Do you recall what happened when Joshua first attacked Ai?
They had just come from a great triumph at Jericho, defeating the fortified town and destroying all the people and all the booty, just as God commanded.
Oh, but wait! Someone didn’t destroy all the booty, did he? Achan kept some of the spoils, against the commandment of God, and because of that the entire community (God sees the Children of Israel as a single entity) suffered defeat when they attacked Ai. Only a handful of the inhabitants routed the army of 3,000 Israelites, and could have damaged, if not destroyed, the fierce reputation that Israel was beginning to generate.
After the sin was atoned for (at the cost of the life of Achan, his entire family and all their possessions), the next attack at Ai was totally successful.
Here’s the part where, after such a harsh punishment, we see God’s mercy: God told Joshua that after destroying the town and people of Ai, the Israelites could keep the spoils. Achan paid the price for his disobedience, but God saw the weakness of the people, and instead of testing them further He mercifully relented and allowed them to keep the spoils, knowing that they were unable to control themselves.
Often I heard it said that God will never test us beyond our measure, and I believe that. However, I also see in the Bible that God will, initially at least, test us to the full extent of our self-control and obedience. The man who collected sticks on the Sabbath (in B’midbar/Numbers) was killed for his sin, yet those that collected extra manna were not killed for their sin (to God, sin is sin- there is no little sin or partial sin, so collecting extra manna when told not to is no different than collecting sticks on the Sabbath.) All that happened to them was that the manna did not survive longer than the regular manna.
God showed His mercy to the children of Israel in the desert. How many times did He want to destroy them for their sins? He sent birds to give them meat, but they suffered a plague from it which Aaron stopped. He sent poisonous snakes to kill them, but then he mercifully allowed those bitten to live; I am sure that many died before Moses made the brass snake that kept people alive. He sent a plague against them that Pinchus stopped, He sent a plague against them when David sinned with the census, but then withheld His hand. He was even merciful to Ba’alam by not killing him on the road to curse the Jewish people (Ba’alam got his later, though, for the sin of telling Bilam how to entice the Jewish men into sin.)
God starts out with His laws and commandments, and the first ones to disobey usually are the ones who end up showing that God is serious. The first to disobey get the worst of it, but it seems, as I read the Manual, that God’s mercy will intervene after that and even though others may sin, their punishment is less severe. God is our King, but His mercy allows us to survive our own disobedience, as a people. Individuals will suffer, but the people will go on. God told Moshe (Exodus 33) that He will show mercy to those whom He will show mercy, and have compassion for those whom He will have compassion for.
Basically, God says that He will choose who gets the full monty and who doesn’t. It’s not our choice, so, in essence, you pays your money and you takes your chances. If we choose to sin, we may get away with our lives, we can be forgiven, but we may end up destroyed in a heartbeat, too.
Do you really want to take that chance? Is the reward we get from any sin worth our life? Our eternal soul? Achan, Saphira, Ananias, the guy who collected sticks- they all died in their sin.
God is King, Judge, and merciful Father. All in one. He will decide what the outcome of a sin is, and we have to decide to try to keep from sinning. He will forgive those who seek forgiveness, over and over. We see that throughout the Tanakh- no matter how often Israel sinned against the Lord, when they did T’Shuvah and cried out to Him, even though they fully deserved their punishment and the suffering they were undergoing, His mercy came forth upon them and He sent them a saviour. The Book of Judges shows this happening, over and over.
Trust God to be merciful, but never, never, NEVER expect Him to be merciful when you want Him to be. It’s His choice, not yours. The best thing to do is be as obedient as you can. God has set the rules and it is up to us to follow them. If we fail to obey by accident He has shown He is willing , even desiring, to forgive when we come before Him asking forgiveness. However, if we disobey purposefully, well…you are taking your chances with His mercy. Personally, I don’t think there is anything on Earth that is worth having if it means taking a chance on God’s mercy. Therefore, as for me and my family, we choose the Lord and His ways.
I know, because of my sinful nature, I will fail to obey at some point in my life. Probably more than just once, too. Because my heart wishes to obey, I have hope from knowing how God has been merciful, and I pray that God will be merciful in His judgement of my actions. I pray that I will be one of those sinners He chooses to have mercy on and compassion for.
Some of you may be feeling uncomfortable with the idea that God may not be merciful, because the usual teaching is all about God’s mercy and compassion, His love, His son’s love, forgiveness of sins, take you as you are, unconditional salvation, happy-happy-happy, yadda-yadda-yadda. All that is true, but we have to also remember that He is holy, the Holy of Holies, and sin is an anathema to Him. It is a stench in His nostrils and He has no desire to be anywhere near sin. We are told that we should not test the Lord, our God, but if we sin and expect Him to be merciful every single time we sin, we are really telling God what to do, aren’t we? He says it is His choice, and He is, after all, the one who makes the rules. He invented this game called life; He made the rules, He set the board, He determines what is a good roll and what is a bad roll, and He has the final say and judgment on everything that happens while you are playing. Don’t even think of expecting His mercy when you intend to sin; if you sin by accident, if you sin before you realize what you are doing, be penitent, ask forgiveness and pray for His mercy. Don’t expect it, don’t demand it, but plead for it in earnest and heartfelt prayer, with a broken spirit and a contrite heart. David knew how to ask for forgiveness, and he was a man after God’s own heart, so do as David did.
God is merciful, He loves every single one of us, and He wants us to have eternal life. He isn’t just willing to forgive- He wants to forgive. BUT…He is God, He is holy, and He will judge. He didn’t make the rules just so we could break them, and He made the rules for everyone. It’s not what we want the rules to mean, it’s what He says the rules mean, and that will count for us or against us. That’s why you need to read the Bible and see what God says, then measure it against what your ‘religion’ tells you, because ultimately you will stand before Him and you will have no one to blame but yourself.
Yes, we are saved by the sacrificial death of Yeshua, and His life, His death and His resurrection is proof that He is Messiah. And yes, He will stand at our side when we are before the Lord on Judgement Day and speak for us. It is His righteousness that saves us, not our own. Yet we still want to be honored, don’t we? Dont’ you want God to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” when you are before Him? I certainly wouldn’t want to hear God say, “Okay, you’re in, but you barely made it; you did a lousy job when you were alive, so you can clean the toilets and dust the stars. And don’t think even think of eating at the adult’s table!”
God is good, all the time. God is righteous and holy, all the time. God is merciful, NOT all the time. God told us this about Himself, so remember that the next time the little red guy with the horns on your shoulder tells you it’s okay to do something because God is merciful. Don’t test God and don’t take His mercy for granted. Do what is right and let righteousness guide your way.