Troublesome Topic: GOD CHOOSES MERCY OVER JUDGEMENT

Lesson 1 of 13

There is a balance between God’s holy standard and His mercy, however, I am convinced that it is not a perfect 50/50 balance. I believe it is slightly weighted toward mercy although I will not attempt to assign a percentage to it. Whenever possible God chooses to show mercy and He waits to punish until it is unavoidable.

God punishes sin because He must; it would be a violation of His character to ignore sin. However, God’s character is also very gracious and merciful, so it would be a violation of His character if He punished sin without first offering every possible opportunity to repent. God does punish, but only when we have given Him no other option, when have rejected all his overtures of mercy.

Eric Ludy says it this way: “God’s answer for us is mercy. If we reject his mercy, we get more mercy. If we reject his mercy again, we get more mercy. More mercy. More mercy. But if we reject him up until our dying breath, then we get punishment. But what have we been getting all along?  Mercy.” (From Eric Ludy’s podcast entitled “Romanticizing Dillinger.”)

If you have gone through or are going through what seems like a harsh punishment from God, please remember this. Unless it causes your death, the harshness that has come to you may be a wake-up call. It may be God trying to get your attention. The level of harshness needed to get your attention is probably equal to the level of your stubbornness in resisting His earlier attempts at getting your attention.

While God seems to favor mercy over holiness by a small degree, He seems to want us to favor holiness over mercy because it is usually harder for us to learn how to live in holiness than how to accept God’s mercy. The exception to that may be those who are always beating up on themselves; they need learn to accept God’s mercy and grace toward them, and as they do so they will learn to see God’s balance between holiness and mercy.

A REAL-LIFE SITUATION WHERE THE BEST BALANCE IS SLIGHTLY OFF CENTER

The cargo and passengers of a commercial airliner should be loaded with a distribution that places the center of gravity of the plane slightly aft (slightly toward the back of the plane) not in the very center of the plane. If the weight distribution in an airplane places the center of gravity in the exact middle, the plane will be hard to take off, hard to control, and hard to land. If it is too far forward it is likely to cause a deadly accident. However, if the center of gravity is too far back, the plane will be difficult to control as well. In airplanes, the desired balance is found when the center of gravity is slightly aft from the physical center-point of the plane’s body.

The empty weight of the plane and the weight of the fuel are almost constant quantities, but the weight of the cargo (which includes passengers, their luggage, and other cargo) varies for every flight. Therefore, the luggage/cargo is weighed, and the weight of the passengers is estimated according to a carefully prepared formula. Computers are used to formulate a plan for how the passengers and luggage should be distributed in order to attain that perfect balance, which is actually an offset balance.

REFERENCES ABOUT MERCY OVER PUNISHMENT

Ps 30:5 For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. ESV

Ps 103:10-14 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. ESV

Isaiah 54:8  “In an outburst of anger I hid My face from you for a moment, But with everlasting favor I will have compassion on you,” Says the LORD your Redeemer.  NASB

Ez 33:11 “Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” ESV

Jonah 4:2   He prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still in my country? That is why I ran to Tarshish, because I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and great in lovingkindness, and [when sinners turn to You] You revoke the [sentence of] disaster [against them]. (Amplified Bible) Jonah did not want the people of Nineveh to repent because he knew God would accept their repentance. They were his enemies and he wanted only to see them punished. He knew the character of God but he did not want to mirror it. God saw to it that this story was included in the canon of scripture because it shows God’s heart for sinners and foreigners, as well as the place that mercy plays in His character.

Matt 5:7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. ESV

Jn 8:11 Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on, sin no more.” ESV

James 2:13 Mercy triumphs over judgment. ESV

GOD DID HIS BEST TO GET THEIR ATTENTION BEFORE SENDING PUNISHMENT

When I said earlier that God gives every opportunity for repentance before sending punishment, it was actually an understatement; God is not waiting passively for someone to repent, rather He is actively trying to get the sinner’s attention. Here are some of the things God commanded the prophets to do in order to get the attention of a people who had become numb to His message:

Isaiah  20:2-4  The hairy robe, or sackcloth, was both the sign of morning and the “uniform” of a prophet, and was worn instead of a proper cloak. It was worn over the undergarment, but it still would have produced some itching and irritation at some points. It was this hairy robe or sackcloth that Isaiah was told to remove. When he did so he was experiencing the condition of a captive, some of whom would be taken away as slave in their “underclothes” and some of the warriors would be taken away with their buttocks showing and with feet bare, while the prominent captive men would have had their beards cut off. The word “naked” meant “uncovered” i.e. “partially naked or only wearing the undergarments.” The point is that it was a great shame to be uncovered in this way. God told His prophet Isaiah to go around shamefully “uncovered” for a period of 3 years to show the people what was headed their direction if they relied on Egypt to protect them from disaster instead of relying on God.

Ez 4:4-8  Ezekiel was told to lay on his side to demonstrate the immobility that would come with captivity. He was told to lay 390 days on his left side, and 40 days on his right side, tied with ropes.

