“Punishment” – Ecclesiastes 8:11-17

February 2nd, 2014

Ecclesiastes 8:11-17


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Bible Memory Verse for the Week:  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. — 2 Peter 3:9


Background Information:

  • What the Preacher says here is similar to what he has said before in the so-called enjoyment passages of Ecclesiastes (see 2:24-26; 3:12-13, 22; 5:18-20).  In spite of all the vanity “under the sun,” it is possible for us to find genuine joy in the ordinary things of daily life.  Indeed, that is one of the main points of this book.  Here is how Augustine summarized its message: “Solomon gives over the entire book of Ecclesiastes to suggesting, with such fullness as he judged adequate, the emptiness of this life, with the ultimate objective, to be sure, of making us yearn for another kind of life which is not unsubstantial shadow under the sun but substantial reality under the sun’s Creator.”  (Augustine, “City of God,” 20.5)  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 198)


The question to be answered is . . . What message can we glean from Koheleth’s wisdom about justice, patience, punishment and the mystery of God?


Answer: Swift judgment and punishment for sin bring more thorough reform.  But, it also diminishes our ability to obey for love’s sake as we tend to obey out of fear of retribution.  The mystery that godly wisdom must discover and appreciate is how God wisely and lovingly balances grace, mercy, patience forgiveness and love with truth, justice, judgment, and wrath.   This mystery becomes even more glorious when one comprehends that God risks having those He loves being led astray and/or become hard-hearted with too much grace or too much discipline.


The Word for the Day is . . . Mystery


We live in a society that luxuriates in the therapeutic and the exculpatory, condemns judgment as authoritarian, dismisses acknowledgment of sin as an assault on self-worth, and resists discernment of spirits as the imposition of arbitrary standards.  The devastating consequence of these societal shortcomings is the perennial gnostic retreat from personal responsibility.  (Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust, 170)


What message can we glean for Koheleth’s wisdom about justice, patience, punishment and the mystery of God?:


I-  Swift justice, judgment and punishment deters evil but obscures loving obedience for those who fear God because we are all inherently evil. (Eccl 8:11-13; see also: Lv 10:1-4; Dt 8:5; 1 Sm 6:19; Ps 10:13; 36:4; Prv 3:12; 13:24; 19:18; 22:15; 23:13-14; Acts 5:1-11; Heb 12:7)


The greatest deterrent to crime, he is arguing, must be the certainty of being caught.  But it does not happen that way.  The chances of being caught and punished are not high.  The forces of law and order seem to have had much the same problem in his day as in ours.  (Robert Davidson, The Daily Study Bible: Ecclesiastes, 60)


Delays in justice often increase crime and encourage criminals.  When justice is delayed or circumvented, when technicalities cause judges to release criminals who clearly are guilty of outrageous crimes–this only encourages more crime and makes it clear that evil can be present in government.  (Ray Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 121)


If evil-doing was always followed by swift retribution, obedience would be only the obedience of fear, and God does not desire such obedience.  It would be impossible that testing could go on at all if at every instant the whole of the consequences of our actions were being realized.  Such a condition of things is unthinkable, and would be as confusing, in the moral sphere, as if harvest weather and spring weather were going on together.  Again, the great reason why sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily lies in God’s own heart, and His desire to win us to Himself by benefits.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, 2 Kgs – Eccl, 369)


Everywhere postponed sentences, sometimes lasting for years, are the rule rather than the exception.  This is true even in clear-cut cases.  The verse makes it plain that where a sentence on evil persons is not executed speedily, crime runs rampant.  The wicked hearts of other men suppose that they too can get away with crimes of all sorts, and so incidents of criminal activity grow exponentially.  Such a society is soon permeated by wickedness.  The need for rapid, effective restraint is plainly set forth here.  Believers . . . should seek to support legislation that expedites the punishment of criminals.  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 87)


Advise parents who are hesitant to punish their children until they finally become so obnoxious that they yell and scream at them (and possibly abuse them), that in part they are responsible for the increasingly disobedient behavior they are experiencing.  Obviously the children themselves are at fault and responsible for this behavior; but permissive parents who refuse (or neglect) to discipline them, soon create conditions that encourage the growth, exhibition and hardening of the evil tendencies of children already present at their birth (cf. Prv 22:15).  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 87)


