Is God Justified in Punishing Wrongdoers?
WE HAVE seen it happen in recent times that a nation goes bad and violates international law. In such case, other nations may combine to fight to subdue and punish the “outlaw” or aggressor nation. In the process cities are destroyed and civilian populations slaughtered. Such was the case when Hitler disturbed world peace.
Such action is generally accepted as necessary. The nonmilitary people fall under the same condemnation as the soldiers. The argument is made, ‘Do they not back up their political leaders and the principles these stand for? Do they not support their armies by work they do on the home front?’
Similarly, within a nation, rulers take steps to subdue lawless, seditious elements. This they feel they must do to preserve order and the good name of their government, and so that the law-abiding citizens can enjoy peace and security. They feel that if the government does not act, it will decay, and defeat or anarchy will eventually result.
Is it not strange, then, that these same people who advance such arguments as to the rightness and wisdom of such action by governments will often complain and charge God with cruelty when they read that God will punish wrongdoers with destruction?
Nevertheless, as Universal Sovereign, God is bound to act against rebellious ones disobedient to his laws. This he must do, otherwise would he not show himself weak, not able or concerned enough to enforce his own laws and not worthy of being Sovereign? Moreover, he would not be exercising justice toward those who obey his laws. But what about a nation or an organization that, while claiming to serve him, brings reproach on his rulership by disobedience and corrupt practices? He is even more strongly obligated to act to clear his name and vindicate his sovereignty.
Those who profess to serve God but who are disobedient to him have not really come to know him. If they did, they would love him for his fine qualities and because of the goodness he has shown to mankind. They would have become real friends of God, intimates of his, because he would then “know” or acknowledge them. (Matt. 11:27; compare Matthew 7:20.) He would recognize them as a man would recognize a welcome guest in his house. (Ps. 24:3, 4; 27:4) Such ones actually knowing God would not take up a practice of wrongdoing.—1 John 3:6; 4:8.
THE CHIEF WRONGDOERS AGAINST GOD
The apostle Paul writes that God, through Jesus Christ, will bring “the judicial punishment of everlasting destruction” upon “those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus.” (2 Thess. 1:8, 9) Paul then describes a class or group of men called, in a composite sense, “the man of lawlessness.”—2 Thess. 2:3.
The apostle shows that this composite “man of lawlessness” would be one who would make great religious professions. He would lift himself up above others and would dictate religiously to men. But he would actually be teaching lies. The end of such a class of men would be destruction, at the time of the manifestation of Christ’s presence.—2 Thess. 2:4-12.
GOD PUNISHED HIS PROFESSED PEOPLE ISRAEL
The group described is found today among the clergy of Christendom. The Sovereign God has a valid purpose in executing his judicial decisions against Christendom’s religious system led by this “man of lawlessness.” This can be gathered from what he said to his prophet Ezekiel about the inhabitants of ancient Jerusalem and Judah, because Christendom is a fitting counterpart of Jerusalem, which acted in a most rebellious, corrupt way. Jehovah warned:
“Make the chain, for the land itself has become full of bloodstained judgment and the city itself has become full of violence.”—Ezek. 7:23.
When Jerusalem was destroyed in 607 B.C.E. the survivors were literally put in chains. Jehovah wanted Ezekiel to warn the Israelites of the coming judgment, so that when the time arrived, just six years later, they would know that the punishment they were receiving was really from Jehovah. They would know that there is a God who intervenes in the affairs of men and that his name is Jehovah.
After the destruction, the prophet Jeremiah spoke for the survivors of the siege, saying: “He has blocked me up as with a stone wall, that I may not go forth. He has made my copper fetters heavy.” (Lam. 3:7) King Zedekiah, fleeing from the city, was captured and bound: “And the eyes of Zedekiah he [the king of Babylon] blinded, after which the king of Babylon bound him with copper fetters and brought him to Babylon and put him in the house of custody until the day of his death.” Even Jeremiah was handcuffed along with the multitude of captives. But Nebuzaradan the chief of Nebuchadnezzar’s bodyguard released him.—Jer. 52:11; 40:1-6.
