The Powerfully Good and Loving Avenger

Many of us know who The Avengers are: a team of superheroes, appearing in comic books published by Marvel Comics, who inflict punishment on bad people to avenge the afflicted.

In the Bible, God is the first and last Avenger. He is the ultimate Avenger even when evil seemingly is in control in today’s world. Read from Nahum the prophecy concerning Nineveh – the great populous and capital city of the Assyrian empire. Today it is Mosul, Iraq.

Nahum is one of the minor prophets. When I was young, I rarely read from these books of the minor prophets – except for the story of Jonah because he was eaten by a big fish. Today, as I read Nahum, I am reminded of who God is and what kind of God he is.

God is slow to anger (v.3). He gives 2nd chances. Refer to Jonah’s story, when God sent him to Nineveh to tell the people to repent. When the city repented, God relented.

Nahum 1
1 A prophecy concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.

2 The Lord is a jealous and avenging God;
the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath.
The Lord takes vengeance on his foes
and vents his wrath against his enemies.

3 The Lord is slow to anger but great in power;
the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished.
His way is in the whirlwind and the storm,
and clouds are the dust of his feet.
4 He rebukes the sea and dries it up;
he makes all the rivers run dry.
Bashan and Carmel wither
and the blossoms of Lebanon fade.
5 The mountains quake before him
and the hills melt away.
The earth trembles at his presence,
the world and all who live in it.
6 Who can withstand his indignation?
Who can endure his fierce anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire;
the rocks are shattered before him.

7 The Lord is good,
a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in him,

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8 but with an overwhelming flood
he will make an end of Nineveh;
he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness.

He is a jealous and avenging God – who will not leave the guilty unpunished. v. 2
He is slow to anger but great in power. v.3
He is master of all creation.  vv.3b-6
He is good – he is a refuge – a shelter when the storm rages. v.7a
He cares for those who trust in him. v.7b

Theodicy is the defence of God’s goodness and love and power in spite of existence of evil. It is about why a good, powerfully loving God permits evil. The passage above affirms God’s character. He is slow to anger (patient). He is powerful and able to do everything and anything because he created all things. He is good and hates evil. He will punish the wrong. He is loving because he cares for those in trouble. He is the ultimate Avenger. He Himself will defend the defenceless, help the helpless and speak for the voiceless.

Let us take comfort in this assurance that our God is powerful, patient, loving and good. He is able to carry me through – as the song tells us. He is able!

He’s able, He’s able,
I know He’s able,
I know my Lord is able
To carry me through.

He healed the broken-hearted
And set the captive free,
He made the lame to walk again
And caused the blind to see.

He’s able, He’s able,
I know He’s able,
I know my Lord is able
To carry me through.

You and me against the world…

This morning as I read the Bible passage from Amos 1-5. Two words stood out: You and Me.

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“‘Yet you have not returned to Me,’ declares the Lord.”

This phrase appeared 5 times (Amos 4:6,8,9,10,11). In Amos 4, God pronounced judgement on Israel’s sins – oppressing the poor and the needy (v.1). God said he’s going to punish them. “Yet they have not repented of their sins.” Again and again, God waited for them to return to him.

While not all calamities or sufferings are consequences of sins, often times, it is through difficult trials that God calls us to repent and turn to him just like his call to Israel:

For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel,
“Seek Me that you may live. (Amos 5:4)

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You and me – a song came to mind from these words… You and me against the world. This is an old song by Paul Williams I heard many years ago. Today I realise that it is a song about a mother and her child. What a fitting song – a timely reminder of my mother…

And when one of us is gone
And one is left alone to carry on
Then remembering will have to do
Memories alone will get us through
Think about the days of me and you
You and me against the world.
😔😢😌..

More than memories, I’d like to think that my mom lives on in me and in my life – as I live out her legacies of faith, hope and love in God’s amazing grace and by his unending mercy.

Through it all, it’s You and me against the world, my Creator-God and my Redeemer-Jesus and my Teacher-Holy Spirit. Let me seek You and live!

amos consolidated

 

More than adultery…

Adultery lang?! (Just Adultery?!)

The story of David and Bathsheba is perhaps just as well-known as that of David and Goliath. Whereas David killing Goliath was David’s first heroic act in his career as a soldier on the way to become king, his adultery with Bathsheba was David’s most shameful act as soldier and king. (Read 2 Sam. 11)

Lessons from this story.. As I think about this story, I realise that it is more than just adultery that David’s story can teach us.

1) When all is well, sin creeps at the door. David was at the height of his reign. He had an army of soldiers fighting for him. He was home in Jerusalem and woke from bed to walk around the roof of his house. He saw a beautiful woman bathing. Indeed sin starts with seeing… and at the heart of it is ‘lust.’

