Jonah is an interesting character because he seems to have done what a lot of us fall into. We have seen him run away from God, return to God, thrive through the power of God and now complain about God. In Jonah 4, Jonah is upset because God actually saved the people of Nineveh. Apparently, he did not want to see that happen.
Jon 4:1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.
Jon 4:2 And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.
Jon 4:3 Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.
Jonah knew what God was going to do. He knew that God was going to be gracious. He knew that God would allow the people of Nineveh to have another chance. That didn’t mean he was happy about it.
I think that we do this quite a bit. I think about the justice of God for example. We know that God is perfectly fair. We know that intellectually, but then circumstances come that we don’t like. All of a sudden we forget what we do know intellectually and basically complain. Just like Jonah, we know that God is fair, but we want to deny that characteristic. We want to think that God is unfair so that we have some right to complain.
However, that isn’t what should happen. We kind of see that from God in the next verse when He responds to Jonah.
Jon 4:4 Then said the LORD, Doest thou well to be angry?
Was there really any purpose to the anger? Not really, and Jonah knew it. He still went outside the city and pouted for a while, but he didn’t make any more arguments like did above. He knew they didn’t hold up.
That is a point that a lot of us come to. In my above example, we realize that God is not being unfair, but we still want to carry on our feelings at the time. As a result, we don’t argue anymore, but we just moan for a while.
Given that it is New Year’s Day, maybe we all can make that our New Year’s resolution. Feelings happen, so it is not that we disregard them all together, but our reactions can be changed. Rather than continue with complaints, why don’t we channel that energy towards something that is actually constructive?
Amos chapter 8 brings us to the pronouncement of judgment, and the harshest sentences are going to be given to those who were unjust to the poor.
Amo 8:4 Hear this, O ye that swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of the land to fail,
Amo 8:5 Saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit?
Amo 8:6 That we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes; yea, and sell the refuse of the wheat?
These are guys who are basically sitting around waiting for the Sabbath to be over so that they can get back to doing business. Now, I know that all of us are involved in some type of business, and the exchange of products for payment is not a sin whatsoever. However, look at what these men were doing. They were ripping people off. They were falsifying the balances.
It wasn’t a problem that they wanted to go to work, but it was a problem that they were actually excited to be unfair. I think that this applies far beyond business and commerce. We should not be anxious to do something wrong. We should not desire to do something that we explicitly understand is wrong.
The irony in this scenario is that these businessmen were also selectively following what they could get away with. They knew that they could not do business on the Sabbath without being frowned upon in the community, but because they knew that they could get away with being slightly unfair in the balance, they were willing to do that.
How easy is that? We put on a good front, but we have legitimate issues behind the scenes that no one ever sees. That’s another problem that we need to confront.
As you read this chapter and recognize that these are the people who are going to be judged most severely, I think it is a cautionary tale for all of us. This is something that we don’t want to get mixed up in.
In Ezekiel 45, we are now receiving some more instruction about the division of the land and fair weights and measures during the time of this new Temple. I want to focus on this idea of weights and measures.
Eze 45:9 Thus saith the Lord GOD; Let it suffice you, O princes of Israel: remove violence and spoil, and execute judgment and justice, take away your exactions from my people, saith the Lord GOD.
Eze 45:10 Ye shall have just balances, and a just ephah, and a just bath.
Again, it seems to me that the new Temple is referring to the person of Jesus Christ, the perfect model of the Temple that no one could design on earth. This then implies to me that those of us who are in Christ are called to practice business the right way. Our weights and measures need to be fair and just. We cannot take a little bit extra off the top to put in our own pockets.
I know that there are plenty of people in different jobs who have opportunities every day to do the wrong thing. You can be a business owner who does not treat his or her employees fairly. You can be an accountant and skim a little bit of money off the top without much problem especially in businesses with little control over these processes. Unethical business practices are on the news every day, and it might be easy to justify going along with the crowd. Everybody else is doing it, so why can’t I get rich along with them?
However, that isn’t how we are called to live. In this life that we are building under the instruction of Jesus Christ, we cannot separate out how we act at work and how we act at home. All of our life should be life for God. We do business in the right way because God calls us here in Ezekiel, among other places, to be fair.
This is a pretty fast book, and today we’re in the fifth and final chapter of Lamentations. This chapter is basically a prayer to God about all of the terrible things that the people of Judah were going through. It afflicted everyone from men to women, young to old and rich to poor. Everyone was suffering as a result of captivity, and here is now Jeremiah ended his prayer.
Lam 5:19 Thou, O LORD, remainest for ever; thy throne from generation to generation.
Lam 5:20 Wherefore dost thou forget us for ever, and forsake us so long time?
Lam 5:21 Turn thou us unto thee, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old.
Lam 5:22 But thou hast utterly rejected us; thou art very wroth against us.
I wanted to point this out because it never says that God was not just. Of course, Jeremiah would prefer that the people come back to God and that the relationship be repaired. However, at the same time, he recognized that God was angry at the people for continually violating His law for a long time. Jeremiah never said that God was wrong for being angry.
