The Marvelous Mercy of God
If a philanthropist chooses to not give his wealth to a cause, but does give his wealth to many other causes, does he cease to be a philanthropist? God’s mercy is based on His own unchangeable character. He cannot be anything other than merciful; but what of passages such as Hosea 1:6, as we ended yesterday’s blog post? Can it be that God can withdraw the expression of His merciful character?
All through Scripture, God has warned of the consequences of sin, beginning in the Garden of Eden, before there was ever a thing such as human sin (read again Genesis chapters 2 and 3). Our sin did not take God by surprise. He created us. He knew we were (and are) made of this earth, mortal and created with the ability to choose. But He calls us toward making the right decision, to listen to Him, cherish Him and obey Him as our Creator.
God lays out for us two pathways: the wrong way that is punishable by the loss of fellowship of God and His protection and even death; and the way of obedience that is blessed with eternal fellowship with God, His protection and eternal, abundant life (Genesis 2, 3). We, also, are not ignorant in our hearts, though we may be in our conscious minds. We know when we have chosen the wrong way. And we especially know when we remain bull-headed in our rebellion.
Looking more closely at the epic story of God and His people, which forms the backdrop for our scene in Hosea’s story, I see the greater context of God’s withdrawal of mercy:
a) See how long God waited. How many kingdoms in Israel had continued after Jeroboam tore away from the central kingdom of Judah and replaced God with the worship of man-made calves and idols and lifeless gods? Thirteen wicked kings and the years of their reign before God spoke through Hosea. Nineteen kings wicked kings would pass before the prophecy was fulfilled of Israel’s destruction during the years 732 – 724 B.C.E. That encompasses at least 231 years of God’s “longsuffering” mercy. God waits because God is merciful.
b) See that God has warned. From the time God instituted the first king (Saul), God warned the people what having an earthly king would be like (1 Samuel 8). The nation of Israel could have continued worshipping and obeying their spiritual King in a theocracy that showed the whole world that there is only true God and Creator and He is to be worshipped. This theocracy was designed to be a picture story to the world of the kind of God He is, His character of love and mercy.
But Israel had to be like the cultures around them. They had to “fit in”. So, they cried out for a tangible king with all the taxes, enslavement, and rituals that would go with that. God gave them Saul, and warned them to continue to obey and worship Him alone. God covenanted to be with them, if they would only obey.
From the time of their corporate deliverance from Egypt up to the time of Hosea and to the fulfillment of the destruction of Israel, God, in His bountiful, loving mercy, spoke through godly men to warn and plead with the kings and the people to turn back from their error and restore their relationship with Him. They either delayed or were weak and temporal in their relenting, or they flat refused altogether. God warns and warns, because He is merciful and desires life over death.
c) See that God acts! God did not speak out of an inability to act. God not only COULD act, He must act. If God allowed the horrific practices attached to Israel’s borrowed idol and pagan worship to continue–practices which included rape, sodomy, child and virgin sacrifice, torture, slavery, and abuse–if God looked the other way when men murdered their kinsmen and neighbors out of greed, pride and lust–we would not consider God merciful at all. We would consider God weak and incapable of power.
But God does act to end violence and abuse and hatred. God will not allow such things to prosper in the larger view, though they seem for a time to prosper. God acts against sin because God is merciful to the oppressed and the abused. He sees the poor and the hungry and the enslaved. He will rise up and act in power over all evil. That is mercy!
Moreoever, God acts because our sin is mutiny and violence toward God Himself. We want to punish those who kill and main the innocent, but if God is sinless perfection, is God not even more worthy of our worship? Aren’t we ourselves doing violence to God Himself when we prostitute ourselves to this world’s temporal distractions? He who created and loves and provides for His creation with an everlasting love–is He not righteous in His anger against our treachery? God’s justice IS God’s mercy, to stop the poison of all evil and lead us back to a right relationship with Him. As God acts, He grieves:
“And when [Jesus] drew near and saw the city [of Jerusalem], he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of [my coming].’” Luke 19:41-44 ESV
d) See that God limits the time of His anger. In all God’s righteous wrath, God yet held out the ancient promise of a Deliverer. He is faithful to His promises! God promised Israel that good will come out of their destruction; a Redeemer will yet come out of the whole of God’s chosen people–a people who were not chosen out of their own virtue, but out of God’s own pre-ordered plan for all mankind.
