Wednesday, December 30, 2009

National Repentance

Many Reformed believers are familiar with the potter and clay analogy in Romans 9, which speaks to God's absolute sovereignty. However, many Reformed believers are less familiar with the potter and clay analogy in Jeremiah 18. The two analogies are only loosely related. Jeremiah 18 also points out God's sovereignty, but with a different signification. In Romans 9, you will recall, the signification is that God can make a man into any kind of vessel he wishes. In Jeremiah 18 the point is that any nation's future is malleable in the hands of God: just because things are one way now doesn't mean they won't change.

Here is the text.

Jeremiah 18:5-17

Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying,

O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.

At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; if that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.

And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; if it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.

Now therefore go to, speak to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I frame evil against you, and devise a device against you: return ye now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good.

And they said, There is no hope: but we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart.

Therefore thus saith the LORD; Ask ye now among the heathen, who hath heard such things: the virgin of Israel hath done a very horrible thing. Will a man leave the snow of Lebanon which cometh from the rock of the field? or shall the cold flowing waters that come from another place be forsaken? Because my people hath forgotten me, they have burned incense to vanity, and they have caused them to stumble in their ways from the ancient paths, to walk in paths, in a way not cast up; to make their land desolate, and a perpetual hissing; every one that passeth thereby shall be astonished, and wag his head. I will scatter them as with an east wind before the enemy; I will shew them the back, and not the face, in the day of their calamity.

Notice that point of the passage is two-fold. On the one hand, if a nation is doing uprightly at one point, and God is blessing them, that does not mean that God will continue to bless them. In fact, if they fall into rebellion against God, God will chastise them. In other words, God is a holy God.

The other point is converse. If a nation is in rebellion against God and on the path to destruction, if they repent, they will be spared. In other words, God is also a God of mercy.

Both sides of this coin were graphically illustrated in the prophet Jonah and his ministry to Ninevah. He was a prophet of God but he rebelled and was chastised. Ninevah was in rebellion against God but repented and was spared.

This passage about nations is also applicable to individuals. We see the same theme developed more particularly for individuals in Ezekiel 18 (which I've discussed here). That's why I have felt free to illustrate God's chastisement on Jonah. I could instead have simply pointed to the time of the judges. In those days, the people of Israel repeated fell into wickedness, and God sent them chastisement in the form of oppression by neighboring kings and nations. Then, when they repented, God sent them judges to relieve their chastisement.

Yet, although this passage can be applied to individuals, its primary significance is about nations. It helps to explain why Ninevah was spared and why (as explained in more detail in Romans 11) the nation of Israel is presently under God's chastisement. The land of Ninevah repented, but the nation of Israel rebelled.

Some Christians, even those who have a Reformed soteriology, believe that part of God's character of dealing with nations as nations has ceased. I'd respectfully disagree. There does not seem to be any hint in Scripture that is not longer true that "if that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them."

There are many nations presently in rebellion against God and subject to his chastisement. The United States and the United Kingdom come to mind. Now is the time for national repentance in those lands, if those nations wish to avert the judgment of God for their rebellion against Him.

And even more so, within those lands and throughout the world there are many individuals who likewise are rebelling against God. Those people ought to recognize that they are presently under the wrath and judgment of God for their sin. If they continue on their present course, God will consign them to the eternal torments of hell. But it is not hopeless. If they will repent of their sins and trust in Christ alone for salvation, they will be saved.



Strong Tower said...

Some Christians, even those who have a Reformed soteriology, believe that part of God's character of dealing with nations as nations has ceased.

Though this may be true, (I don't think it is necessarily a soteriological problem as it is clear from Scripture that repentance as it addresses salvation is individual) the conditions of repentance for a nation are another question, in fact many other questions.

If we survey the history of Israel we cannot define a time of national repentance if what that means is that every individual without exception repented. If we are talking of governmental rulers repenting then there probably is verification. God can curse a whole nation for the sins of one. The aspects of God's cursing a nation are hard to ferret out. He has cursed nations for the sins of a single individual, Achan, David, et cetera. He can curse the whole simply for the fact that by Scriptural description, there is no one who does good. Or for wholesale rebellion, the wilderness. Or, for the actions of some but not others, the son's of Jacob.