A sluggish judicial system not only encourages those bent on evil.  It is also a temptation to others to think, “Why should I try to do what is right?”  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 88)


Here we get an ugly glimpse into the total depravity of the human heart.  If evil deeds were punished right away, then people would be deterred from doing wickedness (like the kind of evil described back in verse 9, where one man had the power to hurt another man).  But justice is so painfully slow that some people think they can get away with murder, both literally and figuratively.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 194)


“If the God of life does not respond to the culture of death (21st century western civilization – abortion) with judgment, then God is not god.   If God does not honor the blood of hundreds of millions of innocent victims of this culture of death, then the God of the Bible, the God of Abraham , the God of Israel, the God of the prophets, is a man-made myth, a fairy tale, a comfortable ideal as substantial as a dream.

But, you may object:  Is not the God of the Bible forgiving?

He is!  But, the unrepentant refuse forgiveness.  Forgiveness being a gift of grace, must be freely given and freely received.  How can it be received by a moral relativist who denies that there is anything to forgive, except unforgiveness; nothing to judge but judgmentalism; nothing lacking but self-esteem?  How can a Pharisee or a pop-psychologist be saved?

But, you might object:  Is not the God of the Bible compassionate?

He is!   But, He is not compassionate to Molech and Baal and Ashtoreth, and to the Canaanites who do their work who cause their children to pass through the fire.  Perhaps your god is compassionate to the work of human sacrifice, the god of your demands, the god of your religious preferences.  But, not the God of the Bible.  Read the Book.  Look at the data. (Peter Kreeft lecture, “Culture War” 11:17 into the lecture)


The sin of presumption is the antithesis of the fear of the Lord.  It is the harbinger of future defeat.   (Francis Frangipane, The Three Battlegrounds, 142)


II-  Injustice (persecution, wrong or evil) to the quasi-righteous and mercy (or non-justice, judgment and punishment) for the wicked can either harden hearts and burn the bridge of repentance back to God or soften them(Eccl 8:14-15; see also: Dt 29:16-21; Jer 18:11-23; Joel 2:13-14; Mal 3:13-18;  Rom 2:4; 12:1-2; 1 Tm 1:12-17)


Some say, “I don’t really believe in God because of the injustice”.  But, if there is no God there is no basis for being outraged . . .  If there is a God evil is a problem.  A big problem.  But if evil is a problem for you there must be a God.   (Tim Keller in a sermon entitled “The Search for Justice”)


When one sees vile things done on earth, and no bolt coming out of the clear sky, it is not easy to believe that all the foulness is known to God; but His eye reaches further than He wills to stretch His arm.  He sits a silent Onlooker and beholds; the silence does not argue indifference.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, 2 Kgs – Eccl, 368)


Yes, there is vanity under the sun.  Yes, we see injustice that is hard to accept or understand.  Yes, we have a lot of hard work to do.  Nevertheless, there is joy for us in the ordinary things of life–eating, drinking, and sharing fellowship with the people of God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Our life is not only a great deal of trouble and hard work; it is also refreshment and joy in God’s goodness.  We labor, but God nourishes and sustains us.  There is a reason to celebrate…God is calling us to rejoice, to celebrate in the midst of our working day.”  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 198)


I don’t suppose that to many men the respite which marks God’s dealing with them actually tends to doubts of His righteousness, or of His power, or of His being.  We have evidence enough of these; and the apparently counter evidence, arising from the impunity of evil-doers, is fairly enough laid aside by our moral instincts and consciousness, and by the consideration that the mighty sweep of God’s providence is too great for us to decide on the whole circle by the small portion of the circumference which we have seen.  But what most men do is simply that they permit impunity to deaden their sense of right and wrong, and go on in their course without any serious thought of God’s blessings, to jostle Him out of their mind; they ‘despise the riches of His long-suffering goodness,’ and never suffer it to ‘lead them to repentance.’  To the unthinking minds of most of us, the long continuance of impunity lulls us into a dream of its perpetuity.  Man’s godless ingratitude is as deep a mystery as is God’s loving patience.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, 2 Kgs – Eccl, 370-71)


