Do you remember the first time you read the Book of John, or Romans, or Revelation? I know that this may be asking you to reach back a long way, and so this will be difficult. But if you can remember your first venture into the Book of Daniel or Song of Solomon it might be interesting. Of course, I don’t remember all of them, but one or two books struck me the first time I read them. There was the love of God in some, and then the life of Christ; and there was the nature of salvation. There were different things in different books.
I do remember the first time I read the Book of Ezekiel. It wasn’t in an in-depth Bible study, rather it was just a casual reading. I wasn’t impressed with the prophesies against Israel or other nations – I had already had read many. It wasn’t the beautiful prose of Isaiah, and it didn’t have the tears and pathos of Jeremiah. I wasn’t moved by the mysteries of Ezekiel’s Heavenly visions. I was struck with the wrath of God against sin – the severity of God’s judgment. Some of the prophet’s statements seemed really harsh – but that wasn’t surprising in itself. What caught my attention was in the following verse, or two or three verses later. Sitting next to a statement about utter destruction, there was another about God’s grace and mercy.
Ezekiel is filled with statements similar to 6:6-8 – “In all your dwellingplaces the cities shall be laid waste, and the high places shall be desolate; that your altars may be laid waste and made desolate, and your idols may be broken and cease, and your images may be cut down, and your works may be abolished. And the slain shall fall in the midst of you, and ye shall know that I am the LORD. Yet will I leave a remnant, that ye may have some that shall escape the sword among the nations, when ye shall be scattered through the countries.”
Ezekiel 14:21-22 – “If I send a pestilence into that land, and pour out my fury upon it in blood, to cut off from it man and beast: Though Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, as I live, saith the Lord GOD, they shall deliver neither son nor daughter; they shall but deliver their own souls by their righteousness. For thus saith the Lord GOD; How much more when I send my four sore judgments upon Jerusalem, the sword, and the famine, and the noisome beast, and the pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast? Yet, behold, therein shall be left a remnant that shall be brought forth, both sons and daughters: behold, they shall come forth unto you, and ye shall see their way and their doings: and ye shall be comforted concerning the evil that I have brought upon Jerusalem, even concerning all that I have brought upon it.”
There are chapter after chapter of this sort of thing. Ezekiel 11:16 – “Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Although I have cast them far off among the heathen, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet will I be to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they shall come.”
The Book of Ezekiel reminds me of a lighthouse on a dark night. For five seconds, grace shines brightly, but then there are five seconds of utter darkness. During the darkness, wicked sailors might be destroyed on the rocks the lighthouse tries to protect. But if they would just look and remember, they should be able to escape. Man at his best is a stupid sinful creature, not much smarter than a donkey or a sheep. He lives in the process of self-destruction. Israel had been given blessing after blessing, but still she chose rebellion and destruction. But once in a while there would be the bright light of God’s grace – or the promise of grace.
If God was only love and mercy, He would soon be ignored. If universalism was true, and Jehovah could be expected to eventually pardon everyone – even the most wretched among us – then what need do we really have of God at all? There would be no worship of the Lord; no fellowship with Him as we were created to do. If there was no justice and no judgment for sin, society would spin even more quickly into destruction. As sinners, we need every scarey prophecy and every promise of divine wrath. But thank God for the intervention of grace.
Ezekiel 18:2-21 – “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him. BUT if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die.” “The wages of sin is death; BUT the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him, BUT he that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.”
The whole Bible is filled with these contrasting statements – these alternating attributes of God. And our text opens the door to these considerations.
For example we can see the SLOWNESS and yet the STRENGTH of God’s anger.
“The LORD is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked.” When you look at men, a quick temper reveals a shallow, fleshly character. A part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit is longsuffering, and where that is missing you have either a lost man or fleshly Christian. A person who is filled with Spirit does not revile in return when he is reviled. He does not counter-attack. “Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools” says Solomon. “He that is soon angry dealeth foolishly.” “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty.” “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” The Christian who is quick to anger destroys his testimony before the world – even when we think that it is in God’s name that we are angry.
Our God is sometimes angry, but He is never hot-headed – in fact He is quite the opposite. “For my name’s sake will I defer mine anger, and for my praise will I refrain for thee, that I cut thee not off.” For years one of my favorite scriptures came from the less-well-known Book of Nehemiah. The recipients of God’s grace – the remnant which had returned to the land from Babylon had assembled in much the same manner as we are assembled here today. The book of the law was read for one fourth part of the day, while another quarter of the day was spent in confession and the worship of God. Then in Nehemiah 9 we read one of the greatest prayers recorded in the Word of God. And after recounting before the Lord some of His judgments against Israel, we read verse 31 – “Nevertheless for thy great mercies’ sake thou didst not utterly consume them, nor forsake them; for thou art a gracious and merciful God.”
