Foundations for a Christian Worldview: The Works of God (5)
“And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the children of Israel from among them.” Exodus 7.5
The idea of judgment
Judgment, as a work of God, is frequently misunderstood. Some see in God’s judgment a kind of unfairness. They recognize that God does not judge comparatively, but absolutely; thus, they cannot excuse themselves from His judgment by pleading they aren’t as bad as that other guy. Further, as a stance of self-justification, they consider that all judgment is bad; we should learn to tolerate and get along with everyone, and so should God. And since God is the supremeJudge of the world, such people probably consider that He is supremely unfair.
Others consider that judgment is an important part of God’s works, but merely as that which is coming on the Last Day. They know God will judge the world, and that it will not be a happy occasion for everyone. Some will hear Him say to them, “Depart from Me,” and then it will be too late to try setting things right with the Judge of all flesh. To talk of God judging more than this, though, is presumptuous. To say of any act or event that takes place in time, that it is “the judgment of God,” is not within our remit. Best to leave all such determinations to God alone.
There is, of course, a Day of Judgment coming, but this particular aspect of the work of God’s judgment does not appear in the five books of Moses. This comes later, especially beginning in the Writings of the Old Testament, and into the New. That God judges in the here and now of our lives does appear in the Law of God, and represents an important aspect both of His providence and His covenant.
In the Genesis-Deuteronomy, the judgment of God takes the form of His just decision-making against those who have “cursed” or are about to “curse” His people in some way. Thus, God’s judgment is a part of the outworking of His grace for the people of His covenant. By His judgment, God acts to protect or vindicate or deliver His people, by acting to stop, hinder, overthrow, or otherwise thwart those who intend His people ill.
The judgment of God is an important work for us to understand, because, being a work of grace, God’s judgment always works to further the purpose of His covenant in blessings to those who trust in His Word.
Degrees of judgment
God’s judgment does not come to all people alike. His judgment against Cain, for example, was so great, that Cain feared He would not be able to bear up under it (Gen. 4.13). His judgment against Pharaoh took the form of “great plagues” – a foreshadowing of a greater time of plagues to come (Gen. 12.14-20). He completely destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, in no small part because of the threat they posed against His righteous servant, Lot (Gen. 14, 19).
Against Abimelech, God’s judgment was lighter – temporarily closing the wombs of his household and an admonition and warning in a dream (Gen. 20.3-18). Abimelech learned the lesson well; later, when he discovered that Rebekah was not Isaac’s sister, but his wife, he didn’t wait for any warning from God. He acted immediately, to avert any judgment, such as he had experienced with Isaac’s father. He knew he needed to act, lest any violation of Rebekah by anyone in his household would “bring guilt” on them before the Lord (Gen. 26.1-11).
With the prophet Balaam, God’s judgment took the form of warning and thwarting his attempts to curse the people of Israel (Num. 22-24). But Balaam apparently didn’t learn his lesson well. He seems to have played a role in leading the people of Israel into harlotry and idolatry, and thus God judged him by taking his life (Num. 31.8, 16).
Against Nadab and Abihu, the judgment of God was sudden and deadly, because they sought, for the sake of gaining some special attention, to add to God’s Word regarding the burning of incense (Lev. 10). And the judgment of God was equally sudden and lethal against the sons of Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and all others who sought to overthrow Moses and seize leadership in Israel (Num. 16). His judgment against Moses, for striking the rock, rather than speaking to it, was to deprive him of the blessing of entering the land of promise (Num. 20).
There can be no doubting that the Law of God teaches that God works judgment in time, against people, by various means and to varying degrees, according to His good pleasure, timing, and will. Judgment in time is an important work of God, and it continues to this day.
The end of judgment
But why? Why does God judge people and nations? Why not just allow things to play out in history, and then render final determinations on the Last Day? Three objectives are in view in every act of divine judgment. We can see all these objectives at work in the judgment God brought by the hand of Moses against Pharaoh.
Honor His covenant. First, God acts in judgment against men and nations to honor His covenant with His people. He has declared His Word, and He will stand by it. He promised that those who curse Israel, He will curse. Egypt and Pharaoh had cursed Israel by making them slaves, depriving them of their identity as a people unto the Lord, and seeking to destroy them as a race. God’s promise to them, in the covenant He was remembering as He sent Moses to them, was that He would bring His curses against all such people, and He surely did.
Preserve His people. And this was so that He might keep His people alive. As we shall see in our final installment in this series, God in His grace and providence works in special ways to advantage His people and carry out His promises to them. He is the Shepherd of His people, and He acts in judgment against those who threaten them, so that they can continue in their mandate to fill the earth and exercise dominion for His goodness.
Obtain glory. Finally, God’s judgment is so that He and His glory might be acknowledged. Pharaoh certainly came to know the LORD is God, and there is no other. This does not mean he worshiped or submitted to God, but that He knew that God is, and that He is able to carry out His Word againstany who resist Him, and forall who trust in Him.
God’s acting in judgment in time, in the lives of men and nations, is an important work of God in His Law. We should assume that, because this work is so prominent at this early stage of Scripture, it will remain prominent throughout, as well as beyond the pages of Scripture into the times in which we live.
Questions for reflection
1. Why is it important for us to understand that God judges people and nations in time?
2. God judges not only unbelieving people and nations, but His own people as well. How can you see that in the books of Moses? How should that serve to warn us in our day (cf. Heb. 12.3-11)?
3. How can we avoid becoming the objects of God’s judgment?
Next steps – Preparation: Think and pray about the day ahead. Where do possibilities exist that you might come under the judgment of God? How can you prepare at the beginning of the day to avoid that judgment? Talk with a Christian friend about these questions.
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.