Category Archives: Meditations

A Punishing God

A friend just asked via twitter, “Have a question maybe you can help clear for me. Today we were studying how much God provided for David and of His grace and forgiveness towards David.Of course God commands against adultery,but why does He give David’s wives 2 ‘his companions’ as punishment for what he did with Bathsh. and against Uriah? Isn’t that Him breaking His command as well? (from 2 Samuel 12:11)”

First, excellent question! Second, it shows Christian maturity to be willing to ask hard questions about what God did, is doing, or does. You can continue your maturity by combining the input of an abundance of wise counselors (Proverbs 11:14) with your own diligent searching of the Bible, like the Bereans (Acts 17:11). Here are my thoughts, with further questions always (always!) welcome.

Context, David has lusted over a woman, coveted her, taken her, committed adultery with her. He then attempts to deceive her husband and later orchestrates his murder. With these things and the implications of them David broke all Ten Commandments. And David continues to live unrepentant for roughly a year (nine months for the baby to be born and a sufficient mourning time for Bathsheba, probably largely overlapping each other).

That brings us to where the LORD sends Nathan to confront David about his sins and God’s punishment

Thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbors, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun’

Before we look at that closely, let’s consider God’s grace compared to our sin. The Bible says some striking things about sin. Genesis 6:5 reads, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Great, every, only, and continually are very strong words to describe our sin (and let’s not pretend the flood that God sent healed the human condition as is shortly thereafter disproved). Jeremiah 17:9 reads, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Again, we are in a desperate place when God describes our very heart as more deceitful than everything else. And in Romans 3:10-18 God explains that no one is righteous. So unbelievers are unable to please God (Romans 7:8) and even believers like Noah and Jeremiah and you and I have our every action tainted with sin. But God shows such amazing and incredible grace to even allow us to continue to live. And that’s David. For about a year God allowed David to stew in unrepentance. Romans 2:4 reads, “Or do you presume on the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” God graciously waited for repentance instead of giving him what he deserved, an instant end to his life. When no repentance came God graciously sent His prophet Nathan with a parable to penetrate David’s denial of sin and God granted him repentance (Acts 11:18). Then after David admits his sin the LORD puts his sin away and preserves his life (v. 13). So in spite of all the characters of this story deserving death, God preserves them and even David, the most sinful of them (1 Timothy 1:15-17).

Now for the punishment of David – David was a believer, a man after God’s own heart. Believers are given a different punishment than unbelievers. Hebrews 12:7-11 explains that God disciplines believers as a father does to his sons. He does so to bring us into holiness and righteousness. So God puts David through this entire ordeal for David’s own improvement and God’s glory since the LORD is recognized as a just judge when David repents and when his punishment is so public (Exodus 34:6-7, God is just). God also grants David repentance to show that the LORD shows mercy to whom He will (Exodus 33:19). But just as most believers will have to suffer physical death even though they don’t suffer spiritual death, so David has to suffer some of the consequences of his sins though not the death that he deserves (v. 13).

In order to, finally, answer your question of how God is justified even when He sentences punishment that seems to contradict His own commandments we have to review three things: God’s holiness, His sovereignty, and His means of punishment.

First, God is holy and therefore not subject to any law or command or ordinance but only to what He is in Himself. No one can hold Him to a standard of goodness or rightness because He is the standard. Since no one can demand anything from Him and He is the creator and provider and sustainer (Genesis 1, Colossians 1:17), He is the only one who can make demands, everything is owed to Him. Also, since He is holy and we are sinful the divide between the Him and us is infinite, meaning that we deserve infinite punishment (which is why only Christ, who is God, could take our punishment upon Himself and why hell is for eternity).

Second, God is sovereign. Genesis 50:20 is the classic text for God’s sovereignty and our actions and responsibility all working at the same time to God’s established ends. Another verse is Acts 4:27-28, “for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, to do whatever Your hand had predestined to take place.” So perhaps a better question than David’s neighbors and wives would be God predestination of the murder of Jesus Christ. The answer, of course, is that the people involved bear the responsibility for their evil intentions and actions where God “meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20).

Third, God describes Himself as having a passive means of punishment. Romans 1:24, 26, and 28 Paul writes that due to their sin God “gave them up” to further/deeper sin. This is an insight into God’s sovereignty. Though He works all things (Ephesians 1:11) there is a way that He can hide His presence from a person, and thus give them up, so they do not turn to Him but instead turn to sin and more sin.

So God’s sentence to give David’s wives to another was righteous because He did it and we cannot question* Him because He is holy and we are not; it was also righteous because God is sovereign and even in that adultery He “meant it for good;” it was also righteous because God was not actively working evil but instead releasing His grip on certain people so they would follow their sinful natures.

This would be a poor place to end if we didn’t reflect on the cross here. God appointed before the beginning of the world that He would show love to Himself by creating. And He would reveal Himself not only through beauty and truth and purity but through justice and mercy. In order to fully enjoy Himself He decreed a world that would have opportunity for Him to glorify Himself by showing His justice against what opposed Him and His mercy to those who were undeserving. We, like David, break all the commands God’s asks of us. But through Christ God reconciled the world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19) by an ultimate show of justice in Him for us and mercy to us because of Him. And therefore to Him be all the glory, forever and ever! Amen and amen!

