God’s perfect justice

People often cast God as a genocidal maniac who destroys nations at a whim, making him unworthy of worship. Consider, however, these three passages about the land that the LORD promised to the Israelites. Firstly, consider God’s words to Abraham as he stood on the very piece of land that was to be given to his descendants (emphasis in all these passages mine):

Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” Genesis 15:13–16 (NIV)

 Then in Leviticus, His instruction to Israelites on how they are to live in the land:

‘Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the aliens living among you must not do any of these detestable things, for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.

Everyone who does any of these detestable things—such persons must be cut off from their people. Keep my requirements and do not follow any of the detestable customs that were practiced before you came and do not defile yourselves with them. I am the Lord your God.’ ” Leviticus 18:24–30 (NIV)

 And the Lord’s word to the new generation when they were poised to enter the land:

After the Lord your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, “The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.” No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you. It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.

Remember this and never forget how you provoked the Lord your God to anger in the desert. From the day you left Egypt until you arrived here, you have been rebellious against the Lord. At Horeb you aroused the Lord’s wrath so that he was angry enough to destroy you. Deuteronomy 9:4–8 (NIV)

Putting these three passages together, is it not evidence of God’s perfect justice? Even though Abraham was standing in the promised land, God did not give it to him there and then because it belonged to the Amorites and their sin was not yet sufficient to warrant their ejection from it. Nor were the Israelites to receive undue favour – they also had to avoid doing destestable things or they would be cut off from the land, Indeed the Israelites were exiled from the land twice because of their own sin. Finally, the Israelites were specifically instructed to not credit themselves for their good fortune in being given the land – it was the sin of the Amorites that was the reason.

In other words, God is not a God who smites countries and turfs them out of their country at a whim, His judgement of people and peoples in the Old Testament are rooted in His perfect justice.

If, then, this example God’s perfect justice is clear, why is it not spelled out for all instances of His judgement in the Old Testament? Surely this is because we are expected to know enough of God and his character to trust that He alone is holy and perfect in His holiness:

For I will proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God!
“The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice.
A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.
Deuteronomy 32:3–4

When we judge God (or anyone else), we do so with our impure motives and imperfect information. The very good news is that God does not judge us in the same way – He judges all people (and peoples) fairly, with perfect motives against perfect information:

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Hebrews 4:13

The bad news, of course, is that we are not righteous – our secret, sinful lives will be uncovered and laid bare in front of Christ who will judge all mankind. If we understand this, we will react as Isaiah did when he stood before the LORD in a vision:

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Isaiah 6:5

Or as John saw in his vision of the end times, the Lamb being a name for Jesus Christ:

Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains.  They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!  For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” Revelation 6:15-17

But this is not the end of the story. Because we cannot stand before Him, God, in His deep love and extraordinary mercy, acted on our behalf.

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
made himself nothing,
taking the very natureb of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

… Jesus Christ; who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Philippians 2:5-8

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. John 3:16-18

Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgement, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. Hebrews 9:27-28

So where do you stand? When your life is laid bare by God’s perfect justice, will you be paying for your sin or have you placed your trust in Christ, accepting his gift of mercy and salvation?