Why God Judges Nations

sovereign-1140x760The Bible reveals “God is the King of all the earth…He reigns over the nations; He sits on His holy throne” (Psa 47:7-8). It is God “who changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and establishes kings” (Dan 2:21), and “the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes and sets over it the lowliest of men” (Dan 4:17). The Bible reveals “The LORD is King forever and ever” (Psa 10:16a), and the “LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all” (Psa 103:19), and He “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11b). God is supreme over all His creation, for “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Psa 135:6), and “He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Dan 4:35). As sovereign God, He judges His world in righteousness.

Fallen angel No serious student of the Bible ever questions God’s sovereign rule. But neither does the student of Scripture deny that Satan—a fallen angel—has been opposing God for millennia and has created a kingdom of darkness (Luke 4:6; Acts 26:18; Col 1:13), with subjects that consist of other fallen angels (Matt 25:41; Rev 12:7, 9), and unbelievers (Matt 13:36-38; John 8:44).[1] In a limited way God permits Satan to operate, just as He permits other fallen angels and people to resist His will in certain matters. Satan is a globalist who desires world control, and to a large degree he has it. Three times Jesus referred to Satan as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Other passages of Scripture call Satan “the god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4), and “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2), and inform us “that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). Because Satan cannot force people to do his will, he operates by means of deception and temptation—like he did in the Garden of Eden—and when individuals, groups, cities, or nations follow him rather than God, they place themselves under God’s judgment. Satan’s strategies are effective on a global scale, and he “deceives the whole world” (Rev 12:9; 20:3). Because of his deceptions and temptations, Satan has “weakened the nations” (Isa 14:12). He has certainly been effective at weakening America.

When individuals, groups, cities and nations turn away from God, He will judge them according to His righteous character and moral laws. We know from Scripture that “the LORD is righteous, [and] He loves righteousness” (Psa 11:7), and “Righteous are You, O LORD, and upright are Your judgments” (Psa 119:137). For God, righteousness is an attribute, an inherent quality, not the adherence to laws beyond Himself (of which there are none). The righteousness of God may be defined as the intrinsic, immutable, moral perfection of God, from which He commands all things, in heaven and earth, and declares as good that which conforms to His righteousness and as evil that which deviates. Righteousness and justice are related words. The former speaks of God’s moral character, whereas the latter speaks of the actions that flow out of His character. Whatever God’s righteousness requires, His justice executes; either to approve or reject, to bless or condemn. God is “the Judge of all the earth” (Gen 18:25), and He “is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day” (Psa 7:11). It’s unimaginable to serve a God who cannot or will not judge sin.[2]

Merciful GodThough God judges, He is not One to judge quickly. It is written, “You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth” (Psa 86:15), and “the LORD is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in lovingkindness” (Psa 145:8). Peter reveals that God “is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9). In this way, God is quick to warn and slow to judge. But God is not patient forever, and there are multiple accounts of judgment throughout Scripture. Biblically, we observe where God judged Adam and Eve (Gen 3:16-24), the antediluvian world (Gen 6:1-7, 11-13; 7:21-24), the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9), Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:24-25), the Egyptians (Deut 26:6-8; cf. Gen 15:13-14), Canaanites (Lev 18:25; Deut 9:5)[3], and Babylonians (Jer 25:11-12). The book of Obadiah was written against the Edomites (Oba 1:1), and Nahum was written as a judgment against the Ninevites (Nah 1:1). When Jesus was on the earth at the time of His first coming, He judged the religious leaders of his day (Matt 23:1-36), and pronounced judgment upon nation of Israel for having rejected Him as their Messiah (Matt 23:37-39).[4] In the future, God will judge Gentiles based on how they treat persecuted Jewish believers during the Tribulation (Matt 25:31-46). And God will judge all unbelievers at the Great White Throne judgment and will cast them into the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:11-15). God has also judged Satan (John 16:11), and will punish him in the future (Matt 25:41; Rev 20:10).

On What Basis Does God Judge?

