I just finished reading chapter seven in The Holiness Of God by RC Sproul. It took me a while to get through it for some reason. I didn’t do as much reading the week before last because of VBS and my last trimester pregnancy exhaustion has also set in. Chapters 6 (Holy Justice) & 7 (War and Peace with a Holy God) have been sooo good. Seriously go here and buy it.. or wait until I’m finished and I’ll let you borrow it! 🙂
Chapter six begins with a look at the Old Testament God (Who, by the way, is the same as the NT God!). It goes over some of the “most offensive passages” (as Sproul puts it) in the OT. The ones that stood out to me were: the story of Uzzah, who was “struck down because he had put his hand on the ark” (1 Chron. 13); the story of God destroying all of Sodom and Gomorrah, women and children, and Abraham crying out to God saying, “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?….. Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18); and the conquest of Canaan (Duet. 7).
I would love to go into each story and talk about them individually in depth because the way that Sproul describes them is just amazing. I have never looked at these stories the way he tells them in light of God’s holy justice. I don’t ever think that when I heard these stories I ever thought God was being unjust with the outcome.. but, I don’t think that I fully understood the justice that was taking place either. Understanding that what looks like a natural reaction to saving the ark of the covenant from falling was direct disobedience to God’s commands at carrying the ark. He wasn’t even to look upon it, much less touch it. Sproul says this about Uzzah’s act of disobedience, “An act of holy heroism? No! It was an act of arrogance, a sin of presumption. Uzzah assumed that his hand was less polluted than the earth. But it wasn’t the ground or the mud that would desecrate the ark; it was the touch of man. The earth is an obedient creature. It does what God tells it to… God did not want His holy throne touched by that which was contaminated by evil, that which was in rebellion to Him, that which by its ungodly revolt had brought the whole creation to ruin and caused the ground and the sky and the waters of the sea to groan together in travail, waiting for the day of redemption. Man. It was man’s touch that was forbidden.” Sproul goes on to explain why man doesn’t seem to understand this kind of act by God. We don’t truly understand what it means to be holy. Holiness, justice, sin and grace are four biblical truths that most Christians don’t really understand. In the story of Abraham in Genesis 18-19 we see that Abraham basically feared that God would act unjustly by killing innocent people. In the scripture, the implication is that God will spare the whole city if Abraham could find one righteous person, just one. What happened?? “Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the Lord. He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace” (Genesis 19:27-28). The innocent were not punished. There were none innocent. Sproul says, “God’s justice is never divorced from His righteousness”.
So, is there room in the OT for grace? Yes, amazing, astonishing grace! Have you ever really looked at the OT Law? That was some serious stuff! It’s amazing to just look at the numerous crimes that are punishable by death. Another quote by Sproul, “The Old Testament code represents a bending over backward of divine patience and forbearance”. What was the penalty for sin from the very beginning? Death. And not just a ‘one day we’ll get old and die’ kind of death. It was immediate death. God said to Adam and Eve in Gen. 2:17: “When you eat of it you will surely die“. Is is unjust of God to give the death penalty for sin? Of course not! He created us. Even the slightest sin (if there is such, when fully understood) is a direct insult to His holiness.
If we really take a look at the OT, we see that God is immeasurably patient. The OT shows a people who are consistently rebellious towards God, yet they are freed from slavery.
We can look at the story of Canaan in Deut. 7. In verse 2 of chapter 7 God says to “..destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy”. We can relate this story back to the one of Sodom and Gomorrah, none was innocent. Sproul says, “The conquest of Canaan was an explicit expression of God’s righteous judgement on a wicked nation. He made that point clear to Israel. It was not as if God destroyed a wicked people for the sake of a righteous people. To the Canaanites God poured out justice. To the Jews God poured out mercy.” And God made sure that the Israelites knew that it wasn’t because of their righteousness that they were given mercy. In Deut. 9:4-6 it says: “Do not think in your heart, after the LORD your God has cast them out before you, saying, ‘Because of my righteousness the LORD has brought me in to possess this land’; but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out from before you. It is not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart that you go in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God drives them out from before you, and that He may fulfill the word which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Therefore understand that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stiff-necked people.”
So, what can we make of all of this??? What does this mean to me? Well, my favorite quote from this chapter (and this is only from chapter 6… maybe I’ll get to chapter 7 later!!) is: “God did not choose Israel because Israel was already holy. He chose them to make them holy.”
We who have been redeemed… who have been called by God, were chosen to be set apart.. to be holy. Believe me when I say this, I don’t understand it all, but I will say that I am blown away at the mercy God bestows on His children! I deserve His wrath.. and He has given me mercy. I must always remember that although I enjoy the benefits of that precious mercy and grace, I can never forget the gravity of sin. The sin that made God the Father turn His back on the precious, Holy Lamb of God.
His justice is holy… and His mercy is holy. Praise the Holy One!