1 Kings 9
This is, I’m sure, a recurring theme we will encounter as we continue our journey through the Old Testament: God disciplines the ones He loves. And His discipline always carries a redemptive component (otherwise there’s no point to it). But often, I find that it’s God’s discipline that garners Him the most criticism. People tend to look at His "threats" of discipline in the Old Testament as something punitive, harsh, and retributive. And that’s how God gets a bad rap.
There’s a great example in this very chapter: "But if you or your descendants turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. Israel will then become a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples. This temple will become a heap of rubble. All who pass by will be appalled and will scoff and say, 'Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this temple?' People will answer, 'Because they have forsaken the Lord their God, who brought their ancestors out of Egypt, and have embraced other gods, worshiping and serving them—that is why the Lord brought all this disaster on them.'" (vs 6-9)
Does that sound harsh to you? On the face of it, it does seem like a very dictatorial thing to say, doesn’t it? Either do what I command, or I’ll bring disaster on you. That doesn’t sound like the way we would normally conduct our business affairs among adults. Try that tack with your employees, for instance, and you’re probably going to have a hard time making ends meet at your company!
However, what parent doesn’t employ the above principle in disciplining their children? You either listen or obey, or there will be some immediate consequences headed your way. Of course, the consequences would vary depending on the age of the child and the situation at hand. And what we so often lose sight of is that God is primarily concerned with our spiritual wellbeing, and especially in this case, He was dealing with an entire nation of spiritual infants.
That means, in this case, that the threat of consequences for disobedience was in no way a harsh or unloving thing. Rather, it was precisely the loving thing! If God left us to run headlong into sin without checking us, He would be as uncaring and negligent as a parent who ignored the obnoxious behavior of his children—or worse, made excuses for it.
If God’s discipline had no redemptive purpose or possible redemptive effect, than we might be able to discuss whether He was simply a tyrant who can’t tolerate disobedience. But that’s not the case. A parent may spank a young child who refuses to brush his teeth. The purpose? To correct the rebellious behavior so that good dental hygiene habits are established for the good of the child. If a parent is still spanking a 30-year-old child who clings to their bad dental hygiene, then there’s a problem.
Sometimes I wish we could see ourselves as God sees us—not so much our physical age as our spiritual age. (I shudder to think how infantile I am when it comes to that!) And thus, how much discipline I still require in my development. At the very least, even if we can’t see all the spiritual details as God does, perhaps He has given us enough evidence of His love and concern for us that we can trust His discipline—even when it looks harsh to us. We can trust that He isn’t just some tyrant who can’t tolerate disobedience. Rather, He is a loving parent who will do anything—even the things that make Him look bad—if it will fulfill a redemptive purpose in our lives.
At the end of the day, God doesn’t care how bad He looks. He cares about what happens to us. And that’s why He disciplines. Because He loves.