If he fails to achieve a fair resolution of the matter by biblically legitimate means, he must entrust the outcome of the issue into God’s hands and then go about his business enjoying what he can in this life (that is the meaning of v. 15).  If a person broods over injustices, he destroys his own life under the sun.  He adds insult to his own injury!  Rather than that, he ought to go his way in faith, appreciating and enjoying whatever good gifts God sends him.  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 89)


Here Koheleth is taking issue with the widely held view that the wicked perish and come to an early sticky end, while people who obey God, prosper and live to a ripe old age.  Don’t believe it, he says; that is nonsense.  Life does not work out like that.  Often what happens to good people is what you might expect to happen to evil people, and vice versa.  We don’t go far in life before we are brought face to face with that kind of situation and find ourselves asking, “Why did it have to happen to her of all people?”  To Koheleth this is senseless and baffling.  He takes refuge in his oft repeated advice:  there is only one thing to do, get on with the business of living, while life lasts (v. 15, see comment on 2:24).  (Robert Davidson, The Daily Study Bible: Ecclesiastes, 60)


Were the execution instantly to follow the sentence, how many glorious manifestations of grace would have been lost to the Church!  We might have known Paul as “a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious;” but not as the “chief of sinners, who obtained mercy,” as a special display of “all long-suffering; and for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe.”  (1 Tm 1:13-16).  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 197)


As to the bold and presumptuous sinner–if he expected the thunderbolt to fall upon his head in the very act of sin, would he not turn pale at the thought?  But because sentence is not speedily executed–because the threatened destruction seems to loiter–he goes on secure, because he goes unpunished.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 198)


If we have not banished the Divine Spirit by slights and excesses; if we have fed his lamp in our hearts with prayer; if we have improved and strengthened our faculties by education and exercise, and then sit down to study the Bible with enquiring and teachable minds, we need not doubt of discovering its meaning; not indeed purely–for where find an intellect so colorless as never to tinge the light that falls upon it?  Not wholly–for how fathom the ocean of God’s word?  But with such accuracy, and to such a degree as shall suffice for the uses of our spiritual life.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 209-10)


God doesn’t owe you mercy or grace.   That is to defy the very definition of mercy and grace.  For mercy and grace are voluntary, not obligatory. — R. C. Sproul


The mysteries of Holy Scriptures are revealed to us, only when we are seeking for nothing else, but for the way of reconciliation with God, and for help in our battle with selfishness and sin.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 210)


Impunity hardens sinners in impiety, and the patience of God is shamefully abused by many who, instead of being led by it to repentance, are confirmed by it in their impenitency.  (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. III, 1028)


Because God does not immediately punish every delinquency, men think he disregards evil acts; and, therefore, they are emboldened to sin on: so, this long-suffering of God, which leadeth to repentance, is abused to as to lead to further crimes!  When men sin against the remedy of their salvation,–how can they escape perdition?  (Adam Clarke, Holy Bible Commentary and Critical Notes, Vol II, 493)


Though a sinner do evil a hundred times.  If God bear so long with a transgressor, waiting in His long-suffering for him to repent and turn to Him, surely He will be peculiarly kind to them that fear Him, and endeavor to walk uprightly before Him.  (Adam Clarke, Holy Bible Commentary and Critical Notes, Vol II, 493)


We need to remind ourselves that throughout the Bible, not least in the Psalms, God’s coming judgment is a good thing, something to be celebrated, longed for, yearned over.  It causes people to shout for joy and the trees of the field to clap their hands.  In a world of systematic injustice, bullying, violence, arrogance, and oppression, the thought that there might come a day when the wicked are firmly put in their place and the poor and weak are given their due is the best news there can be.  Faced with a world in rebellion, a world full of exploitation and wickedness, a good God must be a God of judgment.  (N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, 137)


There were two thieves on the cross.  One is there so that we might not presume.   The other is there so that you might not despair..  One is damned and the other is saved. — Steve Brown


Father Zossima, a character in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, comments, “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing, compared with love in dreams.”  The real thing wants the best for the beloved, and that may mean a mother denying her child’s insistent plea for more candy, or a social worker holding his client responsible for destructive behavior, or a wife demanding a change in the behavior of her abusive husband–or God damning to hell the sin that is destroying creation.  (Donald W. McCullough, The Trivialization of God, 94)


