Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: mercy

Introduction to the Old Testament, continued

The following twelve are often referred to as the Minor Prophets. Though their messages are shorter, there is nothing insignificant about them.

Hoseah was a prophet in Israel, contemporary with Isaiah. His 40 year ministry was a last call to Israel to return to the Lord before judgment fell upon them, much as Jeremiah’s ministry to Judah 140 years later. Hoseah’s wife became a prostitute and he redeemed her from those who had enslaved her. He uses this a parallel to Israel’s spiritual prostitution and how God wanted to redeem them. He refers to Israel as Ephraim 37 times: “I have seen an horrible thing in the house of Israel: there is the whoredom of Ephraim, Israel is defiled” (chapter 6:10).

Joel – the time of his prophecy would most likely be in the early years of King Joash. Wiked Queen Athalia had been slain and Joash was guided by the faithful priest Jehoiada. Joel’s prophecy is first a call to repentance and restoration, followed by a prophecy of the coming Day of the Lord.

Amos did not claim to be a prophet, rather a farmer from Judah whom God sent to Israel with a one-time message. He dates his message as being durin the reign of Uzziah in Judah and Jeroboam II in Israel, and two years before the earthquake. Did he perhaps predict the earthquake? Chapter 9 verse 5 could give that impression. His message to Israel was of the impending judgment of God.

Obadiah was a contemporary of Elijah and Elisha in Israel, during the time of Jehoram, one of the wicked kings of Judah. Elijah wrote a warning letter to Jehoram around this time. Obadiah appears to have written after Jerusalem had been pillaged by Edom, and announces the final destruction of Edom.

Jonah was from Israel, which was oppressed by Assyria, thus he had no desire to see Assyria spared. The book was probably written by Jonah himself, though he does not depict himself in a favourable light. God’s mercy to Nineveh is a message that He has compassion on all mankind.

Micah – a contemporary of Isaiah. Micah warns of the coming wrath of God on those who were outwardly religious, but do not live justly. He names Bethlehem as the place where the Messiah will be born.

Nahum may have been born in Israel and fled to Jerusalem when Assyria overthrew the northern kingdom and led the people into captivity. This would place his prophecy in the latter part of the reign of Hezekiah when Judah was threatened by Assyria. He foretold the end of the Assyrian empire and the destruction of Nineveh. The repentance that was occasioned by Jonah’s prophecy evidently did not carry on to succeeding generations.

Habakkuk was a contemporary of Jeremiah. God was about to use Babylon to judge Judah and Jerusalem for their idolatry. “The just shall live by his faith” chapter 2 verse 4.

Zephaniah was the great-great grandson of Hezekiah and prophesied during the reign of King Josiah who would have been a distant cousin, He calls the nation to abandon idolatry and return to the Lord. He warns of coming judgment, but promises “ I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the LORD” chapter 3 verse 12.

Haggai – Prophesied after the return from the Babyloniam captivity and urged the rebuilding of the temple. Tradition says he was born in Babylon and studied under Ezekiel.

Zehariah – a priest who was a contemporary of Haggai, with a similar message, urging the rebuilding of the temple a restoration of holiness. Many messianic prophecies in the latter part:“for, behold, I will bring forth my servant the BRANCH” (ch 3, v 8); “behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass” (ch. 9, v. 9); “and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced” (ch. 12, v. 10); etc.

Malachi – the final prophet before 400 years of silence. One last call to faithfulness and a prophecy of the coming Messiah, who would be preceded by “Elijah.”

Mixed up about the Gibeonites

God had miraculously led the children of Israel through Jordan and to victory over Jericho and Ai. Before them now were the mountains; the nations in those mountains greatly outnumbered the Israelites and they were men of war. These were the people who had so frightened their fathers forty years earlier; the challenge before them was formidable.

Up in their mountain stronghold, the people of Gibeon had gotten the message that God planned to give this land to the Israelites and they believed that He could and would do it. They also knew that God had forbade the Israelites to make any covenant with the people of the land. So they hit upon a ruse, sending a delegation pretending to come from a far country and wanting to make a league of peace between their people and the people of God.

Of course it was deception, and yes, Joshua and the elders of Israel were tricked into doing what God had told them not to do. And yet, what was the result? Bible story lessons make this a great issue. But what evidence can they point to of God’s displeasure?

The kings of the Amorites called out their armies to attack Gibeon in order to prevent the Israelites from gaining a foothold in the mountains. God told Joshua to go to the defence of the Gibeonites and promised to deliver the attacking armies into his hands. He rained hailstones that killed more of the Amorites than Joshua’s army, He made the sun stand still in the sky until the victory was complete. Over the next few days Joshua and the Israelites attacked and vanquished all the Amorite cities. Far from punishing the Gibeonites, God had used them as the key to the conquest of the whole southern half of the promised land.