As a nation, Israel was and is unique in human history, for it’s the only nation that was created by God to serve as a theocracy. Speaking to Israel, God said, “I am the LORD, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King” (Isa 43:15; cf. Isa 43:1). Israel was a theocracy, and God was their King, Lawgiver, and Judge (Isa 33:22). As such, God gave Israel specific laws to direct their lives (Lev 27:34). The Mosaic Law was the standard by which Israel lived rightly before God and was the basis for blessing or cursing, depending on their obedience or disobedience (Lev 26, Deut 28). Moses said, “I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, which I am commanding you today; and the curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way which I am commanding you today, by following other gods which you have not known” (Deut 11:26-28). Reading through Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, First and Second Kings, and all the OT prophets, one can see a consistent pattern of God blessing or cursing His people depending on whether they obeyed or disobeyed His written laws. God was extremely patient with His people when they disobeyed, repeatedly warning them about His coming judgments, but the historical trend was that of rebellion (Jer 25:4-7). Because of rampant idolatry, human sacrifice, and other egregious sins, God eventually destroyed the ten northern tribes of Israel in 722 B.C. (2 Ki 17:7-23), and the two southern tribes of Judah in 586 B.C. (Jer 25:8-11).[5]

The Gentile nations did not possess the Mosaic Law as Israel did; however, a Gentile nation could be blessed or judged, and this depended on at least two factors. First, God would bless or curse a Gentile nation depending on how it treated Israel. God told Abraham, the progenitor of Israel, “I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse” (Gen 12:3). Allen Ross sates, “Those who blessed Abram would receive blessing from God; that is, those who supported and endorsed him in his faith would actually find enrichment. Conversely, if anyone treated Abram lightly, he must be cursed.”[6] God’s promise to bless or curse was based on an unconditional covenant that started with Abraham and extended to his descendants forever (Gen 17:7; Num 24:9).[7] Concerning the curse, Arnold Fruchtenbaum states:

The first word for curse is kalal, which means “to treat lightly,” “to hold in contempt,” or “to curse.” To merely treat Abram and the Jews lightly is to incur the curse of God. The second word for curse used in this phrase (him that curses you will I curse) is aor, from the Hebrew root arah, which means “to impose a barrier,” “to ban.” This is a much stronger word for curse than the first one in the phrase…Therefore, even a light curse against Abram or against the Jews will bring a heavier curse from God.[8]

Second, a Gentile nation could be blessed or cursed depending on whether they pursued godly virtues or wickedness. Biblically, there is a sense in which God’s laws are written on the hearts of all people. Paul wrote, “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (Rom 2:14-15).[9] God has placed within each person a moral sense of right and wrong. Everyone knows it’s right to be honest, kind, courteous, patient, helpful to the weak, honoring to parents, faithful to their spouse, etc. Alternatively, everyone knows it’s wrong to murder, steal, lie, commit adultery, etc.[10] Because each person possesses a moral sense of right and wrong and can choose how they behave, for this reason, “in every nation the man who fears God and does what is right is welcome to Him” (Acts 10:35). And how people behave collectively has results upon their city or nation. The Lord told Jeremiah, “At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it” (Jer 18:7-8). This is what happened when Jonah preached that God was going to judge the Ninevites (Jonah 1:1-2; 3:1-4), and when they repented (Jonah 3:5-9), He relented (Jonah 3:10). There is hope for any nation that has turned away from God, but only if the leadership and people turn to God and pursue righteousness in conformity with His character.

America is a Gentile nation, and as such, God will judge us like He has judged other nations. However, the principle is true that one to whom much is given, much is required. America has had a long and wonderful influence by Christians, and our nation has an abundance of Bibles and Christian literature. This means the light of divine revelation is greater in America than that of pagan nations that have not had such an influence. For this reason, God will judge us both for the light we have from conscience as well as the light of His special revelation found in Scripture. We have sinned against greater light; therefore, He will judge us more severely if we keep turning away from it. The ball is in our court. It’s up to us as individuals, groups, cities, and as a nation to turn to God and live morally as He expects. Satan will continue to entice and deceive people to sin (Gen 3:1-8; John 8:44; Acts 5:3; 2 Cor 11:3; 2 Tim 2:14), and he does this in order to weaken and subjugate that nation (Isa 14:12; 2 Tim 2:26; Rev 12:9; 20:8). If people follow Satan’s allurements and disobey the Lord, God will send judgment.

As Christians, God calls us to share the gospel of Christ (Mark 16:15; 1 Cor 15:3-4), and make disciples (Matt 28:19-20). We are never called to form a nation, and there is nothing in the NT that even hints at such a project. Rather, we are to learn God’s Word and live as He directs. In this way, God may use us to help shape a nation in godly ways, which will influence its educational, political, economic, and social views. We are, after all, to be a light to the world (Matt 5:14; Eph 5:8).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] Though Christians belong to the kingdom of Christ (Acts 26:18; Col 1:13), it is possible for a believer to live carnally (1 Cor 3:1-3) and to help Satan advance his agenda by loving his world-system (2 Cor 11:3; Jam 4:4; 1 John 2:15-16).