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2) One sin leads to another. Adultery turned to murder. David tried to cover his track. He tried to get Uriah to go home to his wife and make love to her. So that in case Bathsheba gets pregnant, Uriah would cover for David’s act of adultery. Alas, when Uriah refused to go home, David had a worse plan. Let Uriah die in battle.

3) I wonder how David felt after he did two crimes. No mention of it until Nathan the prophet came to rebuke him with a story. (Read 2 Sam. 12). In spite of David’s immoral behaviour, he should be given credit for his sense of right and wrong when Nathan presented him with the story of the rich oppressing the poor. (vv.5-6) More than that, David was quick to admit his guilt. Psalm 51 is a popular psalm written by David confessing his sins and his contrite spirit – being truly sorry for the wrongs that he did.

4) Finally, there is a lesson to be learned from David – how he faced the consequences of his sins. Nathan told him what God is going to do as a result of his sins. (vv.7-11).
a) David said I have sinned against the Lord. (v. 13) No excuses. He was quick to admit it. He faced the reality that his child, the result of the adultery, got sick.
b) He prayed to the Lord about it. For 7 days, he put on sack cloth, he fasted and prayed for God to heal his child. (vv.16-17)
Such was David’s relationship with God, he believed that God is merciful in spite of his sins. He hoped that God would spare his child.
c) After 7 days, the child died. God did not hear his prayers. What did David do? Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate. (v.20)

What was David’s rationale for all that he did and how he responded to this crisis in his life? His servants asked David:
“Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!”

22 He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ 23 But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”

David accepted God’s punishment for his sins. He knew he did wrong. He also believed God is gracious. So he prayed for God’s mercy. Finally, he accepted God’s answer. He got up from the ground, went into God’s house and worshipped him. (v.20)

Something on prayer: It struck me how two people responded differently in two prayers they uttered under different circumstances in their lives.

Hannah prayed for a son – with fasting and sadness. After praying, her face was no longer downcast. David prayed with fasting and sadness for his son to get well. He continued to do so for 7 days.

Hannah went on and ate something even before her prayer was answered. She cast her cares to the Lord in prayer.
David got up and ate something even after his prayer was not answered. He accepted his dues from the Lord in prayer.

What kind of attitude do I have in prayer? Let me learn from both Hannah and David. Prayer is drawing close to God with the desires of my heart. Prayer is leaving to God what he deems as best to give me. Prayer is worship of God no matter the answer – whether yes or no.

Right and Kind

Ang daya! (A Filipino term: “So unfair!”)

This is a familiar cry among children. What do these words mean? To be unfair is to not follow the rules of the game. Do we not adults also cry ‘foul’ when we see our favourite team losing because of bad calls from the referees?

To be fair is to behave according to the principles of equality and justice. Having a sense of justice is a valued trait of a leader. In Biblical times, the king is expected to lead in righteousness and administer justice. It implies that the king should know what is right from wrong in order to rule justly. This is why Solomon prayed wisely:
7 “Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. 8 Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. 9 So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” 1 Kings 3:7-9

A sense of justice is not only for kings. It is something God wants us to know about him.

23 This is what the Lord says:
“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
or the strong boast of their strength
or the rich boast of their riches,
24 but let the one who boasts boast about this:
that they have the to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord. Jer. 9:23-24

It is also something we need to emulate because we are created in His image. There are 3 things in this passage that God considers important: kindness, justice and righteousness.

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They are equally important – not one over the other. Kindness is about grace and mercy – giving to the undeserving and withholding what is deserved. What about justice? Justice is doing what is fair and right. Justice and righteousness go together. To administer justice, one needs to know right from wrong.

What about justice and mercy, are they against each other?
“Lovingkindness and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” (Psa. 85:10 NASB)

God showed us justice and mercy at the cross. He holds both as equally important – to be right, to be fair, and to be kind. It is right that sin is punished. His mercy costs him death of his son, Jesus on the cross. Jesus paid the price for our sins.

How are we to be just and kind? In the Bible, justice and kindness of God is often associated with the poor, the orphans, widows and foreigners. It is extended to the marginalised. Our sense of right and wrong is to follow God’s concern for the needy, the oppressed – those who are voiceless, powerless and helpless.

It is a sad reality that Christians are either too condemning or too conforming or too condoning. Our sense of right and wrong can be too strong that we do not forgive. We demand justice – we want vengeance. Or we need to avenge ourselves. We can also be on the other extreme, too forgiving that we neglect to speak out what is right.

It is said that to be right and not kind is not right. It is also not kind, to be kind and not right. How so? When I condone the mistake of one at the expense of another, I am being unkind to the one in the right.

Lord, please grant me wisdom to know right from wrong. Let me boast that I know you as my God who delights in kindness, justice and righteousness. Let me be just, right, and kind like you. Amen.