Friday, October 24, 2014

God's grace in God's wrath

I was reading the following passage:

Now King Hazael of Aram oppressed Israel all the days of Jehoahaz. But the LORD was gracious to them and had compassion on them; he turned toward them, because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them; nor has he banished them from his presence until now (2 Kings 13.22-3).

I was impressed to read the depiction of God's grace and goodness in this passage. Notice that it said that God was gracious and compassionate to the Israelites, and did not destroy them. This implies that he had motive to do so, and yet opted not to do it. Indeed this is what we read earlier in the chapter, where we learn that Jehoahaz was a sinful king who brought Israel into sin:

He [Jehoahaz] did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and followed the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he caused Israel to sin; he did not depart from them. The anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, so that he gave them repeatedly into the hand of King Hazael of Aram (13.2-3).

The people of Israel were living in sin along with their king. This had angered the LORD and as a punishment for this, he permitted that the Aramean king Hazael would oppress them and take cities from their control. Yet in spite of all this, we see that God's mercy was active and working even in his wrath, since he did not allow the Israelites to be destroyed, nor did he banish them from his presence.

It is a testimony to God's goodness that, as John Calvin says somewhere, he loves us even when he hates us. Even in moments of righteous anger for the sin of the world, God's grace and compassion is active and does not allow us to be destroyed even as we are being punished. Now why does he do this?

This text teaches us that God was mindful of the covenant he made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He made a promise to the patriarchs that their offspring would be vast and they would inherit a land promised to them. Because God is faithful to his promises and he does not forget them, he had compassion even on a sinful Israel, even as they were being punished and called back from their sins, even as they would not listen and heed the message.

This is a fine bit of news to all of us; though we are not a part of the nation of Israel, yet the covenant concerns us too. After all God promised that in Abraham's offspring all the nations and families of the world would be blessed; and if we are baptized into Christ Jesus, we are Abraham's offspring and heirs of the promise (Gal 3.27-9). God is faithful to that promise! Even in his anger, he is merciful to us and good to us.

Here we find, I think, a further confirmation of something that has seemed true to me for a while now. Though the Bible speaks of various divine qualities and dispositions, yet goodness is a more basic and true one than anything else. God is wrathful and angry at sinners, but beneath the wrath and anger, inextricably prior to them, qualifying them at all times is his goodness, demonstrated in his covenant. He made a covenant to Abraham that in his offspring the whole world would be blessed. His promise concerns the restoration of all things (Acts 3.21). His certain faithfulness to this covenant, to my mind, cannot be compromised by any threat of wrath or hell or punishment or judgment -- though these things certainly will come.