The men who promptly and speedily executed the divine judgements upon those heathen nations have been pronounced harsh and unmerciful in destroying so many human lives. But all who reason thus, fail to understand the character and dealings of God. In His infinite mercy, the Lord had long spared those idolatrous nations, giving them evidence upon evidence that He, the mighty Jehovah, was the God whom they should serve. He had commanded Moses not to make war upon Moab or Midian, for their cup of iniquity was not yet full. Additional evidence was to be given; clear and distinct light from the throne of God itself was to shine upon them.
When the king of Moab had called Balaam to pronounce a curse upon Israel, and thus accomplish their destruction, the goodness and mercy of God was strikingly displayed. That corrupt and hypocritical gain-seeker, whose heart longed to curse God's people for reward, was constrained to pronounce upon them the richest and most sublime blessings. The Moabites themselves could see that it was the power of God which controlled the avaricious prophet, and compelled him in the most exalted strains of inspiration to proclaim Israel God's chosen, and His almighty power her protection. Here the last ray of light shone upon a stiff-necked people who had set their wills in defiance to the will of God. When, at the suggestion of Balaam, the snare was laid for Israel, which resulted in the destruction of many thousands, then it was that the Midianites filled up the measure of their iniquities. Then their day of probation ended, the door of mercy was to them closed, and the mandate went forth from Him who can create and can destroy, "Vex the Midianites, and smite them: for they vex you with their wiles." Numbers 25:17-18.
Those who would complain of God, or question the wisdom and justice of His dealings with His creatures should realise their own incompetence, with their finite wisdom, to determine what conduct is befitting to the Judge of all the earth. They should make it their chief anxiety to so conduct themselves as not to become subjects of His wrath, and should leave the Lord to deal with the work of His hands according to His own wise purposes.
Moses had been filled with grief and indignation at the deceitful wiles by which Israel had been enticed to sin and thus bring upon themselves the wrath of God. In the command to make war upon the Midianites, Moses saw not only the justice of God in visiting His judgements upon the guilty, but His mercy in giving Israel the victory over a people who were seeking by every hellish art to accomplish their destruction. The Israelites were to engage in this warfare, not to gratify malice or revenge, but as God's instruments, to do His bidding, being influenced solely by zeal for the divine glory.
Men do not understand what they are doing, when they permit themselves even for a moment, to doubt the wisdom and benevolence of God--to regard as a species of cruelty the judgements visited upon the stubborn and rebellious. Few realise the malignity of sin. It is a deadly leprosy, contaminating all who are brought in contact with it. If men persist in showing contempt for divine authority, God, who created them, and whose property they are, has a perfect right to take from them the blessings which they have abused. God's name and authority as Ruler in the universe must be maintained. When idolatry is rearing its proud head, when blasphemy and rebellion are strengthening, then God reproves the sins of the nations, and the manifestations of divine anger which they had provoked come upon the transgressors of His law. The Most High delivers His word of doom, and chooses the instruments to perform His will. These messengers of God are required to faithfully perform the work appointed them, however repugnant it may be to their natural feelings. Sacred history records no instance in which these men were reproved for too great thoroughness and severity; but God has many times reproved His servants for lack of faithfulness in executing His judgements. In all this, God would teach us the lesson that in the future judgement retribution will surely be visited upon every soul of man that doeth evil, according to the deeds done in the body. See Romans 2:6, 9.
God's method of dealing with sin is not in harmony with the views cherished by a large class who occupy a prominent position among the professed followers of Christ. Many of these men cherish sin, and laud the benevolence and long-suffering of God, and dwell upon the loving character of Jesus--all mercy, all tenderness--while they pass over the threatenings of God's wrath against sin and sinners, and our Saviour's scathing denunciations of hypocrisy and self-deception. It is those who have not a keen sense of the exceeding sinfulness of sin that are ready to question the justice of God in punishing with such severity the sins of the Amalekites, Canaanites, and Midianites. Those who love sin are unable to comprehend God's dealings with His subjects.
In our day, as in ancient times, there is disagreeable work to be done in reproving sin. In this work, God uses men as His instruments--men of determined purpose, whom no threat or peril can intimidate, no hardship turn aside from the path of duty--men who will never forget their sacred commission as servants of the Most High. The Lord calls for men to act promptly, with the courage of heroes, and the firmness and faith of martyrs, to tear down the idolatrous images that have usurped His place in the minds of men, and meet the armed force of wrong on battlefields. But in all this there is no excuse for any to indulge in harshness or severity to gratify their own wrong feelings.
