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A Just and Merciful God

June 30, 2014Filed under theology#devotionsMarkdown source

I have made it my goal to write short posts reflecting on my devotional reading every day. These posts are composed off the cuff, in 30 minutes or less. The following is one such post. Before writing this post, I read: 1 Chronicles 10–23.

My devotional life has been a bit up and down the last few months. It is easy to let it drop off in the midst of all the busyness of the end of a semester, and easy, too, in the midst of caring for a new baby and a recovering wife simply not to find the time for it. But my soul needs to encounter the living God day by day.

Today’s reading was not exactly scintillating in many ways: reading in Chronicles rarely is. But as I have often reflected in the past several years, Paul had in mind the Old Testament—books like this and Numbers and Leviticus, those we find hardest!—when he told us that all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for us (2 Tim. 3:16). That is no less true of Chronicles’ recounting of the deeds of David’s mighty men or the assembly of Israel to anoint him king than it is of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and death. We need all of these pieces to fully understand the work of God.

A few points I take away from my reading this morning:

God is holy.

There are two accounts that make this abundantly clear in the section I read today: the death of Uzzah, the judgment on David for his sin with the census. In the case of Uzzah, God brooked no deviation from his clearly articulated correct way for the transportation of the Ark of the Covenant. That Uzzah meant well did not change the reality that he (and indeed all of David’s initial foray to bring the Ark to Jerusalem) had ignored what God had said. Ignoring God’s word is no light matter. We sometimes blanch at the severity of this judgment, but to ignore when God speaks is to make light of his speech—to insult him and quietly rebel in precisely the same way our first parents did in the Garden. It is to say our own wisdom is sufficient when he has expressly given us his wisdom.

The second case, God’s judgment for David’s census, is interesting in that the text does not expressly tell us what David’s sin was, yet it is obvious that he did sin and in such a way as to anger God profoundly. Joab, who was instructed to carry out the census, clearly understood that it was wrong; so did David. Given the backdrop of the regulations of censuses in the Pentateuch, it seems that David was going about it for the wrong reasons, and without following the pattern God had laid out.1 Yet David went ahead anyway. God responded in judgment. Again: it came down to a simple refusal to do as God had instructed.

These two accounts remind me that I must obey God. It is as plain and simple as that—whatever the circumstances, whatever apparent justification I might muster for doing otherwise, I need to obey. God is holy; he does not brook unrighteousness. Yes, he has atoned for my unrighteousness, but this was true of David as well (see below). I am still called to live in obedience to him, and insofar as I lead, I am responsible to lead others to do so as well.

God is merciful.

This second passage of judgment also highlights God’s mercy. Yahweh sent the angel to bring destruction on the people for David’s sin, but Yahweh relented, too—and this before David did anything at all. Sometimes we can make the mistake in reading the Old Testament of thinking that Yahweh had always to be appeased before he would turn back from his righteous judgments, but the reality is the opposite. The vast majority of the time, Yahweh relented simply because of his forbearance and mercy and patience. Many times when the people clearly had not yet relented, the pleas of one righteous person on their behalf led him to stay his hand. Other times, like here, he stayed his judgment without anyone standing in that position—simply because he is merciful.

It was this reality with whicih Paul wrestled “out loud,” so to speak, in Romans: how can a just God overlook sins? How can he just pass over and not execute judgment when judgment is so clearly deserved?2 The answer for Paul was not to make less of the sin God passed over, but to make that much more of Christ. The Old Testament believers like David were saved by the death and resurrection of Christ just as we are. We are called to faith and trust in the one who has made it possible for the righteousness of God to be cause for our hope rather than despair. And here is the flipside of the call to obey God’s word inherent in those earlier passages: the call to trust God as he has spoken to us. This is good news, if we will but believe it and cling to it.

  1. See J. A. Thompson, 1, 2 Chronicles, vol. 9, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 160.

  2. What a contrast to our own reasoning, in an age when we can hardly conceive of the notion of deserved judgment.