III-  No one can know the mysterious mind of God in which He determines when to be patient, merciful, loving and forgiving and when He chooses to execute justice, judgment and wrath.  We must simply trust God. (Eccl 8:16-17; see also: Gn 2:17; 5:5; 6:6; Ex 34:5-6; Lv 10:1-4; Ps 7:11;  86:15; 96:10; 103:8; 145:8; Prv 3:5-6; Lk 13:69; Rom 9:14-26; 11:33)


It is not only a mystery, but it is a ‘mystery of love.’  We can see but a little way into it, but we can see so far as to be sure that the apparent passivity of God, which looks like leaving evil to work its unhindered will, is the silence of a God who ‘doth not willingly afflict,’ and is ‘slow to anger,’ because He is perfect love.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, 2 Kgs – Eccl, 369)


When God has done all and sees that the point of hopelessness is reached, or when the time has for other reasons come, then He lets the sentence take effect.  He kept back the destroying angels from Sodom, but He sent them forth at last.  There is a point in the history of nations and of men when iniquity is ‘full,’ and when God sees that it is best, on world-wide grounds or personal ones, to end it.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, 2 Kgs – Eccl, 371)


For generations He would fain have gathered the people of Jerusalem to His bosom ‘as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and they would not’; but the day came when the Roman soldiers cast their torches into the beautiful house where their fathers had praised Him, and sinned against Him, and it was left unto them desolate.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, 2 Kgs – Eccl, 371)


Contrary to what some people believe, the Bible never indicates that divine mysteries are paradoxical or contradictory.  The Lord may reveal certain truths that go beyond our ability to fully comprehend, but He never unveils anything that goes against sound reason.  Indeed, God exhorted young Timothy, through the Apostle Paul, to avoid “opposing arguments”–literally, antitheses or contradictions (1 Tm 6:20).  And John, the beloved disciple of Christ, wrote that the Son of God is the eternal “Word”–that is, the Logic, Reason, or Rational Discourse of God (Jn 1:1).  In other words, the invisible Creator is intrinsically rational, and thus, His divine Son is the visible manifestation of His perfect rationality (v. 14).  And since the Lord is unchanging and faithful, He will not–indeed, cannot–violate His logically consistent nature by thinking, speaking, or acting in contradictory ways (cf. 2 Tm 2:13; Ti 1:2; Heb 6:16-18).  (Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge, 82)


No matter how hard we try or how long we labor, we cannot figure out the infinite workings of God.  With His help, we can understand His activity in part, but a full grasp of it is beyond our ability.  This point leads to the second matter we must realize–namely, that God’s mysteries go beyond human intellect and wisdom.  We cannot discover them on our own.  If He wants us to know them at all, then He must reveal them to us.  Of course, the mysteries we cannot resolve frequently cause us to struggle in our faith.  (Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge, 82-83)


The Searcher’s claim is quite clear.  Life is too complicated, too vast, too filled with conflicting elements for anyone to figure out all the answers.  (Ray Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 128)


His conclusion is that we must be content not to know everything.  Neither hard work (toil), persistent endeavor (seeking), skill or experience (wisdom) will unravel the mystery.  Wise men may make excessive claims; they too will be baffled.  (Michael A. Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 124)


The Bible never condemns our attempts at understanding life.  Rather, the pursuit of knowledge is everywhere encouraged in Scripture.  We must never adopt the attitude of anti-intellectualism that characterizes some segments of Christianity.

The mind does matter.  We are to reason and think about what God is doing and what life gives us.  But we must always remember, as the argument makes clear here, that no matter how much we try to understand life, mysteries will still remain.  (Ray Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 128)


Do not use the delay of judgment as an excuse for not repenting of your sins or trusting in Jesus.  According to Ecclesiastes 8–as well as what we read everywhere else in the Bible–there are only two kinds of people:  those who fear God and those who don’t!  The Bible is equally clear that things will only go well for those who do.  It may not always seem that way in this life.  In fact, in all honesty sometimes it seems exactly the opposite, as Qoheleth tells us.  But there will be final justice.  The wicked will be buried, and after that they will be punished for their sins.  As for the righteous, they will be vindicated by the grace of God.  Justice is coming; it is only a matter of time.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 197)


This helps us understand Ecclesiastes.  It is not the kind of book that we keep reading until we reach the end and get the answer, like a mystery.  Instead it is a book in which we keep struggling with the problems of life, and as we struggle, we learn to trust God with the questions even when we do not have all the answers.  This is how the Christian life works: it is not just about what we get at the end, but also about what we become along the way.  Discipleship is a journey, and not merely a destination.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 202)