God’s ways are so much higher than our own. We see all that happens on this earth and think that what we see of stumbled justice is all there is. But God sees and operates from the eternal reality that transcends this world.
Hosea’s next son is named Lo-Ammi, meaning “not my people”, “for you are not my people, and I am not your God.” This is simply God calling the situation what it is–Israel had rejected their God for a sorry substitute and lost the Fatherhood of God. But here’s the diamond in the coal:
“Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘children of the living God.’ The people of Judah and the people of Israel will come together; they will appoint one leader and will come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel” (Hosea 1:10-11).
God is not just promising that His anger will be “for a time”, He is assuring that the Promise of a Savior through greater Israel and Judah is not rescinded. We who believe and make up the body of Christ as His Church are called the children of the living God.
Hundreds of years later, Paul quoted Hosea’s prophetic promise (Romans 9:25-26) to show the sovereignty of God’s mercy: “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring” (v.6-8)
The difference is that the Redeemer did come, in the person of Jesus Christ who paid the price for all our betrayal of sin. God keeps His covenants! The temporal nature of His wrath is not based on our actions or His “forgetfulness” or petulant whim like our own anger; God’s mercy is based upon God’s perfect justice. God’s punishment never exceeds the crime. God’s punishment considers the frailty of the criminal. God limits his censures, desiring and making the way possible for repentance. God’s justice is merciful. His judgments are kind. In Christ, “mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed..” (Psalm 85:9-10 KJV).
e) See that God restores! God’s character of mercy has not taken a beating. Restoration was the covenant plan all along. God sent Jesus Christ into our world, precious to God, to redeem the world so that we would all live in covenant with Him in glory. God “so loved the world that He gave His only God-begotten son that whoever believes on Him shall NOT perish, but would have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).
Hosea begins God’s dire prophetic message with this promise: “Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces, but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds” (Hosea 1:1). What have you experienced in this life that has torn you to pieces? What injuries do you bear from your own sin or someone else’s upon you? I have my own trials to bear, too. This promise, this Jesus, is ours–even now. God restoration is merciful.
So back to our question, “Is there a limit to God’s mercy?”
The answer is yes and no.
Yes, God’s perfect justice, after a long-suffering time of warning and waiting, will be enacted. Practical mercy will be withdrawn so that justice can be fulfilled.
But no, God’s character of mercy will be satisfied in Christ’s perfect substitution for our sin. God’s mercy covers our sin. In Christ, God’s wrath is shortened, His restoration complete. There is no limit or changeableness to God’s character and action of mercy.
You and I, like Adam and Eve and Israel of old, can choose to turn away from the sin that is binding us up right now. It may be distinct, individual sin (wrong-doings), or (if you are outside of God’s covenant) it may be that your entire fallen nature of sinfulness is at stake. Either way, we both have been given the gift of choice.
We will either turn to Him and away from our rebellion in this moment and ask for God’s mercy, or you or I will reject God’s mercy and continue in our sin. “Behold your sin will find you out,” the Lord says (Numbers 32:23). God will act, because God is merciful.
Think of God’s mercy this way: Our sin has already invoked the wrath and punishment of God, which is death (Romans 6:23 “...for the wages of sin is death“). But in His longsuffering mercy, He delays our punishment or destruction (Romans 6:23 “…but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord”). What will you and I do with the time God has given us to move from treachery to obedience, from death to life?
I am challenged by God’s mercy, because though I am a follower of Christ, I need Him “every hour” as the old hymn goes. I am daily treacherous in whom I place my trust, in my distractions, in my short-sightedness about the future and in my ruminations of the past. What about you? The question for me is “Will I chase after His mercy, or will I put it off or (worse) deny that I have need of it? Will I enjoy the peace of His mercy and restoration by making Him Lord over my life, or will I continue to stress out with a burdened, thankless and joyless heart? I have a choice to make on some particular hot items in my life right now, but I have these challenges and promises to guide me:
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17 Berean Study Bible; read all of Psalm 51)
“…The same Lord is Lord of all, and gives richly to all who call on Him, for ‘Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then can they call on the One in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? … But not all of them welcomed the good news.” (Romans 10:13-14, 16 Berean Study Bible)
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.” (1 John 1:8-10 NIV)
© July 2019 by http://www.ReadPsalm119.com.
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