[2] Sin occurs when we transgress God’s law and depart from His intended path. This was true of Adam and Eve (Gen 2:16-17; 3:1-7), and it is true of us as well. The apostle John states, “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). Sin is the expression of a creaturely will that is set against God. The sin we commit may be mental, verbal, or physical. It may be private or public, impacting one or many, with short or lasting results. God permits sin, but is never the author of it. One scholar writes: “The underlying idea of sin is that of law and of a lawgiver. The lawgiver is God. Hence sin is everything in the disposition and purpose and conduct of God’s moral creatures that is contrary to the expressed will of God (Rom 3:20; 4:15; 7:7; Jam 4:12, 17). The sinfulness of sin lies in the fact that it is against God, even when the wrong we do is to others or ourselves (Gen 39:9; Psa 51:4). (Merrill F. Unger, “Sin,”, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Chicago: Moody Press, 1988, 1198)

[3] The Canaanites were exceptionally bad people whom God had marked out for judgment (Lev 18:25; Deut 9:5) after giving them four hundred years of grace (Gen 15:16). Some of the specific sins mentioned among the Canaanites included gross sexual immorality, such as incest (Lev 18:1-20; 20:10-12, 14, 17, 19-21), homosexuality (Lev 18:22; 20:13), and sex with animals (Lev 18:23; 20:15-16). They also engaged in the occult (Lev 20:6), were hostile toward parents (Lev 20:9), and offered their children as sacrifices to Molech (Lev 18:21; 20:1-5; cf. Deut 12:31; 18:10). God told Israel not to do these wicked things, for the Canaanites “did all these things, and therefore I have abhorred them” (Lev 20:23; cf. Lev 18:25).

[4] God’s judgment on Israel will be removed when they accept Jesus as Messiah at the end of the Tribulation (Matt 23:39; cf. Rom 11:25-27).

[5] When Jesus was on the earth at the time of His first coming, He judged the religious leaders of his day (Matt 23:1-36), and pronounced judgment upon Israel for having rejected Him as their Messiah (Matt 23:37-38). God’s judgment on Israel will be removed when they accept Jesus as Messiah at the end of the Tribulation (Matt 23:39; cf. Rom 11:25-27).

[6] Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 263.

[7] To love Israel is not a blanket endorsement of all their beliefs and behaviors. God, who loves Israel and chose them to be His people (Deut 7:6-8), also called them to be holy (Ex 19:5-6; Lev 11:45), and promised blessing or cursing, based on their obedience to Him (Deut 28:1-68). Israel can and does fail, often rejecting God’s love for them and walking in the ways of the world (see 2 Ch 36:15-16; Jer 7:25-26; 25:4-7; Ezek 16; Matt 23:1-39; Acts 7:51-53; 1 Th 2:14-16). The national rejection and crucifixion of Jesus (Matt 27:22-23; Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28), Israel’s promised Messiah (Deut 18:15; Isa 7:14; 9:6-7;53; 61:1; Matt 1:1, 17; Luke 1:31-33), is their greatest failure. Did Israel act alone in crucifying Jesus, their Messiah? No! God foretold Israel’s Messiah would suffer and die (Psa 22:11-18; Isa 53); and, according to His sovereignty, He used wicked men, both Jews and Gentiles, to accomplish His will (Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28).

[8] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Ariel’s Bible Commentary: The Book of Genesis, 1st ed. (San Antonio, TX: Ariel Ministries, 2008), 242.

[9] The human conscience, when working properly, serves as a moral compass. But because of willful and persistent sin, the conscience can become weak (1 Cor 8:7), callous (1 Tim 4:2), defiled (Tit 1:15), or evil (Heb 10:22). Persistent sin can damage the conscience so that it fails to operate properly.

[10] The unbeliever can live morally according to the dictates of a healthy conscience, and though not saved, can receive some blessings in this life. Conversely, a Christian can turn away from the faith and pursue wickedness, and this results in divine discipline and the forfeiture of eternal rewards.

About Dr. Steven R. Cook

Dr. Steven R. Cook is a Christian educator. He is protestant, conservative, and dispensational. Studies in the original languages of Scripture, ancient history, and systematic theology have been the foundation for Steven’s teaching and writing ministry. He has written several Christian books, dozens of articles on Christian theology, and recorded more than seven hundred hours of audio and video sermons. Steven currently serves as professor of Bible and Theology at Tyndale Theological Seminary, and hosts weekly Bible studies at his home in Texas. Steven’s ministry activity is entirely voluntary (articles, blogs, podcasts, and video lessons), as he works a full time job as a Case Manager for a local nonprofit agency that helps the elderly and disabled in the community.
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