Archive for April, 2010

Why is the whole family punished for one man’s sin?

April 15, 2010

Reference: Joshua 7:19-26

Throughout the readings in the Old Testament we could see that God not only punished the one who failed, he punished the whole family (e.g. Achan’s family). Is this principle still working if someone doesn’t repent his sin and asks for forgiveness?

In the incident of Achan sin we are reminded that sin is not simply something that inflicts the individual, but the family and the community.  Western society is very much a culture of individualism.  It is a culture where the success of the individual is almost always valued above the success of the community; each individual is allowed there own idea of what ‘truth’ is; and when it comes to consequences, we always focus on the punishment of the individual rather then that of the community.  But I recall a very different approach when I was in elementary school.  Often times if only one or a few people were misbehaving in class the whole class would receive a punishment, e.g. no recess, extra homework, etc.  “That’s not fair!” we would protest.  But it didn’t matter, the teacher was the boss, and at the end of the day, the class was better for it… the trouble makers learned their lesson, and our little community (the class) slowly learned to hold each other accountable instead of looking out for number 1.

In this passage, it wasn’t just Achan’s family that was punished but the Nation of Israel of Israel as well.  Earlier in the chapter we see that Israel was “soundly defeated” in battle with the town of Ai.  Thus, the sin of one man affected not just him, not just his family, but the entire community.  Later on Joshua systematically discovered who the culprit was, the man named Achan.  But again, it was not only Achan, but his whole family that suffered the harshest of punishments.  God made an example of one family for the sake of the whole nation.  We don’t know if Achan’s family had taken part in the theft of the some of the ‘dedicated things’, the text doesn’t say.  But even if they had not, this stands as a reminder that we do not stand alone, but in family and community.  When one suffers, we all suffer.

Is this principle still working if someone doesn’t repent his sin and asks for forgiveness? The second part of this question is much easier to answer… “no and yes“.  First of all the ‘no’.  We need to remember that the punishment for sin, death, has already been dealt out when Jesus received the punishment on the cross.  Furthermore, that punishment was rendered powerless, without “sting” as Paul says (1 Corinthians 15:55), because Jesus rose from the dead, effectively conquering death forever.

But that doesn’t mean that God isn’t still holy and just.  Jesus death on the cross didn’t change God.  It simply allowed us to approach him as righteous people.  But look at the incident in Acts 5 where Ananias and his wife Sapphira died instantly when they lied about withholding money from the church.  Both husband and wife were culpable for the crime, so we cannot draw the conclusion that God still operates in the same way as he did with Achan and his family.  Each of us is responsible for our own denial of or submission to God’s will.  But who of us in any family could say that our lives are completely aligned with God’s will, or that we have never strayed from his ways.  Thus, in the Old Testament when a whole family suffered because of one person’s sin, that doesn’t mean that the ‘innocent’ by-standards were not guilty.  Each of us is guilty, but through the cross of Jesus we are made righteous and uncondemnable (Romans 8:1).

Did God the Father Abandon Jesus?

April 3, 2010

My God my God why have you forsaken me?

Reference: Mark 15:34 (NIV) and Matthew 27:46 (NIV)

Why on the cross did Jesus cry “My God Why Have You Forsaken Me?”  I realize that Jesus was human as well and I’m sure he felt the enormous pain but he knew all along what and how things were to happen in order to do God’s will and fulfill the scriptures but why would he yell out “Why Have you Forsaken/Abandoned Me?” Why would he EVER feel abandoned by the Father?

It is important to reaffirm the humanity of Jesus when considering his Passion.  Jesus knew this was God’s will.  He had predicted it himself many times (Matthew 16:21) and each time he also emphasized that there would be resurrection.  He knew the victory that was to come, and even while he was on the cross he acknowledged to the other criminal that before the end of that day they would be together in paradise (Luke 23:43).  So clearly Jesus knew the plan.

But even though Jesus knew the plan, he still prayed to God the night before his death for God to “please take this cup from me” (Luke 22:42).  And we shouldn’t be surprised at that.  You can imagine the emotional turmoil that Jesus physical anguish that he was about to endure.  The question remains though, would Jesus have really thought that God would abandon him, and would God truly abandon his own Son.

The answer is… yes.  That is precisely what happened to Jesus on the cross, he was abandoned by God.  After all, isn’t that what death really is?  We like to say brave words like “death is just another part of life” but is it really?

Actually, when God created the world, Death was not a part of his original design.  Instead death became the punishment that was instituted for the world when Sin entered into it, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).  It was only after the Fall of humans that God said “from dust you were taken and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19).  You may recall in Genesis Chapter 3 when God killed an animal to make clothes for Adam and Eve.  The death of that animal at the hands of God represents the consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin, and in the very next chapter we see the death of the first human, Adam’s son Abel.

