A couple of days ago, we read the beautiful story of how the Lord sent Jonah (entirely against his will) to Nineveh to preach against it and to turn them away from their path. Against all odds, he preached and they listened—in a big way. They called on every person, from the king down to the lowest person, to put on sackcloth as a sign of mourning for their sin. They even dressed the animals in sackcloth!
I remember the first time I started an in-depth cover-to-cover study of the Bible and reading Nahum for the first time. I was shocked when I paid attention to this book. Waitaminute! Nineveh?! I thought they repented?! What happened?
Apparently the repentance didn’t last. About 150 years after Jonah preached, they'd gone back to their old ways. And the prophet Nahum was commissioned by the Lord to predict their utter and permanent downfall.
So how are we to take this? I know we’ve made a lot of parallels in the last few months between individuals and nations in their relationship with the Lord. There are plenty to be made. The Lord gives warnings to both, and what happens next depends on their response. He doesn’t take any pleasure in seeing either nations or people die, even when they thoroughly deserve it. And if either a nation or a person repents (turns to doing things God’s way and asks for forgiveness), then he’ll forgive. And not reluctantly: As we saw yesterday, he delights in showing mercy.
But there are differences as well. I think the Scripture is very clear that an individual can't lose his/her salvation. They can lose their joy, their peace, their sense of the Lord’s presence, their witness, their rewards, their assurance of salvation, their health, and even their physical lives, but not salvation itself. Once someone places their trust in Christ, their eternal destiny is secure, not because of their faithfulness (yeah, please), but because of the faithfulness of the Savior.
In stark contrast, as best as I can tell, nations are always “on probation.” If a nation is sinning and he sends a messenger to them to warn them, and they repent, then God will forgive. Or actually, to be more precise, he grants them a reprieve. I’m so sorry for sounding like a broken. . . record? Does anyone even know what I mean with that phrase? Anyway, I hate to sound like a malfunctioning MP3 player that’s skipping, but this bears repeating: God’s reprieves are not pardons. What do I mean by that exactly? It means that just because he stays his hand from judgment in a particular instance, the prospective object of that judgment is not permanently safe unless/until the Lord says he is.
This makes sense for nations, I suppose. A nation is a group of people, and any group of people is going to change individuals over time, like a wave of the sea. If one generation turns to him (or at least enough of them to stay his hand), that doesn’t mean the next one will. And he reserves the right to carry out justice on that nation.
Since we’re on this subject, let me say something about God judging nations in the present day. I don’t believe we have biblical prophets like Isaiah or Jeremiah today. So if someone claims that the Lord told them that he’s going to carry out a specific judgment on a nation because of sin X, I’m extremely skeptical. We know exactly what will happen to an individual with regard to the Lord: If he receives Christ as Savior, he’s good to go. If he doesn’t he’s lost. But we don’t know exactly what the Lord’s doing in this age concerning each individual nation.
God might be ready to judge America, or maybe in his grace and mercy he’s about to instigate a nationwide revival. I don’t know, and quite frankly I don’t think anyone else knows—maybe they can guess, but not know.
But that doesn’t change the fact that I’m really concerned about my nation. I see a lot of things which are not only practiced but are accepted and even celebrated in our society: homosexuality, abortion, divorce, etc.
So there are two things I can do. First, I need to pray. I need to pray really really hard for my country. Second, I need to let the Holy Spirit examine Keith’s life. Does Keith have anything in his life which needs addressing and correction? Like the old song says, “Oh Lord let there be revival, and let it begin with me.”
Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
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