Does God ever reject mercy?

there is an account in 1 Kings 20 where the king of Aram, Ben Hadad, attacks Israel (Samaria) twice within a year and God promises to deliver them into the hands of Ahab. The second time the Arameans suffered great losses and Ben Hadad and the 32 kings that accompanied him decided to present themselves to king Ahab in sackcloth with ropes around their necks (I assume to mean “we deserve to die”). Ben Hadad’s officials advised him to do this saying that they had heard that the kings of the house of Israel were merciful.

Here’s the shocker that makes us stop and ask questions. King Ahab actually treats Ben Hadad like a brother and drives him around in his chariot while BH promises to return cities and give him commercial opportunities. God delivers and mercy is shown…a great picture right? Wrong! God’s prophet (unnamed) sets up a ruse to get the kings attention (by the way, one of his companions gets killed by a lion for not wounding him with a sword when he asks). He condemns the king and says the words of the Lord, “You have set free a man I had determined should die. Therefore it is your life for his life, your people for his people.”

“Show Me Your Glory”

Ex. 33:18 Moses asks God, “Now show me your glory.”

15 Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. 16 How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

17 And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”

18 Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”

19 And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

Then in chapter 34 God describes his nature as he reveals himself,

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

Ok, so I really connect with the profound revelation of God’s character in the early part of verse 6 and 7. God’s glory is his compassion, love and faithfulness…also the depth of his forgiveness. Oh but wait, we have to tack on to the end of that, “Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished.” Is that also supposed to be a comfort. Surely it is intended so, but it also raises the serious question, “who are the guilty?” If all have sinned (Rom 3:23), both Jew and gentile, then are the guilty here simply the ones who not only continue in sin but also actively support it’s propagation with no intent to be reconciled to God or to repent? And that “third and fourth generation” thing doesn’t quite have the same aroma as “maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”

There always seems to be this balancing opposite in scripture, when describing God, that keeps you from going wholesale one direction or another. The God of wrath v.s. the God of love, compassion and forgiveness.

Expect the cross

1 Thessalonians 1:6

You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.
7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8 The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere.

Why do we in America become so preoccupied with our own security and the freedom to pursue individual happiness? Any question of this founding value is tantamount to heresy or hate speech in this country. As believers in a politically engrossed season of elections, let’s not forget that our priorities are part of an alternate kingdom and our allegiance is to a savior that chose the path of the cross. It is my conviction that this path was not simply what Christ chose in our place…to replace our need to walk this path. The whole context of rabbinic leadership in his time was one of imitation. A Rabbi’s disciples (talmiddim) would follow and mimic every action, every word. No, the cross was much more than a grand sacrifice to take our place so we would never have to endure suffering like that. I think it was quite clear as a call to action to his disciples to follow him in this kind of life. Self sacrificing love. Not the pursuit of sacrifice but the pursuit of love…willingness to absorb hate and injustice and respond with love. I’m not comfortable with this statement at all. It rattles me. It’s radical. But let’s look at how it played out in the lives of Jesus’ disciples. They clearly caught the challenge to follow their Lord in the path of the cross. Did they miss his point or understand it perfectly well and we have perhaps missed it?

Jesus Writes in the Sand

Perhaps a more convincing picture than any of the other conjectures I’ve heard about the scene of Jesus writing in the sand comes from a book by Joe Amaral titled, “Understanding Jesus” (Cultural insights into the words and deeds of Christ).

In line with many of the more compelling teachings I’ve “sat under” of recent years, this comes from study of the Hebrew traditions and culture surrounding the events of Christ’s life. It takes into account the description in John 7 of the words of Jesus in the temple on the day immediately preceding the incident with the Pharisees and the adulturess woman. It is the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles  during which it was common practice (in second temple era) to practice a “water libation ceremony” culminating in a glorious worship service on the last day. With this visible symbol of water before them and the collective scriptural consciousness of the references to the Lord as the spring of living water, Jesus stands up and says, “If anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the scripture said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”

that’s the backdrop. Now, the people argue afterwards about who this man is. They know he claims Messiahship. The next day they try to trap him…Amaral suggests this must take place in the outer temple courtyard. Jesus stoops two times to write in the sand. the first does not serve to staunch their challenge of questions and they persist. Jesus is dropping hints in the traditional “Remez” method that is pointing his audience to scriptures. In this case he seems to be pointing them to the issue of personal sin and pointing to the passage in Jeremiah 17:13 – “Oh Lord, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the Lord, the spring of living water.”

