The history of Israel, Judah and Other Nations as a Pattern for Judgment
In the Old Testament, many of the events in Israel’s history (and the entire Bible) are symbolic of greater truths (Abraham and Isaac, the sacrificial system, the book of Hosea, Jonah in the belly of the fish, many of the prophecies that seemed to have a historical, fulfillment and a future one as well etc.) Although I won’t spend time on all of these now, it is clear that they all foreshadowed future events and give us deeper understanding of these events. It is wise to interpret passages in the Bible in light of other passages in the Bible, with a great deal of foreshadowing being done in the Old Testament. With this in mind, we frequently see judgment of Israel, Judah, and other nations in the Old Testament.
Some people mistakenly view God as a tyrant because of his Old Testament judgments. The stated goal of these judgments, however, is clear: they are meant to bring people back to God. Because there are so many verses dealing with this concept, we will not exhaustively examine all of them, but the themes are consistent throughout.
Warning of Judgment Precedes Judgment
“Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall.
For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!
“Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the Lord says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.’
Perhaps they will listen and each will turn from their evil ways. Then I will relent and not inflict on them the disaster I was planning because of the evil they have done.
God repeatedly warns the nation of judgment, so that they might repent and turn from their evil ways. Notice also, that God takes “ no pleasure in the death of anyone.” Repentance is the goal of judgment. But it is certainly better to repent now than wait for judgment. The judgments on Judah and Israel carried out as the result of invasion and destruction by brutal foreign empires would have best been avoided.
But people are often foolish, and we know that judgment did in fact occur. Notice, however, the results of God’s judgment carried out.
Then my wrath against you will subside and my jealous anger will turn away from you; I will be calm and no longer angry.
In this verse, God is saying that his wrath against his people is temporary, that it will subside after judgment is carried out. How contrary to the idea of eternal hell, and how compatible with the idea of universal reconciliation of people!
But did not my words and my decrees, which I commanded my servants the prophets, overtake your ancestors? “Then they repented and said, ‘The Lord Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve, just as he determined to do.’”
Ezekiel 6:8-10 (NIV)
8 “‘But I will spare some, for some of you will escape the sword when you are scattered among the lands and nations. 9 Then in the nations where they have been carried captive, those who escape will remember me—how I have been grieved by their adulterous hearts, which have turned away from me, and by their eyes, which have lusted after their idols. They will loathe themselves for the evil they have done and for all their detestable practices. 10 And they will know that I am the Lord ; I did not threaten in vain to bring this calamity on them.
“‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will deal with you as you deserve, because you have despised my oath by breaking the covenant. Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you. Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed when you receive your sisters, both those who are older than you and those who are younger. I will give them to you as daughters, but not on the basis of my covenant with you. So I will establish my covenant with you, and you will know that I am the Lord . Then, when I make atonement for you for all you have done, you will remember and be ashamed and never again open your mouth because of your humiliation, declares the Sovereign Lord.’”
Then you will know that I am in Israel,
that I am the Lord your God,
and that there is no other;
never again will my people be shamed.
The anger of the Lord will not turn back until he fully accomplishes the purposes of his heart. In days to come you will understand it clearly.
Notice that in through of these judgments, God is making himself known to people. It is always purposeful! As we have discussed, His purpose to save people is well established as He is "not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). He is judging people as they deserve to be judged, but this is never an eternal judgment. Rather it is restorative and He atones for all of their wrongdoings. It is humbling, causing the people to be ashamed, but even this shame is removed once restoration is complete.
We will next see that this purpose of restoration is true of other nations besides Israel and Judah as well.
Isaiah 49:26 (referring to judgment of other nations)
Then all mankind will know
that I, the Lord, am your Savior,
your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.
Ezekiel 25-29 Summary
In Ezekiel 25, we see God judging several nations, including Ammon, Moab, Edom, and Philistia. The purpose of these judgments is repeated several times throughout the chapter, that “they will know that I am the LORD.” The chapter concludes with this statement in verse 17, “I will carry out great vengeance on them and punish them in my wrath. Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I take vengeance on them.”
We see a continuation of this theme in Ezekiel 26-29 with the judgment of Tyre, Sidon, and Egypt. For each of these nations, we see that judgment is carried out with a purpose, stated by God repeatedly: “Then they will know that I am the Lord.”
It would be a grave mistake to take the “vengeance” described in these passages as purposeless retribution. There is clearly a restorative goal. The judgments are temporary and cause people to better know who God is, a God who saves and loves us all.
Without judgment, people would continue to ruin ourselves. As Ecclesiastes 8:11 states: "because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil." Swift judgment is corrective. Look at the evils in the world. Don’t we need correction?
This is why judgment is something to rejoice about as described in Psalm 98.
O sing to the Lord a new song,
For He has done wonderful things,
His right hand and His holy arm have gained the victory for Him.
The Lord has made known His salvation;
He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered His lovingkindness and His faithfulness to the house of Israel;
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God .
Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth;
Break forth and sing for joy and sing praises.
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
With the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
Shout joyfully before the King, the Lord.
Let the sea roar and all it contains,
The world and those who dwell in it.
Let the rivers clap their hands,
Let the mountains sing together for joy
Before the Lord, for He is coming to judge the earth;
He will judge the world with righteousness
And the peoples with equity.
Notice the joy that his righteous judgment should bring and how it is linked to his salvation being made known to “all the ends of the earth.” Notice too that “His right hand and His holy arm have gained the victory for Him.” He accomplishes his purposes by His power. It is not up to us. He will be victorious and we have already studied the purpose that He will succeed at accomplishing: the salvation for all and unification of all things under his authority. This is truly good news that's worth sharing and rejoicing about!
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