Death is not something to be romanticized or made light of with pat sayings and trite expressions.  Though we often try to comfort each other in those ways.  At funerals you may hear several people saying things like “God just wanted to take her early so that she could be with Him.”  Sounds nice and sweet, but it’s not true.  If that were the case then she would have gotten scooped up while she was still alive like Enoch in Genesis Chapter 5.  Death isn’t God bringing us to be with him.  Death is his a means of separating unholy us from holy God.  It is a clean separation between God and those who have chosen to do their own will instead of his (that’s everyone btw).  So yes, in a very real way, death is God abandoning us.  Therefore when Christ died, he was experiencing the abandonment of God.  You can count on the fact that for Jesus, who was closer to God then anyone else, this was more painful then crucifixion itself.  Fortunately, all of this comes with a very big BUT.

BUT resurrection.  Death may be the punishment for sin BUT resurrection follows death.  God broke the power of death by raising Jesus from the dead (Hebrews 2:14-15).  Jesus is the firstfruits of this resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20), that means there are many more resurrections to come.

I think that one of the greatest fears that people have is not death itself, but abandonment and aloneness.  Likewise, one of our greatest longings is for intimacy.  The reality is that death brings with it the fear of ultimate loneliness, ultimate abandonment, ultimate severing of intimacy.  BUT thanks be to God there is resurrection.  This is THE GREAT HOPE of our faith.

But even though Jesus knew God’s plan for resurrection the pain of being abandoned to death by his own heavenly Father must have been excruciating.  Thus he cried out in a loud voice.  “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which  means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me ?” (Matthew 27:46).

Not only was this a shear cry of pain and emotion, but it was Jesus being scholarly to the very end.  He spoke the words in Hebrew, not in the common tongue of Greek, or his native tongue of Aramaic.  He spoke in Hebrew from the Hebrew scriptures.  These exact words are from Psalm 22, a Psalm written by King David.  I encourage you to read this psalm, the words powerfully capture what Jesus must have been feeling on the cross.  He knew scripture better than anyone, so he shouted out the first lines of one of the most wretched sounding psalms he knew.  He did this in an effort to convey exactly how he was feeling…  abandoned, alone, forsaken to the point of death…

…BUT resurrection.

Now we can live in the confidence of knowing that resurrection is on the other side of death.  We don’t have to fear abandonment or loneliness because Jesus broke the power of Sin, death, and the devil.  His cry of anguish is our cry of liberation.

If this post raises questions for you about heaven, after life, etc.  just ask.

Did God Sanction Genocide?

April 1, 2010

The destruction of the Midianites in Numbers 31 is a tough truth to swallow in scripture.

Reference: Numbers 31, See also Deuteronomy 7:1-5, 20:16-18

What is up with the God-sanctioned genocide of the Midianites in Numbers 31? Killing women and children? Taking virgins as plunder? This is the loving and merciful God I’m supposed to be worshiping?

I’m not gonna lie folks, it’s ugly.  When Israel moved into the land of Canaan it was a virtual blood bath and yes, our God, the one we praise and worship and try to share with other people, was leading the charge.

In the interest of full disclosure I admit that I’ve been avoiding this question for about 3 weeks now.  But at some point we all need to wrestle with these very hard sayings of the Bible.  As a pastor I often need to deal with the fact that when people misunderstand passages like this, they often misunderstand God, discredit the faith, or discredit scripture.  Then the door is wide open for us to define God the way we want him to be not the way he really is.

So before I look at what is happening in places like Numbers 31, where God and the Israelites wipe out Midianites, I first need to remind everyone of the character of God.  God is perfectly loving, but God is also perfectly just.  It may take a few moments, but eventually you will see the inherent problem in the character of God.  Namely, if God is perfectly just, then he MUST have vengeance on people that he MUST love.  Or you could say it the other way… If God is perfectly loving then he MUST love the people who he MUST punish.

Our tendency is to avoid this conundrum by jettisoning one side of God’s character.  Very naturally many of us truncate our view of God so that we only see the ‘loving’ side of him.  We can convince ourselves that he is worth worshiping if he is a loving God; but we question if he is worth worshiping if he is a just, vengeful, jealous, and wrathful God.  So we put God in a box and then get grumpy when we read in scripture that he lead the genocide of an entire region of people.  “That can’t be God.  God is gentle, loving, and sensitive!”

Before I delve into the passage itself, I propose to you that passages like Numbers 31 are imperative to our understanding of who God is and ultimately what grace is.  If we don’t understand that each one of us deserves to be wiped out just like the Midianites then we can’t fully understand God’s grace.  What makes his grace so AMAZING is that each of us, every person on this planet, deserves one thing… death, BUT we get life.

Now which part of that statement shocks you?  If you are shocked by the ‘everyone-deserves-death’ part, then you have been deceived by the lie that ‘you are a good person who has earned God’s favor.’  What should shock you about that statement is that God extends to you his grace, free of charge.  You and I deserve death, but we get life.  You and I deserve damnation, but we inherit eternity with God.  You and I deserve his wrath, but we get his smile.  That’s grace!  But it means nothing if we don’t understand that we deserve death.  In Numbers 31 we see the hard reality of God’s just character, but also his grace and divine restraint.