As skeptical as he is about his ability to know the mind of God, he nevertheless believes that what happens in the world is “the work of God” (Eccl 8:17).  If we are wise, we too will admit there are many mysteries about life that we cannot comprehend, but we will admit this without doubting the existence of God or deciding that he is limited in his understanding.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 203)


Some people expect to have all the answers, and when they fail to find them, they get angry with God about what is happening (or not happening) in their lives.  It is wiser for us humbly to admit that we are finite beings with fallen minds and that therefore we are incapable of understanding everything that happens.  Francis Bacon was right when he warned us not to “draw down or submit the mysteries of God to our reason.”  (Francis Bacon, quoted in Charles Bridges, A Commentary on Ecclesiastes, 207)


‘Too much attention’–we are wisely reminded–‘cannot be bestowed on that important–yet much-neglected branch of learning–the knowledge of man’s ignorance.’  Here how deep and humbling is the picture!  All the efforts of diligence–earnest perseverance–intense application of heart–the laborious exercise of sleepless nights–all fail to enlighten.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 206)


Humility is discovering what you can’t discover.  (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 223)


God governs the world: but we cannot see the reasons of His conduct; nor know why he does this, omits that, or permits a third thing.  We may study night and day, and deprive ourselves of rest and sleep; but we shall never fathom the depths that are in the Divine government: but all is right and just.  (Adam Clarke, Holy Bible Commentary and Critical Notes, Vol II, 493)


Mystery is created when key facts are hidden from the viewer.  What the writer/director/creator does at the end is pull back the curtain and show us the things that had previously been hidden.  So the mystery gets solved and our questions get answered.  But the Bible has an entirely different understanding of mystery.  True mystery, the kind of mystery rooted in the infinite nature of God, gives us answers that actually plunge us into even more…questions.  (Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith, 32)


I do not mean that when God wills to do something we can always see what the end is.  On the contrary, in countless cases, we can only see that it is His will, and that should be enough for us.  We are sure that whatever He does is done with a holy purpose.  The purpose is often hidden in the mystery of the divine wisdom.  For us to refuse to bow to God’s will just because we do not know what His purpose is–that is the very height of irreligion.  It is the sin of all sin; it is to pit our ignorance against His infinite wisdom and knowledge; it is rebellion and pride and madness.  May God save us all from such a sin as that!  (J. Gresham Machen, The Christian View of Man, 30)


If there is no wonder, no experience of mystery, our efforts to worship will be futile.  There will be no worship without the Spirit.

If God can be understood and comprehended by any of our human means, then I cannot worship Him.  One thing is sure.  I will never bend my knees and say “Holy, holy, holy” to that which I have been able to decipher and figure out in my own mind!  That which I can explain will never bring me to the place of awe.  It can never fill me with astonishment or wonder or admiration.  (A. W. Tozer, Whatever Happened to Worship?, 85)


And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God?  That they are not to be violated but with His wrath?  Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever. — Thomas Jefferson


CONCLUSION/APPLICATION: What light does a relationship with Christ bring to this message?:

A-  God’s mysterious character and nature are fully revealed in His Son on the cross.  Comprehending Christ crucified, and inviting Him to be Lord of our life, is all we truly need to know to have a relationship with God.  (Gal 6:14; 1 Cor 1:17-2:2; Col 2:1-3; Heb 1:1-4)


Because we live in a fallen world, this should not surprise us.  Nor should we be bitter.  The only person ever to lead a completely perfect life was the most persecuted of all.  And he gives us this assurance, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world it would love you as its own.  As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.  That is why the world hates you” (Jn 15:18, 19).  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 88-89)


The message of the cross has a central and unique place in the fight for joy.  Paul put the gospel in a class by itself when he said, “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal 6:14), and when he said, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2).