There is also the aspect that whenever God calls a nation to repentance, he sends his prophets. Unless of course we simply assume that the Scripture is the now prophetic voice and that the repentance of nations you point to has is some sense changed in appearance and functionality. The only problem is that not all nations are subject to it, as you mentioned Nineveh, a people who did not know their left from their right, it took a prophetic voice. If the way God calls nations to repentance has changed from the OT to now, then perhaps there is no such call, eh? How would we know? The presumption in Scripture is that God has called all men everywhere to repent, but can that be said about nations as nations? What if God doesn't want that repentance, would he then call for it?

Can a nation repent in some sense and have God bless it, I suppose so, but how would we know? Is the blessing one of constancy of faith? Of prosperity, peace? Or, would it be nothing more than what has ever been, the failing, faltering, groping, of diverse people who in all cases have slipped back into their sins despite whatever temporary and even great riches they were blessed with? In any case, should we call that a blessing, being strangely doomed to repeated failures, whether the nation repents or not? Can a nation understand that the trials and testings it goes through are meant to produce patience and that endurance? And why has there not ever been such an example historically?

Strong Tower said...


Some things that have happenned where national blessing has come are interesting.

In many cases, and I believe the most common tendency of Scripture, is that a single intercessor is God's preferred way of blessing a nation. I could mention Abraham, or Moses, or Daniel, and of course Jesus. But, in each case, the fate of the people is the same. Though temporary repentance is granted, the judgement of God is always at the doorstep, his people go into captivity, and through repentance, not of the nation into which they have gone, but of his people, they are delivered. When pagan nations repent, they are always later summarily destroyed never to rise again. The converse is true of the people of God. Israel, alone is promised it will rise from the dead and remain forever. The nations, e.g. Ninevah, though they rise once, they are not like the righteous which falls seven times and rises again. Instead, their fate is more like Ninevah's, eternal death. There is not, for them, a promise of their perpetuity as there is for Israel.

So, my thought is this, we should call for national repentance, but if God should withhold the good and grant the evil, we should hold that out as God's good providence, his blessing. Then our main emphasis should be to call individuals to repentance so that no matter what God's determination might be, to bring evil or good, his people will find solace and comfort in knowing that no matter what condition they find themselves in, God is blessing them. That we should seek national repentance, I think, is confirmed in Paul's advice that we pray for our governments so that we might have peace so that the Gospel might prosper. Note Paul's emphasis. Then again, if God does not grant that, we still have the great commission to deal with irrespective of the circumstances.

Turretinfan said...

Strong Tower:

Let me agree with you that there are important differences between the way God treats individuals and the way he treats nations.

The various difficulties in getting a nation to repent and in knowing whether God has honored that repentance should not, however, be used as a pretext for a nation to avoid humbling itself before God.

I hope you and I can at least agree on that as well.

Strong Tower said...

We walk on the edge. On the one hand our call to repentance must be Gospel centered, on the other, the demands of righteousness in all God's possession means that when the Gospel is preached it will by default call a nation to repentance. The curse must be examined in light of God's righteous demands upon individual and by extension, nations. So, I agree, nations must repent in that light. No nation is exused, just as no man is.

I think that one of the unfortunates in the politically correct environment we live in is the shirking of the responsibility to proclaim the curse. A nation that repents can expect that God will bless them, however, that blessing must be meated out as conditioned by the curse. It may mean that great woe is the road to travel. It may mean the end of that nation. That is not a message that brings many to the table. What most want is a promise of sunshine, lollypops, and rainbows everywhere.

Obamphenoma is a symptom of the desires of prosperity, peace, comforts. They are not a guarantee from God and should not be from the church. Some may say O is God's curse, still others that O's appearance is part of the message of repentance. Jesus' message is quite simple, "In this world you will have tribulations, take heart, I have overcome the world."

In Calvin's discussion of Matthew 24 a dual picture emerges. On the one hand is destruction, Jerusalem, on the other is peace, safety, the good life, Noahville. The point is that either peace or destruction may be in the offing, but being ready is required, regardless.

In the end we have great difficulties in determining cursing from blessing. We might want to say that our current troubles are are result of sin, then again, the sin of our nation may just be the blessing. Looking at OT Israel, the nations from which it arose, Abram's homeland, and so on, were established through Noah's tribulation. Of his three Son's all those nations eventually succomb to sin and are recipients of God's cursing. However, those events lead to the rise of Israel. She in turn becomes the mother of harlots. Now, the Israel of God moves from the same trappings to around the world and is situated within nations that God might perpetuate, might hold onto and make paragons of virtue. That, however, is revealed in Scripture to also be a cause of man's forgetting God. So what is the sum?