This can be difficult one for all of us today. We get mad at God for bringing consequences. We say that God isn’t just, and we want something different to be happening. There are two separate issues here though. Asking God that something different happens is perfectly acceptable. Coming back to God and asking for forgiveness can be the first step in asking God to help us handle difficult situations.
However, it is a different thing to say that God is not just. Jeremiah understood that this was not the problem here. The people deserved the punishment because they had violated the law, and when people violate the law, there are consequences. That is the entire point of our justice system. I entirely understand that the courts are a human system and are occasionally faulty, but the ideal intent of the justice system is that people who break the law and receive appropriate punishment.
Why would we expect anything different of a perfect judge? God knows everything, so He can appropriately adjudicate cases. God’s justice system is certainly capable of bringing punishment when people have violated it, and that is what Jeremiah recognized.
I think that is why we never see Jeremiah say it wasn’t fair. While he certainly seemed to want things to be different, he never once said that God was not fair.
Psalms 73 is very reflective of the world we live in today. One of the biggest complaints that people have with our current economic system is the fact that there is a huge divide between the incredibly wealthy and the incredibly poor. If you read this chapter though, you’ll find that this problem is nothing new. There has always been some type of inequality, and sometimes, the people who seem to be doing really well are doing it in the wrong way.
Psa 73:3 For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
Psa 73:4 For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm.
Psa 73:5 They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men.
It seemed kind of backwards. The wicked people were the ones who were getting rich, and you would expect it to be the other way around. We are trying so hard to follow God and do what is right that we should be the ones who get rewarded. They just continue doing bad things, and it feels as if they are getting some kind of benefit for their behavior.
Psa 73:12 Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches.
Psa 73:13 Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency.
Wait a minute. Asaph, the writer of this Psalm, seems like that he suddenly had a revelation. He suddenly realized that whatever these wealthy people had was confined to the earth, and he had something much better.
Psa 73:26 My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.
Psa 73:27 For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish: thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from thee.
Psa 73:28 But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, that I may declare all thy works.
Now, let’s put it all back together. It feels unfair that the wealthy people are wealthy despite the fact that they are wicked. It seems more fair for those who do good and follow God to be rewarded for that. However, there is more to reality than money here on earth. Like Asaph says, God will be our portion forever. There is eternity to consider, so even if it may seem like that the world is what it ought to be, remember the other promises that we do have from God. This world is not the end of it, and ultimately God is a God of justice. The wicked might prosper for a short time, but it is not going to end well for them.
In Psalms 67, we read about how great it would be to have God ruling the world from the literal throne here on earth, and even though I know some people are probably already thinking, “Separation of church and state!” at least hear me out for the rest of this article.
Psa 67:1 To the chief Musician on Neginoth, A Psalm or Song. God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us; Selah.
Psa 67:2 That thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving health among all nations.
Psa 67:3 Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee.
Psa 67:4 O let the nations be glad and sing for joy: for thou shalt judge the people righteously, and govern the nations upon earth. Selah.
Psa 67:5 Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee.
Psa 67:6 Then shall the earth yield her increase; and God, even our own God, shall bless us.
Psa 67:7 God shall bless us; and all the ends of the earth shall fear him.
Now, notice that we are dealing with a definite presupposition here. In this situation, if God was literally on earth running the government, these are some of the results we would see. They are entirely consistent with the character of God.
For one thing, He would be a righteous judge. The point that He is fair and just is emphasized numerous times throughout the Bible, and it would be a major improvement over what we have right now. Honestly, you hear about our justice system here in America, and it is definitely not always fair or just. I’m sure that the rest of the world is similar. With God in charge, we would have a fair judge.
Also, God would be good for the people. He would bless them. Again, we see a lot of blessings from God all throughout the Bible when people follow His way. Think about the promises at the end of Deuteronomy. The people of Israel could have blessings, or they could have curses. It really depended on how they followed God. This verse seems to be making a similar point.
Let me tell you, even if these were the only two benefits of having God govern the entire earth, they are definitely steps in the right direction as compared to where we are now. There is no world leader who is perfect, but we do serve God who is.
Uzziah seemed to be a pretty good king in 2 Chronicles 26. He had quite a bit of success in war, and we are told that God was with him.
2Ch 26:4 And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father Amaziah did.
2Ch 26:5 And he sought God in the days of Zechariah, who had understanding in the visions of God: and as long as he sought the LORD, God made him to prosper.
God was helping him do well (by the way, the Hebrew word in this case for “prosper” is the word that generally means “to push forward.” This is important because we might not only be talking about material wealth. Rather God was pushing him forward in terms of military success and many other areas).
However, even though he had all of the success and was doing so well in so many areas of his life, he was not immune from wandering away from God or being punished.
2Ch 26:16 But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed against the LORD his God, and went into the temple of the LORD to burn incense upon the altar of incense.
He obviously did something that only the priests were authorized to do, and he ended up being punished for that by being afflicted with leprosy. You might say that it was only one mistake, and it might seem a little bit harsh to go to that extreme.
