Let my soul live, and it shall praise you; and let your judgments help me. Ps 119.175
Ever stop to think how God’s judgments are supposed to help us?
The term conjures up wrath and death and destruction. Such force and violence are terrifying and do not inspire confidence to approach when we are in need. Already made fragile by desperation, we dare not expose ourselves to the divine outrage and displeasure.
And that’s not an exaggeration. While Scripture portrays God from creation to the new Jerusalem as compassionate and gracious and slow to anger, it also contains a significant number of stories of judgment, sometimes against his people and sometimes against their enemies.
The curtain on the biblical stage barely opened before he had to sentence Adam and Eve to death for disobedience.
Cain committed murder and had to be punished.
The whole world went sideways into corruption so that he sent the flood to cleanse it. He even limited the human life span to curtail wickedness.
The descendants of Noah did not scatter as the Lord commanded when they came out of the ark. Instead they built a tower. So he disbursed them by confusing their speech.
The cities of the plains were so reprehensible that God obliterated all trace of their existence to this day.
Pharaoh refused to release his Hebrew slaves, so God placed Egypt and its people under judgment. Time after time, the hammer of God fell until the nation was thoroughly broken.
He fiercely defended his people from attacks and schemes through the wilderness, but he also turned his judgments against grumblers and rebels.
The people of Canaan practiced detestable idolatry, so the Lord gave their kings into the hand of Joshua, and turned their land over to the Israelites.
His people did not drive out the inhabitants and worshiped their idols instead. This set up a cycle of idolatry-oppression-deliverance. When they turned to him, God raised up a ruler to execute judgment and deliver them—until they fell into another round of idolatry.
Forty years of Philistine oppression made them ask for a king. God sent thunder and rain on their wheat harvest.
God turned his eye of judgment on the kings. As they went, so went the people, and the people paid the price for their kings’ sins.
Saul slaughtered the Gibeonites and God sent a famine on the land.
David counted the fighting men and God sent a three-day plague as far as Jerusalem.
Solomon inaugurated the worship of foreign deities and God tore ten tribes away from him.
Jeroboam established pseudo-Yahweh worship and God pronounced a curse on the false altars.
Ahab introduced Baal worship and God sent three and half years of drought.
Manasseh persecuted the prophets of Yahweh and God brought Babylon to Jerusalem’s gates.
The leaders killed the prophets and ignored every warning message. Therefore the people were led into captivity in the most inglorious act of judgment in their history. They became a byword and a shaking of the head among the peoples.
So I ask again, how are God’s judgments to be a help to us?
The answer lies in part in the word for help. This word means to surround and protect. This is a specific kind of aid needed in times of danger or weakness. It’s like the males in a herd of water buffaloes who surround the baby and protect it from the lions stalking. Or the front line defending the quarterback. Or drones defending the hive.
God also used this word to describe the woman he made to keep Adam company. She is called his “help,” a parallel, a counterpart. Adam recognized immediately that she was made of the same as him—bone for bone, flesh for flesh. Her role was not to do his chores for him but to accompany him in doing them.
Scripture uses this word for the kind of help God gives to his people.
God has promised that those who remain faithful will be called holy—consecrated, set apart. To make us holy, he must wash away the filth of our sin and purge the guilt of our transgression. He does this, days Isaiah, by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning. Only then can he create a canopy over us to shade us from the noonday heat, a place of refuge, a shelter from every storm.
God carried out his judgment against the sin of humanity when Christ died on the cross. This is the spirit of judgment that washed away our filth. He sent his Holy Spirit at Pentecost as a deposit of fire, a spirit of burning that daily purges all that continues to fall short of his glory,
God will no longer cover our sin with the blood of animals, now that the blood of Jesus is available to remove it. Whenever we find ourselves under the discipline of God, experiencing his reproof for our willful disobedience, we must consider it a mercy. For God is not punishing us as we deserve for our sin.
Such treatment may seem severe but it does not compare with the final judgment that will take place at the end of the age. When Christ comes back, he will begin with thrones and books, and end with a lake of fire. Once and for all he will wash the earth so clean it will be made new. He will purge with fire all who do not repent.
Because Hell is such an awful future, Jesus warned his generation (and ours) of how certain and terrible it is.
All of us are without excuse and deserve an eternity of punishment for our offense against our infinitely worthy and supremely holy Creator.
Such agony and unending despair that accompany damnation are no light matter to the One who gave his life to intercept it .
Devouring worms don’t die. Scorching fire isn’t quenched. Weeping and gnashing of teeth in outer darkness.
If you knew of a way to escape such a horrific fate, wouldn’t you take it? Wouldn’t you tell others how to as well?
God has given us eternal life, and that life is in his Son. If we have the Son, says John, we have life. Without the Son, we have no life.
All whose souls live through Christ cannot help but praise him.
Especially when we realize the alternative.