Faith, Justice, Throwback Thursday, Tough Passages

Throwback Thursday ~ Shall Not the Judge of all the Earth Do What Is Just?*

Originally published July 10, 2013
Republished July 8, 2014 at Satisfaction Through Christ

judge

221Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him.
Numbers 31:17

That’s a pretty tough verse, isn’t it?

Married women. Widows. Little boys.

When I read that verse, I think of somebody like me. Or, somebody like my ten year old. It’s hard for me to put myself in a Midianite woman’s sandals and imagine the Israelites coming for my son. My son, who’s basically a good kid, and certainly hasn’t done anything worthy of an army coming after him to execute him.

Do you ever follow criminal trials in the news? With 24-hour news channels and courtroom TV channels, we’ve probably all oj-simpson-trial-gloveswatched for the verdicts of a few. Have you ever been surprised by a jury’s verdict or a judge’s sentence? Maybe you were certain the defendant was guilty, but the jury acquitted him. Or, you figured a life sentence was a sure thing but only a few years were handed down.

It’s easy to lambaste a judge or jury for making what we consider to be the wrong decision. But, think about it: that judge and jury sat through hours of testimony, legal arguments, instruction on the law, and presentation of exp.ac.foreman.anthony.moments.cnn.640x360evidence. They know much more about the case and all the players in it than we do. They know things we don’t know. And those things we’re ignorant about are likely the very things that led them to make a different decision than we, with our limited knowledge of the case, would have made.

What if your spouse, parent, or best friend had been a juror in one of those cases in which you were appalled at the verdict, and he had voted opposite the way you thought he should have? What if he told you, “Look, I’ve been told not to discuss the case, but, trust me, this was the right decision.”? Would you trust him?

It’s the same way with God.

We come to passages like this one, and our first reaction is righteous indignation. How could God make a decision like this? It seems so unjust. An arbitrary, capricious, and callous verdict. It’s easy to throw stones thousands of years later.

But, if God is God, He is, by definition, absolutely perfect in 102011_attri_just (1)justice, perfect in love, perfect in mercy, perfect in patience, perfect in wisdom, and perfect in His knowledge of every detail of every situation on earth, ever, including people’s thoughts and intentions. He never makes a wrong decision. If He were lacking one iota in any of these areas, He would cease to be God, and there would be no reason to trust Him.

But He isn’t. So we can.

We generally trust human judges and juries to carry out justice in the cases they’re assigned, despite the fact that we know of cases of judges who have been bribed, juries that have been tampered with, defendants who have been framed, and jurors who vote guilty based on race, sex, status, or some other irrelevant condition.

But God doesn’t fall into any of those categories. He is the perfect Judge, able to mete out perfect justice, because He’s also the perfect eyewitness. He knew everything about the case of the Midianites because He saw each of them, and everything that was going on in the world around them, inside and out.

I can’t say that about my knowledge of this case. Can you?

God’s not discussing the case of the Midianites with us, but, “Trust Me,” He says, “This was the right decision.”

He’s got a pretty good track record of being right. I’m going to trust Him on this one since I don’t know all the details. How about you?

*Genesis 18:25

Forgiveness, Hell, Justice, Old Testament, Salvation, Sin, Sunday School

Follow Up Week ~ Sunday School Lesson ~ 6-1-14

sunday school

These are my notes from my ladies’ Sunday School class this morning. I’ll be posting the notes from my class here each week. Click here for last week’s lesson.

Through the Bible in 2014 ~ Week 22 ~ May 25-31
Psalm 131, 138-139, 143-145, 127, 111-118, 37, 71-72, 94, 119:1-88; 1 Chronicles 26-29; 1 Kings 1-4; 2 Chronicles 1

Follow Up Week

Last week, we had a lot of great questions that I didn’t feel we had the opportunity to discuss thoroughly enough. This week we’re going to take an in depth look at three of those questions.

