Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Responding To Redemption: Part 4 - Singing Of God's Fury?

At the Red Sea, God unleashed his holy fury and justice against the Egyptian army in order to show his glory and provide an amazing rescue for his people. Because he loved his covenant people, he delivered them from bondage. This merciful redemption act for Israel meant wrath and destruction for Egypt. And when Israel lifted up their voices in praise on the other side of the Sea, they did not gloss over this point to make God come across as more politically correct. With joy and adoration for their rescuing God, they sang of his mighty power, his awesome fury, his victory over his enemies.
“I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea...The LORD is a man of war; the LORD is his name. [4] “Pharaoh's chariots and his host he cast into the sea, and his chosen officers were sunk in the Red Sea. [5] The floods covered them; they went down into the depths like a stone. [6] Your right hand, O LORD, glorious in power, your right hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy. [7] In the greatness of your majesty you overthrow your adversaries; you send out your fury; it consumes them like stubble. Exodus 15:1, 3-7, ESV
Singing of God’s justice against his enemies.
Singing about God’s wrath and judgments seems strange or even wrong to many today. But in the Bible God is praised for his righteous wrath against sin and for his holy judgments against sinners.
  • God’s destruction of those opposed to him and his anger against evil are not opposed to God’s majesty but are in fact inherent aspects of it. Modern sentimentalist thinking wants God to be ever-tolerant, always softhearted, and thus defines God’s justice as something other than how the Bible defines it. In fact, the just God revealed in the Bible will not tolerate evil (though he is extremely patient in waiting for repentance…) and plans for its eventual total elimination. People who insist on being part of the process of evil will be eliminated as well. Those offended by these facts about God are wishing for a reality that has never existed. He does get mad, he does smash his foes, and he is majestic in doing so. -Douglas Stuart
Let’s look at two examples from the Scriptures.

Example 1: Psalm 136.
Psalm 136 is a praise song to God for his creation of and work on behalf of his people, Israel. Each verse ends with the refrain, “for his steadfast love endures forever.” It’s possible that this song was sung responsively, perhaps with a priest singing the first line and all the people singing the refrain (ESV Study Bible notes).

The psalm begins with creation. He made the heavens (for his steadfast love endures forever). He made the sun (for his love endures..) and the moon (for his love endures…), etc. So far, so good. But then the song turns to the Lord’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt. Each act of this deliverance is attributed to God’s steadfast love. But to our modern senses, it sounds surprising and harsh:

• to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt, for his steadfast love endures forever;
[11] and brought Israel out from among them, for his steadfast love endures forever;
[12] with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, for his steadfast love endures forever;
[13] to him who divided the Red Sea in two, for his steadfast love endures forever;
[14] and made Israel pass through the midst of it, for his steadfast love endures forever;
[15] but overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea, for his steadfast love endures forever; Psalm 136:10-15, ESV

He killed Egypt’s firstborn children because his steadfast love endures forever!?! God’s covenant-faithfulness/steadfast-love for his people requires God’s wrath-justice-judgment for his enemies. God’s love for some means wrath for others. God’s love of good requires his hatred for evil. This is good and praise-worthy. All of God’s attributes are good, and he will be praised eternally for them all.

Example 2: Revelation.
Another vivid example of God being praised for his justice and wrath is the book of  Revelation. As the Lord pours out wrath on his enemies on the earth, heaven praises him:

• And I heard the angel in charge of the waters say, “Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was, for you brought these judgments. [6] For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!” [7] And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are your judgments!” Revelation 16:5-7

And later as God judges his enemies, we see this heavenly response:

• “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.” [4] And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” [5] And from the throne came a voice saying, “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.” Revelation 19:3-5

Ever sung songs like this in your church gathering? Chances are, probably not. But God's people who are rescued from our sins through Jesus Christ crucified and raised will eternally praise God for his loving redemption, and for his justice shown against his enemies.

God will destroy his enemies one day. And the universe will cheer.
The point is this: God is good and worthy of praise in all of his attributes.
Though this may be difficult for us, let us think deeply of these things and be challenged to line our thinking up with God's word. God is good when he rescues people who do not deserve it (Israel, and you and I!). And God is still good when he judges people who do deserve it.

[This is part of a 4-part series on Responding To Redemption. The other parts are available here, here and here]

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