We tend to think of judgment and grace as antithetical. We anticipate grace while we dread judgment. That is a perspective born of guilt and shame. Feeling inadequate for living and disqualified from fellowship with God, we conclude that we are the ones being judged and the sentence will be harsh to us.
A look at Israel in the land of promise before they demanded a king might give us a better view of judgment. This era is called the period of the Judges. It recounts several cycles of Israel’s being lured into idolatry with other cultures and of being oppressed by them, only to be delivered by a judge finally. Each time a judge arose to help, they were glad. Understanding the larger narrative of scripture unlocks some treasured truth. God promised to Adam and Eve that although there would be a battle between the seed of the woman and the Serpent, the woman’s seed would win. As Israel lived among the many idolatrous nations, they were constantly tempted to try other ideologies. It might seem that Israel was on its own and that those other nations were so big and intimidating that there was no way to win. But these were God’s people—an iteration of the seed of the woman. God’s plan would not fail. No ideology can long stand before the truth of God the creator and covenant keeper. False notions of reality and misinterpretations of history might look for a while like success; they will be exposed by the light of truth as revealed by God to his people.
We live at a time when secularism and postmodernism seem to rule the day. These ideologies though promoted as new ideas are a rediscovery of the same thinking of the idols of Israel’s day. Humans are still trying to find a way to make life work without trusting God. Generations continue to recycle the same ideas as Marx, Hagel, and Lenin. They have proven horrendously destructive, yet we entertain them again and again. They will fail again. Many will suffer because the God of creation and redemption who has made himself obvious to the open heart is rejected.
Israel was given the land of promise for the purpose of being a light to the nations. Instead, she became their slaves. We can easily find the parallel today as the church moans beneath the heavy burden of political correctness and secularist’s demands. We seem obsessed with the past when Christian values were more popular. The path of victory is forward, trusting God alone as our Father and faithful defender. God uses the enemies to expose the impurities in our faith. That is a good thing. Any notion we have that cannot compete with the foolishness of man-centered thought is defective and needs to be examined and discarded for the real faith that is revealed in Jesus.
Each of the judges described in the book of Judges is pointing to the ultimate judge who purifies his people from using false gods, then delivers them himself. That Judge is Jesus. He exposes the fallacy of self-effort, the weakness of law alone, the power of evil to destroy, and the reason to trust God only for everything we need. He became human to take the sentence of our judgment, thereby setting us free to live as restored creatures who are delighted in the Creator. God judged sin and condemned it in Jesus as he took the sentence. God judged Satan and stripped him of the power to condemn, fulfilling the law and defeating death. We rejoice in the grace of judgment. Our judge has vindicated his own, and we stand in awe.