The story of the battle with the Amalekites in Exodus 17 intrigues me because of the lack of clarity at the end. This is the third of the compound names of Jehovah, so it carries huge significance to all of us. Yet, the Hebrew is so ambiguous that as you scroll through the sundry American translations, you see a multitude of different conclusions, as very well educated people have wrestled with the word pictures – and disagreed enormously.
While much of the record in Exodus is vague, Moses’ recap in Deuteronomy 25:17ff is completely unambiguous.
“Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and cut off all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. When the LORD your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!” NIV
Simply put, God was nursing a grudge, and He demanded that the Israelites join Him in that grudge and in getting even in the end.
This is yet another example of our pop theology creating a smoke screen that obliterates the reality of the God we serve. Our culture likes simplistic solutions. So, we have a massively well developed theology of forgiveness that demands that everyone forgive everyone unilaterally and if possible to reconcile.
Now, I am as aware as anyone of the dangers of bitterness. The consequences to spirit, soul and body, not to mention community, your economy and your possessions of nursing unforgiveness are immense. The pastime of nursing and rehearsing the injustice done to you has devastating consequences.
So, simple theology says, “Forgive everyone, immediately.” And it is easy to point to Jesus on the cross forgiving his four Roman executioners as the basis for saying we should do likewise.
However, when you move beyond simplistic theology to the real deal, it causes brain bleed.
For example, when Jesus sent out the twelve on their first itinerant ministry, He not only gave them permission to be unforgiving, He required them to determine at the end of each campaign whether to bless or curse the city. No middle ground was allowed. They had no freedom to forgive basic rudeness or apathy. They were to judge. And Jesus committed to endorsing their judgments sight unseen. Those cities were to be treated more harshly than Sodom and Gomorrah. Mark 6:11.
And Christ unleashed a savage condemnation of Capernaum which carried no shred of invitation for reconciliation in it. Matthew 11:23
So there you have a picture that is consistent throughout the Old and New Testaments. God displays staggering levels of emotional engagement with some people. And God displays staggering levels of enduring fury against others.
I have not found a way to develop a nice, neat, three point theological grid to determine when I should unilaterally forgive and when I should declare immediate or enduring judgment.
I tend to camp in Matthew 23 which is the most concentrated passage of Christian cursing to be found anywhere in the New Testament. But after that vitriolic assault which resulted in the Diaspora, Christ’s tone changed in a heartbeat, and He closed with this: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate.” Matthew 23:37-38 NIV
The God of the Grudge is terrifying, but beneath the most savage grudge, He still feels immense compassion.
And THAT is where I worship. When I am burning white hot with anger, compassion is far from me. When I am overwhelmed with compassion, I simply am not offended by anything about the person.
Only my Great King could speak and LIVE Matthew 23 – all in a single breath.
And for THAT, I worship Him today.
Copyright January 2016 by Arthur Burk
From the Hub