Wow, what a powerful image…that those who turn away from the Lord will have their names written in the dust because they have rejected God’s Living Water. They knew what he was referencing. He claimed to be Messiah and the source of living Water just the day before…they rejected him. He didn’t back down or try to soften his claim but points immediately to the passage pointing to their rejection of Living Water. With this background it is easy to imagine that what was written on the ground was their very names. Perhaps the first instance of writing was simply to write a list of personal sins that was common to man and shared by these men and the second instance got more personal with their very names. We don’t know for sure but understanding more about the context helps us see a more colorful and poignant picture.


Footnote (excerpted from here):

Remez  (pronounced reh-mez’ – meaning “hint”)

This is where another (implied) meaning is alluded to in the text, usually revealling a deeper meaning. There may still be a p’shat meaning as well as another meaning as any verse can have multiple levels of meaning.

An example of implied “REMEZ” Proverbs 20:10 – Different weights, and different measures, both of them are alike an abomination to the Lord. The p’shat would be concerned with a merchant using the same scale to weigh goods for all of his customers. The remez implies that this goes beyond this into aspects of fairness and honesty in anyone’s life.

P’shat  (pronounced peh-shaht’ – meaning “simple”)

The p’shat is the plain, simple meaning of the text. The understanding of scripture in its natural, normal sense using the customary meanings of the word’s being used, literary style, historical and cultural setting, and context. The p’shat is the keystone of Scripture understanding. If we discard the p’shat we lose any real chance of an accurate understanding and we are no longer objectively deriving meaning from the Scriptures (exegesis), but subjectively reading meaning into the scriptures (eisogesis). The Talmud states that no passage loses its p’shat:

Talmud Shabbat 63a – Rabbi Kahana objected to Mar son of Rabbi Huna: But this refers to the words of the Torah? A verse cannot depart from its plain meaning, he replied.

Note that within the p’shat you can find several types of language, including figurative, symbolic and allegorical. The following generic guidelines can be used to determine if a passage is figurative and therefore figurative even in its p’shat:

When an inanimate object is used to describe a living being, the statement is figurative. Example: Isaiah 5:7 – For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant; and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.
When life and action are attributed to an inanimate object the statement is figurative. Example: Zechariah 5:1-3 – Then I turned, and lifted up my eyes, and looked, and behold a flying scroll.  And he said to me, What do you see? And I answered, I see a flying scroll; its length is twenty cubits, and its width ten cubits.  And he said to me, This is the curse that goes out over the face of the whole earth; for everyone who steals shall be cut off henceforth, according to it; and everyone who swears falsely shall be cut off henceforth, according to it.
When an expression is out of character with the thing described, the statement is figurative. Example: Psalm 17:8 – Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of your wings …

Legacy of Stanley Hauerwas

referenced by Rick Mckinley at Imago Dei.

Stanley Hauerwas is considered by many to be a leading theologian in America and says of his legacy (here) that he wants students to care about what he cares about…truthfulness of Christian speech. He wants students to engage in questions about faith and God without the feeling that they need to protect God, because the moment you feel you need to protect God then you can be sure that you’re worshiping an idol. He wants the intellectuals to be engaged in such a way that no question is thought to be avoided…to care deeply about the Gospel in a way that is compelling for how we understand our lives in this world that is destined to death.

The Denial of Death – Earnest Becker

This book has been referenced a lot on Richard Beck’s blog and on Some quotes and ideas from the book below:

“The man of knowledge in our time is bowed down under a burden he never imagined he would ever have: the overproduction of truth that cannot be consumed. For centuries man lived in the belief that truth was slim and elusive and that once he found it the troubles of mankind would be over. And here we are in the closing decades of the 20th century, choking on truth. There has been so much brilliant writing, so many genial discoveries, so vast an extension and elaboration of these discoveries – yet the mind is silent as the world spins on its age-old demonic career. (this is then contrasted by the proof of our priorities)…This year the order of priority was again graphically shown by a world arms budget of 204 billion dollars, at a time when human living conditions on the planet were worse than ever.”

“…for the time being I gave up writing – there is already too much truth in the world – an overproduction which apparently cannot be consumed!” – Otto Rank (disciple of Freud)

Becker tries through this book to unify or harmonize the plethora of views on man and the human condition. He attempts to strip away the exaggeration and distill the arguments to the core truths they contain. It is his bid for the peace of his scholarly soul that has struggled for many years to successfully harmonize valid truths from disparate philosophies. He calls it his first mature work. He argues for a merger of phsychology and mythico-religious perspective, holding Kierkegaard in high esteem as representing the development of psychology following Freud. He heavily follow’s Otto Rank’s work in this attempt at a merger.

