Into the Hands of God

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Near the end of David’s reign as king of Israel, he ordered a census to be taken of all the fighting men in Israel.  This action displeased God, who sent the seer Gad to inform David of His displeasure.  God also did something that was unprecedented.  He allowed David to choose which of three punishments would come upon Israel for this sin.  David’s response is recorded in 2 Sam. 24:14, where the scripture says, “Then David said to Gad, ‘I am in great distress.  Let us now fall into the hand of the Lord for His mercies are great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man.'”  This choice resulted in 70,000 men of Israel dying as God sent three days of pestilence on Israel for David’s sin.

In the New Testament we find another instance in which the scripture speaks of falling into the hands of God.  In Heb. 10:31 the scripture says, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”  This statement is the exclamation point to the discussion which precedes it.  In that discussion the writer of Hebrews warned that those Christians who chose to willfully sin after receiving the knowledge of the truth would face a terrifying expectation of judgment from God.

In both cases the scriptures speak of falling into the hands of God, but the perspective is very different in each case.  In the first case, David seemed anxious to fall into God’s hands, even though he knew God was going to execute judgment against him.  In the other case, the readers were warned that they should not want to fall into the hands of God.  It is the same God in both instances, but what can explain the difference in the two situations?

In the first case, David was penitent about his sin, and he knew that his only hope was to commit himself into the hands of God.  His confidence in doing so was based upon his trust in God’s mercy and grace.  His confidence was well-placed because he had humbled himself before God with regard to his sin.  He was trying to do what was right after having violated God’s will.  For this reason, to fall into the hands of God was the most desirable option.

In the second case, however, the terror of falling into the hands of God is based upon an impenitent heart.  In Heb. 10:26-27 the scripture says, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”  Falling into the hands of God in this instance is terrifying because the one so falling is unbowed before God.  The Christian who willfully persists in sinful behavior should be terrified because he has “trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace” (Heb. 10:29).

It is the same God in each case, and the same hands, but the state of one’s heart determines whether he can confidently fall into them, or be terrified to do so.  If we are penitent about our sins, and if we humble ourselves before God in genuine remorse for our sins, He will forgive us (1 Jn. 1:5-10).  We may suffer some temporal consequence of our sin, but our souls will be clean because we fell into the hands of God with a penitent heart.  If we refuse to repent and humble ourselves, and if we have no genuine remorse for our sins, we need to be very afraid, for God will not allow the guilty to go unpunished (Ex. 34:7).  We will all fall into the hands of God at judgment.  What happens then depends on whether we have been forgiven or not.

The Flesh Is Weak

On the night of His betrayal, our Lord took the twelve, minus Judas, into the Garden of Gethsemane so He could pray.  He left all but Peter, James, and John near the entrance of the garden and went a little farther into it.  Then the Lord instructed Peter, James, and John to “keep watch with Me” (Mt. 26:38).  He went a short distance beyond them and fell on His face and prayed (v. 39).  After praying for about an hour, the Lord returned to find them asleep.  In vs. 40, 41 the Lord said, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour?  Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

This last statement acknowledged that the Lord knew the disciples wanted to keep watch with Him, but their desire to do so was hindered by their physical limitations.  They had tried their best, but the weakness of their bodies undermined their efforts.  The Lord’s exhortation to keep watching and praying lest they fall into temptation was not simply a mild rebuke, but was also an encouragement to not give up the struggle.  The fact that they kept falling asleep as the Lord continued His prayers shows us that this exhortation is pertinent for every generation, because we, like they, struggle to do what the Lord wants us to do.

The struggle to do what is right, versus our natural inclination to do what is wrong, is summarized by Paul in Romans 7 & 8.  Using himself as an example, Paul gave voice to the inner struggle that every Christian has.  In Rom. 7:14-25 Paul spoke of the spiritual nature of the Law and of our fleshly bondage to sin.  He said that the good things he wanted to do, he did not do, and the bad things he did not want to do were the very things he did.

Every one of us has likely had this same experience at some point in our lives.  We set out to do the right thing, but stumble and fall, either by leaving the right thing undone, or by actually doing some bad thing instead.  Whenever this happens we are overwhelmed by remorse at our failure.  We may even be discouraged that despite our best efforts we have not lived up to the high calling of Christ our Lord.  In Rom. 7:24 Paul put into words how we feel when this happens.  He said, “Wretched man that I am!  Who will set me free from the body of this death?”

He gave us the answer to this anguished question in Rom. 8:1, 2.  He said, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.”  In context, Paul was showing that the Law of Moses could not resolve the issue of sin because it depended solely on man’s ability to live by it.  In Christ, however, sin is overcome by the power of His blood.

When we obey the gospel our sins are washed away (Acts 22:16), our old body of sin is done away with, and we rise to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:3-7).  We are still capable of sinning, however, and will still sin.  This reality leads us to cry out in anguish because of the weakness of our flesh, but we can overcome this weakness if we set our minds on the Spirit of life in Christ (Rom. 8:3-11).

Our desire is to not sin, but we know we will.  The Lord has provided for this dilemma by the continual cleansing of His blood if we confess our sins (1 Jn. 1:5-10).  Therefore, we must not give up the struggle to do what is right, even though the flesh is weak.  The Lord will see us through this weakness if we rely on Him.

