The Goodness and Severity of GOD
There is a prevalent view in some theological circles that the GOD of the Hebrew Bible was a wrathful GOD of judgment, while in the Christian Scriptures a different type of GOD, a GOD of love and compassion seems to emerge. They seek to demonstrate that the love and forgiveness taught by Yeshua is to s great extent lacking in the Hebrew Bible. We aim to demonstrate that the Christian Scriptures are simply a continuation of the Hebrew Bible. The two are not at odds with one another, but rather flow together as one continuous stream.
One wonders if some of these critics of the GOD of the Hebrew Bible take into consideration that Yeshua's ministry, as recorded in the four Gospels, covers a period of only about three or four years, while the books of the Hebrew Bible deal with the acts of GOD over four thousand years. No fair comparison can obviously be made between what Yeshua did during His short ministry and what other men of GOD might have done during the times of the Hebrew Bible. Yeshua even characterized His brief ministry as "the acceptable year of the LORD" (LUKE 4:19). What occurred during that Gospel period cannot possibly be set in opposition to all that was done throughout the forty centuries leading up to it?
Even so, during the era of the Hebrew Bible, there were periods when GOD could and did act as a tender Father to HIS chosen people; but then there were also times when HE as a Father was obliged to chasten them because of their unrepentant hearts. Howbeit, even then GOD always warned HIS people of the consequences of their actions before their just recompense was carried out.
Even to the Gentiles during the times of the Hebrew Bible, GOD was often merciful and forgiving (JONAH 3:10), and yet at other times HE also rewarded them their due (GENESIS 19:24). The Hebrew Bible covers such a long period in the history of man, that about every aspect of GOD's nature is revealed.
Throughout the centuries during which the Hebrew Bible is concerned, many servants were sent by GOD to Israel (2 CHRONICLES 36:15,16), endeavoring to turn the Jew from his self destructive ways, but too often these prophets were driven away or killed by the political and religious leaders. Rarely did many lost souls repent and return to GOD. So what was GOD to do? Eventually HE was bound to pass judgment upon them. Yeshua recognized this necessity and spoke of it often in His parables. Luke records one such parable.
LUKE 20:9-16 Then began he [Yeshua] to speak to the people this parable; A certain man planted a vineyard, and let it forth to husbandmen, and went into a far country for a long time. And at the season he sent a servant to the husbandmen, that they should give him of the fruit of the vineyard: but the husbandmen beat him, and sent him away empty. And again he sent another servant: and they beat him also, and entreated him shamefully, and sent him away empty. And again he sent a third: and they wounded him also, and cast him out.
Then said the lord of the vineyard, What shall I do? I will send my beloved son: it may be they will reverence him when they see him. But when the husbandmen saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, This is the heir: come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours. So they cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What therefore shall the lord of the vineyard do unto them? He shall come and destroy these husbandmen, and shall give the vineyard to others. And when they heard it, they said, God forbid.
In this parable, the three servants represent those sent by GOD during the times of the Hebrew Bible. The father of the "beloved son" is of course no other than GOD. HE it was of whom Yeshua said, that HE "shall come and destroy these husbandmen", which finally did happen in A.D. 70 when Jerusalem was utterly destroyed, followed by much of the nation being laid waste. Here we learn that Yeshua's GOD was the same god as the one in the Hebrew Bible; HIS acts in the Christian Scriptures were simply a continuation of HIS words in the Hebrew Bible.
Furthermore, just as Yeshua healed the sick and raised the dead to life again, so had men of GOD during the times of the Hebrew Bible (2 KINGS 4:34; 5:14). It is in the Hebrew Bible where we read, "He sent his word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions" (PSALM 107:20). As such, the Hebrew Bible records many instances when GOD sent healing deliverance to HIS people.
And just as the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, Yeshua also warned in the Christian Scriptures the dire consequences for those who remained disobedient and unrepentant.
MATTHEW 11:20-24 Then began he [Yeshua] to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you.
And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.
It is well known that the GOD of the Hebrew Bible destroyed the city of Sodom with brimstone and fire, yet Yeshua tells here of a worse judgment awaiting the cities of the Gospel period which rejected Him. When we consider the whole picture, one finds little difference here between the GOD of the Christian Scriptures and the GOD of the Hebrew Bible.
And we are all too familiar with the harsh words of some of GOD's prophets against Israel in the Hebrew Bible, but even though His ministry was the "acceptable year of the Lord", Yeshua was no less severe in the Gospels.
MATTHEW 23:27-36 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity...Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.