*Late edit: This is not to say that the questioner was wrong is asking why but that judging God’s sentences for sin ignores the holiness of God and the pervasive sinfulness in humanity. A question that seeks God’s face, to know Him better is completely different than a question that sets a standard up to which we demand He follow/submit to.

Philippians Study: Introduction 4

Studying PhilippiansActs 16 continues to inform our introduction to Philippians. Acts 16:22-30 is important to Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Paul suffered injustice, beating, and imprisonment while he was in Philippi.

When Paul writes to the Philippians the focal point is joy derived from immersion in Christ that enables perseverance in the faith and unity with fellow Christians. A large part of that perseverance is done in the face of persecution. And while Paul was founding the church at Philippi his suffering yielded fruit, a new church. Now when Paul tells the Philippians to persevere as he has done (1:27-30), they will understand.

The United States is a difficult place to suffer, mostly because we can’t tell when we’re suffering and when we should be suffering. The consequences of speaking God’s truth, living under His Word as our ultimate authority, spreading the gospel of Christ as the only Savior and Lord are all things we will be pursecuted for. Do we speak against lying and divorce as well as abortion, gay-marriage? If we are not being pursecuted then we have ample reason to question how rigorous our pursuit of God is. Are we following hard after Jesus Christ? Is our only offense an offense contained in the gospel (as it should be)? Do we read Philippians with a desire and need for the joy in Christ it conveys? Or are we seeking joy from pleasing others and making sure we avoid any pursecution?

Philippians Study: Introduction 3

Studying PhilippiansAs we continue the introduction to our study of Philippians, we look to Acts 16 again.

Acts 16:6-9. Paul travels toward Asia and toward Europe. On this journey the Holy Spirit turns them from Asia and the Spirit of Christ turns them from Bithynia. Using a dream God directs Paul to Macedonia. These few lines testify to God’s sovereignty in salvation and its complexity. God directs Paul to avoid whole regions and instead directs him to a particular city and town, Macedonia and, specifically, Philippi.

God’s sovereign control of salvation is vivid in the Bible. His love acting in patience is the reason any are saved (2 Peter 3:9,15). Yet if God is sovereign, which we know (Romans 9:16), and not all are saved (Matthew 25:46), then God has decreed that some will not be saved (Romans 9:18-22). If this is not true then God is not sovereign.

Just like Acts 16, God sends His gospel to those He’s saving and withholds its power when it is not the right time or not His chosen people. The church at Philippi had to be founded at that time. And God made sure He put obedient Christians there to spread the gospel.

When is the last time you reflected on God’s grace in your salvation? What great and small circumstances did He construct so that you would hear the gospel and believe? Did He organize a worship service or a late-night meeting or a dinner or the placement of a gospel tract? How gracious has God shown Himself when He saved you? And how will He use you to save others? Are you an example of Christian piety? Are you the compassionate one at work/school? Do you love to relate your faith and mention the name of Jesus in any conversation you can? How will God use you to spread the power of His saving gospel?

Philippians Study: Introduction 2

Studying PhilippiansThis study was originally planned to go a little faster. But we had our first child last Saturday (5/9) so that, rightly, delayed it a bit.

For this one I’d like to go through Acts 16 to get the background of Paul’s founding of the church at Philippi.

Acts 16:1-3. Luke tells of Timothy joining Paul on his missionary journey. This is important because Paul begins the letter to the Philippians with, “Paul and Timothy,” which is unusual for Paul. But this church did know Timothy. And as we will see, Paul is eager to keep good examples before the the Philippians, including Christ, himself, Timothy, and Epaphroditus (2:1-2, 19-22, 29, 3:15).

How are we making good use of examples? As we read through Philippians we will come across many topics/themes, characters, and instructions. The most important will be Christ. Great insight is given to help us see Christ. We should use that to better follow his example. Then, as Paul presents other examples, we should compare their actions with Scripture and resolve to follow them as far as they follow the Scripture. So to apply this, who are your examples? How well do you know the Christ of the Bible? Are you being mentored by someone who you are convinced is following hard after Christ so that you can follow them as well (1 Corinthians 11:1)?

Philippians Study: Introduction 1

Studying PhilippiansI’m going to start a study through Philippians in my Sunday school this week. I thought I’d do several blog posts to meditate through the things I’m learning.

I’m using The New International Greek Testament Commentary by O’Brien. I also have Boice’s Philippians: An Exegetical Commentary along with MacArthur’s New Testament Commentary on Philippians. Calvin’s commentary on Philippians is online so I’ll be using it as well. I hope to also use The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge edited by Jerome H. Smith.

I’ll mainly be using the English Standard and New American Standard Bibles. As I’m trying to continue my studies in Greek I will also include my Greek New Testament and A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BDAG) as much as the school library will let me see it when I’m off of work.