Let Justice Roll Down

Sometimes little snippets of scripture make their way into popular culture.  Thus, a character in a film may observe that someone’s actions are an example of “an eye for an eye”.  Or, we may hear someone glibly speak of “doing unto others. . . “.  Very often these particles of scripture are snatched from their biblical context and applied in ways never intended by scripture.  An example of this is the phrase, “let justice roll down”.

Civil rights advocates often use this phrase in reference to obtaining social justice for ethnic minorities.  The idea is that justice is not being served when these individuals are discriminated against, or are denied their rights as citizens of this country.  Naturally every honest-hearted American wants all citizens to enjoy the rights that our Constitution guarantees.  We want justice to be served, but is this what these words of scripture actually mean?

The phrase “let justice roll down” appears in Amos 5:24, and it is spoken by God Himself.  However, in the context of Amos this phrase has more to do with faithfulness to God than with social injustice per se.  The message of Amos was a call for God’s people to return to faithfulness.  Social injustice was one of the problems that plagued Israel at that time, of course, but this was just a symptom of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God.  This is especially the case in the immediate context of Amos 5:24.

In vs. 21-24 God said, “I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies.  Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; and I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings.  Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps.  But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”  God’s call for justice to roll down like waters was actually a call for Israel to be obedient to His law.  If they would do this, their worship would then be acceptable to Him, and social injustice would end.

This is the lesson that we must take from Amos.  The only certain cure for social injustice is to return to faithful obedience to God’s word.  Any attempt to rectify social problems devoid of God’s word is fruitless.  This ought to be abundantly evident.  Our country has been beset by calls for social justice for generations, and has engaged in multitudes of focused efforts to bring this about.  Nevertheless, we still struggle with these issues.  The truth is, we still struggle because our efforts have focused on the symptoms and not on the actual cause of social injustice.

Until individuals acknowledge their sins and seek God’s forgiveness in accordance with His word, we will never have the social justice we all desire.  Until our nation acknowledges the rightful place of God’s word to direct our path, we will never overcome the issues that plague us.  Until we truly become “one nation under God” we will continue to experience oppression and injustice, and no amount of self-righteous pontificating by our leaders will change this.

In 1 Tim. 4:8b Paul said, “But godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” This is a fundamental truth that we all need to acknowledge.  If we pursue godliness, as God’s word directs us, then we will be the kind of people we ought to be, and our society will be better as well.  Only then will justice roll down like waters in the fullest sense of what God intended.

Hand In Hand

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A recent news story told of a couple from California, Floyd & Violet Hartwig, who died within hours of each other while holding hands.  They had been married 67 years and had previously expressed their desire to die together.  As their health declined in recent years they were eventually placed in hospice care.  Sensing that the end was near, family members pushed their hospice beds together and placed Floyd’s hand into Violet’s hand.  Floyd passed away holding his wife’s hand, and five hours later, Violet passed away, still holding her husband’s hand.

A story like this moves us because so many marriages end far short of the 67 years that Floyd & Violet attained.  This kind of story moves us also because it is a testament to love and fidelity that is far too uncommon in our world.  Sometimes the spark of love that gave birth to marriage fades over time, even among those who remain married to the same spouse for many years.  How sad it is, as the old Everly Brothers song said, “To watch good love go bad.”

The true love and faithfulness shown by Floyd & Violet reminds us of the kind of love our Lord has for us.  His promise of faithfulness is summed up by the words of His Father which are quoted in Heb. 13:6.  The Lord God said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.”  That promise has stood since the time of Moses, and will remain in effect until God takes us home to heaven at the end of time.  Yet, it has been an unchangeable part of God’s character from the beginning of time.

Ever since the Lord God put Adam and Eve into the Garden of Eden His desire has been to have close fellowship with us.  The scriptures suggest that God often came and walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8).  He kept doing so until their sin made it impossible for this close fellowship to continue.  Even then, however, God made provision to restore that fellowship.  He promised Adam and Eve that He would send enmity to stand between Satan and the woman and between his seed and her seed (Gen. 3:15).  That enmity was Jesus Christ, whose blood paid the ransom for our sins.

When we obey the gospel by being immersed into Christ for the forgiveness of our sins (Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16), our fellowship with God is restored.  We then, as His children, walk hand in hand with our older brother, Jesus, on our way toward our heavenly reward.  In Amos 3:3 God reminded Israel of what it takes to do so.  He said, “Do two walk together unless they have agreed to meet?” (ESV).  The implication of this statement is that we cannot walk hand in hand with our Lord unless we have agreed to follow Him in accordance with His word.

The bottom line is that we cannot walk our own way and remain hand in hand with the Lord.  In Prov. 16:25 Solomon said, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”  Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (Jn. 14:6).  Therefore, in order to be assured that we will arrive at heaven at the end of time, we must walk with our Lord, holding His hand by our obedience to His word.  The Lord loved us so much that He freely gave His life on the cross to give us the opportunity for salvation.  The least we can do is take His hand and follow in His footsteps all the way to heaven, faithful until death, so we will receive the crown of life (Rev. 2:10).