How long did it take Jehovah to create the universe? How long did He delay in destroying Jericho? Truly, “the LORD is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy.” God is longsuffering, but eventually all good things come to an end.
As you well know, most people who are ignorant of scripture picture God as one hemisphere, one pole. They picture Him as either positive or negative. But like the earth which He created, Jehovah is two hemispheres and two poles. While one part of the earth is in winter the other is in summer; while part are enjoying the day, the other is in the night. The Lord loves righteousness and hates iniquity, and He responds to them both differently. God so loves sinners that He sent His only begotten Son to die to redeem some of them. At the same time, He so hates sin that He sent His only begotten Son to die under His own wrath. When sinners reject God’s grace and the gift of His love, they will be unceremoniously cast into “the Lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.”
Because despite the SLOWNESS of God’s judgment it is absolutely SURE.
“The LORD is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked.” God doesn’t pay His accounts every week – or even twice a month. It may be that the righteous suffer persecution for years and the wicked pour out their wrath for decades without either seeing the hand of God. But restitution and reward are guaranteed nevertheless. “The LORD is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked.” James says, “Every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Do not err, my beloved brethren.” “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:”
When we first started going to Farragut for church camp, I was required to count noses. At the end of the week, I’d have to pay the camp for the number of people who attended. Things and have changed and now, I have to prepay – and that is ten months in advance. In our daily lives, we often have to pay for things in advance. And people sometimes think that this is God’s way. They believe they are living in some sort of hell on earth – prepaying for an eternity in Heaven. Wishful thinking. Those unbelievers haven’t seen anything yet. And this is particularly tragic because there is a great deal of suffering in this world. But rather than looking at today’s tragedies as a tiny foretaste of the eternal wrath of God, they think of it as some sort of inoculation against what could yet come.
On the other hand, are those millions who are living in wickedness, unbelief, and outright rebellion against God, but they aren’t suffering in the least. They aren’t even receiving the dividends or interest payments against their great debt toward the Lord. The Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the prophets of God all clearly declare that the real recompense will come later – at the Lord’s return and beyond that. So today, the rain falls on the wicked and the righteous, and then the sun shines on both neighbors equally. Electricity reaches both homes and the taps run water into both. This is a day of sowing – not necessarily a day of reaping. “The LORD is slow to anger, and great in power, (BUT he) will not at all acquit the wicked.”
The slowness of God’s judgment is not slackness – it is a small taste of mercy. The silence of God toward the wicked is not forgetfulness – it is divine patience. “There is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known.” “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.”
Even we Christians sometimes think that we can get away with proverbial “murder.” If we aren’t living in repentance, then we can expect the Father’s correction. Many saints have “forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him.” Simply because a man has been justified and his sins are under the blood, that doesn’t mean tomorrow’s sins will not bring down God’s chastisement. But, “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And by the way, one Christian doesn’t need to worry about the sins of the other Christian when he remembers that the Lord knows more about both of us than we do.
One other point I’d like to consider this morning is that –
The SLOW arrival of God’s judgment should not mislead us into denying its SWIFTNESS.
“The LORD is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked.” Under general parlance, a tornado is one of those few things considered to be “an act of God.” Science so-called has not yet blamed American society for tornados – at least not yet. And earthquakes are not caused by the burning of fossil fuels or the damming of the rivers. The are called “acts of God” – and I think the phrase is accurate. And right or wrong I picture a tornado as God’s judgment. When Mt. Rainier explodes again, destroying Seattle, it will be God’s judgment on that place.
One of the characteristics of a tornado or an earthquake, despite all science is trying to do to predict them… One of the characteristics of the tornado is the swiftness with which it destroys. And to the wicked destruction will come as swiftly like the whirlwind. “Behold, the whirlwind of the LORD goeth forth with fury, a continuing whirlwind: it shall fall with pain upon the head of the wicked.” They that sow to the wind shall reap of the whirlwind. “The LORD is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the LORD hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.”
But judgment is only one part of God’s vindication. At times the only way to settle the account is through divine judgment. But God spoke to Job kindly out of a different kind of whirlwind – justifying Himself before that man. God will make all accounts right – both positive and negative. It is the despot who kills his subjects without just cause, but God is not a despot.
“The Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.” To the wicked the Bible declares – “Be afraid. Be very, very afraid. Because your judgment is near. Open your eyes, and turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that you may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in Christ.” “Rend your heart … and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness…”
To the Christian the Word of God says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Which of God’s alternate attributes do you expect to experience? Do you have any scriptural right to think so? Repent before God and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.