Friday, November 29, 2013

The Shocking Side of God : The Business of Christian Education LXIX

1During Jehoiakim’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon invaded the land, and Jehoiakim became his vassal for three years. But then he turned against Nebuchadnezzar and rebelled. The Lord sent Babylonian, y Aramean, Moabite and Ammonite raiders against him to destroy Judah, in accordance with the word of the Lord proclaimed by his servants the prophets. Surely these things happened to Judah according to the Lord’s command, in order to remove them from his presence because of the sins of Manasseh and all he had done, including the shedding of innocent blood. For he had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the Lord was not willing to forgive.
 2 Kings 24:1-4

            Judah caused God to be angry with their idol worship.  One king in particular pushed God to the limit of his patience.  Manasseh, Hezekiah’s son, practiced idol worship like what was practiced by the inhabitants of Canaan that God drove out.  He did not follow Hezekiah’s example.  He rebuilt all the altars to the gods that were worshipped in the land.  And so he provoked God to anger.  2 Kings 21:1-6 tells the wickedness of Manasseh:

Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-five years. His mother’s name was Hephzibah. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites. He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had destroyed; he also erected altars to Baal and made an Asherah pole, as Ahab king of Israel had done. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them. He built altars in the temple of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, “In Jerusalem I will put my Name.” In the two courts of the temple of the Lord, he built altars to all the starry hosts. He sacrificed his own son in the fire, practiced divination, sought omens, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the Lord, arousing his anger.

As if that is not enough, Manasseh defiled the temple of the Lord and led the people to a great sin.

He took the carved Asherah pole he had made and put it in the temple, of which the Lord had said to David and to his son Solomon, “In this temple and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my Name forever. I will not again make the feet of the Israelites wander from the land I gave their ancestors, if only they will be careful to do everything I commanded them and will keep the whole Law that my servant Moses gave them.” But the people did not listen. Manasseh led them astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the Lord had destroyed before the Israelites.  (2 Kings 21:7-9)

Then the Lord was angry and he sent his prophet to speak his prophetic judgment:

10 The Lord said through his servants the prophets: 11 “Manasseh king of Judah has committed these detestable sins. He has done more evil than the Amorites who preceded him and has led Judah into sin with his idols. 12 Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. 13 I will stretch out over Jerusalem the measuring line used against Samaria and the plumb line used against the house of Ahab. I will wipe out Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. 14 I will forsake the remnant of my inheritance and give them into the hands of enemies. They will be looted and plundered by all their enemies; 15 they have done evil in my eyes and have aroused my anger from the day their ancestors came out of Egypt until this day.”  (2 Kings 21:10-15)

The writer of 2 Kings added in the next verses the evil that Manasseh did:

16 Moreover, Manasseh also shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from end to end—besides the sin that he had caused Judah to commit, so that they did evil in the eyes of the Lord.  (2 Kings 21:16)

This judgment was postponed, however, during the reign of Manasseh and Josiah, Manasseh’s son.  Interestingly, God’s disciplinary sanction to Manasseh was very effective that Manasseh repented.  2 Chronicles 33:10-17 tells of this event:

10 The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. 11 So the Lord brought against them the army commanders of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon. 12 In his distress he sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors. 13 And when he prayed to him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God.
14 Afterward he rebuilt the outer wall of the City of David, west of the Gihon spring in the valley, as far as the entrance of the Fish Gate and encircling the hill of Ophel; he also made it much higher. He stationed military commanders in all the fortified cities in Judah.
15 He got rid of the foreign gods and removed the image from the temple of the Lord, as well as all the altars he had built on the temple hill and in Jerusalem; and he threw them out of the city. 16 Then he restored the altar of the Lord and sacrificed fellowship offerings and thank offerings on it, and told Judah to serve the Lord, the God of Israel. 17 The people, however, continued to sacrifice at the high places, but only to the Lord their God.

In his repentance, Manasseh returned to the Lord and started serving the one true God.  From our common perspective today, we thought that if Manasseh had returned and repented, plus all the people also started to follow the Lord and got rid of the foreign gods, how much more God himself was said to have his heart moved by Manasseh’s humble prayer, then everything can be back to normal.  God’s forgiveness of Manasseh can be safely assumed upon reading the above passage.  This counts toward God’s character as the merciful and loving God.  Therefore, what is expected to follow after Manasseh’s repentance was that God relented and cancelled out his prophetic judgment.  How much more, Manasseh’s son, Josiah, was truly devoted to the Lord that he is called as the king who reformed the kingdom of Judah completely.

1Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem thirty-one years. His mother’s name was Jedidah daughter of Adaiah; she was from Bozkath. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and followed completely the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left.  (2 Kings 22:1-2)

This is what the writer of 2 Kings said about Josiah:

25 Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.  (2 Kings 23:25)

However, God did not relent.  He did not cancel his judgment upon Judah.  It is said in the next verses:

26 Nevertheless, the Lord did not turn away from the heat of his fierce anger, which burned against Judah because of all that Manasseh had done to arouse his anger. 27 So the Lord said, “I will remove Judah also from my presence as I removed Israel, and I will reject Jerusalem, the city I chose, and this temple, about which I said, ‘My Name shall be there.’  (2 Kings 23:26-27)

This is consistent with what the prophetess Huldah of whom Josiah inquired when he just found the Book of the Covenant and had it read in his presence:

16 ‘This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people, according to everything written in the book the king of Judah has read. 17 Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and aroused my anger by all the idols their hands have made, my anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched.’ 18 Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: 19 Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people—that they would become a curse f and be laid waste—and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares the Lord. 20 Therefore I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.’ ”  (2 Kings 22:16-20)

God postponed his judgment because the two kings repented, both Manasseh and Josiah returned to the Lord.  Because they humbled themselves, then God had mercy on them.

