I have long been aware that what God has commanded and what I/we actually practice can be different, sometimes very different. In some cases there is a hearty embrace of God’s commands. Most of those relate to expectation of divine healing or provision, guidance, hope towards our eternal home in heaven, etc. You know the kind of things I’m talking about, the ones that conjure up nice thoughts and feelings.
I was reading in Judges 1 today where in spite of God’s command to annihilate all the inhabitants of the land to include everything that breathes, the various tribes took on an attitude that is all to prevalent still today of “surly God wouldn’t want us to drive out or kill eeevvveerryybody”. And yet that is exactly what God had commanded (see 1 Sam 15 & Deut 20) so that Israel wouldn’t learn to practice life the wrong way those various inhabitants conducted themselves (which happened by the way).
In Judges 1 the tribes one by one chose to allow the inhabitants to live and in many cases even benefited financially from them through forced labor. On a few occasions it says that they (whatever people it was that were supposed to be driven out) were determined to live there and so they did.
This whole scenario brought me back to the garden where Satan asked Eve “did God really say …?”. I can easily identify with Eve as well as the various tribes of Israel. I have often thought “but that fruit or ____ (fill in the blank with your vice) looks soooo good”. I also fully understand the nice idea of not killing those poor women and children and what’s the deal with killing all the animals … REALLY!
All this makes me think of God just a little like Patrick Swayze in the movie Roadhouse. There is this one scene where he is exhorting all the bouncers at the club to be nice (I would have inserted the clip here but some of the language is not “nice”). He pushes the order to be nice over and over again even telling them to get a 2nd bouncer to help carry someone out and that both of them should be nice. He concludes by saying “I want you to be nice until it’s time to not be nice”. One of the bouncers ask “how will we know when that is?” and Patrick replies “you won’t, I’ll let you know”.
God gives many instructions for compassion, healing, forgiveness, favor, preferring one another in love, not holding grudges, going the extra mile and many other exhortations in a similar vein. God also gives many commands about judgment, annihilation and destruction. This is not only in the Old Testament. Lest we forget the couple who were struck dead by God for lying about how much they sold a plot of land for.
The difference is not always clear-cut or black and white, but the determining point in every circumstance is obedience to God’s commands whether for mercy or judgment. In Psalms 55 we learn (or at least we should learn) that God’s ways are very different from our ways. God had very good reason to insist on killing everything that breathes in Deut 20 and I don’t presume to know what those reasons were. He also has good reason to exhort us to turn the other cheek or go the extra mile and again I don’t always get the point. But then having to understand why God commands things is never the point. Obedience is the whole point combined with a close walk with Him so we can hear how He is telling us to obey.
Hopefully there aren’t many out there with an interest in killing women and children, but I suspect there are many of us who might want out of a marriage for reasons other than infidelity, or want to wear the latest fashion without a thought for modesty, or attend those all you can eat buffets without a thought for gluttony. How about the deacon’s wife who engages in gossip which would in turn disqualify him being a deacon or the trend to take a less than scripturally indicated hard-line on lust, homosexuality or idle words.
In no way do I suggest a revolution of either annihilation or just being nice. But what I am advocating is that which I desperately need in my own life. That closer walk with the Master with a greater ability to hear His voice, trust His voice and more courage to obey that voice even when it may not be all that “nice” to do so. So instead of the church, our group or myself continuing to question “did God really say …..” I pray we have greater faith to question a bit less and obey a lot more because He really did say a lot.