Follow Up: Zeruiah
Last week, we saw David repeatedly refer to Joab and Abishai as “sons of Zeruiah,” and a question arose as to what he meant by that. Was it an insult? An identifier? Here, briefly, is some clarifying information:

Zeruiah was David’s sister (1 Chronicles 2:15-16). Her sons were Abishai– one of the chiefs of David’s mighty men (1 Chronicles 11:20), Joab– commander of  David’s army, and Asahel (Asahel was murdered by Abner, commander of Saul’s army (2 Samuel 2:8), at the battle of Gibeon (2 Samuel 2:18-24). Abishai and Joab later took revenge on Abner for killing their brother (2 Samuel 3:24-30).)

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Abishai, Joab, and Asahel were brothers and also David’s nephews. Therefore, calling them “sons of Zeruiah” may have had one of several meanings:

1. “Sons of Zeruiah” was just another way of saying “my nephews.” It is possible that this was to distinguish them from other men close to David who had the same names. (For example, in this week’s reading, we saw a man named Shimei (1 Kings 1:8, 4:18) who was a different person from the Shimei we studied about last week.) Adding such an identifier to someone’s name was common in biblical times before surnames were in general use (eg. Joshua son of Nun, Joseph of Arimathea, Jesus of Nazareth, etc.)

2. It is possible David had a close relationship with Zeruiah and had great respect for her. Perhaps when David called his nephews “sons of Zeruiah” he was reminding them to live up to their mother’s good character.

3. It is possible David had a contentious relationship with his sister and had little respect for her. Perhaps when David called his nephews “sonsof Zeruiah” when annoyed with them, he was implicitly saying, “What else can you expect when they had a mother like that?”

Since the Bible provides very little information on Zeruiah, we can’t definitively say why David would use this phrase; we can only speculate. Click here for more information on Zeruiah.

 

scales of justice

Follow Up: Shimei, David, and Solomon
Last week, we studied the story of Shemei cursing David, and David’s subsequent sparing of his life (2 Samuel 16, 19). This week, we saw the death of David and Solomon’s accession to the throne (1 Kings 1-2). We also saw David, from his deathbed, give instructions to Solomon regarding Shimei, and we saw how Solomon carried them out (1 Kings 2). Was David sinning by going back on his word to Shimei? Let’s take a look.

Two Different Justice Systems
In order to understand the dynamics of the situation between Shimei and David and Shimei and Solomon, we first have to step outside our 21st century United States understanding of “the justice system” and step back in time into the Old Testament monarchial justice system.

The American System:
In the American justice system, justice supersedes leadership and is a separate entity from leadership. We have the judicial branch of government (courts, judges, jails, lawyers, etc.) and the executive branch of government (the President, state governors, etc.). They each have their own powers and responsibilities, and, for the most part, are separate from, and not dependent on, one another. For example, if someone is acquitted of a crime during one person’s presidency, he cannot later be convicted of that same crime solely because someone else becomes President and thinks he should be convicted. (Obviously, there are exceptions and corruptions to this system, but, generally speaking, in a nutshell, this is how it is supposed to work.)

Old Testament Israel’s System: 
In Israel (and other monarchial or dictatorial nations), there was no separation of powers. Legislative (making the laws), judicial, and executive powers all resided in one man: the king. And, the rules could change every time a new king took over. Your verdict, conviction, and sentence lasted only as long as the reign of the king who handed them down unless the next king chose to honor those decisions. This is one of the reasons the death penalty and maiming (cutting off someone’s had for stealing, for example) were more prevalent during those times. If you were the king and wanted to make sure someone was punished long term and that your verdict would not be overturned, death or maiming were your main options.

Shimei’s Sentence (1 Kings 2:8-9, 2 Samuel 19:23, 1 Kings 2:36-46)
As we saw in this week’s reading in 1 Kings 2:8-9, David did not put Shimei to death himself or during his own reign. Additionally, because of the way Israel’s justice system worked, it would have been impossible for David to swear to Shimei that he would never be put to death, because David had no control over what the next king would do. David’s oath was only good for the duration of his own reign. Thus, he did not break the oath he made to Shimei in 2 Samuel 19:23.