One wonders how many modern preachers fail to read these passages. Many pretend as if all that Yeshua ever did was go about blessing and healing people. How about the time when He made a whip and "drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables" (JOHN 2:15)? It is not easy to imagine the force it would have required to separate these thieves from their money, yet He did it.
And Yeshua was every bit as chilling in describing GOD's judgment in the Gospels as was any other prophet of the Hebrew Bible.
MATTHEW 13:41-42. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Then on another occasion, after speaking quite a lengthy parable, Yeshua closed by saying, "But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me" (LUKE 19:27). These are hard sayings for many who have pictured Yeshua as only gentle and kind as He blessed the weary and downtrodden. Tradition has too often painted a false illusion of who Yeshua really was, causing many to find these scriptures unsettling.
And what think ye of Yeshua's disciples? Those men who were sent by Him to continue His ministry to the world; what kind of men were they? Were they "doormats for Jesus"? Were they only praying for and blessing those who came to them? Well, it wasn't long after Christ's ascension when a man and his wife both fell down dead at Peter's word because they had lied to GOD (ACTS 5). Not much different than what we might find in the Hebrew Bible.
Then a short time after this, when King Herod made an oration to the people, it is written, "And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost" (ACTS 12:23). We are learning that this GOD of the Christian Scriptures is every bit as able to exercise HIS wrath as was the GOD of the Hebrew Bible.
In the next chapter of ACTS, the great apostle Paul blinded a man, a Jew of his own religion, for "perverting the right ways of the LORD" (ACTS 13:11). Whether or not we embrace these actions is not now the point. The point here is that these actions in the Christian Scriptures are in perfect alignment with those of the Hebrew Bible.
And is there any place in the Hebrew Bible when more dire consequences are foretold then we find written in the epistle to the Hebrews?
HEBREWS 10:26-31 ASV. For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
The apostle asks, "Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God?" In other words, the judgment for those of the Christian Scriptures was to be even more severe than that which befell those of the Hebrew Bible. Why? Because of the daunting principle, that "unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required". Those who had heard the words of our Lord and yet refused to obey, were far more guilty than those who had never heard.
LUKE 12:47-51 And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.
I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled? But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished! Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division:
How many today suppose that Yeshua was for "peace on earth"? Yet by His own declaration, "Nay, but rather division"! Why? Because the chaff must be separated from the wheat (MATTHEW 3:12). The goats from the sheep (MATTHEW 25:32). The obedient from the disobedient (1 PETER 2:7-9).
And what image do we today hold in our minds of our relationship with GOD? Is HE a wishy washy Father who lets us get away with irreverence or disrespect? Is HE inattentive or too busy to be bothered with how we choose to live our lives? Or is HE the all powerful Creator, the Judge of all the Earth, who keeps a watchful eye upon all man's doings? Did not Yeshua warn that "there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops" (LUKE 12:2-3)? Then again this warning from Matthew's gospel.
MATTHEW 12:36 But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.
GOD is not mocked. HE knows the secrets of men's hearts. If we desire HIS blessing, our hearts must be right. GOD demands our obedience, not our false and empty confession of repentance. John the Baptist had many coming to his baptisms, but he knew all too well how some were only self righteous, and so he told them.
LUKE 3:8-9 Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
He commanded them to "Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance". GOD does not desire us to honor HIM with our lips but rather to obey HIM with our hearts. We must never just go through the motions.
ROMANS 11:22 Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.
We must never take for granted GOD's goodness or treat HIM with indifference. GOD is both good and severe. HE rewards with goodness those who love HIM, those who obey HIM. Yet to those who reject HIS word, those who disobey HIS counsel, to those HE is severe. In order to heal the body, sometimes the physician requires more than just to give advice. Sometimes he requires a scalpel.
Often we are told in Scripture that GOD is no respecter of persons, that we reap what we sow.
ROMANS 2:11-12 For there is no respect of persons with God. For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law;
GALATIANS 6:7-8 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.
COLOSSIANS 3:25 But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.
GOD is both good and severe. HE is good to those who obey HIM. HE is severe unto those who disobey HIM. It has nothing to do with who we are, or where we live, or what we believe. Our race, or our nationality or our religion pulls no strings with GOD. HE is moved by only one thing, our obedience or our disobedience.
Let us not be fooled. We must obey from the heart. The works of the flesh profit us nothing, for "Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor.... and have not charity [the love of GOD], it profiteth me nothing" (1 CORINTHIANS 13:3).
Howbeit, our hearts must be trained by GOD (HEBREWS 12:11). Let us not forget but remember the words of our Lord, who said,
MATTHEW 7:24-27 Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.
Both heard. One obeyed and his house fell not. Unfortunately one disobeyed and the fall of his house was great!