would suggest, is most common. It may be He simply lifts off His hands of protection or restraint (see Rom 1:24,26,28) as seen in Judges again and again. We see it in Gen 3:14-19 where the Lord speaks of the outworking of their disobedience at the Fall and again in respect of Cain in our starter verses above. In these two latter instances, it may be that the hardships that follow are simply because the Lord and His blessing do not go with them. Living in this fallen, dysfunctional world – without God – is tough stuff.
3. Divine Intervention: Finally we find that where there is repentance, then the demands for justice are transferred to the Son of God who carried all our sin, guilt, and shame on the Cross. This applies whether the individuals were in the Old Testament period (and did not know about the Cross) or in the New Testament period and did reply on it.
4. Final Judgment: The reality is that often we do not see justice being worked out here on earth; there is prejudice, violent oppression, crimes again the person, and so on, and they do seem to ‘get away with it', but the truth is that no one does. Every person will stand before God at the Final Judgment and be held accountable for how they lived their lives.
And So? Justice demands that “something must be done,” to remedy this inequity, this unfairness, this person. We can appeal publicly for public wrong to be righted, we can take court action, or we can appeal to God. But for ourselves, our own state of guilt or innocence, as Christians we must stand before the all-seeing gaze of God and repent and appeal to the Cross and ask for grace to be changed. Anything less puts us into the court with unbelievers: “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Heb 10:31) Let us not treat these things casually.
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 17. How Negative Outcomes Work
Gen 4:10-12 The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”
Recap: We have started to think about consequences, specifically consequences of wrong thinking, wrong speaking and wrong doing. The question arises, does God make bad outcomes happen or does He simply step back so that bad outcomes naturally follow from the natural workings of life? I think the answer is both and sometimes it is difficult, if not impossible, to determine which.
Cain's Guilt & Initial Response: Let's see if we can see this in the life of Cain (Gen 4). He, disregarding God's warning (Gen 4:7), allows jealousy to build in him in such a manner that he kills his brother, Abel. God holds him to account and declares, “ Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand.” (Gen 4:11) A curse we normally describe as a decree from God for bad to come, but whether that is because God now engineers the circumstances or the circumstances just naturally flow on, is the question before us. Another simple way of expressing this verse would be, “This ground where you have buried and tried to hide Abel, will constantly remind you of what you have done and you will end up fleeing from it”. And we might add speculatively wondering what the Lord might say, “For I have made man with a conscience and you will find that what you have done will continue to haunt you wherever you go.” Now whether that is just a psychological outworking or the Holy Spirit would keep on reminding him, is unknown.
Ongoing Outworking: The Lord then adds, “When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.” (v.12) Again, whether this is because the Lord withholds His blessing or whether Cain won't be able to focus on what he is doing it thus won't care properly for his crops is unknown. Both are possible if not probable.
Cain's Response: “Cain said to the Lord , “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” (v.13,14) Cain saw this as a decree from God, perhaps not realising the reality we just considered, and yet realising that being cast away from his home area would make him vulnerable in the unknown world ‘out there'. The Lord reassures him: “But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. ” (v.15) Whether it is a physical mark that ‘marks him out' or a spiritual ‘something' that would make people shy away from him is uncertain. There is a serious deterrent factor in this but as that may not be known to others, it is more for Cain's reassurance. “So Cain went out from the Lord 's presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” (v.16)
Subsequently Cain raises a family and even creates a city (v.17,18). It is clear he has shared with his family (see v.24) which develops considerably (see v.19-22). The eventual chosen family (through which Abraham comes) comes through another son, Seth, born to Adam and Eve, and then we find, “At that time people began to call on (or proclaim) the name of the Lord .” (v.26b) It is interesting that one of Cain's concerns was that, “I will be hidden from your presence.” (v.14) away from Eden. The relationship with the Lord, although mankind was banned from the Garden, was obviously still there, even if it was a bit tenuous.
The Lessons: This is a strange part of Scripture in that you might have expected God to have killed Cain for killing Abel, but He doesn't, He makes him live with the consequences. This of course was prior to the Law and prior to the Lord's decree in Gen 9 to Noah, “I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being. Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.” (Gen 9:6) Now whether that was speaking of justice or revenge was determined by the state of society. The later instigation of the ‘cities of refuge' (see Num 35) was to limit the latter possibility in the case of manslaughter. The fact that God does not take Cain's life rather seem to go with the dictum that ‘to whom much is given, much is demanded' which, in this case means, once you know it goes against God's decree you are liable. Before that decree Cain simply has to live with the consequences.
