This series of lessons is about SUFFERING. The title is WHEN GOD ACTS. I chose this as the title because sometimes the acts of God result in suffering. In our suffering. And there are three particular purposes God has when he allows suffering to be visited upon us. This week we look at PUNISHMENT.
Most moms and dads have rules for their house and home. If they don’t they need to! "Don’t talk with your mouth full." "Don’t hit your little brother." And most of us use means to enforce the rules when the little ones think they can break them. "I will tell you one time and one time only. After that you are in trouble." I knew one lady that would count to 10. The kids always waited until she got to 9. Why waste all that time? Just count to 1. And they better be moving!
Parents, this really is important: If we do not ENFORCE the rules, our children will never respect us. They will never take us seriously. Not when they are little and not when they are grown. Also, if we do not PUNISH them when they break the rules, they will forever think that rules are made for other people, but they can do whatever they want.
Rules let us know how we are supposed to live. Punishment lets us know that the rules are for real. That they are not to be ignored or laughed at. A firm spanking administered immediately after a little one willfully breaks a rule teaches a lesson learned for a lifetime.
If punishment works for earthly mothers and fathers who are trying to train their children, doesn’t it make sense that it would also work for the heavenly father who is trying to train his children? Us? And if punishment causes pain in our children, then we can expect it to cause pain in God’s children.
Punishment actually serves two purposes.
One, punishment involves retribution. That is, the idea of pay back. You did something wrong and hurtful, so now something hurtful will be done to you. Rom. 3:23 - 6:23. Bible says we have lived lives of sin. And that deserves only one thing - punishment. Sometimes the punishment or pain doesn’t just come at the end of this life. Sometimes it comes now. If you are committing armed robbery, and you die in a shoot-out with the police, that is punishment. Wouldn’t you call that "just desserts"?
Secondly, punishment involve deterrence. When an evil person is punished, that serves as a warning to the rest of us. Hopefully, the death of the armed robber would deter some others from committing the same sin.
Ultimately, however, punishment is about retribution. Getting our just desserts. God giving us what we deserve. Suffering and death - because of a world of sin. That is what hell is all about. Rev. 21:8. The ultimate suffering. That is what we have earned. Psalm 7:11. Hell is the wrath of God. And only when we accept that can grace truly mean anything to us.
The "ultimate" punishment, hell, is reserved for the end of the world. But sometimes punishment can come during this life as well. Amos 4:2-13 illustrates how God works in the lives of people to punish them for sin. And to deter them from sinning any more. There are 3 points.
One, the sinful behavior of people draws out the urge in God to punish.
In Amos 4 the people are acting like Adam and Eve - they are doing their own thing. They are walking away from God.
- Instead of worshiping in Jerusalem they are going to Bethel and Gilgal.
- They oppressed the poor and needy (2:6-7; 4:1; 5:10-13; 6:1-7).
So, God determines to punish these people. They are stubborn and arrogant. They care only for themselves. They are like Adam and Eve, doing what THEY want.
Two, God punishes the people to DETER them from further sin.
- He gave them a shortage of food and empty stomachs (v.6)
- He stopped the rain so the crops would burn up (v.7)
- The people were weary from thirst (v.8)
- Blight, mildew and locusts destroyed their crops (v.9)
- The young men God allowed to die in battle and by the plague (v.10)
Why did God do all of this? These are horrible acts! These punishments were not just retribution - punishment for doing evil. If it was, God could have caused even greater death. Instead, it was punishment for deterrence. God hoped this little bit of punishment would cause people to say, "Hey, we don’t want to sin any more. We are going to follow the ways of the Lord."
The punishment was intended to restore Israel’s desire to follow the Lord. We know that is the case from a refrain God repeats FIVE TIMES. 4:6,8,9,10,11.
Here are God’s warnings: 5:4b, "Seek me and live." 5:14ba, "Seek good, not evil, that you may live." Then, Amos promised, "The Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is." 5:14b. But the people wouldn’t listen. So, now, God moves into another phase of punishment.
Three, God punishes the people, not as a deterrence anymore, but to give them their ‘just desserts.’ This is retribution, or retributive justice - getting what you deserve. Amos 4:12c - "Prepare to meet your God, O Israel." And this will not be a pleasant meeting.
God has done everything he could to call his people back to him.
- He has sent prophets to preach.
- He has sent hunger and thirst, destroyed crops and a few deaths.
But nothing would move the people. Punishment did not warn them. "If you do that again I’ll spank you again." Nothing worked.
So now the punishment would become more severe. And it wouldn’t be a warning.
It would be "getting what you deserve with no hope of reversing it."
Here is what it will be like when they meet the Lord: 5:16-17; 27; 6:14; 9:8.
The Assyrians, a hostile nation, will conquer Israel. They will kill many of the Israelites, and take many away into captivity. And the northern kingdom would never again exist.
That is punishment. And God did it. In 1 Chron. 5:26 says God "stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria." Isaiah described Assyria as God’s "club of wrath" (Isaiah 9:11). God punished Israel.
"God is patient with sinful people, but his patience ultimately wears thin with the arrogant. Eventually their cup becomes full and God destroys them." (J.M. Hicks, Yet Will I Trust Him, p.129)
- God did it in the flood
- He did it at Babel
- He did it to Israel
- Later, he does it to Judah
- Later still he does it to Rome.
Can we expect that God is stll doing it? Could some of the suffering we experience now be our "just desserts" for sinful living?
Israel was conquered by an oppressive foreign country. Her citizens were killed. The healthy teenage boys and girls were taken as slaves to a foreign country. 2 Kings 17:22,23. Just as Amos predicted.
That is a horrible story!!
But there is a glimmer of hope. Amos 9:14: "Yet I will not totally destroy the house of Jacob." God will keep a remnant for himself. Why? He wants fellowship with us.
I believe everything God does is about fellowship with us.
1) God created us for fellowship
2) God sent Abraham to call people back to him. For fellowship.
3) God sent Jesus to call people back to him. For fellowship
4) God sends punishment to call people back to him. For fellowship
I can not say that suffering in one’s life is ALWAYS punishment. But I think I can say that if there is suffering in your life, God is hoping you will see it as a sign to come back to him if that is what you must do. And if you haven’t left him and you suffer ... well, that is our next lesson.
God wanted fellowship with Israel. And God wants fellowship with you. Don’t, like Israel, move arrogantly away. Come to him in humility.
(Many of the ideas for this series come from the book Yet Will I Trust Him by John Mark Hicks)