Righteousness Exalts A Nation…
Question: Is God still interested in the righteousness of nations today?
Answer: Absolutely. God’s judgment is multi-faceted. Scriptures speak of a great Day of Judgment when all who have ever lived will be forced to meet their Maker and give an account for how they have invested their lives (2 Cor. 5:9-10). However, before and until that Day arrives, God often exercises His divine right to pour out His wrath within history (Gen. 18:25).
In national affairs, God has always ruled over the kingdoms of men (Dan. 4:17; Rom. 13:1-6), and we can be confident in this: God is alive and active in world history just as much today as He was in ancient times. His word says, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Prov. 14:34).
But a word of caution is in order. Though we can be confident that God is vitally interested in human and national affairs, it can be greatly misleading to attempt to discern His will in every specific matter. In His infinite wisdom, God allows some wicked nations to prosper for a time while others are quickly cast down. Even the prophet Habakkuk could not understand how God could punish His own people while the “more wicked” Babylonians were allowed to prosper (cf. Hab. 1:12-17). Indeed, God does not think and act like man does — His thoughts and actions are higher than ours (Isa. 55:8).
When one reads the Bible, some particular sins seem to be very prominent reasons for God’s judgment upon a people in history. This is not to say that God is more concerned with some sins than others, but His word does seem to consistently bring the same issues to the attention of guilty nations. While the following will not be an exhaustive list, consider some of the more common reasons for God’s condemnation of an entire nation:
Materialism / Exploitation of the Poor — “You oppress the poor, you crush the needy, you say to your husbands, ‘Bring wine, let us drink’” (Amos 4:1). When a love for ‘things’ creeps into the consciousness of an entire culture, a ruthless selfishness often becomes the norm (1 Jn. 2:15-17). The accumulation of wealth becomes the supposed road to peace, security and happiness, and it doesn’t matter who is hurt or mistreated in the process! God warns those who would exploit the poor to line their own pockets: “the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth” (Jas. 5:4). Of materialistic peoples God said, “Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord’s wrath” (Zephaniah 1:18).
Idolatry / Worship of False Gods — “He makes a god and worships it, he makes a carved image and falls down to it… shall I fall down before a block of wood?” (Isa. 44:15, 19). Countless cultures through history have manufactured false gods and worshipped them. From the ancient Greeks with their gods on Mount Olympus to the ancestor worship still found in many cultures today, idolatry is an ever-present reality in our world. Even our own culture is seeing recurring signs of the superstitions and idolatries that our ancestors cast off centuries ago. A steadily growing interest in astrology, witchcraft, nature worship, and eastern mysticism is making its mark in our culture right now. Such practices are still an abomination before God, and in His righteousness He cannot allow nations that practice widespread idolatry to prosper for long (cf. Jer. 50:2).
Pluralism / Moral Relativism — “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil” (Isa. 5:20). “I will cut off… those who worship and swear oaths by the Lord, but who also swear by Milcom” (Zephaniah 1:5). God’s word is absolute truth (Jn. 17:17; 8:32), but pluralism has to do with the idea that there are many “versions” of truth, and that no single “version” can therefore claim to be exclusively true. Cultures that practice pluralism do not see the inconsistency of offering worship to God and then worshipping idols as well. The lines between right and wrong are blurred to the point where almost anything can be justified if it seems “true for me.” Nations that consistently embrace and practice pluralism have historically been the objects of God’s wrath and judgment.
Pride / False Confidence — “Your heart is lifted up, and you say, ‘I am a god’… yet you are a man” (Eze. 28:2). “The pride of your heart has deceived you” (Obadiah 3). Just as individuals can be guilty of the sin of pride, so can entire nations. The ancient Edomites had built magnificent cities in the high mountainous areas south of the Dead Sea, and they believed they were virtually invincible. On the contrary, their pride became their greatest vulnerability. When nations begin to trust in things like technology, geography, and history, they usually begin to forget the God who has blessed them so richly. First century Israel believed that both God and history were on their side, yet Jesus clearly condemned them for their pride (John 8:31-59) and predicted the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (Matt. 24:3-34). Pride is indeed deceitful!
