The LORD: the Author of Calamity
The LORD is patient and merciful.
The record of the Scripture is clear: mankind is thoroughly corrupt. Isaiah expressed this truth poetically concerning ancient Israel:
Where will you be stricken again,
As you continue in your rebellion?
The whole head is sick
And the whole heart is faint.
From the sole of the foot even to the head
There is nothing sound in it,
Only bruises, welts and raw wounds,
Not pressed out or bandaged,
Nor softened with oil.
From the beginning this has been the case. Here is a tiny sampling of this truth from the beginning of Scripture to its end:
Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds;
There is no one who does good.
The Lord has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men
To see if there are any who understand,
Who seek after God.
They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt;
There is no one who does good, not even one.
The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?
I, the Lord, search the heart,
I test the mind,
Even to give to each man according to his ways,
According to the results of his deeds.
For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.
For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.
And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful;
What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written,
“There is none righteous, not even one;
There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God;
All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one.”
“Their throat is an open grave,
With their tongues they keep deceiving,
The poison of asps is under their lips;
Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness;
Their feet are swift to shed blood,
Destruction and misery are in their paths,
And the path of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.
The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts.
The fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun, and it was given to it to scorch men with fire. Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory.
Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became darkened; and they gnawed their tongues because of pain, and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds.
The wonder is not that the LORD inflicts calamity on an obstinate mankind; the wonder, as I detail in the next chapter, is that mankind has not already been blotted out of existence into the tortures of Hades in a cataclysmic and well-deserved divine judgment.
The purpose for this chapter of the series is to highlight just how patient and gracious the Almighty is, especially given the intractable and thorough corruption of the human heart.
One of the most tender of all OT Scriptures (and a personal favorite!) is this beautiful expression of ancient King David:
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.
As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.
For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.
King David knew a great deal about the patience of the LORD, having been forgiven for the willful sins of rape and murder.
Here is another tiny sampling of the mercies, longsuffering and patience of the LORD:
In Your lovingkindness You have led the people whom You have redeemed;
In Your strength You have guided them to Your holy habitation.
[The context is the song of Moses, after the LORD brought national Israel through the Red Sea and completely defeated the army of Egypt. The mercy the LORD showed them was in spite of the fact that they were still worshiping idols. (Amo 5.25-27)]
But now, I pray, let the power of the Lord be great, just as You have declared, ‘The Lord is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.’ Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.
[The context is the aftermath of the Jews rebellion against the LORD very soon after leaving Egypt, in the episode of the casting of the idol of the golden calf. It is part of Moses’ prayer for a rebellious nation.]
So it shall be when all of these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind in all nations where the Lord your God has banished you, and you return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, then the Lord your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you.
[The context is Moses’ last address to the ancient Jews before they entered the Promised Land after a 40 year sojourn in the waste region. He reminds them of their responsibility to the LORD and what will happen if they are obedient.]
2 Sam 7.11b-15
The Lord also declares to you that the Lord will make a house for you. When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you.
[The context is the promise of the LORD through Nathan the prophet concerning David’s son Solomon. This was in spite of the fact that the LORD knew that Solomon would become very irresponsible by bringing idols into Israel to please his many wives.]
2 Kin 13.22-23
Now Hazael king of Aram had oppressed Israel all the days of Jehoahaz. But the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion on them and turned to them because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them or cast them from His presence until now.
[The record of the OT Scripture is that none of the approximately two dozen kings of the rebellious Northern Kingdom of Israel were “good”; all were judged as evil. Nonetheless, the LORD was gracious to Jehoahaz because of the promise He made to Abram centuries earlier.]
Now when the builders had laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord according to the directions of King David of Israel. They sang, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, saying, “For He is good, for His lovingkindness is upon Israel forever.” And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.
[The context is after the Jews returned to Jerusalem after 70 years in Babylon, they (finally) began building the temple. This is part of the praise offered to the LORD at the completion of the foundation for the temple.]
But they, our fathers, acted arrogantly;
They became stubborn and would not listen to Your commandments.
They refused to listen,
And did not remember Your wondrous deeds which You had performed among them;
So they became stubborn and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt.
But You are a God of forgiveness,
Gracious and compassionate,
Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness;
And You did not forsake them.
[The context is the time of repentance of the Jews who returned from their long captivity in Babylon (who had immediately disobeyed the LORD’s law by intermarrying with the people of the land!).]
You have granted me life and lovingkindness;
And Your care has preserved my spirit.
Return, O Lord, rescue my soul;
Save me because of Your lovingkindness.
Remember, O Lord, Your compassion and Your lovingkindnesses, For they have been from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; According to Your lovingkindness remember me, For Your goodness’ sake, O Lord.
Your lovingkindness, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the mountains of God;
Your judgments are like a great deep.
O Lord, You preserve man and beast.
How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God!
And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.
Rise up, be our help, And redeem us for the sake of Your lovingkindness.
Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.
My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises!
Awake, my glory! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn.
I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to You among the nations.
For Your lovingkindness is great to the heavens and Your truth to the clouds.
But He, being compassionate, forgave their iniquity and did not destroy them; And often He restrained His anger And did not arouse all His wrath.
[The context is the lengthy, historical Maskil of Asaph. At this point in the psalm, Asaph described the all-too-frequent rebellion of the Jews and the astonishing compassion of the LORD toward them.]
But You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, Slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth.
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Lovingkindness and truth go before You.
He has remembered His lovingkindness and His faithfulness to the house of Israel; All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.
He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.
As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.
Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.
For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.
As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
When the wind has passed over it, it is no more, and its place acknowledges it no longer.
But the lovingkindness of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children's children,
To those who keep His covenant and remember His precepts to do them.
He sends forth springs in the valleys; they flow between the mountains;
They give drink to every beast of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell; they lift up their voices among the branches.
He waters the mountains from His upper chambers; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of His works.
He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the labor of man, so that he may bring forth food from the earth,
And wine which makes man's heart glad, so that he may make his face glisten with oil, and food which sustains man's heart.
And He remembered His covenant for their sake, And relented according to the greatness of His lovingkindness. He also made them objects of compassion In the presence of all their captors.
He has made His wonders to be remembered; The Lord is gracious and compassionate.
Oh let Israel say,
“His lovingkindness is everlasting.”
O Israel, hope in the Lord; For with the Lord there is lovingkindness, And with Him is abundant redemption.
Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
The Lord is gracious and merciful; Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness.
The LORD is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works.
The eyes of all look to You, and You give them their food in due time.
You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.
Then he said, “Listen now, O house of David! Is it too slight a thing for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God as well?”
At night my soul longs for You, indeed, my spirit within me seeks You diligently; for when the earth experiences Your judgments the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness. Though the wicked is shown favor, he does not learn righteousness; he deals unjustly in the land of uprightness, and does not perceive the majesty of the LORD.
Therefore the Lord longs to be gracious to you, And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you. For the Lord is a God of justice; How blessed are all those who long for Him.
“For a brief moment I forsook you, But with great compassion I will gather you. In an outburst of anger I hid My face from you for a moment, But with everlasting lovingkindness I will have compassion on you,” Says the Lord your Redeemer.
I shall make mention of the lovingkindnesses of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, According to all that the Lord has granted us, And the great goodness toward the house of Israel, Which He has granted them according to His compassion And according to the abundance of His lovingkindnesses.
but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord.
The Lord appeared to him from afar, saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.”
Now therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel concerning this city of which you say, "It is given into the hand of the king of Babylon by sword, by famine and by pestilence. Behold, I will gather them out of all the lands to which I have driven them in My anger, in My wrath and in great indignation; and I will bring them back to this place and make them dwell in safety. They shall be My people, and I will be their God; and I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me always, for their own good and for the good of their children after them."
The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail.
I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed and said, “Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments,
“I will sow her for Myself in the land. I will also have compassion on her who had not obtained compassion, And I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ And they will say, ‘You are my God!’”
“Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
“Return to Me with all your heart,
And with fasting, weeping and mourning;
And rend your heart and not your garments.”
Now return to the Lord your God,
For He is gracious and compassionate,
Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness
And relenting of evil.
Therefore thus says the Lord, “I will return to Jerusalem with compassion; My house will be built in it,” declares the Lord of hosts, “and a measuring line will be stretched over Jerusalem.”’
so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?
What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?
1 Tim 1.16
Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.
We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.
1 Pet 3.20
who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.
The hallmark of the LORD of the Bible is that He is gracious, kind, compassionate, patient and longsuffering with a mankind which is only and thoroughly corrupt. There are many hundreds of examples in the Scripture of disobedient and rebellious mankind who were—for a time!—shown mercy despite themselves!
One of the careless thoughts of those who don’t really know the Bible is that the LORD has a preeminent characteristic such as holiness, justice, love, patience etc. That is, there are some who are “uncomfortable” with the truth of God’s wrath and instead depict Him as the “God of Love” exclusively. The reverse is also common: those who would tend to view a “God of Love” as “soft” prefer, rather, to depict Him as the “God of Justice and Wrath”.
All such artificial and careless demarcations of the LORD’s nature are evil and degrade the fact that the LORD is Unity.
[The position of SolaScripturaToday is to hold to the doctrine of the Trinity. The statement above that the “LORD is Unity” is merely to express that the LORD’s compassion is not to be viewed as working counter to His justice, for example. He is self-consistent and at unity in all those elements we term “attributes”. See here.]
The point is that when the LORD brings calamity, justice or wrath, it doesn’t imply that He has “run out of patience”. That can’t be the case; rather, it is the fact that, according to His wisdom alone, the time for those actions has come.
That point, the time for judgment, is the central idea of the next chapter, Calamity.