PUNISHMENT OF JERUSALEM JUSTIFIED
Jehovah was justified in causing this “chain” of captives and exiles to be forged. Why? Well, the judgments that the courts of the land handed down and executed caused the shedding of innocent blood; or because of the wickedness of the people those courts had to handle many capital crimes involving blood. The situation was as Hosea had told Israel years earlier: “There are the pronouncing of curses and practicing of deception and murdering and stealing and committing of adultery that have broken forth, and acts of bloodshed have touched other acts of bloodshed.”—Hos. 4:2.
Jerusalem was indeed “full of violence,” despite its being the center of religious worship at the temple of Jehovah. This made it all the more imperative that Jehovah bring punishment. Whom would he use to fasten the symbolic chain upon them? Jehovah answers:
“I will bring in the worst ones of the nations, and they will certainly take possession of their houses, and I will cause the pride of the strong ones to cease, and their sanctuaries must be profaned.”—Ezek. 7:24.
The “worst ones of the nations” were the Babylonians. The mere mention of their name instilled fear in the nations. At that time Babylon held the position of the Third World Power of Bible history. She was unbeatable, not even the great power of Egypt being able to hold her in check. Speaking to the “leader” of ancient Tyre, Ezekiel called the Babylonians “the tyrants of the nations.” (Ezek. 28:1, 2, 7) Babylon constituted a very great threat to Jerusalem, more than any other nation had been.
Jerusalem was a difficult city to capture, but the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar broke through its wall after a siege of about eighteen months. (2 Ki. 25:1-4) Afterward they took “possession of their houses,” burning all the houses of the great men with fire. They profaned “their sanctuaries,” tearing down and burning the temple of Jehovah.—2 Ki. 25:9, 13-17; 2 Chron. 36:17-19.
“The pride of the strong ones” was caused to cease when King Zedekiah, the anointed one of the line of David, was captured, blinded, and taken to Babylon, and the chief ones of the priesthood were slaughtered, including the chief priest Seraiah and the second priest Zephaniah. Also Nebuchadnezzar put to death the city’s chief officers.—2 Ki. 25:18-21.
NO PEACE OR HELP FROM GOD
It was indeed a terrible retribution, but a deserved one, for those inside the doomed city. Jehovah described in advance to Ezekiel what would actually happen:
“There will come anguish, and they will certainly seek peace but there will be none. There will come adversity upon adversity, and there will occur report upon report, and people will actually seek a vision from a prophet, and the law itself will perish from a priest and counsel from elderly men. The king himself will go into mourning; even a chieftain will clothe himself with desolation, and the very hands of the people of the land will get disturbed.”—Ezek. 7:25-27a.
With the sword of warfare outside the city and utter famine and pestilence inside, confusion reigned. It was “adversity upon adversity,” and each report was one increasing the fear and despair. Oh, yes, they sought peace, but there was none, for the reason that they sought it in the wrong way. They wanted peace to continue while they went the same disobedient way they had practiced prior to the siege. Through the prophet Jeremiah Jehovah had instructed them to go out in unconditional surrender to the Babylonians. If they had done this, Jehovah would have seen to it that their lives were spared. But they did not have faith in their Sovereign God.
Therefore, it was of no use for them to go to a prophet to “seek a vision.” They had the word of God’s true prophet Jeremiah, that the city would fall. God was not going to contradict himself and give them a message of peace through another prophet. The law as given by the priest, who was against priest Jeremiah, was to “perish.” The counsel by the princes and elderly men was of no value. In fact, it was fear of his princes that Zedekiah used as an excuse not to obey the instructions of Jehovah through Jeremiah. So he went “into mourning.” (Jer. 38:14-24) Likewise each of the chieftains of the land, because of the hopeless state of the city, could only rip his garments apart in expression of inward despair and “clothe himself with desolation.”
