Monday, August 8, 2011

The Lord Relented

This morning I reflected on the difference between justice and mercy. It all began by my devotional reading of 2 Chronicles 1-6. The verse that most struck me was 3:1- “So Solomon began to build the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to Solomon’s father, King David. The Temple was built on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, the site that David had selected.” Several things about the Temple’s location caught my attention.

The first was the reference to Mount Moriah. Traditionally, this was where Abraham had been prepared to sacrifice his son, Isaac, when the Lord sent a ram to take the boy’s place on the altar. Genesis 22:9-14 describes “When they arrived at the place where God had told Abraham to go, he built an altar and placed the wood on it. Then he tied Isaac up and laid him on the altar over the wood. And Abraham took the knife and lifted it up to kill his son as a sacrifice to the Lord. At that moment the angel of the Lord shouted to him from heaven, ‘Abraham! Abraham!’ ‘Yes,’ he answered. ‘I’m listening.’ ‘Lay down the knife,’ the angel said. ‘Do not hurt the boy in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld even your beloved son from me.’ Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a bush. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering on the altar in place of his son. Abraham named the place ‘The Lord Will Provide.’” Notice that Abraham’s knife was lifted when God mercifully stopped him from following through with the sacrifice.

The second reference was about 700 years later, during the time of King David. I still don’t really understand why it was wrong, but somehow David sinned by taking a census and God punished Israel by sending a plague. 1 Chronicles 21:14-22:1 teaches us, “So the Lord sent a plague upon Israel, and seventy thousand people died as a result. And God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem. But just as the angel was preparing to destroy it, the Lord relented and said to the death angel, ‘Stop! That is enough!’ At that moment the angel of the Lord was standing by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. David looked up and saw the angel of the Lord standing between heaven and earth with his sword drawn, stretched out over Jerusalem... Then the angel of the Lord told Gad to instruct David to build an altar to the Lord at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite... So David built an altar there to the Lord and sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings... Then the Lord spoke to the angel, who put the sword back into its sheath... Then David said, ‘This will be the location for the Temple of the Lord God and the place of the altar for Israel’s burnt offerings!’”

Both stories involved a sword being drawn, a life ready to be taken, and a last minute rescue according to the command of the Lord. In both cases, God mercifully and lovingly allowed animals to substitute for the lives/ deaths of the people. This becomes the site of the Temple, where sacrifices are made daily to atone for the nation! And not just the nation, but Solomon’s prayer of dedication in 2 Chronicles 6 was for the entire world! Abraham was considered the Father of God’s covenant people, while Araunah was a Jebusite- a foreigner to God’s promises. And God had mercy on them both. Furthermore, Araunah hadn’t even called out for help. It was David who heard from the Lord and made sacrifices on Araunah’s behalf, yet God still rescued him. Solomon prayed “when foreigners hear of you and your mighty miracles, and they come from distant lands to worship your great name and to pray toward this Temple, then hear from heaven where you live, and grant what they ask of you. Then all the people of the earth will come to know and fear you, just as your own people Israel do.”

So I asked the Lord as to the meaning of all these awesome truths to me, today. I asked God how my heart could be purified and I could be brought into greater love for and understanding of God through all of this. My heart heard the following-

People deserve death. As unpopular an idea as it currently is, this is the Bible’s teaching. Solomon recognizes- “[Your people] sin against you- and who has never sinned?...” His father, David, a man after God’s own heart, angered God by taking a census which resulted in 70,000 deaths! Have I not done worse? We all deserve death. One of the absolutely central ideas of both Judaism and Christianity is that God’s mercy and love rescues people from what they deserve. Except for God’s great love for us, we would be consumed. Rescuing people who deserve what they’re getting- redeeming lives that don’t deserve redemption- is our way of reenacting our history and present experience with God. When social justice is our concern, we help those who deserve it. We are strategic in the ways in which we get involved with the poor and suffering. Justice is a Godly charge. But this morning I was focused on something all together different. It wasn’t justice that caused God to relent in the stories surveyed, but mercy and love. In this world, we are charged with helping those who help themselves and equipping all people with the resources to live meaningful lives. But in the kingdom of God, we are commanded to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. This is not justice, but a reflection of our understanding of what the Lord has done for us. Both are necessary for the believer. Let us be faithful to articulate each.

Alyssa Mezsick

1 comment:

Danielle said...

Powerful stuff from an amazing board member for Awake and Alive. THANK YOU, Alyssa, for the way you seek the Lord and teach us such deep truths!