He refers to a book of Otto Rank’s “Art and Artist” that Frederick Perls referred to as “beyond praise” and agrees with him.

the eastern tendency toward amalgamation

This is an interesting observation about Clean and Unclean laws of the Old Testament and possible look into God’s reasoning. Excerpted link below…


In commanding complete destruction of the Canaanites, the Lord says,
“You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their
sons, or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away
your sons from following me, to serve other gods” (Deut 7.3-4).
This command is part and parcel of the whole fabric of complex Jewish
ritual law distinguishing clean and unclean practices.  To the
contemporary Western mind many of the regulations in Old Testament law
seem absolutely bizarre and pointless:  not to mix linen with wool, not
to use the same vessels for meat and for milk products, etc.
The overriding thrust of these regulations is to prohibit various kinds
of mixing.  Clear lines of distinction are being drawn: this and not that.  These serve as daily, tangible reminders that Israel is a special people set apart for God Himself.

I spoke once with an Indian missionary who told me that the Eastern mind
has an inveterate tendency toward amalgamation.  He said Hindus upon
hearing the Gospel would smile and say, “Sub ehki eh, sahib, sub ehki eh!”
(“All is One, sahib, All is One!” [Hindustani speakers forgive my
transliteration!]).  It made it almost impossible to reach them because
even logical contradictions were subsumed in the whole.  He said that he
thought the reason God gave Israel so many arbitrary commands about
clean and unclean was to teach them the Law of Contradiction!

By setting such strong, harsh dichotomies God taught Israel that any
assimilation to pagan idolatry is intolerable.  It was His way of
preserving Israel’s spiritual health and posterity.  God knew that if
these Canaanite children were allowed to live, they would spell the
undoing of Israel.  The killing of the Canaanite children not only
served to prevent assimilation to Canaanite identity but also served as a
shattering, tangible illustration of Israel’s being set exclusively
apart for God.

No one “saw” God except Jesus

Copied comment by Tim Cooper on a blog post by Steve Sensenick at beyondthebox that discusses our view of inerrancy of scripture. Link here


John the Baptist boldly heralds the arrival of Jesus with an earth
shattering statement. In the face of all the great scholars of his time,
In the face of the Sadducee’s and Pharisees unsurpassed knowledge of
scripture the Baptist rips apart their theology in one sentence…

John 1:18 No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.

Have we overlooked the significance of this proclamation? The Greek
word for “seen” in the above verse means; (to know by experience, to
perceive or to be acquainted with). John the Baptist just dropped an
atom bomb! He flat out told those that memorized the first five books of
the Bible that they did NOT know God!

For the first seventeen verses of Chapter One the apostle John gives
us a history lesson, a mini Bible as he sees it. Then he finishes with a
quote from John the Baptist, “No man has seen (to know by experience,
to perceive or to be acquainted with) God”. John is telling us that up
until this point in history no one really knew God. Jesus His Son had
arrived to declare and reveal the Father’s true nature to mankind. When
John the Baptist said NO ONE knew God, did he mean it? Was John
“inspired” by God when he said it? When John said NO ONE had a clear
picture of who God was, wouldn’t that include the Old Testament writers?
If this were just one isolated verse we could possibly explain it away
or symbolize it but the problem is it’s not an isolated verse, it is
repeated over and over by Jesus himself.

John 5:37
And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me.
Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape.

John the Baptist proclaims to the world that NO ONE knew God before
Jesus and here we see Jesus confirming John’s message. NO ONE had fully
and completely heard or seen God before Jesus Christ

John 17:25
O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known
thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me. 26 And I have
declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love
wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.

Whenever the word “name” is used in Hebrew it simply means nature or
character. So when Jesus says; I will declare your name, He is saying I
will declare (who you are). The fall had so blinded us and so twisted
our nature that it was impossible to see God clearly. Jesus is the light
that came to help us see God for who He truly is. “The world has not
known you, but I have and I will declare to them who you are!”

John 8:19
Then said they unto him, Where is thy Father? Jesus answered; Ye
neither know me, nor my Father: if ye had known me, ye should have known
my Father also.