However, God is fair, and the rules apply to everyone. Even though he was the king, he could not override the rules that God had in place. Even though it was only the first time we hear about him doing something like this and violating a major rule of the Temple, God needed to be fair and allow the consequences to be realized.
In Judges chapter 12, I have to admit I feel a little bit sorry for Jephthah. After all of the stress that he has just gone through at the end of chapter 11, it really doesn’t get any easier for him.
Jdg 12:1 And the men of Ephraim gathered themselves together, and went northward, and said unto Jephthah, Wherefore passedst thou over to fight against the children of Ammon, and didst not call us to go with thee? we will burn thine house upon thee with fire.
It must not have been a very long time since he came back from fighting the Ammonites. He had just gone through everything with his daughter, and now the men of Ephraim show up at his doorstep and ask him why he didn’t invite them to come to war with him. They are so mad that they are threatening to destroy him.
Jdg 12:2 And Jephthah said unto them, I and my people were at great strife with the children of Ammon; and when I called you, ye delivered me not out of their hands.
Jdg 12:3 And when I saw that ye delivered me not, I put my life in my hands, and passed over against the children of Ammon, and the LORD delivered them into my hand: wherefore then are ye come up unto me this day, to fight against me?
Essentially, he tells them that we were having trouble and called on you to go to war with us. You never answered the call, but we won the war anyway because we had God on our side.
I do not know if this has ever happened to any of you. You ask for help, nobody comes, but after you have won the war, people are upset that they do not get to share in the benefits of victory.
It turns out that Paul addressed the very same issue in his letter to the Galatians.
Gal 6:7 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.
The men of Ephraim did not step up to help, so they did not get to enjoy the spoils of victory. Unfortunately, this really wasn’t what they wanted to hear and then decided that war was the best option.
Jdg 12:4 Then Jephthah gathered together all the men of Gilead, and fought with Ephraim: and the men of Gilead smote Ephraim, because they said, Ye Gileadites are fugitives of Ephraim among the Ephraimites, and among the Manassites.
They went to war for an unjust cause, and they were defeated. In a way, because they sowed the seeds of unjust war, they reaped a defeat.
The application for all of us is to remember that we are responsible for our own choices. From a long-term, eternal perspective, many people are going to stand before God and say, “I want to share in the benefits of life in heaven.” God, because he needs to be just, will simply say, “Where were you when I called you? I never knew you” (paraphrase of Matthew 7:21-23).
Judges chapter 2 could be misconstrued to present an evil picture of God. I am sure there are people out there who have thought that because God allowed Israel to be devastated just because they did not follow Him, He must be pretty evil.
Jdg 2:12 And they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, which brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the people that were round about them, and bowed themselves unto them, and provoked the LORD to anger.
Jdg 2:13 And they forsook the LORD, and served Baal and Ashtaroth.
Jdg 2:14 And the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and he delivered them into the hands of spoilers that spoiled them, and he sold them into the hands of their enemies round about, so that they could not any longer stand before their enemies.
However, people who believe that are also ignoring one of the other characteristics of God. He is ultimately just, and as a fair judge, He had to go through with what He said in the past. Specifically, if you remember the end of Deuteronomy, you’ll remember all of the blessings and curses the children of Israel had to decide between.
If they wanted the blessings, they had to follow God. When they didn’t follow God like in our chapter for today, they had to accept the consequences of their actions.
Ultimately, that is just. Our legal system is built on the same concept. If people do something wrong and break the law that has already been established, then they have to be responsible for the already laid out consequences.
From what I remember about Judges, the people of Israel were on a kind of roller coaster. They alternated between periods of following God and wandering away. However, it is important to keep in mind that God was just in all of His judgments.
It is not as if He made up rules on the fly to stick it to the people. They knew what they needed to do, and they made their choices. Because of this justice, the punishment needed to follow.
I have written a few times before about the cities of refuge in Israel, and today is another time to do that. Joshua chapter 20 is a discussion between God and Joshua about these cities.
Jos 20:9 These were the cities appointed for all the children of Israel, and for the stranger that sojourneth among them, that whosoever killeth any person at unawares might flee thither, and not die by the hand of the avenger of blood, until he stood before the congregation.
I think that this clearly emphasizes that God is truly a God of justice. I see that particularly in the final part of this verse. The direct purpose of these cities was to allow people who may have unintentionally killed someone a safe place to wait until the trial.
God put this system in place to establish some type of justice. He wanted to make sure that people were not dying unnecessarily. He wanted to make sure that the punishment fit the crime rather than an overreaction by an angry relative.
Although I don’t have a lot of experience with this, I would assume that if a close family member or relative died in some type of accident, it would be incredibly easy to blame whoever was with my relative at that time. That blame can lead to anger which can lead to crimes being committed.
God decided to eliminate this problem. By providing these cities, the justice system had time to work. He wanted people to be accountable for what they did, but he also wanted to make sure that the punishment fit the crime.
This takes us right back to something I wrote a few months ago about the idea of an eye for an eye. God loves justice, and that implies fairness. The punishment cannot be exponentially greater than the crime, and that punishment needs to be done through the legal system and the congregation rather than one person taking the law into his or her own hand.