David did, however, take full advantage of Israel’s system of justice, the fact that Solomon had made no such oath to Shimei and the fact that Solomon was his son and would be likely to do as he asked. In 1 Kings 2:8-9, David didn’t come right out and tell Solomon to execute Shimei, but he hinted pretty strongly at it.

Solomon, perhaps wishing to honor the spirit of David’s oath to Shimei in 2 Samuel 19, while still carrying out David’s desire in 1 Kings 2 that Shimei be punished, did not condemn Shimei to immediate death, but, rather, put him under “house arrest” (1 Kings 2:36-37). Shimei could not leave Jerusalem or he would be executed, but as long as he stayed in Jerusalem, he was free to live his life as he wished. Shimei agreed to this (2:38) and made an oath to the Lord that he would obey (2:43). Shimei could have lived out the rest of his life peacefully in Jerusalem if he had just abided by the rules of his sentence. He broke the rules; he knew the consequences (2:39-46).

 

deathbed-2

Follow Up: Can a Christian be forgiven for a sin he commits on his deathbed and doesn’t have the opportunity to repent for before dying? Will he go to hell for this? 
This question arose last week as we briefly touched on David’s deathbed instructions to Solomon regarding Shimei. Although it doesn’t appear that David was actually sinning in that particular case, this question is a very good one that I wanted to address more fully because it has application for all of us since we all sin and will all die one day. In order to answer this question, we need to take a look at several things regarding sin, forgiveness, and salvation.

The soteriology of the question (John 10:26-29, Romans 8:1-2, 33-39, 1 John 2:1-2) 
Soteriology is the field of theological study that deals with salvation: what it is, what it isn’t, and how it happens. We know that in order for a person to be saved and spend eternity in Heaven he must turn from his sin (repent), and place his faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ on his behalf as payment for his sin.

John tells us that, for those who have truly been born again, no one is able to snatch them out of Christ’s or the Father’s hand. This includes Satan. Romans tells us (8:33-34) no one has the authority to condemn or to bring charges against God’s elect, because God is the one who has justified them and He has already said there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (8:1-2). Satan no longer has the authority even if we sin, to drag us off to hell, and God has promised that he will not condemn us to hell if we are in Christ. And if/when we do sin, 1 John tells us that Christ has already stepped in between us and the wrath of God as our advocate, offering His righteousness on our behalf.

Bottom line: If you have truly been born again, God’s got you and there’s not anyone or anything that has the authority to change that.

The hamartiology of the question (Hebrews 10:11-14): 
Hamartiology is the study of sin. We sin before we’re Christians. We sin after we’re Christians. We will never be completely free from temptation and the effects of sin this side of Heaven. The truth is, unless you are capable of knowing every single sin in your life (Remember all those sins you committed when you were three? Neither do I.) and you die immediately after repenting of the last one, you’re going to die with unconfessed sin in your life. That’s pretty much every Christian. We sin so much that there are sins we don’t even realize or remember we’ve committed. How can you repent of something you’re not even aware of? So, no, a true Christian will not go to hell for failing to repent of an individual sin committed right before death.

As the old hymn says, “Jesus paid it ALL.” Hebrews tells us that Jesus died “once for all”– one time to pay for all sin, from the creation of the world until its destruction at the end of time. When we come to Christ for salvation, while we may repent of individual sins that are heavy on our hearts, what we are really doing is confessing that we are, and repenting for being, a sinner. If we had to repent of every individual sin no one could ever be saved because no one could remember all the sins he’s ever committed. For those who are in Christ, every sin in our entire lives, from birth to death, is forgiven.

Daily repentance and forgiveness:
So, if the sins we have forgotten about, and the sins we aren’t aware of, and the sins we don’t have a chance to repent for before dying are all forgiven anyway, why is any other sin any different? Why do we need to repent of our sin and ask for forgiveness every day when we pray?

