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“Yet He was merciful and forgave their sins and did not destroy them all. Many times He held back His anger and did not unleash His fury!” Psalm 78:38 NLT
Selfish. Rebellious. These are just some of the words that can best describe the near-apostasy of God’s chosen people, the physical nation of Israel. The sin offerings described in the Old Testament are but a glimpse into the culture of sin. A young bull here, a lamb there, a goat the next time, two turtledoves, etc. – and you need to make an offering every time you fell into sin. Yes, your sins will be “covered” so that when God looks down, He will not see the sin but the blood of the animal sacrifice you offered. In a way the sin can be atoned for, but you will certainly “feel the pain” from an economic side as a consequence.
In the past, Moses interceded on behalf of a stiff-necked people. Then there was Aaron and his sons. The blood offering from animals and the priestly intercession stood in the gap, allowing them to survive for some time. Though the LORD’s devouring sword was lifted in mid-air, it was sheathed again so that the nation of Israel may live. His mercy truly endures forever.
Even today, the Lord Jesus Christ does the same: standing in the gap between God and men, pleading all of us to repent in order to avert the divine calamity. If there was a physical nation of Israel in the Old Testament, there is a spiritual nation of Israel in the modern times: the church. We’ve seen the height of God’s compassion when He sent His only begotten Son, but not the full extent of His righteous wrath.
The text said that many times the LORD held back His anger, like a loving father who cannot find in his heart to enforce the full term of the chastisement that his children deserved. Although we continue to provoke the LORD day after day, He bear with us and spared us and turned His anger away. The LORD never treats us like His enemy, but like His children.
Because the LORD is merciful, He withholds the punishment due to us. Instead, He chose to bless us. We owe God a debt so great that we could never repay and then when all hope seems lost God freely forgave us all those debts through His Son Christ Jesus.
In the end, God’s mercy triumphs over His judgment (paraphrase of James 2:13b).
“I have always found that mercy bears richer fruit than strict justice” – Abraham Lincoln –