And Us? We may be able to seek and receive the Lord's forgiveness for sin, but sometimes there will be ongoing consequences which the Lord uses to humble us, discipline us, and change us. For example, we may have committed adultery, repented, asked for and received forgiveness from God and the offended partner, yet the past can't just be swept away, trust needs to be rebuilt and healing of hurt brought, which may take a long time and a lot of grace. It is there, but don't expect the unblemished past to be restored. It doesn't work like that. God will be working His redemption and sanctification and He uses these things to work them in us. His love is still there together with His grace and we doubly need them when we have failed Him.
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 18. Consequences through People
2 Sam 12:9,10 You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.'
Recap: We are considering the consequences of our wrongs and have two more examples to consider, the first being that of King David in the Old Testament. In some ways David epitomizes the human race, capable of achieving such great things and yet also capable of falling so low.
David's Guilt: The story of David and Bathsheba tends to be well known. Davis is in his palace and looks out and sees Bathsheba bathing in the sun on the roof of her nearby house. He sends for her, lies with her, and makes her pregnant. But she is married and so he arranges for her husband to be killed in battle and then she becomes one of his wives. That is the short potted version of what you can read in 2 Sam 11.
Accountability: Powerful people have a tendency to thinking they can get away with sin but God sees all and holds all to account, whether here in this lifetime or at the Final Judgement. David has been God's man, a man after God's own heart, and yet he gave way to a temptation that set off a train of sin: adultery, cover-up, murder. In the same way his judgment is going to follow along a train of events, but we are seeking to see how they work.
Step 1: God's Activity: David is God's representative and he needs to know that God will “by no means clear the guilty”. David is a very public person and what he has done is going to get out and the office of king of God's people will be demeaned. God will not let that happen here. He sends Nathan who confronts him with his sin (2 Sam 12:1-7) but then declares God's judgment on him: “the sword will never depart from your house,” (v.10) and then, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.'” (v.11,12) He isn't going to kill David, He is going to discipline him so that the nation will see and learn. But before all this, because David is a heart man, the Lord is going to cut him to the heart and so the child Bathsheba is carrying dies (v.14-23). Now what is yet remarkable is that afterwards they have another child named Solomon who becomes the richest man in the world and bears the greatest testimony to the Lord, before he too falls to sin. The Lord uses both of these men mightily even though they both fail him. When challenged, David repents (v.13) but still there are consequences to follow.
Step 2: Human Activity: Sometimes it seems the Lord steps back and lets the natural foolish inclinations of men and women just flow out in a chain of events. The Lord doesn't need to make these things happen, He just steps back and lets the folly of mankind proceed. There is a chain of events here that really starts with David's polygamy (see 1 Chron 3), not forbidden but unwise. Thus the chain appears:
- the son of one wife, Amnon, desires the daughter of another wife, Tamar, and contrives to rape her (2 Sam 13:1-6). David appears obtuse and sees nothing strange about what goes on and so Tamar is raped by Amnon. (v.14)
- Tamar's brother, Absalom, protects her. David hears about it, is angry (v.21) but takes no further action.
- Absalom sets up a feast and although David is suspicious, he does nothing (v.23-27).
- at the feast he kills Amnon (v.27,28) and flees living in isolation for three years (v.37,38)
- Absalom uses Joab to get reinstated in Jerusalem (2 Sam 14:1-24)
- Absalom eventually contrives to become king (2 Sam 15) and David has to flee Jerusalem while Absalom takes over and this continues until Absalom is killed (2 Sam 18:14). David eventually returns to Jerusalem and to his concubines who he now puts in isolation (2 Sam 20:3)
- Meanwhile there is a rebellion, led by Sheba, and many turn from David (2 Sam 20:1,2)
- and so the violence continues and throughout all this David's heart is wrecked by anguish again and again.
