God, Judgment and the Nations
Is God interested in the nations? Yes. Does God judge nations? Yes. Can God even use pagan nations as instruments of his judgment and justice? Yes. All this is certainly clear when we read the Old Testament. But the big question is: What about today?
Can and does God operate in the same way that he did back then? My short answer is this: yes, God is still vitally interested in nations as well as individuals; yes, he can and will judge nations today; and yes he can use one nation as an instrument of judgment against the other.
The only problem is, we do not have a sure word from God about if and when this is happening today as back in the Old Testament. Back then God did these things, and he clearly revealed his will and his plans to and through his prophets.
But today may well be another matter. Let me look more closely at these two issues in turn. That God judges nations and even uses other nations to do it is abundantly clear in the Old Testament. Take the book of Jeremiah for example. In Jer. 27:4-11 we find that the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, is called “my servant” by Yahweh. And in Jer. 25: 8-11 we read:
Therefore the LORD Almighty says this: “Because you have not listened to my words, I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,” declares the LORD, “and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin. I will banish from them the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, the sound of millstones and the light of the lamp. This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years.
But immediately following, in vv. 12-14 we find these words:
“But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,” declares the LORD, “and will make it desolate forever. I will bring upon that land all the things I have spoken against it, all that are written in this book and prophesied by Jeremiah against all the nations. They themselves will be enslaved by many nations and great kings; I will repay them according to their deeds and the work of their hands.”
So there we see an evil pagan king being used of God as his servant, as an instrument of judgment against his own people. But that does not mean the Babylonians get off the hook. After he finishes using them for his purposes, he then judges them. They too are accountable and deserving of judgment.
We find the exact same thing occurring in Isaiah 10. In Is. 10:5-19 Assyria is seen God’s “rod” of judgment. Consider verses 10:5-8:
“Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger,
in whose hand is the club of my wrath!
I send him against a godless nation,
I dispatch him against a people who anger me,
to seize loot and snatch plunder,
and to trample them down like mud in the streets.
But this is not what he intends,
this is not what he has in mind;
his purpose is to destroy,
to put an end to many nations.
‘Are not my commanders all kings?’ he says.”
But Assyria too will get its just punishment, as we find in verses 12-13:
When the Lord has finished all his work against Mount Zion and Jerusalem, he will say, “I will punish the king of Assyria for the willful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes. For he says:
‘By the strength of my hand I have done this,
and by my wisdom, because I have understanding.
I removed the boundaries of nations,
I plundered their treasures;
like a mighty one I subdued their kings.'”
Other texts speak to this. In Jer. 51:20-23 Babylon is referred to as God’s hammer, or war club. In Ezekiel 21 Babylon is seen as God’s sword of judgment. And in Habakkuk 1:5-6, 12, God ordains and appoints Babylon to punish Israel. Many other passages along these lines can be appealed to.
But all that was then, and this is now. The simple truth is this: Jeremiah or Isaiah or Ezekiel were inspired by God to write what they did. They could say with full assurance that such and such a thing was happening for such and such a reason. We simply do not have that same sort of assurance today. We are not under that same sort of inspiration from God.
Yet people nonetheless make claims that this or that thing happening today is a judgment of God. Some will say for example that AIDS is a judgment of God. Well, maybe yes, maybe no. It is clearly a direct result of dangerous and high risk behaviour such as male to male sex.
So there is real cause and effect going on here. But to claim that everyone with HIV/AIDS is suffering the judgment of God for their sin is silly. We know for example that quite innocent people have gotten HIV/AIDS and died of it, such as haemophiliacs who received contaminated blood supplies.
So we must be very careful here in making such statements. In similar ways, some people are saying that something like the Islamic State is God’s judgment on a decadent and sinful West. Well, maybe yes, and maybe no. Some of these folks will say, why make a stink about IS when we are murdering our own babies here in the West.
My reply is twofold. First, as I say, we cannot be sure at all that God is directly ordaining the evil of IS as a particular judgment on the West. Second, since we cannot know this for sure, better to take the normal understanding, that this is an evil organisation that needs to be stopped.
Is abortion a great evil? Sure, but it is foolish in the extreme to then say because we have abortion, we cannot be concerned about or do something about IS. We should of course be greatly concerned about both, and do something about both.
We should do all we can to end abortion, and we should also do all we can to end IS. So as I say, we must proceed with caution here, and not make claims about this or that activity being a direct act of God in the world today. Perhaps some of these things are, but perhaps not.
We do not have a Jeremiah or an Isaiah today to tell us, so we must be wise here and not put words into God’s mouth. Thus we have every right to fight against IS, just as we had every right to fight against Hitler and the Nazis. Unless we somehow hear a clear divine word to the contrary, that is our way ahead for now.
3 Replies to “God, Judgment and the Nations”
In 1980 I was with a group of tourists outside the ruins of Babylon, so I led a Bible study in which I read out the prophesy concerning Babylon’s destruction. I then told them that, despite how the world may appear from our perspective, God is still the maker and breaker of empires.
Do I need to say more? My generation grew up under the shadow of a great dark empire, the Soviet Union. All of our foreign policy was based on countering its enormous strength and almost limitless evil.
Then, 9 years later, it all ended. In 1989 the world held its breath as the Soviet empire in eastern Europe collapsed like a house of cards. None of those who lived through that time can possibly forget not only how rapidly, but how bloodlessly, the whole rotten system disintegrated. What is the point of having the world’s greatest nuclear arsenal and its most terrible system of repressive if, on the day of reckoning, they don’t fail; they simply aren’t even put into effect?
The Soviet Union staggered on for another two years. I think it was about Christmas 1991 that it was announced that the dissolution of the system would be signed that evening, and the Red Flag would come down on New Year’s Day. But instead, the leadership was so disspirited they couldn’t even make a quorum to sign the document, and when the Red Flag came down that dusk, it never went up again.
What a pathetic way, I thought, for the world’s most dreaded police state to end! But unless the Lord guards the city, the watchmen watch in vain.
Whether or not a particular event is a judgement of God, doesn’t the Bible say that at least it is part of God’s wise and righteous plan for the universe, since he is predestining everything according to his will? If I understand that rightly, then we can know that God has a purpose in what is currently happening in northern Iraq at the moment. In which case, how do we pray about it? Do we ask God to stop the evil and bring peace and stability? That is a natural cry from my heart when I think of the immense suffering of so many people, and yet might that prayer be an attempt to thwart God’s inscrutable higher purpose? I’m very confused. What do you guys pray for in a situation like this?
Thanks Phil. But you are of course asking about a topic which has filled entire libraries, so you sure won’t get a definitive answer here. You are asking about divine sovereignty and human responsibility, which we still are trying to get our heads around. My very short answer is this: let God be God and let us be us. That is, God will take care of his part – sovereignty and so on. And we must take care of our part – being responsible and making wise decisions. And we know that part of what we are called to do, either as individuals, or at least as states, is to resist evil and fight oppression. So there is nothing to worry about here. We fight the evil IS just like we fought the evil Nazis. That God may well have bigger plans and purposes here I do not doubt. But he does not fully reveal to us all his inside information, and he expects us to move on, based on what he has revealed to us.