Persecution of God’s People — “The devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days” (Rev. 2:10). “And in [fallen Babylon] was found the blood of prophets and saints, and all who were slain on the earth” (Rev. 18:24). The Bible clearly teaches that nations that persecute God’s people will be judged by God Himself. In Old Testament times, the kingdoms of men were cast down for persecuting Israel (e.g. Egypt in Exodus 4-12). In New Testament times, the book of Revelation teaches that God will ultimately judge nations who are antagonistic to the New Testament church. While it is not possible to discern God’s timetable for such events, isn’t it reassuring to know that He is ultimately in control? Jesus was able to tell Pontius Pilate, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11).
Celebration of Sin — “The prophets prophesy falsely, the priests bear rule by their power, and My people love to have it so” (Jer. 5:31). “Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No! They were not at all ashamed, nor did they know how to blush” (Jer. 8:12). People and cultures can depart so far from God that they lose all sense of morality and decency. Jeremiah wept when he saw the deplorable state of Israel’s heart (Jer. 9:1). Sin had once been a shameful thing in Israel, but now it was out in the open for all to see. And what was the reaction? The people celebrated their newfound “freedom” and “enlightened perspectives” on life. When sinful behavior is openly celebrated and endorsed in any society, can God’s anger be withheld for long? When every man, “does what is right in his own eyes,” what will be the consequence? (Judg. 17:6; Prov. 14:12).
Devaluation of Human Life / Cruelty — “They built the high places of Baal which are in the valley of the Son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and daughters to pass through the fire to Molech” (Jer. 32:35). Molech was an idol in ancient times that demanded human sacrifice (usually babies and small children). What is so horrifying is that the Israelites, who should have been worshipping God, reached a point where they began to offer their own sons and daughters as human sacrifices to Molech. Such practices seem barbaric at first until one considers the 40+ million legally aborted babies in our own nation over the past 30 years. Are we not offering our own children on the idolatrous altars of convenience and self-worship (i.e. “My body, my choice”)? God has historically poured out His wrath on nations that devalue human life with such heartless cruelty (Rom. 1:31).
Embracing Sexual Sin — “Let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth, for I hate divorce… says the Lord of Hosts” (Mal. 2:15-16). “Neither fornicators… nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites… will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10). From ancient times, sexual sin has been an abomination before God. He is our Creator (Gen. 1:26-29), and He alone has the right to express to us how to use the bodies He has created. When cultures embrace and celebrate sexual sin, God’s judgment is often exercised within history. He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for, among other things, their sexual depravity (cf. Gen. 18:20-19:29).
Forgetfulness of God’s Word — “I will send a famine on the land… a famine of hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11). “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). Cultures that marginalize or ignore God’s words will inevitably face His wrath. The people of Nineveh once listened to the preaching of Jonah and repented (Jonah 3:1-10), but little more than a century later they had forgotten the words of the Lord and were destroyed (Nahum 1:14). A society is free insofar as it adheres to Biblical principles for moral and ethical guidance. When a culture abandons the word of God, moral decline tends to happen with amazing speed. God’s righteousness cannot allow Him to endure such blasphemies forever.
This series of articles has been intended to provoke thought among Christians about how God views nations, and what causes Him to judge nations within history. Ultimately, it must be said that no one can predict how or when God might pour out His wrath on an ungodly people, for He has not revealed every detail of His intentions to us (cf. Deut. 29:29; Isa. 55:8). However, the nations of the earth should take care to heed the warnings of Scripture: God does indeed rule in the kingdoms of men, and He will be both just and righteous in dealing with the nations of the earth (Gen. 18:25).
Christians ought to be earnestly praying for all the rulers of the world (1 Tim. 2:1-2), and also praying that God’s will might be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10). We need to be patient, knowing that whatever happens in this world, God knows and cares about the fate of His people (Rev. 2:7,10). Ultimately, the kingdom of God does and will prevail over all the kingdoms of the earth (Dan. 2:44-45). Now, that’s reason for rejoicing! —JB