The people of Israel were committing idolatry, some subtly and others more blatantly. They oppressed the poor and abused the legal system in order to deny a voice to those who couldn’t defend themselves. Many of them attended worship regularly and put some effort into following the proper form and presenting the proper sacrifices. But the Lord knew their hearts and saw how they were treating both his Name and each other.
So how did he respond? Did he just swoop down and destroy them without any further warning? Of course not, although he’d have been justified in doing so.
He sent the prophets, and apparently when that didn’t work, he sent harsher measures. C. S. Lewis said that God whispers to us in our pleasures and shouts at us in our pains. He had sent disaster after disaster after disaster upon them.
Why? Was it because he was a sadist? Quite the opposite. He loved them. He took no pleasure in the prospect of them dying in their sin, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.
No, he was doing this to wake them up from their slumber. Note the poignant refrain. He lists the disasters he inflicted on them: extreme famine, drought, blight and mildew, locusts, Egypt-style plagues, enemy assaults, and the complete overthrow of entire cities a la Sodom. And he ends each verse thus: “Yet you did not return to me.”
First off, we need to get past this silly notion that I’ve heard before, that God would never actually send horrible things into people’s lives, that he only “allows” them. You can make a case that in certain circumstances it’s the Lord “allowing” bad things to happen to us, like he did with Job. But there are other times in Scripture in which it explicitly states that the Lord himself sent calamity on a city or nation. Yes, he does do that sometimes.
And sometimes—not all the time—he sends disaster into someone’s life. Why does he do this? Sometimes we know, but most of the time we have to adopt a very humble attitude to avoid repeating the mistakes of Job's friends.
But let me speak a word of complete frankness to my siblings in Christ. If you’re involved in a sin and refuse to repent, especially if you’re publicly bringing dishonor to the name of Christ, and then something terrible happens to you, that might be the reason.
Let me clarify, however. This has nothing to do with "punishing" you for your sin, if by that term you mean getting what you deserve. If you’re a believer in Christ, you'll never get what you really deserve from God. It’s an issue of getting your attention in order to bring you back to himself and to preserve his good name. Yes, he takes his reputation very seriously.
But they’d disobeyed the Torah, they’d ignored or been hostile to his prophets, and they’d ignored his more blatant attempts to get their attention, so he was going to have to resort to even harsher methods. He told them, “Because you’ve ignored my instructions and warning up until now, prepare to meet your God.”
You see, we’re all going to meet him sooner or later. The nonbeliever avoids him and hides from him. But as someone once told me, “You can meet him as your Savior now, or you can meet him as your Judge later.” Any person with any sense would prefer the former.
As for believers, we'll also meet him either sooner or later. We can come to him in repentance and ask his forgiveness, and in “meeting” him in this way, we save ourselves a lot of grief, both in this life or in the next.
And what God is this whom we’ll meet? Read this verse slowly please. Ponder who this is we’re dealing with:
He who forms the mountains,
who creates the wind,
and who reveals his thoughts to mankind,
who turns dawn to darkness,
and treads on the heights of the earth —
the Lord God Almighty is his name.
In other words, he'll quite literally be either the best Friend or the worst Enemy you’ll ever encounter.
You need to open up your heart to him and deal with him now. Don’t wait. Whether you’re a nonbeliever or a believer who knows better, don’t wait. Please.
Father God, I open my heart open to you. Lord Jesus, your blood is the only plea I have. Please examine, cleanse, and change.