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Thursday 5 October 2023

God Still Curses Nations


There are Christians today who believe that God does not still judge nations as he did in the Old Testament. They believe that the New Covenant has now changed how this kind of judgement works. They would base this argument on a few different prepositions. One particular passage I have heard people use to support this case is from Matthew 25 where Jesus says this,

“31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left” (Matt. 24:31-33).

They use this passage, and other similar passages, to argue that God is going to judge the nations on the final day, therefore, he now no longer judges nations as he did in the Old Testament.

This argument is clearly flawed, because the first premise, “God will judge the nations on the final day” does not lead to the conclusion, “therefore he does not judge them today.” It only tells us that there is a final judgement of all nations when the Son of Man comes in glory. It also does not account for the fact that near the end of Revelation in chapter 18 God describes the judgement of a nation/empire, Babylon, in the precise same terms and style as he pronounced judgement on nations in books like Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah and others. Indeed, I suggest you compare Revelation 18 to Jeremiah 50-51 and you will see some incredible parallels. This shows us, very clearly, that nothing has changed with regards to how God judges nations from the Old Covenant to the New. 

Another prominent argument that such people will use, and perhaps their most powerful argument, is that God judged Israel according to the covenant that he made with them. Therefore, once that covenant was brought to completion, judging peoples as nations is no longer on the cards. A passage such as Deuteronomy 27 could be used to support this argument. Look what God said through Moses here,

“1 Now Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying, “Keep the whole commandment that I command you today. 2 And on the day you cross over the Jordan to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall set up large stones and plaster them with plaster. 3 And you shall write on them all the words of this law, when you cross over to enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you. 4 And when you have crossed over the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, concerning which I command you today, on Mount Ebal, and you shall plaster them with plaster. 5 And there you shall build an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones. You shall wield no iron tool on them; 6 you shall build an altar to the Lord your God of uncut stones. And you shall offer burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God, 7 and you shall sacrifice peace offerings and shall eat there, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God. 8 And you shall write on the stones all the words of this law very plainly.”

9 Then Moses and the Levitical priests said to all Israel, “Keep silence and hear, O Israel: this day you have become the people of the Lord your God. 10 You shall therefore obey the voice of the Lord your God, keeping his commandments and his statutes, which I command you today.”

This states very clearly and plainly that God is going to hold the Israelites to the covenant that he has made with them and judge them according to that standard. So this second, or you could even say primary, pillar of the argument that God no longer judges nations appears to be much stronger when based on passages like this.

But just because God held Israel to a specific or certain standard, does not mean that he does not judge other nations according to another or similar standard. In fact, Jesus seems to indicate as much when he says this,

“47 And that servant who knew his master's will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. 48 But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more” (Luke 12:47-48).”

Jesus is very clear here that just because other nations were not held to the precise same standard as Israel, does not mean they were exempt from judgement. Because all are servants of God, whether they realize it or not, individuals, cities, or nations. This is evidently why there are so many pronouncements against other nations throughout the Bible. Yet, still, Israel is held to a higher standard. Amos 1-3 gives us a powerful example of this, because we see God pronouncing judgement on several nations alongside Judah and Israel; nations such as Syria, Palestine, Phoenicia, Edom, Ammon, and Moab. Yet we see Israel appears to be held to the highest standard, with the largest list of sins brought against it (Judah’s turn to be in that situation would come).

In fact, Paul explicitly tells us that judgment is not tied just to the law of Israel,

“12 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (Romans 2:12-16).

There is an unspoken law which is written into the hearts of all mankind, according to which our own consciences testify against us, and according to which we can be justly judged. In fact, this can only be the case as the whole world was judged in the days of Noah long before any law or detailed covenant was given. So the fact that God judged the Israelites according to his specific covenant with them shows that this is not the only standard to which he holds people, it is simply the highest possible standard.

I think a passage from Deuteronomy can help us demonstrate that God still judges other nations better than perhaps any other passage in the entire Bible. Because, though it is a specific passage from the law and covenant given to Israel, very few can deny[1] that nations who break these commands will be cursed to this day.

We read this in the rest of Deuteronomy 27,  

“11 That day Moses charged the people, saying, 12 “When you have crossed over the Jordan, these shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. 13 And these shall stand on Mount Ebal for the curse: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali. 14 And the Levites shall declare to all the men of Israel in a loud voice:

15 “‘Cursed be the man who makes a carved or cast metal image, an abomination to the Lord, a thing made by the hands of a craftsman, and sets it up in secret.’ And all the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen.’

16 “‘Cursed be anyone who dishonors his father or his mother.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

17 “‘Cursed be anyone who moves his neighbor's landmark.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

18 “‘Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind man on the road.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

19 “‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

20 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his father's wife, because he has uncovered his father's nakedness.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

21 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with any kind of animal.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

22 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his sister, whether the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

23 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his mother-in-law.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

24 “‘Cursed be anyone who strikes down his neighbor in secret.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

25 “‘Cursed be anyone who takes a bribe to shed innocent blood.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

26 “‘Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’”

What is fascinating about this series of curses is that they are addressed specifically to the nation of Israel, and each Israelite is being told that they will be held to account with these laws, but they are also rational laws which would apply to any other nation we could imagine.

Any nation that worships false gods will experience the curses that come with that. Any nation filled with disrespectful children will experience the curses that come with that. Any nation that disrespects the borders of landowners or other nations will experience curses because of that. Any nation that fractures relationships and has wanton sexual immorality, like many of these laws address, will face the curses that come with that. This entire list here is incredibly applicable to every nation on the planet because to ignore these precepts brings natural consequences which have been built into how this world is designed to work. Yet it was given explicitly to Israel...

This shows that one can not simply say that now that the law is fulfilled that God does not judge nations like he did Israel with the law. There are universal principles and there are inbuilt laws written on the hearts and minds of mankind according to which God judges individuals and nations. To break these is to break families, societies, cities and nations. God designed this world to work according to certain principles. No matter how much people preach free love and claim that there is no such thing as sexual immorality, the average man is still going to feel intense rage if someone steals his wife, or molests his daughter. No matter how much people say that humans are just animals, a society that allows bestiality is going to be visited with all sorts of social ills and disasters, including diseases crossing species. No matter how much people say there are no universal moral codes, the nation which oppresses the weak, that continually brings in foreigners for cheap and exploitative labour, is going to regret that decision over time. These laws are written into the fabric of this world. 

God still judges nations. But the corollary of this is that he wants to bless nations if they would receive this. Righteousness exalts a nation, not because they are Israel, but because they are seeking to honour God. Some nations, like the ancient noble pagan nations, stumbled across many of these principles through common grace and they flourished because of this and then fell apart when they rejected them. The choice is ours as a nation today whether we want to flourish or decay, God wants to bless, but he cannot bless those who foolishly reject him. 

[1] And those who deny it surely have consciences seared as hard as iron.

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