Obedience (Matthew 6:12):
We do it out of obedience. Jesus tells us in the Lord’s Prayer to daily ask God to forgive us for sinning. So, we do.

Awareness and thankfulness (Psalm 32:1-2)
When we spend time in prayer daily repenting of our sin it reminds us of the greatness of God and His grace in forgiving our sin. It humbles us by reminding us of the great cost of our sin. It reassures us of God’s love and mercy towards us. It gives us an opportunity to give Him praise and thanks for forgiving us.

Restored relationship (1 John 1:6-9)
When we have unconfessed sin in our lives, it creates a rift (of our own making) between us and God. When we confess our sin to God and ask Him to cleanse us from it, that sin is no longer a hindrance to clean, unfettered communion with God.

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Apologetics, Idolatry, Justice, Old Testament, Sunday School, Tough Passages

Tackling Tough Issues: Genocide in the Old Testament ~ Sunday School Lesson ~ 3-9-14

sunday school

These are my notes from my ladies’ Sunday School class this morning. I’ll be posting the notes from my class here each week. Click here for last week’s lesson.

Through the Bible in 2014 ~ Week 10 ~ Mar. 2-8
Numbers 16-32
Tackling Tough Issues: Genocide in the Old Testament

Genocide: It’s defined (by dictionary.com) as, “the deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political, or cultural group.” This week in our reading, we dealt with a passage in which God commanded the Israelites to kill nearly all of the Midianites, even those we might consider “innocent.” Was God being cruel or capricious? How could a loving God command such a thing?

Numbers 31:1-18
This is the first time (but won’t be the only time) we’ve seen God command Israel to wipe out a certain nation or people group. How do we make sense of this?

1. Hermeneutics principle: Clear passages interpret unclear passages. (2 Timothy 2:15)
Simply put, biblical hermeneutics is the proper application of 2 Timothy 2:15- a systematic and careful way of diligently studying God’s word so as to rightly understand and handle it. One of the principles of hermeneutics is that when you have a passage that’s confusing or could possibly be interpreted in more than one way, you dig into other biblical passages that address the same issue, but more clearly. In Numbers 31 we see a situation that is confusing because it seems like God is being cruel or unfair. We need to take a look at some clearer passages to help us understand this one.

2. What do we know about the nature and character of God?
On the surface of this passage, God seems to be acting in a way that goes against what we know about Him from the rest of the Bible. That thought itself tells us that the rest of the Bible describes God in certain ways, and that “cruel” and “unfair” are not among those certain ways. We also know that, because God is perfect, He never goes against His own character. How does the Bible describe God?

God is good. (Psalm 100:5)
Some people go so far as to declare that (because God has commanded genocide) God is evil. But God’s word clearly states in many places that He is good.

God is love. (1 John 4:8)
As parents, it’s easy to understand that there are many different ways our love for our children plays out. We smile and hug our children to express our joy in them. We cuddle and comfort them when they’re hurt. We play and celebrate with them. We sacrificially provide for them. But we also love them in “tough” ways sometimes. We discipline them when they’ve disobeyed. We yank them out of harm’s way to protect them. We take them for vaccinations to prevent them from getting sick. We lock the doors to keep bad guys from getting to them. God’s love for us is similar. He loves His children in many ways, some of them, “tough love” ways.

God is patient. (Romans 2:4, 1 Peter 3:20, Psalm 103:14)
God made people, so He understands that we are “dust,” weak, and completely vulnerable to sin. He extends patience and kindness to people over and over again to lead them to repentance and faith in Him. He exhibits patience for a very long time before He executes judgment.

God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. (Ezekiel 18:23,32, 2 Peter 3:9)
Going back to the parent/child analogy, no good parent gets joy out of punishing her children. We would much rather the child obey so that we can be at peace with each other, love them in the “non-tough” ways, and because obedience is what’s best for the child. God’s love for people is infinitely deeper than our love for our children. He never wants to punish people for their sin, but rather wants them to repent and turn to Him. He has even mercifully provided us a way to be rescued from the punishment for our sin: He punished His own Son on the cross in our place! God is patient with disobedience and rebellion, but eventually, as any good parent would, He has to punish it.

