So far in our study of the book of Judges, we have seen two very important things about God. The first is that He will give us over to the idols we worship. God is just and he will allow us to choose whether we will serve Him or not. When we serve Him, we get His satisfaction and peace and when we do not, we experience godlessness under whatever idols we have chosen for ourselves. The second is that God does not depend on our level of faith to give salvation. A Biblical worldview is the only worldview in which God does not depend on people in order to give eternal life. Because God does not depend on us, He has great love and grace toward us when we do sin.
From the beginning, we witness what seems like a battle between God’s just nature and His loving nature. God’s just nature pronounced condemnation upon Adam and Even while His loving nature clothed them and covered their shame. God’s just nature drove Him to flood the earth while His loving nature saved one family. God’s just nature delivered the people of Israel into the hands of their enemies while His loving nature restored them. This cannot be a battle, though. God can only have one nature and it cannot be a conflicting nature because God is eternal and perfectly consistent; else He would not be God. Because of this, God must be both just and ever loving at all times: not sometimes just and sometimes loving.
When God does give us over to the idols that we have made for ourselves, what is He feeling? Does He enjoy punishing us or does it hurt Him as well?
Judges 10:6-18 (HCSB)
Then the Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. They worshiped the Baals and the Ashtoreths, the gods of Aram, Sidon, and Moab, and the gods of the Ammonites and the Philistines. They abandoned Yahweh and did not worship Him. So the Lord’s anger burned against Israel, and He sold them to the Philistines and the Ammonites. They shattered and crushed the Israelites that year, and for 18 years they did the same to all the Israelites who were on the other side of the Jordan in the land of the Amorites in Gilead. The Ammonites also crossed the Jordan to fight against Judah, Benjamin, and the house of Ephraim. Israel was greatly oppressed, so they cried out to the Lord, saying, “We have sinned against You. We have abandoned our God and worshiped the Baals.”
The Lord said to the Israelites, “When the Egyptians, Amorites, Ammonites, Philistines, Sidonians, Amalekites, and Maonites oppressed you, and you cried out to Me, did I not deliver you from their power? But you have abandoned Me and worshiped other gods. Therefore, I will not deliver you again. Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them deliver you in the time of your oppression.”
But the Israelites said, “We have sinned. Deal with us as You see fit; only deliver us today!” So they got rid of the foreign gods among them and worshiped the Lord, and He became weary of Israel’s misery.
The Ammonites were called together, and they camped in Gilead. So the Israelites assembled and camped at Mizpah. The rulers of Gilead said to one another, “Which man will lead the fight against the Ammonites? He will be the leader of all the inhabitants of Gilead.”
As we read through this story, we might notice that God did not handle this case of Israel’s rebellion like He handled other cases up to this point. Throughout the book of Judges so far, Israel cried out to God and God delivered them. In verse 13 in this part of the story, we see God respond quite differently. After explaining that Israel continued to worship Idols even though God had delivered them over-and-over again, He said, “I will not deliver you again.”
God is not different than he has been in the past, but here He responds differently to Israel’s sinfulness. We might learn, here, that God does not have this pre-made list of punishments that He will dish out for certain sins. His understanding is so great and He loves us so much that He seems to consider each sin on a case-by-case basis and punish His people according to His great understanding. It means that He accepts us into His family unconditionally (as we learned previously) and interacts with us intimately. When He delivers us to our idols, He does so that might turn back to Him, and I think this idea is represented throughout the book of Judges.
When I was a child, I stole a Kit-kat bar from a Walmart. I got in the car with my mother and my little brother and my mom noticed that I had a Kit-kat bar that she did not pay for. Since she also knew I had no money and I was with her the whole time, she deduced that I had taken the candy without paying for it. Instead of giving me a lecture about how stealing is wrong and swatting me, my mom laughed and told me to go back inside and give it to someone in the store. She recognized that my stealing the chocolate was an accident and that I did not know any better at that point in my life. I saw something I wanted and I picked it up. This punishment would be much different if I stole something today. By this point in my life, I should certainly know better.
God seems to considers us where we are at. By this point in the book of Judges Israel should certainly not be turning to the Idols of other nations and so God’s punishment is slightly more severe. God did not punish Gideon for His lack of faith because He was able to consider where Israel was and cared enough to do that. In our lives, God is able to consider us personally and cares enough to do so. When He punishes us, we can know that He does so in His great wisdom. Since He does not depend on us, we can be sure that His punishment is always fair and always for the purpose of restoration in our lives.
I often think about the fact that we were created in God’s image. We can reason, but that is not all. We are also creatures driven by emotion. Though we currently experience these emotion in a fallen state, we might infer that since we have these emotions, it is likely that God, in whose image we were created, also has a great well of emotions. When we get to verse 16 in this story, our suspicions are confirmed. God could not bear the misery of Israel any longer.
God sees the suffering of His people and tears at the depth of His emotion. When the people we love are suffering, we feel the same gut-wrenching hurt. We cannot bear it. God not only acts in His great wisdom, but also according to the great depth of His emotion. So I find that with God, His intellect and His emotions work in tandem and they are perfect.
We often think of God as a purely intellectual and wise creator, not noticing His great depth of emotion. As we read through Scripture we witness God’s love. We witness His jealousy, anger, care, empathy, hatred, sadness, joy and disgust. God is a God of emotion and reason. If we are made in God’s image, then we are people of both emotion and reason. This means it is not wrong for us to pay attention to how we feel, we just have to be sure that the fallen nature of our emotion is not leading us astray. We have to use our reason with our emotion and these two cannot be separated and work well independent of each other. Sadly, in an American context, I fear we either place so much value on pure intellect that we miss the value of true emotion, or we place so much value on pure emotion that we miss the value of true reason.
Fullness of God’s character and ours
When we think about the fullness of God’s character, we consider His reason and His emotion. The same is true when we think about the fullness of our own character and personhood. When we notice this, we might also notice that God does not enjoy punishing His people. This is why we can be confident in the fact that when God does punish us or hand us over to our idols, He is doing so for our good because it pains Him to see His people suffer. At the same time, God’s wisdom keeps Him from acting in His anger. This story is an obvious display of God’s perfect trustworthiness. Even though we are unable to perfectly trust God now, we can strive to trust Him a little in this fallen world. Even though our level of faith cannot earn us salvation and restoration, we should always strive to have a greater level of faith in God because God is perfectly worthy.
So we do not use the fact that God does not depend on us to continue in sin. God’s grace cannot be a license for rebellion. We strive toward God recognizing that it is God who saves and restores us. As we pursue Him, He sanctifies us according to His great wisdom and love: punishing us for our own good in order to grow our faith in Him.