Terrible Consequences: David's is possibly the classic instance of a family head who didn't control his warring family and reaped the consequences of it, but we cannot help feeling that none of this would have happened if David had remained true and not fallen for Bathsheba. In some ways we might have wanted the Lord to bring David to the point of death by way of discipline but the Lord works on our hearts in His work of redemption of individuals and His nation. The lesson seems to be that letting go in one instance possibly reveals a heart that is vulnerable and which will also fail to pick up on various aspects of life, i.e. one sin reveals the potential for others. Avoid sin at all cost, but if we do succumb, repent and commit yourself to do a total cleanup of your heart and life, else other sins and other consequences will follow. The Lord allows the ongoing consequences, coming through other people to discipline and change us. That is what redemption is about, changing us. If we are wilful – actively or passively – and that points us away from the Lord, expect His disciplinary activity to bring us back and so often, the discipline follows the nature of the fall. A serious lesson.
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 19. Even the Wise Fall
1 Kings 1:37 As the Lord was with my lord the king, so may he be with Solomon to make his throne even greater than the throne of my lord King David!”
1 Kings 11:6 So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord ; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done.
Recap: As we continue pursuing the thoughts about consequences and now come to the life of Solomon, we have to say from the outset that it is a story that reveals that within the foolish sinfulness of mankind, even the wisest of the wise can end up being stupid if they allow themselves, by degrees, to drift away from the Lord.
Solomon: Let's itemize the basic facts to save time and space:
- born to David & Bathsheba (2 Sam 12:24)
- came to the throne in David's last days by his decree (1 Kings 1)
- came with high expectations (see 1 Kings 1:37 above and v.47)
- cleared away all the possible traitors and established the kingdom (1 Kings 1 & 2)
- had a dream from God and asked for wisdom (1 Kings 3:5-15)
- clearly received that wisdom (1 Kings 4:29,30)
- built the temple (1 Kings 6:14) and restored the ark (1 Kings 8)
- had such fame, success and prosperity the Queen of Sheba visited and acknowledged it (1 Kings 10)
- yet he had many foreign wives (1 Kings 11:1) in disobedience (v.2) and they led his heart away from God (v.4-6) and incurred God's anger (v.9-11)
- God raised up enemies (1 Kings 11:14,23,26) and eventually after his death the kingdom was divided.
His Rise & Fall: On the plus-side Solomon received and used God's wisdom to create a great and powerful and affluent nation, he built and established the temple and continued to build the land up. His downfall came with first one foreign wife and then many of them – polygamy in the extreme – and, not surprisingly, all these foreign wives came with their gods and pressurized Solomon to accept them. Eventually he fell right away from following the Lord at which point the Lord spoke, rebuked him, and told of what he would do – divide the kingdom.
The Judgment: As we noted above, three adversaries rose up against Solomon, the last becoming sufficiently powerful that he led the division when Solomon's son foolishly ignored the wisdom offered him and became king over the northern ten tribes.
The Lessons: There are, I would suggest, various very clear lessons from his story:
1. God who knows all things, including the future, will not be put off bringing present blessing even though he knows the future activity will turn pear-shaped. Observe great men of God who have been mightily used of God and yet who fell away later and sinned. This is but the grace of God.
2. Never take God's blessing for granted. As the apostle Paul wrote, “if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! ” (1 Cor 10:12) It is in our times of prosperity and apparent security that we may be most vulnerable to temptation.
3. The Lord's dealings with us – as are most obvious with both David and Solomon – are such that He seeks to avoid harm for others around us. Removing both David and Solomon for their sins would have made Israel very vulnerable and so, instead, the Lord allowed them to continue but in very curtailed circumstances.
4. When we sin, the Lord seeks to bring us to repentance and so often uses the fruit of our wrong behaviour to discipline and change us. He is always working for our redemption, especially when we fall.
5. Having said all this, there are clearly time in Scripture when the Lord does take the life of the individual in judgment. We suggest the reason for this would be to prevent the sin of the individual escalating or their bad example being taken as acceptable and eventually the norm. We should add that in the light of people such as Manasseh who we've considered earlier, He surely takes people away who He sees will never repent. Such judgements we refer to as ‘judgments of the last resort', it is the last thing the Lord wants to do (see Ezek 18).
Warnings: In the days in which we life, the spiritual state of the Church, as we've documented in other series, leaves much to be desired. Merely because we are not aware of the judgment or major discipline of the Lord on the Church at the present time should not make us complacent and think all is well. It is simply the Lord being patient with is (2 Pet 3:9), looking for our repentance which we may pray out now or on our knees in tears if He comes in sovereign revival power. Let's not be casual.
As we move on into Part Two, we will document specific ways we can get it wrong and incur guilt, again not to condemn but to set goals.