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7th June, 2010

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The day of the Lord cameth

Believers in creation understand clearly that the works of God's hands highlight more clearly than anything else does God's "eternal power and Godhead" (Rom. 1:20). No amount of mere words can impart to the human mind a grasp of God's awesome power anywhere near as real as that which comes from seeing and feeling, hearing and smelling His mighty works. You and I can tell each other that God is awesomely powerful, but those words have little impact by comparison with a firsthand, closeup and personal experience of, say, huge waves smashing one after another into a rocky seaside cliff face. But you know something - God's attributes involve a whole lot more than just "power and Godhead". God is also love (1 John 4:8), but you'd be exposing yourself unnecessarily to assaults from skeptics if you tried to prove divine love from the creation. What about devastating earthquakes and horrific diseases, you would be asked. His love for man is incontrovertibly proven through Jesus Christ's willingness to die a horrible death for our atonement.

God, as infinite, has infinite attributes, each one being infinitely good. Many of His attributes have no analogue in anything we are familiar with, and thus they are completely unknown to us and unknowable by us. But some, the knowledge of which is critical to our salvation, are knowable, being revealed in Scripture and by His deeds. One is His implacable opposition to sin; sin shatters relationships, man with man and man with God. In His infinite longsuffering, God puts up with abominable human behavior for a considerable time, but His infinite detestation of sin and His boundless sense of justice mean that He will not stay silent forever. In the day of judgment He will deal with each of us individually, and "give everyone according to his ways and according to the fruit of his doings" (Jer. 32:19). And in the last days of man's ungodly self rule, He will bring judgment upon all mankind.

Those future judgments have historical counterparts to which the wise will pay serious heed. For about two hundred years - from the destruction of the kingdom of Israel in 721 B.C. to the sack of Babylon in 539 B.C. - the day of the Lord wrought destruction on the nations unparalleled in history. A huge chunk of Scripture largely ignored by Christendom (the prophets) has one overarching theme: "the punishment of the wicked and the vindication of the faithful" (Cohen, The Twelve Prophets, p. 232). Note just a few shocking verses:

"I will utterly consume everything from the face of the land," says the Lord. "because they have sinned against the Lord" (Zeph. 1:2, 17).

A noise will come to the ends of the earth - for the Lord has a controversy with the nations; He will plead His case with all flesh. He will give those who are wicked to the sword (Jer. 25:31).

God showed no favoritism; His withering hand fell upon His own people, Israel and Judah, bringing massive ruin to the land and its infrastructure and the exile of His people through national captivity. Jerusalem, the "princess among the provinces" (Lam. 1:1), was razed, its fabulous temple burned and hacked. In succession, one city state after another succumbed to the siege towers and battering rams of its enemies. Egypt lay in ruins, never again to rise to its former glory. The tyrannical Assyrian Empire was totally dismantled. Small nation after small nation, such as Edom and Moab, was virtually wiped from the face of the map. Finally, the people God used as His agent of destruction during the last 70 years of the day of the L ord - the Babylonians - were smashed during a surprise night assault on their capital city, Babylon (Dan. 5), led by a relatively righteous, benevolent king, Cyrus the Persian. The story of his escape from certain death as an infant and his rise to power make for fascinating reading.

When the dust settled after the sack of Babylon, surviving peoples broke into singing (Is. 14:7-8). The world was at peace, relatively speaking, for the first time in many, many years. The long-lasting Assyrian oppression had been lifted and the political map of the world transformed forever. Further, God was not bluffing when He said He would take out the sword against the sinners of the world; the majority of the wicked were dead, their malign influence cut off. The glory and greatness of God had been extolled by Nebuchadnezzar and Darius. For two hundred years the area we know today as the Middle East knew relative peace, while the house of Judah, returned from Babylonian exile, purified and humbled, enjoyed a closer relationship with God for a while. (Their newly-kindled zeal for God did not last long, however. Only decades after the rebuilding of the temple, the prophet Malachi rebuked the priests for their indolence.)

Yes, look to creation to see the power of God. Look to the day of the Lord to see the zeal of God:

Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord's wrath; but the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of His jealousy, for He will make speedy riddance of all those who dwell in the land (Zeph. 1:18).

And He did.


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