These are sweeping statements.  No boast except in the cross!  And no knowledge that is not a knowledge of Christ and him crucified!  Every boast we make in any good thing must include the boast that, without the cross, we would have hell and not this good thing.  Everything we know must include the knowledge that we do not know it rightly except in relation to Christ crucified.  (John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God, 76)


How foolish to think that righteousness can come by the law!  Does anyone still believe that prohibition can prohibit!  I do not think that the combined resources of the United States Army and Navy could keep gambling, liquor and prostitution out of our country.  Prohibition has never prohibited, and law has never been a deterrent to sin.  The human heart will go any length to satisfy its desires.  Law is necessary, not to prevent the lawless from sinning but to provide for their punishment and our protection.  True righteousness comes not from law but from the love of Christ under grace.  (Donald Grey Barnhouse, God’s Freedom, 135)


B-  We need to be wise and recognize God’s patience, forgiveness and mercy as incentives to repent in light of God’s grace rather than an opportunity to abuse God’s grace and foolishly think God will not be just and punish our sin.  (Lk 12:42-48; ; Acts 5:1-11; Rom 2:1-6; 5:16-19; 9:19-29; Eph 2:1-10; Heb 9:27; 10:26-31; 2 Pt 2:1-3:14; Jude 1:3-7)


‘The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small.’  The sum of the whole matter is, every evil of ours is sentenced already; the punishment is delayed for our sins, and because Christ has died.  God is wooing our hearts, and trying to win us to love Him by the holding back of the sentence which we are daily abusing.  Shall we not accept His forbearance and take His gifts as tokens of the patient tenderness of His heart?  Or are we to be like ‘the brutes that perish,’ knowing neither the hand that feeds them, nor the hand that kills them.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, 2 Kgs – Eccl, 372)


When people operate unrighteously, they are taking advantage of God’s mercy.  The reason God does not throw thunderbolts from the sky is because he is so patient.  He is “slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” (Ex 34:6).  Judgment is coming–maybe sooner than we think (see Ps 55:23) but God is giving us more time to repent.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 194)


C-  The wrath of God against sinful man has been fully satisfied by Jesus on the cross.  This is probably the greatest mystery.  (Rom 3:21-26; 5:6-11; Eph 1:7; 2:1-8; 1 Thes 1:10; 5:9; Ti 3:3-7; Heb chps 8-10; )


Here you may say, “I don’t like the idea of the wrath of God.  I want a God of love.”

The problem is that if you want a loving God, you have to have an angry God.  Please think about it.  Loving people can get angry, not in spite of their love but because of it.  In fact, the more closely and deeply you love people in your life, the angrier you can get.  Have you noticed that?  When you see people who are harmed or abused, you get mad.  If you see people abusing themselves, you get mad at them, out of love.  Your senses of love and justice are activated together, not in opposition to each other.  If you see people destroying themselves or destroying other people and you don’t get mad, it’s because you don’t care.  You’re too absorbed in yourself, too cynical, too hard.  The more loving you are, the more ferociously angry you will be at whatever harms your beloved.  (Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, 176-77)


But we don’t ponder how much his anger is also a function of his love and goodness.  The Bible tells us that God loves everything he has made.  That’s one of the reasons he’s angry at what’s going on in his creation; he is angry at anything or anyone that is destroying the people and world he loves.  His capacity for love is so much greater than ours–and the cumulative extent of evil in the world is so vast–that the word wrath doesn’t really do justice to how God rightly feels when he looks at the world.  So it makes no sense to say, “I don’t want a wrathful God, I want a loving God.”  If God is loving and good, he must be angry at evil–angry enough to do something about it.  (Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, 177)


D-  To reject and refuse God’s grace in Christ is not only stupid but will serve to insure you are subject to God’s judgment, damnation and wrath.  And rightfully so.  For God to do otherwise is for Him to deny Himself. (Mt 21:33-46; Heb 2:1-10; 9:27; 10:26-31; 12:25)


The endless patience of God has no explanation but only this, that He loves us too well to leave any means untried to bring us to Him, and that He lingers round us to win our hearts.  O rare and unspeakable love, the patient love of the patient God!  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, 2 Kgs – Eccl, 370)


The Scripture says, “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Rom 2:4).  Yet many people abuse the patience of God by making it an excuse for their immorality.  If there is a final judgment, they assume that it is a long way off.  More likely, though, they laugh at the very idea that God will ever judge them at all.  They are like the scoffers about whom Peter warned, who follow their own sinful desires and say, “Where is the promise of his coming?  For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Pt 3:4).  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 194)


