© Wendy Anne Clark, 2020
So often have I heard Believers say that they do not read the Old Testament because it is “too troubling” or too confusing. So often I have heard those who do not believe in the God of the Bible refer to God in the Old Testament as full of wrath and vengeance, seeking to annihilate sinners.
How they have misread and misunderstood God and what He reveals about Himself in the Old Testament! How they have missed the great mercy and grace of God revealed throughout the entire Scriptures!
For the past couple of years I have been studying the different books of the prophets. Currently, I am working through the book of Ezekiel. Here’s what I have been learning over the past couple of years:
God’s wrath is the pouring out of His perfect justice in response to sin. God’s wrath is the right and appropriate response of holiness to unholiness, and we all long for it. We want God to pour out His wrath. We want the world to be set right. We want justice and truth and everything that is wrong and deceitful and manipulated and twisted to be dealt with and corrected.
One big problem we have, though, is that we are all sinners. When God’s wrath is finally and fully poured out on all of mankind, in our natural state, we will all be destroyed. So, for now, God is withholding His wrath.
People get mad about that sometimes. Why does God allow evil to exist and the wicked to prosper? Why doesn’t He just wipe it all out right now? If God were truly loving and truly powerful, surely He would do just that, wipe out evil and make things perfect, right now.
But if we would take the time to read the Old Testament and to look for what God teaches about Himself, about humanity, about sin, about justice and judgment and wrath and mercy, we would have a better understanding of why an all-loving, perfectly wise, and all-powerful God, holds back His wrath, for now.
God’s perfect and divine wrath is balanced by His perfect and divine love, which results in His mercy and grace, perfectly poured out. And all of God’s attributes are perfectly intertwined so that “at just the right time” everything that is supposed to happen, happens, just as it is meant to happen.
In the book of Ezekiel, God tells the prophet Ezekiel that He is going to release His wrath against the evil and sin of His own priests and prophets as well as their enemies. The right time has come. This is something that absolutely will be; this is not something they will escape. The sword is coming their way, and there will be widespread destruction and suffering. And yet, in chapter 33, God says that if the people will appoint a watchman to be on the lookout for the coming sword of judgment, and that if the watchman will see and sound the trumpet of warning, and if the people heed the warning and turn from their iniquity, they will escape the judgment and be saved.
If anyone fails to heed the warning, his own destruction will be on his own head. But if the watchman fails to give the warning, all of the people will die in their iniquity, but the watchman will bear responsibility for their destruction.
So much to think about here, but one point for today is that God, even though He has pronounced coming judgment and is getting ready to pour out His wrath, still invites people to turn and receive mercy and be saved.
This indeed is the heart of God throughout all of Scripture. God is longing to show mercy and is giving us every opportunity to turn to Him and receive it.
When God sees Cain’s murderous heart, He points Cain in the direction of escape and deliverance. Cain ignores the warning, and yet God still cares for Cain and shows concern for him.
When the world becomes completely evil, God chooses Noah to warn the people of the coming judgment and to build a place of protection that is offered as a way of escape and deliverance. Noah and his family go into that place of protection and are saved. No one else responds to the warning. Everyone else perishes.
When God gets ready to pour out His wrath on Sodom and Gomorrah, He agrees to hold back His wrath on the account of even a few righteous people living there. When none is found, God provides a warning and a way of escape for Lot and his family, but only those who heed the warning and are obedient are saved.
When the right time has come for God to respond to the great evil of Nineveh, He sends Jonah to warn the people of the coming judgment. Jonah does not want to deliver this warning, and later we learn that he does not want the people to heed the warning and be saved. He wants to be the watchman who doesn’t sound the trumpet.
Eventually, Jonah does as God commands, and he warns the people that they have forty days until God’s wrath will be poured out on their sin. Here’s what happens next:
“The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:
‘By the decree of the king and his nobles:
Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.’“
Did you catch that? There was mass repentance in Nineveh. The king even declared a time of fasting and repentance for all of the people and even the animals.
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.” (Jonah 3:5-10)
How can anyone reading this account think that God is longing to pour out His wrath and miss that God is actually longing to pour out His mercy?
What this account reveals is that God’s wrath is the appropriate response to sin and that there comes a time when it must be poured out unless . . . unless the people will respond and repent–turn to the Lord and turn away from their sin. And God sends a warning, a watchman to sound the trumpet and show the way of deliverance. If the people heed the warning, they will be saved.
We discover that Jonah knew this about God, and like many of us, Jonah wanted judgment for his enemies but mercy for himself.
“But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, ‘Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.’” (Jonah 4:1-3)
When someone asks why God allows evil to exist in the world, why He doesn’t wipe the evil people out, destroy them on the spot, I want to look at that person and say, “Because He’s not ready to give up on you just yet.” That is the truth that many are not willing to face.
“Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’” (2 Peter 3:3-4)
But what people fail to perceive is that we are living in a temporary situation, a time where God is waiting, holding back, actively NOT pouring out His wrath because of His great love for us.
God’s wrath poured out means that everyone who is not in the place of protection and provision that God has provided, will perish. But because of God’s great love, He has mercifully provided a place of protection and provision, and He invites all people to come and be saved.
For Noah and his family and anyone who would have listened, it was to be sheltered in the ark.
For Lot, it was a town nearby that God did not destroy, but allowed Lot and his family to flee to for safety.
For those living today it is the protection that is given to us by salvation provided through the shed blood of Jesus on the cross. All who are in Christ Jesus will be saved. Those who are trying to make their own way or provide for their own salvation will be lost.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” (John 3:16-17)
There is a right and proper time that will come when God will pour out His wrath, God’s perfect justice will deal with all wickedness and evil, and sin and evil will no longer have a place in the world.
“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.
“Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.”
(2 Peter 3:8–13)
In the meantime, we are to be the watchmen on the wall, warn people of what is coming, and point them in the direction of Jesus, that they might be saved. We are to live in such a way that when we warn people, they will take the warning seriously, not like Lot’s extended family, who heard Lot’s warning, but stayed where they were and were destroyed. We are to live as God’s people, dearly loved by God, basking in His great mercy and grace, and we are to love the people around us and invite them to come and experience God’s great and perfect mercy and grace.
Justice will come when the time is right.