O LORD, correct me, but with justice;
Not in Your anger, lest You bring me to nothing.
O LORD, I have heard Your speech and was afraid;
O LORD, revive Your work in the midst of the years!
In the midst of the years make it known;
In wrath remember mercy.
If the Lord were not merciful, none of us would be here to share this message today. It’s a simple fact that God has time and again shown mercy toward humanity. Yes, in His hot anger He has brought punishment for sin amongst His followers and brought death to His enemies, but He has always relented, always held back from our utter destruction. This same God who is perfectly just and righteous, is also perfectly loving and merciful. In fact, God’s righteousness encompasses His love, and so BECAUSE the Lord is so true to His righteousness, then in that righteous love, He acts with mercy and compassion and longsuffering.
19 Remember my affliction and roaming,
The wormwood and the gall.
20 My soul still remembers
And sinks within me.
21 This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
22 Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
This same Righteous Judge who brings discipline and punishment to His people and to their enemies, He is also the Rock and Redeemer, the Mighty One, the loving “Abba” Father. David knew this when he wrote:
8 The LORD is merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.
9 He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor punished us according to our iniquities.
11 For as the heavens are high above the earth,
So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;
12 As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
Of course, we don’t always remember how merciful the Lord our God is. We forget that although He is holy, He desires holiness for us, too. (Leviticus 19:2) We may even find it hard to believe that this God who is above all things would ever consider us, but then we remember that God loved us before we were born, that even as He knitted us in our mothers’ wombs, He loved us despite the sins He knew we would commit. In fact, He loved us so much He sent His only begotten Son to be our righteousness, so that we would not be utterly lost to Him. (Philippians 3:8-11)
Knowing that this just and mighty God is also merciful and loving, what then should be our response? Jeremiah and Habakkuk both called for God to show mercy, to act in accordance with His righteousness and not in His anger. When I consider our own response, two different moments in the Bible come to mind. In the first, David has sinned against the Lord and numbered the tribes of Israel. The Lord gave David a choice of punishments, and David threw himself on the mercy of the Lord. Look at what happens:
1 Chronicles 21:14-17
14 So the LORD sent a plague upon Israel, and seventy thousand men of Israel fell.
15 And God sent an angel to Jerusalem to destroy it. As he was destroying, the LORD looked and relented of the disaster, and said to the angel who was destroying, “It is enough; now restrain your hand.” And the angel of the LORD stood by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.
16 Then David lifted his eyes and saw the angel of the LORD standing between earth and heaven, having in his hand a drawn sword stretched out over Jerusalem. So David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell on their faces.
17 And David said to God, “Was it not I who commanded the people to be numbered? I am the one who has sinned and done evil indeed; but these sheep, what have they done? Let Your hand, I pray, O LORD my God, be against me and my father’s house, but not against Your people that they should be plagued.”
The Lord relented of His punishment against Israel, and then not only did David repent, but the elders of Jerusalem also fell on their faces in repentance, pleading for mercy. David himself asked for any remaining punishment to fall upon him so that the people would be saved. That is the response God seeks when He sends rebuke and discipline into our lives: repentance and reliance on His mercy.
Now contrast that with this scene from Revelation. Here we have the tribulations coming upon mankind. All sorts of natural and human destruction came through the seven seals, and then with the seven trumpets we see destruction raining down from above and coming from those sent by God to bring it. Here at the sound of the sixth trumpet, one-third of humanity is wiped out by fire and smoke and brimstone. (Revelation 9:18) Look at the people’s response:
20 But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk.
21 And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.
That says it all: they did not repent. They COULD have and they SHOULD have repented, but they did not. I was discussing these verses with a group last Friday, and we came up with a few possible reasons why they did not seek God’s mercy after witnessing such terrible destruction:
1.They had become inured to destruction. Living in the age of weapons of mass destruction, we have become desensitized to massive death. If there a country that would use a nuclear bomb, we understand–almost callously, I might add–that a huge portion of humanity would die.
2.Although it does not say so in the passage, it is possible that, like all sinners, their hearts were hardened to their sin. They simply loved their lovelessness more than they desired mercy.
3.They were spiritually blind and did not know the reason for the destruction. (Isaiah 42:24-25)
Honestly, I could see a case for a combination of all three of these reasons. We ARE desensitized to massive destruction, and we DO have hearts hardened by generations of sinfulness and idolatry, and many do NOT know the gospel of peace with God and so they do not know why they face these calamities.
I pray that people will take to heart the discipline we now are undergoing, that they will not allow their hearts to be hardened but will repent of their sins and seek God’s face while He may be found. The Lord said to Solomon:
2 Chronicles 7:13-14
13 “When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people,
14 “if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
If we seek the Lord’s justice, seek that He should not burn us up in His wrath, then we must repent and fall upon His mercy. David knew that when he went to make his offering at the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. Jeremiah knew that then he pleaded for the Lord to correct him in His justice. Habakkuk knew that when he asked for the Lord to make His mercy known even in the midst of His wrath.
But we, today, must make these things known. We must be sure that, even if we are a race desensitized to destruction, even if we have had our hearts hardened by generations of lawlessness, we at least can also be a people who will share and know the gospel of Jesus Christ. When Jesus gave us the commission to preach the gospel and make disciples, He was telling us that this would be the requirement for receiving God’s mercy. (John 3:16-17) In those last days shown in Revelation, the people who are to be saved are sealed against destruction, sealed by the Holy Spirit Himself. (Revelation 7:2, Ephesians 4:30) And the Holy Spirit comes to those who have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. (Acts 1:4-5) And how shall they believe unless they have had the gospel preached to them? (Romans 10:14:17)
Let us therefore consider the prayers of Jeremiah and Habakkuk, and find ways to say them ourselves. Let us fall upon God’s mercies every day, seeking His merciful justice and righteous correction. And let us also seek to bring the gospel of peace with God to every tongue, tribe, and nation, so that people will repent rather than stay in their hardened, wicked ways.
Almighty God, rebuke us if You must, correct our wandering ways, but do not act in anger as we might do. Be merciful and just, Lord God, and help us to show others Your mercy. Embolden us to share the gospel that will soften hearts and mend broken ways. And, holy Father, let us help others know Your Son and so be saved from destruction by repentance and faith. Amen.