In Hosea chapters 1 and 2 – Hosea was told to marry a prostitute and then, after she left him, he was told to buy her back from the slave traders. All of this was a picture of the way God had already shown mercy to the people of Israel who only deserved punishment. Despite their rejection of God, He was willing to pay the price to buy them (and us) back.

WHAT ABOUT PUNISHMENT THAT CARRIED OVER TO FUTURE GENERATIONS?

Exodus 20:5

Translation

You shall not bow down to them nor serve

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them

for I, YHVH

your ELOHIM

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(read Adonai your Elohim) am

a jealous God,

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visiting the punishment for the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons to the third and fourth [generation]

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of those who hate me.

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Paraphrase

You must not do things that demonstrate submission and loyalty to them, nor live out that loyalty to them with your actions and efforts, for I, THE ETERNAL AND PERSONAL GOD, who is also your OWNER AND RULER am protective of what is mine and will not relinquish it easily; I protect by using punishment in order to teach fathers and sons and grandsons down as far as I need to go in cases where people demonstrate disregard for what I have required of them.

Exodus 20:6

Translation

but showing mercy

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to the thousandth [generation]

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of those who love

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me and keep my commands.

Paraphrase

but showing compassionate mercy always and forever

to those who

love me and demonstrate it by obeying what I have charged them to do.

First of all, we dare not forget that God’s mercy extends much longer and to many more people than does His punishment.

But people still want to know, “Why does He punish the children at all? It seems unfair to punish people who did not commit the offense.”

Here is what I think is going on in those cases. I think God is still punishing the fathers with extended consequences that carry on for a long time. One of the prices of leadership is that consequences are far reaching in the number of people they touch and the length of time they endure. Kings and presidents have consequences that carry on long after they are gone. As the first representatives of the human race, Adam and Eve received consequences that are still in effect today. All of us live under the consequences of sin. The difficult circumstances brought on by those consequences are intended to make us think about such things as consequences for our actions, the reality of right and wrong, our purpose in life, and eternity.You may not like that answer, but that is what I think is going on.

There is a grave responsibility that comes with leadership.

One of the reasons God has given leadership in the home to the husband and father is that men naturally sense the gravity of leadership; and the tendency of many men is to shrink back from it. They know there are serious consequences, and they are not sure if they can do a good job of leading. There are a few men who thrive under that kind of pressure. In contrast, many women are willing to push forward and take the lead. 

SUMMARY AND APPLICATION TO LIFE

In summary, God wants us to be a reflection, a miniature picture, of who He is and what He is like. In order to properly reflect Him, we need to understand His character and this balance between mercy and holiness is a key part of His character.

We need to ask ourselves these questions:

What am I reflecting? Do I reflect the world or do I reflect God’s character?

In what areas do I need to grow in order to better reflect God’s character?

Footnotes

1

“serve” is closely tied to the idea of labor, i.e. serving through one’s efforts or exertion. Serving a deity was by no means a passive thing.

2

This name of God comes from Elohim but is spelled differently because it means “your God,” not just God. It is serving a different grammatical function so it takes a different form. However, I have expressed it as “your Elohim” to avoid confusion.

3

This was the simplest form of the word “God,” and for the Hebrews it had the meaning of “God” in a general sense. It was not a proper name, but was the foundation for the name Elohim, and was also the root of the Arabic word Allah. There was a Canaanite deity named El.

4

The word “generation” is not in the Hebrew but is the assumed from context.

5

“hate” does mean “to hate.” By implication it refers to someone who has disregard for God’s covenant, expressed through failure to follow the covenant conditions. It is contrasted with “love” in the next verse.

6

“mercy” is a great Hebrew word that is extremely important for our understanding of who God is and what He is like. The word means “compassion, kindness, mercy, love, piety, and goodness.” Of these possibilities the word “kindness is the one that seems to be repeated most. It is difficult to use one English word to capture the richness of this Hebrew word, so Bible translators often render this word with a descriptive phrase such as “loving kindness,” or “unfailing love.”

In this context I believe “mercy” needs to be included in the rendering because it is used in contrast to the punishment in the previous verse. However, our word “mercy” standing alone is not adequate to express the richness of this Hebrew word, therefore, I have chosen the phrase “compassionate mercy.”

7

The word “generations” is not found in the Hebrew text but is supplied by the context. It can properly be assumed that this is talking about the thousandth generation, not just thousands of people, because it stands as the completion of the phrase in the previous verse, the construction of which is most logically fulfilled by adding “generation.” This is the nature of Hebrew, where many things are left unwritten and thus must be assumed; sometimes the things left unwritten are quite important, but such was their reliance on context to fill in the blanks.

The “thousandth generation” is used here as a way to indicate an extremely long time, basically forever. The point being made is that, while God does punish sin fully because He is a holy God, He is always compassionate and merciful; He only punishes when punishment is absolutely warranted. His patience with the children of Israel is amazing to observe in Scripture. His patience with us is amazing to see as well.

8

In the context of a covenant relationship, “hate” means to disobey, and “love” means to follow and obey.