April 1, 2009
What’s Really Fair?
by Katherine Britton, Crosswalk.com News & Culture Editor
"Your wickedness will punish you; your backsliding will rebuke you. Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the LORD your God and have no awe of me," declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty.
– Jeremiah 2:19
If you’re like me, you’ve spent far more time studying Paul’s famous passage about what “love is” and James’ warning about the tongue than you have studying the Old Testament. If you’re like me, you’re a lot more comfortable when you can see grace close to the surface. You like the Old Testament stories about God’s faithfulness to Abraham in giving him a son, and David’s repentance after Bathsheba. Those stories demonstrate the incredible mercy of a loving God, and we prefer to focus on that quality. I tend to skip over the more difficult passages of earthly judgment meted out in Joshua, Deuteronomy, and Judges.
I’m realizing that I’m a lot more comfortable with what comes after John 3:16 than what comes before it. Why?
As I’ve listened to a series of sermons about Joshua and the Israelites, I’ve found some of the commands hard to stomach. For instance, I’ve heard the story about the battle of Jericho a thousand times, how “the walls came tumbling down,” and all the Israelites had to do was march around the city. But I hadn’t read the full passage in, well, a while.
The passage actually concludes with a direct order from the Lord that no one in Jericho, save Rahab the believing prostitute, be allowed to live (Joshua 6:21). At their next battle, Ai, the same orders were carried out again (Joshua 8:28)
Later, after the victory at Ai, the same thing happens. All the people are put to death, killed by the command of God.
I immediately found myself asking, “Lord, really? Everybody in the whole city? The women, the children, the animals? Why the need for total annihilation? This seems so inconsistent with the message that ‘God is Love.’ Shouldn’t they have had the chance to hear more? What did they ever do to deserve such a fate? God, that’s not fair.”
That’s not fair? After I gave voice to my gut reaction, those words came back to haunt me. That’s not fair? Someone wiser than I mentioned Rahab’s response to the Israelites, and why her life was spared. She saw the evidence before her – a nation of people whose God clearly went before them, completely overshadowing the gods she had known – and she threw herself on their mercy. Where the king and people of Jericho mocked the Israelites and their god, she realized her true predicament. Her faith resulted in the physical salvation of Rahab and her family.
Compare Rahab’s response to others living in the land. She humbled herself before a mighty God, while the rest of the people stood in defiance against God himself. The one, holy, and true God of Israel. The one who created each Canaanite, brought water to their land, made their fields grow, and then watched as they did the unthinkable in their rituals to other gods. The one God who is perfect himself, and cannot entertain a hint of sin. That God watched these people for centuries, restraining his judgment until the Israelites were ready to possess the land. The holy God gave unholy people time. But in the end they had to “realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the Lord your God and have no awe of me.” (Jeremiah 2:19)
The fact is, we all deserve judgment. We’re all guilty of losing our awe of the true God and turning to idols. We all deserve the fate of Jericho. That’s fair.
Doesn’t that make John 3:16 so much more amazing?
Intersection of Faith & Life: Do we act as though God has an obligation to save us? Or do we, like Rahab, realize how little we can do to save ourselves? This has a dramatic effect on how we view not only judgment, but grace.