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Devoted to Destruction

We do not understand the purpose that suffering and catastrophe serve, because we do not have the same hatred for sin that God has. God's righteousness is vindicated in the destruction of the wicked.

Daniel 4:35, 1 John 4:8, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Job 2:9-10, Job 32:1-5, Proverbs 30:11-12, Deuteronomy 25:1, Proverbs 17: 15, Deuteronomy 9:1-4, Deuteronomy 20:16-18, Joshua 6:15-21, 1 Samuel 15:1-3, Matthew 13:40-43, Revelation 14:9-11

Oct 14, 2012 11:30 AM

MP3 audio icon Devoted-to-Destruction_10-14-2012.mp3 — MP3 audio, 9708 kB (9941202 bytes)

God is holy, all powerful, all knowing, righteous, wise, merciful, and faithful, and good.  God is self-existent, eternal, unchanging, awesome and terrible and angry.  God is sovereign.  As Nebuchadnezzar stated after God humbled him (Daniel 4:35), “…all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’”  God is love, as the apostle John famously wrote in his first epistle, chapter 4 verse 8.

The Bible is, as Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “…breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”   Its subject matter includes creation, the fall, redemption, and the coming judgment, and consummation of history.  It reveals to us who God is as Creator, Redeemer, and Judge, and in all His attributes that He has declared to us.  It tells us who we are, as creatures made in God's image, now fallen, marred, and dead and dying in Adam.  And who He is recreating us, His people, as in Christ.

Does God have, as some have suggested, a “primary attribute” out of which all of His attributes flow?  Some have suggested His holiness.  Or His aseity; that is His self-existance, self-sufficiency, and unchangeableness?  What about His love? His sovereignty?

It seems to me that attributes that find their expression within the Trinity, such as love, must hold a precedence over those that express God's relationship to the creation.  As important as it is to recognize God’s sovereignty, and as much doctrinal error as a pastor, theologian, church or an individual believer may open themselves up to by neglecting or rejecting this attribute of God, love is an attribute of God that describes the relationship among the Persons of the Trinity in a way that sovereignty does not.  Sovereignty describes God’s relationship with the creation.

Now Scripture does not explicitly state that God has a primary attribute; and so it is perhaps best to keep in mind is that God is not composed of parts.  Even the three Persons of the Trinity are not three parts of God, three pieces of the divine pie, so to speak.  They are distinct, yet one in being.  Eternally existing in all divine attributes simultaneously, God self-identifies as “I am that I am.”

Well, what about the Bible?  Does it have a central theme?  Redemption?  God's self-glorification?  The love of God manifest?  The righteousness of God revealed?  The coming of the Kingdom of God?

Again, I’m not sure.  How about “The love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for one another manifested through the establishment of the Kingdom of God by the revelation of God’s righteousness in the redemption of sinners to the Glory of the Grace of God”?   

I will speak today primarily of God’s righteousness; the forgotten attribute of God—the aspect of God’s character that gets shoved into the closet in the church basement, lest anyone be offended.

Many years ago I read a small booklet that was designed to present the Gospel to children in a way that they could understand.  Unfortunately, I have forgotten the names of the book and of the author.  But what I remember about it is that it said that Jesus was “righteous”, and it said that this meant that everything He did was right.  I think that’s a pretty good simple way of defining the term.

To be righteous is to do what one ought to do in all circumstances; to be in perfect conformity with the law of God; which is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.”   It is to manifest in thought, word, and deed the holy character of God.

The title of today’s message is, “Devoted to Destruction.”  I intend it to be a continuation of the message I gave last time I spoke from this pulpit; and it will probably be the second of three messages in a series I will call, “The Justification of God.”  The first message, “How Can a Loving God Allow Good Things to Happen to Bad People?” dealt primarily with theodicies that are commonly heard from church pulpits, from Christian apologists, and in every day conversation.  Again, a theodicy is a response to the so-called “Problem of Evil” or “Problem of Suffering.”  Theodicies are designed to resolve the problem of evil by reconciling God’s omnipotence, omniscience, and benevolence with the facts of evil and suffering in this world.

