Links Daily Devotional

Why So Severe?

After Ehud came Shamgar son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad. He too saved Israel. (Judges 3:31, NIV)

The book of Judges would be a most uncomfortable place to break into the Scriptures, like a beginner trying to negotiate TPC Sawgrass with its relentless winding corridors of trees and water.

If your view of God started with lines like today’s main verse, you would shake your head wondering about such a deity. What does he really ask of those he calls?

Set your moral tales aside. Those named as judges were not men and women gifted with character so much as they were characters gifted to serve God’s purposes. They were a stained bunch—violent, rash, sex-driven, and unforgiving, but also cowardly and hesitant at times. Their oddities and their faults defined them, just as the whole assembly of Israel was being marked by its community sins of idolatry and unfaithfulness.

But if our view of God is set on end by the swift, harsh actions of the judges, it may be tempered by the few words at the end of Judges 3:31: “He too saved Israel.” Israel, the nation, might best be regarded as our own lives writ large. Sinful people needing salvation.

Let’s begin with the sin. When we look at ourselves in the mirror and consider our own righteousness, most of us deliver an assessment laced with mercy. Our sins aren’t that bad. Certainly we can manage the problem. But if I as one person am in any way like Israel the people, my sins are shocking—not the least of which is my pursuit of other affections, my worship of gods not God. If the Old Testament records reveal anything about the human condition, it is this: we are not as good as we think we are.

Which means we live in desperate need of salvation. Not that we always recognize it. The ancients were aware of the consequences of their sin, surely, but not always of their sin itself. Again, like each of us.

But now let’s strike the chord of difference. The conditions from which God provided salvation for the Israelites were physical, material, earthly. He had sent opposition to chasten them, making them subject to Gentile kings, then providing an avenue to freedom via the judges.

The condition to which the Gospel of Christ speaks, however, is a problem of the soul—our collection of “sins” indicate our condition of “sin.” And for this condition, which separates us from the holiness of God, we need another kind of Savior.

Our Savior did the severe thing, yes, because it needed to be done. He went to the cross. He did so not to rectify the wrongs done to us, as it were, but to rectify the wrong we’ve done to ourselves. The only motivation for such a severe mercy is lovingkindness. It is why Paul’s words to the Romans are so amazing, so full of life: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Tomorrow: The cohabitation of severity and kindness

Jeff Hopper
March 13, 2017
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