Now the kings of the north, Hittites, Perezites, Jebusites and the rest of the Amorites and Hivites, gathered together to prepare an attack on the Israelites. Joshua and the army marched north to attack the gathered armies and once again God gave them a decisive history. Now they were masters of the whole land. They had not destroyed all the people of the land, but there were no longer any mighty armies to stand against them.

As we read the whole story, the inescapable conclusion is that God blessed the Israelites for accepting the Gibeonites. Yes, they came with a deceitful story, yet they did it because they recognized the greatness of God. They submitted willingly to the conditions laid upon them by the elders of Israel, knowing that the alternative was death. Joshua 11:19 says: “There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, save the Hivites the inhabitants of Gibeon: all other they took in battle.”

We can natter on if we wish about the wickedness of the Gibeonite deceit and the wickedness of the people of God in falling for their treachery. But we won’t find anything in the Word of God to back us up.

It is true that God did instruct the people in Deuteronomy 20:17 : “But thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee.” Are we blaming God for not sticking to His word even when one group of those people willingly submitted to Him? God later told Jeremiah: “At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; if that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them” (Jeremiah 18:7-8).

The story of the Gibeonites is a vivid portrayal of the redemption that God offers to all mankind when we accept His judgement on our sins. It is a story of God’s providential care of His people in leading them to victory and of his mercy to the heathen in drawing them to find salvation with His people.

The Gibeonites did not become slaves to the Israelites. Read the story carefully, they became slaves of the Levites for the service of the tabernacle. There was mercy even in this. Their work was menial, but it was for the service of God and it protected them from oppression and mistreatment. It is likely that the Gibeonites are included among the people later called Nethinims.

There came a time when King Saul thought he would do God a service by wiping out the Gibeonites. Because of this God sent a three year famine in Israel in the time of King David. The famine ceased when seven of Sauls grandsons were hung. I don’t read this as revenge. This was the most effective means of getting the message out to all Israel that the slaying of the Gibeonites was entirely Saul’s idea and contrary to the will of God. Nowadays Twitter may be quicker, but often not much kinder.

Let’s not be like Saul and condemn the Gibeonites for their deception. The real story here is a group of Gentiles forsaking their gods to seek refuge with Israel and their God. Perhaps their methods were questionable, but the Bible account leads us to believe the sincerity of their desire to fully submit to the Almighty God.

Blessed are the merciful

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

Mercy cannot be a passive virtue: kindly feelings towards someone in distress are worthless if not accompanied by action to help relieve the distress.

There may be a time when we are called upon to perform some major act of mercy, but we should not waste our time searching for such an occasion. Rather look for opportunities to do small acts of mercy every day. In the long run, more good will be done in this way than by standing around waiting to do something big.

Better yet, don’t be too particular about being recognized as the doer of those small acts of mercy. An amazing amount of good can be done if we don’t care who gets the credit for it.

It is true that others are apt to respond kindly to the one who shows kindness but don’t count on it. Don’t be merciful for that reason, rather look on it as storing up treasures in heaven.

Knowing our own wretchedness

I am quite well aware that I am an imperfect person. Such awareness means that I am a truly humble Christian, doesn’t it?

Or am I mistaking complacency for humility? Perhaps I should come right out and call it lukewarmness. That is what God called it when He told me what He thought of me almost 45 years ago. I opened the Bible at random and my eyes fell on Revelation 3:16: “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth.” He was telling me that I left an awful taste in His mouth and He just had to get that taste out of His mouth.

Has God ever spoken severe, disapproving words to you? If so, it was not His intention for you to go off and start a pity party. Those were words of mercy, calling you to repentance. We cannot become a child of God if we think we are doing pretty good without Him. The severity of God in revealing the depth of our corruption is the most effective way of leading us to repentance so that we can experience His goodness and mercy.

When Isaiah saw God, he didn’t just bemoan his imperfections; he said: “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). That confession moved God to cleanse his lips and then send him out to speak powerful words on God’s behalf. It is always the case that when we are most aware of our own depravity, we are just a step away from experiencing the greatness of God’s forgiveness and mercy.

The apostle Paul was acutely aware of his weaknesses. He confessed to being the chief of sinners; he said “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18). Yet he also said: “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

I like the way Blaise Pascal put it: “Knowing God without knowing our own wretchedness makes for pride. Knowing our own wretchedness without knowing God makes for despair. Knowing Jesus Christ strikes the balance because He shows us both God and our own wretchedness.”

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