The reason I am up here speaking today is because I am angry.  Well, the reason I’m speaking is because Keith asked me to fill in today since he’s out of town.  But the reason I chose to speak on this particular topic is because I am angry, with what I believe is a justified anger.

We are all familiar with the story of Job, which is recounted in the book that bears his name in the OT.  God gave Satan permission to torment Job, in order to test Job.  Satan claimed that the reason Job feared God and turned from evil was only because God had blessed Job so greatly.  “But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face,” Satan claimed.  Therefore, God allowed Satan to kill Jobs flocks and herds, his servents, and then all his children, and finally to afflict Job with what the text calls “loathsome sores.”  

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
(Job 2:9-10 ESV)

When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar heard of his misfortune, they came to sit with him and comfort him.  Their presence must have been a welcome development after all the evils that had befallen Job, as they sat with him for seven days and night, without saying a word, because of his great suffering.

After 7 days, Job spoke of the bitterness of his suffering and how it would have been better is he had never been born.  Then each of Job’s friends speak, followed by a response from Job.  They speak of how it is not the innocent who suffer, but the guilty!  The fact that Job is suffering means he must be guilty of some great hidden sin that he needs to repent of.  And that if he repents, he will be restored.  But Job maintains his innocence, his integrity, and that he does not deserve to suffer as he is suffering.  

Now, the book of Job is a deep and profound book and it can be a difficult one.  And indeed there are many wonderful truths that Job had spoken in his conversation with his three friends, such as his recognition that he needed an intercessor to plead his case before God, and his confession of faith in a coming redeemer and in the resurrection.  And there are some good things said by his friends as well, along with much very poor theology.  

But what I want to focus on is a point made by young man named Elihu who waited and listened patiently as his four elders spoke.  After they has spoken all they had to say, Elihu spoke up.  And he spoke with more wisdom than the other three; about God’s sovereignty, about how God uses suffering to grow men, and to bring them closer to Him.  Although the council he gave to Job was certainly not flawless, it was much better than what was given to Job by the other men.

So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. Then Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, burned with anger. He burned with anger at Job because he justified himself rather than God. He burned with anger also at Job's three friends because they had found no answer, although they had declared Job to be in the wrong. Now Elihu had waited to speak to Job because they were older than he. And when Elihu saw that there was no answer in the mouth of these three men, he burned with anger.
(Job 32:1-5 ESV)  

He burned with anger at Job because he justified himself rather than God.  This is also why I am angry.  We expect unbelievers to justify themselves.  “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes,” as we read in Judges.    And we have the words of Agur in Proverbs 30:11-12, “There are those who curse their fathers and do not bless their mothers.  There are those who are clean in their own eyes but are not washed of their filth.”  And the response of the rich young ruler to our Lord, when he claimed that he had kept the whole law from his youth.

Why is this such a bad thing?  Why get angry about it?  Well, because God Himself is.  It is a perversion of justice and blasphemy against the Judge of all.

In Deuteronomy, God tells us in a very simple and common-sense way how justice works:

Deuteronomy 25:1  
“If there is a dispute between men and they come into court and the judges decide between them, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty,

God considers it an abomination when men pervert this:

Proverbs 17: 15
He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord.

To justify, “tsadaq” in the Hebrew in the OT and “dikaioō” in the Greek in the NT, is a legal term meaning “to declare righteous.”

If you have ever listened to witnessing encounters by Ray Comfort or Todd Friel and others that are featured on Wretched Radio, you know that almost everyone that these street evangelists speak to young, old, rich, poor, educated, uneducated, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, atheist, almost without exception proclaim their own goodness.  “Do you consider yourself to be a good person?” they ask.  “I’m a very good person,” comes the response.    Or at least, “I’ve done more good than bad.”  And these folks expect that God will let them into heaven based on their goodness.  (“If there is a God,” say the atheists.”)

People plead their own goodness, justifying the wicked.  They also blame God for the evil and suffering they endure, thereby condemning the righteous One.