God is just. (Genesis 18:25, 1 Peter 2:23)
God is the only completely just judge because of His omnipresence (He’s present everywhere, always) and His omniscience (all knowingness). He sees every action, even those where there is no other witness, and He knows every secret motive and intent of the heart. Because of this, all of His “verdicts” are always right.

3. How do these character traits fit in with and explain God’s command to destroy most of the Midianites?

Genocide is evil. Doesn’t that make God evil? (Deuteronomy 32:39)
No. Genocide is evil when unjust, sinful men take it upon themselves to kill people for evil and selfish reasons. God is, by definition, good, so if He initiates the judgment of genocide, it cannot be evil. As mentioned above, He is abundantly patient before He exercises judgment, and, due to His omniscience and omnipotence, His verdicts are always just. Therefore, when God uses genocide, it is not evil, nor is He.

What had the Midianites done to be worthy of God’s judgment? (Numbers 31:16, 22:6-7, Revelation 2:14, Isaiah 14:12-15)

Note the locations of Midian, Moab, and Shittim.
Note the locations of Midian, Moab, and Shittim.

Note– 31:3 makes clear this is God’s judgment on Midian, not Israel deciding on its own to annihilate them. God used Israel to carry out his sentence of judgment.

King Balak of Moab and the leaders of Midian conspired to pay Balaam to curse Israel (22:6-7). When Balaam couldn’t curse them, he instructed Balak to entice Israel into idolatry instead (Rev. 2:14).

Moab and Midian worshiped Baal. According to mythology, Baal was son of the chief god, El, but rose to power above El, who was considered weak and impotent. (This is very similar to the story we read in Isaiah about how Satan fell.) Baal was a fertility god, so “worship” consisted of sexual perversion including prostitution, and, often, the sacrifice of the first born thson. The religion of Baal took everything good and holy from God’s story (God’s name- El-elyon, El-shaddai, Satan’s attempt to overthrow God, Satan’s contempt for God, and God’s sacrifice of His firstborn Son) and turned it inside out for Satan’s glory. This is what the Midianites were strategically drawing Israel into so that they could either defeat them or turn them into allies.

God showed His goodness by deciding to put an end to evil. He showed His love for Israel by protecting them from both Midian’s schemes and from idolatry and its consequences. God showed His justice by punishing the rebellion of Midian.

Why didn’t God just warn Midian and Israel to stop their evil ways? (Numbers 25, Exodus 20:2-6, Leviticus 26:30, Deuteronomy 4:3)
He did. And, he started with Israel, not Midian. Israel knew better. God had repeatedly told them idolatry was a gross sin (1st and 2nd Commandment) and that it was punishable by death (Lev. 26:30). He had all the Israelite chiefs impaled who had led the people into idolatry. He sent a plague that 1898234_10152272211290761_266294837_ndestroyed the 24,000 people who had bowed the knee to Baal. And, He showed, graphically, through Phinehas that God would not tolerate Israel joining itself to Midian. Finally, he gave the Midianites a taste of what was to come when He had Israel attack (but not annihilate) them at the end of chapter 25.

God would have much preferred both Israel and Midian repent of their idolatry than to put any of them to death here or in chapter 31. He was patient with them and continued to let them live and experience common grace in order that they might repent and turn to Him.

Why did God command Israel to kill “innocent” women and children? (Psalm 51:1, Romans 3:10, 6:23, Samuel 12:22-23)
Note– Those women and children were not innocent. Every human is born in sin and rebellion against God.

The married women would have been adults, just as responsible for their sin of idolatry as the adult males who were killed. Had they been permitted to live, they would have continued to train their children in the ways of Baal worship, and the problem would have remained.

Though the male children may have suffered for a moment, we believe that they are in Heaven with Christ. Had they lived, they would have grown up (trained by their mothers) to be Baal worshipers, and as heads of their households, would have re-instituted Baal worship in Midian. Midian would have remained a threat (even more so because of the desire for revenge on Israel) militarily and in tempting Israel to idolatry.