Again, referring to Jesus' teaching, we don't know the state or the time of God's visitation. A bright and wonderful nation may just be destroyed, and not for its sin, but so that God's is proven righteous and everyone a sinner. We know the warning, that too much good spoils. We might not even devolve into debauchery, it may simply be the idolatry of nation worship, a belief that the world we live in now is world that is promised. We can by complacence begin to deny Christ even while honoring him.

Anyway- You're right. We must call for the nation to repent. The unfortunate message that often accompanies that is that if it does good times are in store. We need to be clearer in our promise, which is not that God will bless necessarily in matters of good and prosperity, peace and comfort, but that he will bless them with the knowledge of the promise of the Gospel, if they repentant... and believe.

Anonymous said...

Martin Luther has an excellent sermon preached in 1526 on this subject. His insight is spot on with the Word of God and this word of yours, TF.

In essence he teaches what you are today with regard to national sins and national judgment.

This word of yours is a fruitful word TF. I would that there would be ears to hear it??

I would go to it with these words this way.

First, from Proverbs:

Pro 8:12 "I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion.
Pro 8:13 The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.
Pro 8:14 I have counsel and sound wisdom; I have insight; I have strength.
Pro 8:15 By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just;
Pro 8:16 by me princes rule, and nobles, all who govern justly.

And prior to that, this:

Pro 3:1 My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments,
Pro 3:2 for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you.
Pro 3:3 Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.
Pro 3:4 So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man.

What can we learn from these Words?

Of the many things, I am sure, there is this sense that God does lengthen, thus, shorten one's days for walking in His obedience to the Faith once delivered to the Saints.

Moses, at Ps. 90 teaches us to number our days.

Now, I would come to these Words, given to a man by Gabriel, the Angel who stands in the Presence of God:::>

Luk 1:18 And Zechariah said to the angel, "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years."
Luk 1:19 And the angel answered him, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.
Luk 1:20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time."

Here we see the Angel establish a Truth about God and His Word that we ought to pay close attention too. We too should believe His Words, "which will be fulfilled in their time."

Now, this man is of an order of the Priesthood which was established again by King David.

Anonymous said...

There is this understanding taught by King David, here:

1Ch 16:11 Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually!
1Ch 16:12 Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles and the judgments he uttered,
1Ch 16:13 O offspring of Israel his servant, sons of Jacob, his chosen ones!
1Ch 16:14 He is the LORD our God; his judgments are in all the earth.

and here:

1Ch 16:19 When you were few in number, and of little account, and sojourners in it,
1Ch 16:20 wandering from nation to nation, from one kingdom to another people,
1Ch 16:21 he allowed no one to oppress them; he rebuked kings on their account,
1Ch 16:22 saying, "Touch not my anointed ones, do my prophets no harm!"
1Ch 16:23 Sing to the LORD, all the earth! Tell of his salvation from day to day.
1Ch 16:24 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!

and then these revealing Words, here:

1Ch 16:31 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations, "The LORD reigns!"
1Ch 16:32 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it!
1Ch 16:33 Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth.

Knowing these things, that that Gabriel spoke to Zachariah:

"which will be fulfilled in their time."

and that there, that Christ is coming to judge the earth and all nations should heed this revelation, we then see there in 1 Chron. 16 this admonition:

1Ch 16:35 Say also: "Save us, O God of our salvation, and gather and deliver us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name, and glory in your praise.

With this that I have written I would go to your words Strong Tower:

"....The aspects of God's cursing a nation are hard to ferret out."

And add that it seems clear to me that God will bring His Word of wrath and judgment not only on individuals for specific reasons, He also will bring national wrath and retribution upon all the nations at the end of the final age with this caveat, to those who "say also":::>

"Save us, O God of our salvation, and gather and deliver us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name, and glory in your praise....".

I leave this exhortation of Scripture out here then by Peter for consideration and behavioral modification by the Spirit of Grace, Mercy and Truth:::>

2Pe 3:11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness,
2Pe 3:12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!
2Pe 3:13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
2Pe 3:14 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.

And I say, "hasten" "hasten" "hasten" the coming of the day of God!