Does God Still Punish Us?

Do you remember your last spanking?

I do, and it still hurts to think about it.

My mom had instructed me to clean the garage, which meant moving everything out onto the driveway. “Just remember to move everything back in the garage before it rains this afternoon,” she warned me.

“I know,” I replied. Famous last words. As a parent, they’ve become words that I despise.

So off I meandered to the garage, quickly moving everything onto the driveway. Initially, I built up some pretty good momentum, but by the time I started sweeping the garage, I had become very easily distracted. I read some old Boys’ Life magazines that were kept in a box. I chased some crickets. By lunchtime, I was looking for any distraction to deliver from this incredibly boring chore.

So, like any good preteen, I savored my lunch and then laid down for a short nap.

“Hey Mike,” my older sister yelled down the stairs. “It’s starting to sprinkle.” I jumped to my feet and ran outside.

I knew I needed to move everything inside before my mom caught me. My 5 year old sister was watching me, so I begged for her help. “Lisa, please help me move everything inside.”

“Nope. You’re on your own…” Right then my mom came marching outside.

“When you’re finished moving everything into the garage, go up to your room,” she said in her measured yet stern voice. She held a hard plastic vacuum cleaner hose in her hand and she wasn’t afraid to use it.

Don’t you hate that feeling of impending judgment?

That day my mom gave me the spanking of my life. I think she knew it was my last spanking, and she wanted me to remember it. I think I counted 7 welts on my bottom the next day.

Do you ever wonder if God treats us the same way? Does he still punish us the way he punished Israel two thousand years ago?

Please join us as we delve into this topic in our daily Bible conversation.

TODAY’S READING

Ezekiel 14:12-17:24
Hebrews 7:18-8:13
Psalm 106:1-31
Proverbs 27:4-9

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

Ezekiel 14:12-17:24. Ezekiel 16 is pretty harsh. Interpreting it through a 21st century mindset, God is likening Israel to a sex addict. Rather than charge clients for her services, she pays them for the pleasure. But worse yet, God criticizes for for imitating the sin of Sodom. The people are “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned” (verse 49).

Hebrews 7:18-8:13. The writer of Hebrews makes a clear argument that Jesus instituted a new covenant. Instead of calling us to follow the law, God chose to write the law on our hearts.

Proverbs 27:4-9. Honesty in relationships seems to be the theme here. The Message gives us a fresh rendition of verse 5: “A spoken reprimand is better than approval that’s never expressed.”

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THE WORD MADE FRESH

At the very beginning of Psalm 106, the psalmist writes, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever” (verse 1). Something gets lost in the translation here, especially in the New International Version (NIV). The word used here for “love” is hesed, which can be translated “lovingkindness” or “faithful love.” It means a love that never comes to an end.

So the phrase could be translated “God’s eternally faithful love lasts forever.” That’s a pretty strong statement! Any worthy editor would try to fix it because the phrase is redundant, which is probably what the NIV people were thinking. Yet the psalmist was trying to make the point that God never, ever gives up.

But notice what occurs next: the psalmist recounts the sins of the people and the judgment they experienced. Even God’s judgment is couched in his faithful love. God doesn’t punish us just to hurt us, he punishes us with the intention of restoring our relationship. Richard Hooker, the Anglican priest and theologian wrote 450 years ago, “Affliction is both a medicine if we sin, and a preservative that we sin not.”

God’s prophecy against Israel in Ezekiel 16 reinforces this. Despite condemning Israel for prostituting herself to other gods, he concludes his tirade by saying, “Then my wrath against you will subside and my jealous anger will turn away from you; I will be calm and no longer angry” (verse 42). Furthermore he says, “Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you” (verse 60). Not coincidentally, the writer of Hebrews in today’s reading expands on this, explaining the nature of the new covenant (chapter 8).

And what is the extent of God’s lovingkindness? This takes my breath away. After condemning Israel for her sin in Ezekiel 16:63, God tells his beloved, “When I make atonement for you…” Rather than wait for us to confess and repent, while our hearts are far away from God, he initiates the restoration process and provides the means for reconciling us.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church with Eugene Scott in Littleton, Colorado.

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