Now that we have dealt with the ‘character of God’ issue that is so hard to grapple with.  We need to figure out the context of this passage and exactly why God went to this extreme.  We could go all the way back to the beginning and talk about ‘Sin’, ‘The Fall’, etc.  but I’m just gonna go back half way.  Several hundred years before Joshua even set foot in the land of Canaan (see map), his forefather Abraham stood in the same place and received a powerful prophetic promise from God.  It was there that God promised to give this land to Abraham’s descendants (Genesis 15:18-20), but perhaps more interesting, as it relates to  Numbers 31 and others, was that in verse 16 God said to Abraham, “After four generations your descendants will return here to this land, for the sins of the Amorites [those people in the land of Canaan] do not yet warrant their destruction” (Genesis 15:16 NLT).

There are a couple important truths that we can draw from these Genesis 15:16-20.

1) God has a plan (see post on Jeremiah 29:11):  Remember, God is loving and just.  By all rights God should just start over again with creation, we are all sinners falling short of his glory (Romans 3:23), furthermore, we all deserve death because of our sin (Romans 6:23).  But God loves those that he must destroy.  This is a God-sized conundrum… thankfully God has a plan to fix it.  In Genesis 15 we see God taking steps and making a covenant that would set things in motion toward a solution.  A solution that would settle this conundrum once and for all (hint: it’s Jesus).

2) Destruction of the People in Canaan was in the Plan: God already anticipates the destruction of the Canaanites in Genesis 15, but he shows restraint.  Even during the time of Abraham, the people of Canaan were wicked people.  They dishonored God, they practiced injustice, they engaged in human sacrifice (even child sacrifice).  You name it, they did it.  But God shows his restraint, saying “their sins do not yet warrant their destruction” (Genesis 15:16 NLT).  The NIV more accurately says, “their sin has not yet reached its full measure.” In other words, God was saying, ‘there sin is bad now, but it’s gonna get worse.” For the time being, God extended his mercy toward the people of Canaan.  Thus, when God does annihilate these people, he is not acting preemptively toward them, it is their sin toward God that has built up over time.  So we shouldn’t be surprised that God comes into Canaan and wipes out the people living there because he promised to do so generations ago if their sin continued.

Perhaps the greater issue in Numbers 31 is the extremity to which the genocide was carried out.  Basically only virgin girls were spared.  That makes it sound not only ruthless, but disturbingly kinky as well.  The situation in Numbers is that the people of Midian had led the people of Israel into the sin of idol worship.  This posed a huge threat to God’s plan.  The people of Israel (from whom Christ would come), were the crucial element to God’s redemption plan.  Thus, God was not only punishing Midian for their sin (which was great), he was protecting his plan (Israel).  Only the female virgins were spared because only they would not pose a threat to Israel’s relationship with God, and even that might be seen as a great mercy.  The virgins were taken as plunder (Numbers 31:32-33), but it was not for some sexually deviant ritual or pleasure, these girls were spared because there was no chance that they could have been pregnant with a Midianite son.  This is ultimately is a sign of God’s mercy.  These women would now be a part of the nation of Israel, part of the promise.

Some may say “if Israel sinned, why weren’t they exterminated as well?”  Obviously all nations have sinned, but caring for the nation of Israel was a huge part of God’s plan so that ultimately all nations might be saved by him, not destroyed by him.  God did punish Israel for their sin with the Midianites.  In Numbers 25 we see that 24,000 Israelites were killed in a plague because of their sin with Midian/Moab (Numbers 25:8-9).   But you might be surprised to learn that there was another time when God DID want to destroy all of Israel after they had worshiped the Golden Calf (see Exodus 32:9-10).  After God’s people had practiced blatant idolatry he wanted to scrap the project and start over with Moses and his descendants.  But Moses pleaded with God to have mercy on the people and God heard him.  All that to say, God does not take sin lightly, no matter what nation it is, even his own people.

Always Remember the Cross  (IMPORTANT!)
At the end of the day, we need to be able to look at a passage like Numbers 31 and shout, “THANK YOU GOD FOR SENDING YOUR SON!”  In this passage we see the great wrath of God.  It is the same wrath that God’s own son experienced on the cross.  Jesus died a brutal death so that there wouldn’t have to be any more Midianite genocides.  Why?  Because he loves us so desperately.  And guess what?!? he loved the Midianites desperately too, but remember he is a just God.  Jesus received the justice that we deserved, even though he was innocent of all sin (2 Peter 2:22).  He did this so that we would not be destroyed if we believe in him (Hebrews 10:39).  Thus we freely receive God’s love without fear of his wrath and justice, because the sentence has already been carried out once and for all.

Like the Midianites, Jesus himself was the recipient of God's wrath. But with him, it was once and for all.