The unmarried, young girls were allowed to live and marry Israelite men (even though they, too, were supposed to have been killed 31:15) because they would have had to conform to their husbands’ religion, the worship of Yahweh.

God showed His goodness in protecting the Israelites from Midian, in taking the male children to Heaven, and in sparing the young girls and allowing them to come to know Him through their marriage into Israel.

God’s exercising genocide on a people is a difficult issue to come to terms with. And, if it’s difficult for us, we can only imagine how difficult it must be for God. He created these people. He loves them and desires to save them so much that He sent His Son to rescue them from His wrath. Genocide is not a flippant decision by a God who kills people casually, but a heart rending last resort for putting an end to evil so rampant that the people will not turn back from it.

Additional Resources:
What is Biblical Hermeneutics? by GotQuestions.org

Who Was Baal? by GotQuestions.org

Faith, Justice, Tough Passages

Shall Not the Judge of all the Earth Do What Is Just?*

judge

221Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him.
Numbers 31:17

That’s a pretty tough verse, isn’t it?

Married women. Widows. Little boys.

When I read that verse, I think of somebody like me. Or, somebody like my ten year old. It’s hard for me to put myself in a Midianite woman’s sandals and imagine the Israelites coming for my son. My son, who’s basically a good kid, and certainly hasn’t done anything worthy of an army coming after him to execute him.

Do you ever follow criminal trials in the news? With 24-hour news channels and courtroom TV channels, we’ve probably all oj-simpson-trial-gloveswatched for the verdicts of a few. Have you ever been surprised by a jury’s verdict or a judge’s sentence? Maybe you were certain the defendant was guilty, but the jury acquitted him. Or, you figured a life sentence was a sure thing but only a few years were handed down.

It’s easy to lambaste a judge or jury for making what we consider to be the wrong decision. But, think about it: that judge and jury sat through hours of testimony, legal arguments, instruction on the law, and presentation of exp.ac.foreman.anthony.moments.cnn.640x360evidence. They know much more about the case and all the players in it than we do. They know things we don’t know. And those things we’re ignorant about are likely the very things that led them to make a different decision than we, with our limited knowledge of the case, would have made.

What if your spouse, parent, or best friend had been a juror in one of those cases in which you were appalled at the verdict, and he had voted opposite the way you thought he should have? What if he told you, “Look, I’ve been told not to discuss the case, but, trust me, this was the right decision.”? Would you trust him?

It’s the same way with God.

We come to passages like this one, and our first reaction is righteous indignation. How could God make a decision like this? It seems so unjust. An arbitrary, capricious, and callous verdict. It’s easy to throw stones thousands of years later.

But, if God is God, He is, by definition, absolutely perfect in 102011_attri_just (1)justice, perfect in love, perfect in mercy, perfect in patience, perfect in wisdom, and perfect in His knowledge of every detail of every situation on earth, ever, including people’s thoughts and intentions. He never makes a wrong decision. If He were lacking one iota in any of these areas, He would cease to be God, and there would be no reason to trust Him.

But He isn’t. So we can.

We generally trust human judges and juries to carry out justice in the cases they’re assigned, despite the fact that we know of cases of judges who have been bribed, juries that have been tampered with, defendants who have been framed, and jurors who vote guilty based on race, sex, status, or some other irrelevant condition.

But God doesn’t fall into any of those categories. He is the perfect Judge, able to mete out perfect justice, because He’s also the perfect eyewitness. He knew everything about the case of the Midianites because He saw each of them, and everything that was going on in the world around them, inside and out.

I can’t say that about my knowledge of this case. Can you?

God’s not discussing the case of the Midianites with us, but, “Trust Me,” He says, “This was the right decision.”

He’s got a pretty good track record of being right. I’m going to trust Him on this one since I don’t know all the details. How about you?

*Genesis 18:25