We Can Be Thankful for God’s Patient Discipline
PEOPLE have been heard to remark that God is unreasonable, unfair or slow in acting. Some persons would like to put faith in God, but they cannot understand why God does not act now to wipe out crime, injustice and oppression.
However, it is easy for humans to overlook the fact that the mere exercise of superior power, which they believe God could employ, is usually not the best way to prevent the recurrence of a bad thing. To solve the problem may take time, patience and reasoning.
For example, a father might severely punish his son for every disobedience, or he might disown the son and cast him off completely. But would this correct the son and straighten out the problem? Would it help the son or save the father’s reputation? Would it work for the welfare of the family? A mere exercise of power and authority might, rather, make matters worse as regards the son, as well as other people who were observers. This is because people are not like machines or animals merely to be ordered about and controlled by superior power.
It is similar in God’s dealing with mankind, whom he made ‘in his image and likeness.’ (Gen. 1:26, 27) Mankind still reflects, though imperfectly, that image, which includes the exercise of reasoning, love, justice and mercy. People need to reason out and understand why things are done the way they are. Their heart must be reached. Then, unless they are selfish and unreasonable, they will try to conform to what is right.—Ps. 32:9; Rom. 2:4.
A parent may see that there is only one way that he can bring a matter “home” to his child. It may include warning the child repeatedly. The parent may see that he should let the child suffer the effects or results of his foolishness. Some parents have made the mistake of overprotecting, shielding the child from the consequences of every trouble into which he gets himself. Others may use threats or physical punishment, and the child still does not get the point. The parent may, as an ultimate punishment, have to take away something the child loves dearly.—Prov. 23:13, 14.
Likewise, for man’s own good, God exercises patience and uses reasoning and discipline, for He knows that mankind has to be convinced that His actions are right and that His rule is the only desirable one for the earth. So he has allowed men to go their own independent way. Up to this time they have tried every conceivable form of government—monarchies, oligarchies, socialist and Communist states, republics, democracies, military dictatorships and juntas, and hierarchies (in which a priesthood controls)—every type of government men can devise.
Now worldly governments are more unstable than ever before, and men are saying that society as we know it cannot survive. Men cannot resolve all the problems, and these multiply with each new effort at solution. Therefore, when God brings destruction on this present world system, men will understand that their attempts at self-rule have all been failures. Those who take a position for God’s own direct rule from the heavens will have been so disillusioned by the various kinds of man-rule, so thoroughly convinced that none will work, that they will never want to go back under any form or vestige of man-made government or any of its facets.—Phil. 2:9-11; Isa. 45:23, 24.
AN ILLUSTRATION OF PATIENCE AND DISCIPLINE
We have an example illustrating this point of God’s manner of discipline in the history of God’s dealings with the nation of ancient Israel. When that nation moved into the Promised Land, God, as a good father, warned them of the danger of being drawn into idolatry, by worshiping the gods of the nations that dwelt in and around the land. He said, through Moses: “You must not serve their gods, because that will be a snare to you.”—Deut. 7:16.
There are more than 30 other direct warnings that God gave Israel at that time with regard to the false gods of the nations, which included idols of wood, stone and metal—a direct affront to God’s rulership.
However, Israel ignored these repeated warnings—they never really got the full sense and import of them. While these people continued to say that they worshiped Jehovah and were his people, they became ensnared into trying to follow two masters. The Israelites were deceived into thinking that they could worship Jehovah as God and could at the same time appeal to and even sacrifice to the local Baal god in order to receive good crops and other advantages.—Jer. 7:9; 44:15-23.
Thirty warnings should have been sufficient, especially after what the Israelites had just witnessed in Jehovah’s deliverance of them from Egypt. But did God become impatient and exasperated with them, giving them up as an impossible case? No, as a wise parent, he disciplined them by allowing them, from time to time, to suffer the consequences of their own foolishness, letting them experience oppression at the hands of other nations and saving them when they called to him for help. This went on for some 850 years.
But even with this discipline, the Israelites did not rid themselves of the sin of idolatry that brought reproach on the God whom they claimed to represent. Nevertheless, God was not defeated. Finally, though he took no pleasure in his action, he did what he had to do to convince them. (Lam. 3:33) He let the Babylonians come in and destroy their capital city Jerusalem and, worse than that, the temple of God that was located there.—2 Chron. 36:15, 16.
To the Jews this was the ultimate punishment, the greatest shock that they could have experienced. They had thought that they could carry on idol worship and at the same time could count on the permanence of their temple and their city Jerusalem. They doted on their holy city and their temple and complacently felt that Jerusalem would stand forever and that they would never be totally carried away from their land, leaving it desolate. But here the very thing that they thought impossible had happened!—Lam. 2:1, 2; 4:12.
Well, this awoke some of the Jews to a realization that idolatry is gross sin. They at last learned the lesson that God had been trying to teach them by milder means. They were forever cured of this worship of idols. After the restoration of an obedient remnant of the Jews to Jerusalem in 537 B.C.E., they committed other sins, but never again did they countenance idolatry.—Lam. 3:31, 32.
To note how effective God’s discipline was, consider an incident that occurred some 560 years later, as related by the Jewish historian Josephus:a
“Now Pilate, who was sent as procurator into Judea by Tiberius, sent by night those images of Caesar that are called ensigns into Jerusalem. This excited a very great tumult among the Jews when it was day. . . . Nay, besides the indignation which the citizens had themselves at this procedure, a vast number of people came running out of the country. . . . to Caesarea . . . they fell down prostrate upon the ground, and continued immovable in that posture for five days and as many nights.”
This event was evidence that God’s reasonableness and patience with Israel over the years were now vindicated as the wise course and the most beneficial to the people involved. Jerusalem and its rebuilt temple were standing when the Messiah appeared. The Messiah could be presented to a nation worshiping, not all kinds of gods, but only the Most High. Hence, the Messiah was identifiable as the sent One from their one God, Jehovah. They could prove his unmistakable identity by means of their one holy book, the Hebrew Scriptures.—John 5:39.
SINCERE PERSONS CAN BENEFIT FROM GOD’S DEALINGS WITH MANKIND
God’s manner of dealing with the people of the world has likewise been a witness to his monumental patience and wisdom in his recognition of all of us as his intelligent creation. He has not acted in harshness. He has preserved the human race to this day. And the seeming delay has not been due to slowness on his part.—2 Pet. 3:9.
When God destroys this present oppressive system and sets up his Kingdom rule over the earth in the hands of Jesus Christ, men will be able to compare, yes, to contrast that fine rule from heaven with what they have experienced when “man has dominated man to his injury.” (Eccl. 8:9) They will observe the uncorruptibleness of that government. Moreover, they will witness the healing of people’s sicknesses by means of Christ’s priestly administration, samples of which curative acts Christ performed when he was on earth. (Luke 4:31-36; 5:12-15; Matt. 9:27-34) Those who are honest and have love in their hearts for what is right will wholeheartedly support that kingdom. (Isa. 26:9) They will then rightly commend God for his patience in not giving up on sinful humans.—Ps. 117:1, 2.
a Josephus’ Wars of the Jews, by Whiston, Book II, Chap. IX, p. 677.
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Jehovah’s judgment on idolatrous Jerusalem disciplined the Jews into abandoning idol worship forever