Cornell University’s William Provine makes this exact argument in his book on Darwinism.  “When you die,” he says, “you’re not going to be surprised, because you’re gong to be completely dead.  Now if I find myself aware after I’m dead, I’m going to be really surprised!  But at least I’m going to go to Hell, where I won’t have all of those grinning preachers from Sunday morning.”  Then Provine summarizes his own worldview, which has no room for God or for a final judgment: “There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind.  There is no life after death.  When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead.  That’s the end of me.  There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life…Since we know that we are not going to live after we die, there is no reward for suffering in this world.  You live and you die.  (William Provine, 1994 debate with Phillip Johnson at Stanford University, “Darwinism: Science of Naturalistic Philosophy?”)  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 194)


I think that is what one of my old teachers meant when he said, if I remember rightly his words, that God is the most obligated being that there is.  He is obligated by His own nature.  He is infinite in His wisdom; therefore He can never do anything that is unwise.  He is infinite in His justice; therefore He can never do anything that is unjust.  He is infinite in His goodness; therefore He can never do anything that is not good.  He is infinite in His truth; therefore it is impossible that He should lie.  (J. Gresham Machen, The Christian View of Man, 26)


The wickedness of man abuses the long-suffering of God, as an occasion of more desperate rebellion.  Awful indeed is the sight.  How he “despiseth the riches of God’s goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth him to repentance!”  Yea–“after his hardness and impenitent heart, he treasureth up unto himself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” (Rom 2:4, 5).  What ‘venom must there be in the ruption of our nature, that can suck such poison out such a sweet attribute as the patience of God!  Never let it be supposed that God’s patience is the proof, that he thinks lightly of sin.  There is indeed a treasure of wrath, and hour by hour, yea–moment by moment–has the impenitent sinner been adding to the heap.  How soon the cup may be full!  Who knoweth but he may be at this moment exhausting the last drop of the appointed patience of God?  We live only by the mere act of grace.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 199)


However, nobody will be excluded from heaven solely because he or she has never heard of the name of Jesus.  The reason people will be denied admittance, said author and speaker Cliffe Knechtle, is because all life long they have told God that they can live just fine without him.  On the judgment day God will say, “Based on your own decision to live life separately from me, you will spend eternity separate from me.”  That’s hell.  God will not violate our will.  If all life long we have said, “My will be done,” then on the day of judgment God will say to you, “your will be done for eternity.”  G.K. Chesterton put it this way: “Hell is God’s great compliment to the reality of human freedom and the dignity of human choice.” (Lee Stroble;  God’s OUTrageous Claims, 194)


Worship point:  If you don’t see the absolute holiness of God, the magnitude of your debt, the categorical necessity of God’s just punishment of your sin, and therefore the utter hopelessness of your condition, then the knowledge of your pardon and deliverance will not be amazing and electrifying! (Tim Keller)In other words . . . your worship will be pathetic.


Spiritual Challenge: Endeavor to more and more comprehend God and His holiness, wisdom, patience, grace, mercy, forgiveness and love in light of His truth, justice, judgments, and wrath.  See these as co-dependent attributes.   Because God is holy, wise, patient, gracious, merciful, forgiving and loving He MUST be a God of truth, justice, judgment, and wrath.  With these things in mind worship the mystery of God.


If you do not believe in a God of wrath, but only in a god of love; then what did it cost for your god of love to really love you?   When you understand the wrath of God, you better understand the love of God because you understand what God was willing to do for you because of your Sin.  — Tim Keller


Do you really want a God who is anything other than slow to anger, and not treat us as our sins deserve?


Someone cut you off in traffic or speeds by you on the highway, and then a little bit later is pulled over by the cops, you say, “YES!”   Is that how you want God to deal with you?


If we do not think God will judge sin we are calling God an unjust, powerless, liar.  This is blasphemy.


Steve Brown:  Jesus will meet with you in the court of the last Judgment.  He will either be the prosecuting attorney, pushing for your conviction and condemnation; or He will be your defense lawyer to get you off.   And Jesus has never lost a case.


Jesus will be either your Avenger of Blood or Kinsman Redeemer.  It all depends on whether or not Jesus is your elder brother or not.  Are you a part of the Family of God?  



The LORD is compassionate and gracious,

slow to anger, abounding in love. — Psalm 103:8



Justice Satisfied

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