A Question About Judgment

When I read the Old Testament prophets, there are so many references to judgment, punishment, and destruction that I wonder, What’s the purpose of it all?

The prophecies of judgment use very strong language: “I myself am against you, Jerusalem. . . . In your midst parents will eat their children. . . . I will inflict punishment on you” (Eze. 5:8-10, NIV); I “will cut off its food supply and send famine upon it” (Eze. 14:13, NIV); “Their children also will be dashed to pieces; . . . and their wives ravished” (Isa. 13:16); “I will deliver you into the hands of brutal men, men skilled in destruction. You will be fuel for the fire” (Ezek. 21:31, 32, NIV). The list could be multiplied. I will provide a few principles to help us interpret these prophecies.

1. Foundation of Judgment: A common element is present in all messages of judgment against God’s people, namely, the violation of the covenant. After redeeming them from Egypt, God entered into a covenant relationship with His people, making it possible for them to enjoy His blessings. The violation of the covenant was the rejection of the Lord, and it resulted in idolatry. They abandoned the sphere of blessings and entered into the sphere of curses and death. Their only alternatives were repentance and covenant renewal or permanent separation from and abandonment by the Lord. God’s judgments were based on serious covenant violations.

2. Predictions of Judgment: The Lord predicts coming judgments for several reasons. First, in some cases He wanted people to repent in order to avoid the judgment. Second, the prediction demonstrated that the Lord anticipated what would happen, and that consequently He was not surprised by it, but that, on the contrary, He was in control of history. Third, by announcing the defeat of His people, the Lord indicated that the nations were not more powerful than He was. He was the one punishing His people for their sins, even using the nations to accomplish His purpose.

3. Judgment and the Enemies: Breaking with the Lord left His people at the mercy of their enemies. The rejection of the Lord, their only source of blessings and life, resulted in famine and plagues. This is not the impersonal, automatic result of sin, but of God’s decision to abandon the city, the Temple, and the land. They chose to abandon Him, and He “honors” their decision by abandoning them. Most of the language used in the messages of judgment against God’s people is of a military or political nature. We often read what a military attack would look like: the siege of the city (which brings famine and cannibalism inside the city); the destruction of the city and the Temple; the raping of women; the killing of women, children, and men; and a few survivors, many of whom would have wished to die during the attack. The language describes the cruelty and inhumanity of war. When the Lord claims to be doing this to His own people, He is defending His righteousness and His sovereignty over His people and the nations. The nations are not defeating Him and taking His people from His hands; He is handing His people over to their enemies.

4. Judgment and Cosmic Conflict: God’s people have always existed in the context of a cosmic conflict. The enemies of Israel were primarily the political and military powers of the nations that surrounded them. But behind the nations were their gods and demonic powers that influenced God’s people, often leading them into idolatry and making them vulnerable to military defeat and political submission. In the words of judgment the Lord was telling His people that there was hope for them. He was not only in control of what was happening to them, but would also be fighting for them against their enemies. Ultimately, through His judgments, He will defeat the nations and their gods.

God’s last word for His people is not judgment, but salvation through a remnant of His people and the nations who will come and worship Him in His temple.

Date: 
6/17
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