[Mar 30]—Some Thoughts On The Nations

            I know I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: We've got to get past our provincialism and individualism when it comes to our relationship with the Lord. The Bible talks about both his transcendence and his immanence. Here in America we tend to focus on God’s purpose for me. We place a huge emphasis on a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” And that aspect of our relationship is in the Bible. One of the names of our Savior is Immanuel, "God with us." He’s as close as my heartbeat, as close as the breath on my lips, or at least he’d like to be. We who were once “far away” have now been brought “near” through the blood of Christ. That’s what I mean when I call it his immanence, or his nearness.
            But there’s also his transcendence to keep in mind, and I think it’s a good idea to focus on those aspects of God which our culture and background would diminish. Hence, I spend a lot of time talking about his sovereignty, his holiness, and his absolute hatred of sin.
            And you can’t read the prophets without running into that, can you? Let’s take the issue of sovereignty. On practically every page—at least in the background—is his sovereign use of the nations to accomplish his plan and purposes. And I’d like to spend today meditating on that.  
            Here are some principles we can glean from what we know from Scripture.

• He sometimes uses very bad nations—I mean extremely evil—to accomplish what he wants to see happen. Today’s passage makes it clear that Babylon was specifically used by the Lord to punish Israel. No, he didn’t make Babylon do anything they didn’t want to do. It’s not like they were peace-loving nomads and shepherds and BAM!!! God possessed them in some way and made them a bunch of murderous thugs who would be taking over other countries. But somehow, without violating their wills, he directed their course.

• Just because the Lord uses a people for a purpose, that doesn’t mean he condones their behavior. That’s very clear from today’s passage. Babylon had been used by God to punish Israel for wrongdoing, but he was going to eventually punish Babylon for its crimes.

• His justice is sometimes slow (by our lights) but it’s sure. Nothing escapes his notice, and he keeps excellent—no, perfect—records. And all those outside his redeemed family will eventually get exactly what they deserve. As Longfellow put it,

Though the mills of God grind slowly;
Yet they grind exceeding small;
Though with patience He stands waiting,
With exactness grinds He all.

Now, I need to sound a note of caution. I’m not a prophet. I don’t have any direct line of communication in which God reveals awe-inspiring secrets, unless you want to count the Bible, good teaching, and the much more mundane leadership and guidance of the Holy Spirit. And I’m pretty skeptical of anyone who claims to have any type of hotline to the Lord like Jeremiah had. Ok, I’ll go ahead and say it: I don’t believe anyone who claims to be a “prophet” in the sense of Isaiah or Jeremiah or Amos. Nor for that matter do I believe that the office of “apostle”—in the sense of Peter and John and Paul—is open today.
            My point in the last paragraph is to sound a warning against anyone who claims to know what the Lord's specific plans for Russia are, or for Cuba, or for America. No, they don’t. To take a hypothetical example, if I see a certain country undergo a severe earthquake which kills millions, then can I speak with any authority about why that happened? Is it my place to speak out and proclaim that this occurred because God is punishing them for sin X? No, no, a thousand times no!!! Right after 9-11, there were a few very prominent preachers who claimed that they knew that the reason why we were attacked and 3000 Americans were murdered was because of our tolerance for homosexuality or abortion or because of some other sin in our land. No, they did not know that, and to their credit, at least one of them apologized for mouthing off.
            As a gentle reminder, this is the exact same error Job's friends fell into. They saw Job endure all types of suffering, and they claimed to know the real reason why it had all happened. They were dead wrong, and the Lord strongly rebuked them for their presumption. If the Almighty hasn't deigned to reveal his plan or "why" he's done something, we need to be extra careful not to presume that we know something we don't. 
            So is there anything more we can gain from this? Yes. Trust your Father. He knows exactly what he’s doing, and he’s in charge of everything. We don’t know what he’s doing except in hindsight (and maybe not even then), but we know him. And that’s enough.

Father God, I praise you for who you are and what you do. You raise up kings and kingdoms, and you cast them down for your own purposes. I wouldn’t pretend to know what you’re doing. But I trust you that in the end, I’ll look back at it all and say “You do all things well.” 

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