Point of Reference
by Fred Price
Last week we looked at what some consider to be controversial “Old Testament” attributes of God. Syd Brestel writing a powerful book dealing with such scripture and our personal vision of who God is, subtitled, Loving God for who He is… not who we want Him to be. 1
One biblical assertion concerning God that causes a number of people trouble being the aforementioned Exodus 34:6,7; which starts out by asserting that God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, full of love for us and faithful to his covenant promises. “Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished;…”, punishing the children and grandchildren for the sin of their fathers. To which we exclaim – what? That’s not fair! (See also Romans 11:22)
However, this troublesome scripture may seem more reasonable if we take a deeper look at the word “punish” (NIV), rendered “visit” in some other translations. The Hebrew for punish/visit suggesting the sin of a parent may indeed have negative consequences in their children’s lives; either by their doing what they’ve seen done, or just have heartache inflicted on them as collateral damage. (Sin often compared to cancer, which even after being “removed” may have crept into surrounding tissue and unexpectedly reoccur.) The New English translation may more accurately render this scripture, “…But he by no means leaves the guilty unpunished, responding to the transgressions of fathers by dealing with their children and children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.”
If that still appears a bit ambiguous, God absolutely sets the record straight in Ezekiel 18:1-4 & 30; “As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. (The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.) Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine; the soul who sins shall die… I will judge… everyone according to his ways.” (Christ reiterating this principle in Matthew 16:27, Paul reinforcing it for the church in 2 Corinthians 5:10.)
What we sometimes forget is that God is sovereign. He is our creator. He alone is worthy of honor, glory, praise and obedience; jealously expecting, demanding and deserving exclusive worship. (See Exodus 34:14) But his jealousy is not the result of insecurity or need to control, rather it is like that of a married spouse for their partner; expecting and even demanding fidelity. He will not – cannot – share his glory with any other god, regardless of the form it takes. Nor will he tolerate sin intruding on his perfection (See Habakkuk 1:13); prompting him to make a way for us to be cleansed from it through his Son, even as he expects us to turn from sin to a better way. His way. (See 2 Chronicles 7:14; 1 Peter 3:10,11 & particularly Acts 26:19,20 Paul summing up his ministry with, “… I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.”)
Another particularly disturbing directive from God involves his command to the Israeli people to essentially annihilate the Amorites and Canaanites who had possession of the Promised Land during Israel’s captivity in Egypt. Men, women and children. Why? How could a loving God decree such a thing? As history unfolded and the Israelis failed to do as directed, they were repeatedly led into idolatry by the permissive, licentious practices of the “aliens” left among them. It was a cancer in their soul, destroying individuals and the society made up of those individuals. Besides which, I believe the Amorites were given chances to repent and live otherwise. God had prophesied the Israeli captivity in Egypt to Abram many years before, as well as the details of their return “home”; indicating it would take 400 years for them to be able to do so, turning them into a nation-sized people while there and because “…the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” Genesis 15:12-16 The Amorites had 400 years to experience the depth of their sin and, I believe, ample opportunity for repentance and renewal. (Like the people of the pre-flood world, whose every “inclination” had become evil ( Genesis 5:5), God used a special witness – Noah – to challenge the status quo by his words and deeds; building the ark as instructed to save he and his family from a watery catastrophe that – serving as an example – had no precedent and could only be imagined ( Hebrews 11:7). God waiting patiently for the ark to be completed ( 1 Peter 3:20), Noah preaching to the onlookers and critics as he built it, calling people to return to their senses and God. ( 2 Peter 2:5) As “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9 And while I can’t list any specifics for a mission to the Amorites, I don’t believe God arbitrarily judges any people. (See Romans 1:18-20 as well)
And in fact, there appears to have been preachers of righteousness spread throughout the land of Canaan, such as Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro; designated a priest of Midian. ( Exodus 2:16; 3:1 & 18:1) And while we don’t know exactly what all that might have entailed, we do know he took delight in Israel’s God and His people’s success over Egypt. ( Exodus 18:9,10) Melchizedek being another example of a “priest of God Most High” among the crowd of pagans. (See Genesis 14:18) God always provides some kind of witness, it being left up to us to respond as best we can. The Amorites didn’t, having incorporated horrible practices into their worship. God had to purify the land to safeguard the Israelis from those influences. Mr. Brestel writing, “…idolatry exchanges something that is eternal, the glory of God, for something temporary and trivial. A cheap replica. No other sin is such a direct insult and frontal assault against God’s nature and character.” 2He will not – cannot – tolerate adultery/ idolatry. (This allegorical connection made repeatedly throughout scripture.)
Who – or what – do you worship, adore and emulate? The problem arises and the questions are left unanswered not because of God but because of us, our lack of understanding of who God is and whose we are. The conflict lying not in the nature of God but in the (sin) nature of man.
1 God in His Own Image, subtitled , Loving God for Who He is… not who we want Him to be, Moody Publishing
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Fred Price - married (49 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.
Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker. He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today. Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.
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