            But the shocking news was that God did not cancel his judgment.  He only postponed it.  For all the sins that were committed by Manasseh and the entire people of Judah under Manasseh’s leadership, God is said that he was not willing to forgive (2 Kings 24:4).  The Hebrew was translated exactly word for word that Yahweh was not willing to forgive.  For our theological understanding today, this truth about God’s character might hit us like a thunderbolt.  How can it be?  The God of the whole earth, who is known as the God of mercy, the loving God, and even very famously known that God is love in reference to 1 John 4:8.  Some people even got so frustrated by it that they refused to reconcile the God of the OT with the God of the NT.  They argue that the era of the God of the OT has ended.  The era of the God of the NT has come.  And so they reject the God as depicted in the OT and only embrace the idea of God as they believe to be the true character of God, that is love.  Some even go further to say that the God of the OT is not the God of the NT.  Love is the big word in today’s perspective.  Anything else that does not agree with the idea of love is thrown out into the dumpster.  And so the 2 Kings 24:4 sentence that literally speaks of God being unwilling to forgive is put safely in the box to never be opened.

            By adopting the misconception of God as only loving and merciful, many people reject God’s other characters.  In the case of Manasseh, God’s character as a just God is hard to be integrated into the current trend of God is love theology.  God’s justice is now being sidelined and not taken seriously anymore.  Many very famous religious leaders follow this path and thus project a wrong understanding of God.  Some even went further to dare to condemn God himself for not being what they want him to be.  Their followers listen to them and cheer every single note that chants God is love to the point of rejecting the God who is just.  In their unbalanced theological paradigm they refuse the God who is the judge of all the earth.  They reject the God who is the king of the entire world.  They reject God who commands justice to be administered.  Many have fallen to embrace the kind of theology that says that God saves everyone regardless if they believe in Jesus Christ or not.  And so their evangelism is just to proclaim to the people that they have been saved in Jesus Christ.  They think that people do not need to believe, they are saved anyway because God is so loving.  They cannot reconcile the fact that God who is love and also just at the same time saves some and punishes others.

            Yahweh was not willing to forgive the sins committed by Judah under the leadership of Manasseh.  They ought to be punished for their sin.  Even though they repented and returned to the Lord after God’s strong disciplinary sanction, God did not cancel his judgment.  Not long after the death of Josiah, God brought Nebuchadnezzar from Babylonia to be his instrument of judgment against Judah, which can be found in more detail in 2 Kings 25.  This understanding of the different side of God is important for our generation.  This generation has forgotten the God who is just.  This generation is infatuated with the idea of God that is super patient, the God who won’t do anything to punish the wrongdoing of the people.  They exaggerate the idea of God who is merciful and thus diminish the truth about God that he is a just God.  God was not willing to forgive does not mean that he was cruel.  Far from it.  God was not willing to forgive precisely because he is a holy God.  His holiness cannot be compromised.  This attribute of God lines up very well with his justice and righteousness.  Because he is a just God, thus he cannot let sins go unpunished.  He must punish sins.  This side of God is the most difficult to accept especially by people in this generation.  Many young people who grew up in the model of education that reduces discipline to merely the giving and withholding of rewards, which sets its foundation only in love and mercy, are confused with the sternness of God.  It is very difficult to unlearn what they have learned their entire life through formal and informal education that only projects love and thus only understanding one side of God.  Holistic theological education is badly needed in order to revive what is lost in this generation.  Otherwise, we will lose the entire generation to the partial view of God.  If this continues, the next generation will rise up against God himself in the name of love because the one true God doesn’t fit in their category of a good God.

            The passage in 2 Kings 24:1-4 is an important reminder for all of us of who God really is.  As God’s agents we must not omit what we don’t like and only project what we like about God.  We ought to speak the entire thing.  The Scripture is complete and is for us to know God truly.  If we start to judge the Bible and then begin the pick and choose strategy, then we are at risk of being a heretic and thus a rouge agent of God.  No, we mustn’t!  We speak the truth about God even though it is difficult to digest by our modern mind.  We speak the truth about God even though the world will be angry at us and reject our message.  They did that to our Master and Lord 2000 years ago.  Besides, the message of the cross is not only a message of love.  It is the message of both love and justice.  If it is only a message of love then Jesus would not need to die.  Precisely because it is also a message of justice that Jesus had to die on the cross.  The death of the Son of God on the cross is a testament of God’s great love for humankind that he sacrificed his son to redeem us.  Jesus’ death on the cross is also a testament of God’s holy justice that he could not let our sins go unpunished so that he had to punish his son who bore our sins on the cross with his eternal judgment.  In his justice God is not willing to forgive.  Sin must be punished in its fullness.  Therefore, even though he had mercy upon Manasseh and Josiah, he had to punish Judah by exile for the sins they committed in the holy land where God’s name was put as he promised David and Solomon.  This is the holistic view of God as he revealed himself in the Holy Scripture.

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