God wants men whom he can use to his own glory, either to bear reproof and execute justice, or, with a heart full of piety and benevolence, to carry light into darkened homes, to speak peace to the troubled soul, and point the sinner to the pardoning love of Christ. The great want of this age is men fitted to do God's will--men who will listen with praying hearts for God's words, and will hasten to obey His voice.
There are men full of zeal, who claim to be doing God's will, while in reality they are governed by human impulse. They feel at liberty to question, criticise, and challenge everyone who does not act in harmony with their ideas. They make themselves offensive to God and to the people. They wound continually, and by their wrong course create in others a spirit of distrust and hatred for God, because He employs such men to do His work. But the Lord does not give these men the great work which they consider theirs. If He did, He would give them grace to perform it after Heaven's order, not their own. Those who are permitted to become co-workers with God, should ever cultivate the feeling that in every plan and work, they are doing the will of the Most High; and that in any and every emergency, God's Spirit, not man's is to bear sway.
Balaam, having yielded himself to the control of covetousness, and hardened his heart by persistent rebellion, had joined his fortunes with the Midianites, and he perished in the general slaughter. He had felt a presentiment that his own end was near when he exclaimed, "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!" Numbers 23:10. The fate of Balaam is similar to that of Judas, and their characters bear a marked resemblance to each other. Both had received great light and enjoyed special privileges; but a single cherished sin, like gangrene, poisoned the entire character, and drove them to perdition.
While the victorious Israelites completely destroyed the armies of Midian, they spared all the women and children, and brought them into the camp as captives. When Moses ascertained this, he became alarmed and indignant, and thus reproved the officers of the host: "Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord." Numbers 31:16. There had been a lack of thoroughness in executing the commands of God. The war against Midian had been a just retribution upon a guilty people, of whom the women had been the principal criminals. Had these idolatrous, licentious women been preserved as captives, their presence would have constantly endangered the morals of Israel. The sympathy which would spare these transgressors was contrary to the will of God.
There is a sympathy for sin and sinners that is dangerous to the prosperity of the church at the present day. You must have charity is the cry. But that sentiment that would excuse wrong and shield the guilty, is not the charity of the Bible. The friendship of the wicked is more dangerous than their enmity; for none can prevail against the servants of the living God, except by tempting them to disobedience.
The offensive character of sin can be estimated only in the light of the cross. When men urge that God is too merciful to punish the transgressors of His law, let them look to Calvary; let them realise that it was because Christ took upon Himself the guilt of the disobedient, and suffered in the sinners stead, that the sword of justice was awakened against the Son of God. It was to save us from shame and everlasting contempt that He endured the scorn and mockery which the world heaped upon Him. It was our sins that caused the Saviour of the world such intense agony, pouring darkness into His soul, and extorting from His pale lips the anguished cry, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Mark 15:34.
He was numbered among the transgressors; He made His soul an offering for sin, that in His righteousness the believing, repenting sinner might stand justified before God.
After all this, if man refuses to respond to the great sacrifice which has been made to ennoble and to save him, if he obstinately chooses the path of sin, will the great Judge of all the earth excuse the wilful transgression of His holy law? Surely, everything that is noble and generous in our natures must respond to such love as Jesus manifested in suffering for our sake. It was an unexampled humiliation for Him to take upon Himself the nature of fallen man, and sacrifice His life for a race of rebels; and the manner of His death makes that humiliation more apparent. He "became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." Philippians 2:8.
Jesus was not insensible to ignominy. He felt the disgrace of sin as much more keenly than it is possible for man to feel it, as His divine and sinless nature was exalted above the nature of man. We should never entertain the thought that the Majesty of Heaven, so holy and undefiled, was not acutely sensitive to scorn and mockery, abuse and pain. He asks the murderous mob in Gethsemane, "Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and staves?" Matthew 26:55. This shameful treatment Jesus keenly felt, yet for our sakes He endured the most ignominious and most painful death which it was possible for mortals to experience; a death which was appropriate for the basest of criminals was that which the Lord of Glory suffered to ransom guilty man. Let none flatter themselves that they can continue in sin, and yet share in the great salvation which Christ has so dearly purchased. God is merciful and compassionate, but He is also just. Let the cross of Cavalry forever settle this matter. As surely as Christ, the guiltless, suffered for the guilty, so surely will the wrath of God fall upon the heads of those who persist in their transgression of His law.
Signs of the Times, January 6, 1881.