Now, we should expect the heathen who are blind to spiritual truth to think this way.  When I hear them justifying themselves, I feel anger, that they arrogantly disregard God’s law and his righteous judgement.  But even more so I feel sorrow for them, that they are blind and deaf to the truth.  I was exactly the same way until I heard the Gospel, and the Holy Spirit regenerated me, and gave me the gift of faith, and Jesus saved me.    

So, the perversion of divine justice that the unbelievers perpetrate is not what gets me really angry.  What enrages me is when, Christians, who should know better, justify themselves and other sinful human beings rather than God.  Listen, I’m not innocent of doing this either.  I’ve done it many times and I’m sure I still do it.  God help me.  He’s not finished conforming me to the image of His Son.  So, please don’t consider this as a harangue, a diatribe, a screed, against those other Christians out there who are justifying men and failing to justify God.  I need to take the rebuke and the exhortation to do better, myself.

When Moses spoke to the Israelites, on the verge of entering into the Promised Land, after wandering 40 years in the wilderness, he gave them God’s command about what they were to do with the people inhabiting Canaan before them:

Deuteronomy 9:1-4 ESV
“Hear, O Israel: you are to cross over the Jordan today, to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than you, cities great and fortified up to heaven, a people great and tall, the sons of the Anakim, whom you know, and of whom you have heard it said, ‘Who can stand before the sons of Anak?’ Know therefore today that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the LORD your God. He will destroy them and subdue them before you. So you shall drive them out and make them perish quickly, as the LORD has promised you.
“Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you.

Deuteronomy 20:16-18  
But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God.

And when the Israelites entered the land, they began to do as God commanded.  We read of the campaign against Jericho,

Joshua 6:15-21 ESV
On the seventh day they rose early, at the dawn of day, and marched around the city in the same manner seven times. It was only on that day that they marched around the city seven times. And at the seventh time, when the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, “Shout, for the LORD has given you the city. And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the LORD for destruction. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent. But you, keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction, lest when you have devoted them you take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel a thing for destruction and bring trouble upon it. But all silver and gold, and every vessel of bronze and iron, are holy to the LORD; they shall go into the treasury of the LORD.” So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they captured the city. Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword.

In chapters 10 and 11 of Joshua, the destruction of many cities is recorded.  “And Joshua and Israel captured this city and devoted every person in it to destruction, striking them down with the edge of the sword.  And they captured that city and devoted to destruction all its people; and they devoted to destruction all the inhabitants of this other city, and left none remaining.”  And on and on.  The Hebrew term is “charam charam.”  “Charam” means “ to ban, devote, destroy utterly, completely destroy, dedicate for destruction, exterminate” or “to split, slit, mutilate.”  The term is doubled for intensity.  “Charam charam” in the text.  As if one “charam” one “exterminate” was not enough.  The roughly equivalent NT term is “anathema”.

Although the Israelites never did wipe out all the Canaanites, as God had commanded, they were still working on it generations later:

1 Samuel 15:1-3  
And Samuel said to Saul, “The LORD sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”

It is passages like this that opponents of the Christian faith and of the Scriptures love to ridicule.  Take, for example, our old friend Richard Dawkins, whom Keith and I have both quoted previously.  In his mega-best-selling book “The God Delusion” Dawkins writes:

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Again, we are not surprised to find the unsaved thinking this way.  But what is rather shocking is when Christians, and especially highly theologically educated Christians, such as pastors, theologians, Christian philosophers and apologists speak and write in a manner that gives credence to suck thinking; when arguments or explanations of such passages are offered which accommodate such thinking or which assume the validity of the points the unbelievers are making, as they condemn the righteous One.

I’ll give just one quick examples as time is running short:

Two years ago I listened to the audio of a debate that took place between a Christian apologist, with a Phd in Theology, who identifies himself as reformed; and an Atheist who is a professor of Philosophy.  The subject of the debate:  "Is God the Source of Morality: Is it rational to ground right and wrong in commands issued by God?"  

The atheist participant took a clever tack:  He framed the debate as a criminal trial, with God as the defendant.  He stated, “I’m going to indict God on four categories of charges. Each category has scores, if not hundreds or thousands of instances. If God is guilty of even one of these instances, that alone would be grounds for his conviction. Drawing upon evidence provided by God himself in his so-called Holy Scriptures, I hold that he’s guilty of them all.”