If you know Me, you would know the Father. Or we could flip this
around and say if you don’t know Jesus you don’t really know the Father.
Did the Old Testament writers know Jesus as well as a born again
believer? Jesus Himself said that the least in the Kingdom of God is
greater than the greatest Old Testament prophet. – Selah

Mark 12:24 And Jesus answering said unto them, Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God?

Was Jesus actually saying that they didn’t know the scriptures? Most
scholars agree and Jesus knew that this group of people did know the
scriptures from mans point of view. But once again He was telling them
they didn’t really see, they still believed the lie and thus remained
behind a veil.

John 6:46 Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father.

What will it take before Christians agree with Jesus and simply say
that NO ONE really knew God before He showed up? Is it possible we have
let the writers of the Old Testament actually trump what Jesus said?

John 5:39
Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and
they are they which testify of me. 40 And ye will not come to me, that
ye might have life

Have we as New Testament believers become like the Pharisees and
Sadducees? Will we remain behind a veil that Christ Himself removed?
Will we give as much weight to the Old Testament writers as we do to
Jesus Himself?

Over and over we are told no one really knew God, no one saw Gods
true nature. Jesus was here to clear that up, the express image telling
us that if we have seen Him we have seen the Father. Jesus was here to
tell us He didn’t do or say anything He didn’t see the Father do. The
Word, God in flesh was here to say; look at Me, I’m it. I am what you
have been looking for in the scriptures. I am here in bodily form to
show you exactly what I am like. All things written before, all things
seen before are just shadows; you did not see me clearly. Here, I AM.

Brian Zahnd – unconditional?

Book title – Unconditional? The call of Jesus to radical forgiveness.

Zahnd says, “the primary experience and central emphasis of Christianity revolves around the theme of forgiveness. If Christianity is about anything, it is about forgiveness. Not forgiveness as merely an end in itself or a legal means of escaping punishment, but forgiveness as reconciliation and total restoration.

Other excerpts:

p. 11 “the call of Christ to take up our cross and follow him is very specifically a call to love our enemies and end the cycle of revenge by responding with forgiveness….Christian forgiveness is not cheap. Rather it is costly because it flows from the cross-the place where injustice and forgiveness meet in a violent collision. Christian forgiveness does not call us to forget. Christian forgiveness allows us to remember but calls us to end the cycle of revenge.

p.15 “It’s all too easy to reduce being a Christian to a conferred status-the result of having “accepted Jesus as your personal Savior.” But that kind of minimalist approach is a gross distortion of what the earliest followers of Jesus understood being a Christian to mean. the original Christians didn’t merely (or even primarily) see themselves as those who had received a “get out of hell free” card from Jesus but as followers, students, learners, and disciples of the one whom they called Master and Teacher. Jesus was the master, and they were the disciples.”  – note: most of us would be considered students or learners, disciple is a much stronger term from “Talmidim”.

Did Moses initiate his own law or the sacrificial system?

Ray and Steve on the “Beyond the Box” podcast suggest that MAYBE God never required the sacrificial system or wanted it at all and that MAYBE Moses assumed these things since all nations practiced sacrifices to deities. It may be possible that God never ultimately wanted animal sacrifice and took no delight in them.

I can’t buy that Moses did this on his own, however. Numbers 29:40 “Moses told the Israelites all that the Lord commanded him.” Moses talked openly with God and obeyed him. the time he misrepresented God’s instruction lead to strong repercussions. I can’t believe he acted on his own with the Levitical laws.

It may be that God installed the animal sacrifice as a transition from the violence of the nations that practiced human sacrifice because the people wouldn’t understand wholly eradicating any form of blood sacrifice. This might be evidence of God’s patient process with mankind meeting them where they are and working with the language they understand, ultimately leading them to Christ as a complete or full revelation of his will and nature. Whatever the motive or reason behind the sacrificial system, it was filled with symbolism that pointed to Christ and that both Christ and the early apostles appropriated language from. All the events leading to the cross and resurrection were perfectly timed and mirrored in the feast celebrations of Israel, something Ray Vanderlaan first drew my attention to.

Something Ray also pointed out was that Jewish theology didn’t see the sacrifices as something that took their sins away or made them pure before God. Rather they saw it as a reminder that God promised to make a way for them and to take care of the problem of their sin. This went right back to the covenant between Abraham and God. This seems to be supported perfectly by Paul’s writing in Hebrews 10 “…it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. if it could, would they not have stopped being offered?…Bot those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”

Heb 10:5 Therefore when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am-it is written about me in the scroll- I have come to do your will, O God.” (quoted from Ps. 40:6-8)