What were the people to do? With their leaders in such a state of grief and confusion, they did not know what to do with their hands, with what to employ them. But they shared the blame with the king and the priests and elderly men, for they all had pursued a bad, corrupt, idolatrous way in spite of Jehovah’s warnings. That is why God said:
“According to their way I shall act toward them, and with their judgments I shall judge them; and they will have to know that I am Jehovah.”—Ezek. 7:27b.
God had made a covenant with Israel. He lived up to the terms of the covenant to bless them when they were obedient. As the Keeper of his covenants, Jehovah also had to act toward them “according to their way” when they broke that covenant, which they did, flagrantly and high-handedly. There was no justice obtainable in the courts of the land. Also, many were the cases of murder. Bribery flourished. Innocent persons suffered. In view of all these things, could the Sovereign Lord Jehovah deal with the Jews as though he were a God different from the God with whom their forefathers had made a solemn covenant through the mediator Moses?
Therefore, Jehovah judged them “with their judgments,” that is, with the judgments that applied to them according to the law of his covenant. It was fair and equitable, in trueness to himself that he did it. He left them under no misapprehensions as to who he is. They had to know that he was the same Jehovah as the one with whom their forefathers entered the covenant, and that he does not change. They had to know that he is Jehovah, the eternal God of righteousness, truth and justice.
SIMILAR DISTRESS COMING UPON CHRISTENDOM
Look around at Christendom. Do we see a comparison with ancient Jerusalem? Is not her realm “full of bloodstained judgment”? Is she not, even in her religious centers and strongholds, “full of violence”?
Like Jerusalem, Christendom has been instructed as to the right way to go. She has been warned of the consequences of wrongdoing or error against God. What, then, can she expect?
Already there is adversity upon adversity coming upon Christendom’s churches, with their failing church attendance and the loss of ministers and revenues. Her clergymen no longer give the people guidance from God’s law, and they have no realistic, believable “vision” as to any improved conditions ahead.
But these adversities are only preliminary to the “great tribulation” shortly to break upon Christendom. Then the “worst ones of the nations,” the worst as far as Christendom is concerned, namely, the radical, godless political and secular elements will show no respect for her sacred things. The law of her priesthood and clergy will be disregarded. It will be a time of great mourning for her worldly-wise elders and ecclesiastical leaders. Those who still cling to her institutions will be ‘disturbed in their hands,’ not knowing what to do to save the religious system.
It should be no surprise to those who read and have faith in the Bible, to hear that these things are coming upon Christendom’s churches. All God’s judgments are written down. It is unmistakably plain that he will judge fornicators and adulterers (Heb. 13:4), sex perverts, idolaters, liars, murderers and those practicing spiritism (Rev. 21:8; 22:15), hypocrites (Matt. 23:29-33) and all those who defile the worship of God, particularly those who do so under the claim of serving him.—1 Cor. 3:17.
Thereby it will be known to Christendom and to all onlookers that Jehovah God is the Sovereign Lord, who will ‘by no means give exemption from punishment,’ and will pay back to their faces those who defy him.—Ex. 34:7; Deut. 7:10.
Each person today who sees what God’s Word says about Jehovah’s just action against wrongdoers should ask himself: Will I learn that he is also “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness and truth” toward those who desire to do what is right? (Ex. 34:6) Will I come to be a ‘guest in his tent’ by practicing what is right and clean? (Ps. 15:1-3) Jehovah did not let Jeremiah or Ebed-melech and certain others die when the “tyrants of the nations” took Jerusalem. He can protect those who learn and follow his righteous way today even though the “worst ones of the nations” may run rampant and destroy Christendom.
Yes, the period beginning with Christendom’s judgment is a “great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning until now, no, nor will occur again.” But God will provide protection, so that ‘some flesh will be saved.’ And he will even punish the “worst ones of the nations” just as he later punished Babylon for her presumptuousness in exalting herself against him. In this way all the wicked will be annihilated, “so that it will not leave to them either root or bough.” Let all who love God now seek peace with him and live.—Matt. 24:21, 22; Mal. 4:1.