He went on to accuse God of crimes against humanity for sending the flood and other natural disasters and of war crimes and “licensing murder” for commanding the Israelites to kill the Canaanites, and for endorsing capital punishment for various crimes.

His Christian opponent not only stepped into that trap, he jumped in with both feet and refused to leave.  Instead of informing the atheist “You don’t get to be God’s judge.” He seemed to relishing playing the role of God’s defense attorney.  And the way he “defended” God?  “God did not do any of the things you claim.”

Charge: God commanded the utter destruction of the Canaanites, and so is guilty of genocide.
Defense: God never commanded any such thing. He was merely using hyperbolic language.  He is innocent.

Charge: God killed millions of men, women, and children in the flood of Noah's day.
Defense: That flood is a myth. It never happened. God is innocent.

Charge: God will torture billions in hell forever. He is guilty.
Defense: Hell is temporary.  The damned will ultimately cease to exist; therefore God is innocent.

By going with the Atheist’s premise, and defending God against his charges, the Christian gave implicit ascent to his opponent’s point—that God can and should be held to a standard of morality that is external to Him; and thus, that God is not the source of morality.  Then he went on to deny the facts of God’s righteous judgement against sin as recorded in Scripture.  

I know that portions of God’s word such as this are not pleasant to consider.  That’s for sure.  They are anything but happy and winsome and cute.  But will the Judge of all the earth not do good?   Yes He will; always.  He cannot do otherwise.  The people He commanded be “Charam charam,” devoted to destruction, were sinners who deserved to die.  We must understand that God’s judgment against sin in the Flood, the Canaanite massacres, and everlasting condemnation is good and proper.  God is just and right to demand that His creatures pay for their sins with their life’s blood whenever He decides the time has come.

And those who minimize or deny these expressions of God's holy wrath against sinners are doing nothing but holding God's justice up to ridicule.

Another apologist, Biola professor Clay Jones has a much more sound take on the slaughter of the Canaanites, from which a lot of people could learn, in an article he wrote for the journal Philosophia Christi,  entitled, “We Don’t Hate Sin So We Don’t Understand What Happened to the Canaanites: An Addendum to “Divine Genocide” Arguments”.  In this article, Dr. Jones discusses research into the religion of the ancient Canaanites, which has shown that this society was rampant with the practices of incest, prostitution, homosexuality, and beastiality.  They sacrificed their children to Molech the god of fire by burning them to death.  Not so very different from our own society today actually.  They engaged in these practices emulation of the idols they worshipped, and as acts of devotion to them.  For these were the practices of their gods before them.

For all these wicked deeds and many more, as well as for the need to prevent them from influencing the Israelites to join in their idolatrous practices, God decided that these people must die.  As the author and giver of life, God has every right to bring about its end when He wills.  And yet, God waited good and long to bring His vengeance upon the Canaanites.  They knew it was coming long before it arrived and refused to repent.

This is for our instruction.  And it’s a warning to those who would trifle with God and trivialize His law and His justice.  “Your time is coming.  And your end will be as theirs.”  

The judgments to come, as revealed in the NT are no less severe.  They are worse.  As Jesus taught,

Matthew 13:40-43 ESV
Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

It is the Son of Man, himself, Jesus Christ—yes, Jesus meek and mild, Baby Jesus no crying he makes, THAT Jesus, who promised that He will do this.  And  

Revelation 14:9-11 ESV
And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

So, the slaughter of the Canaanites is a warning of the wrath to come.  It is precisely in these judgements against the wicked that God is shown to be just, to be righteous, to be good.  This is how God's righteousness is justified.  

But those who were devoted to destruction so long ago, also serve to point to God’s mercy and patience.  What He did to the Canaanites, He hasn’t yet done to you.  He hasn’t done it to me.  Although we deserve it just as they did.  If you are drawing breath right now, as you hear this message, know that His forebearance is an invitation to come before the Judge and plead for mercy.



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