Any person who has sincerely followed Christ for any length of time has experienced His love though painful discipline. “The Lord reproves [disciplines] him whom he loves” (Proverbs 3:12 ESV).
Families and churches who disobey God can likewise experience His chastisements. Since its founding forty-three years ago, OneCry’s parent organization, Life Action Ministries, has seen this reality numerous times. The good news is that when families and churches sincerely repent and seek forgiveness from the Lord and those they have wronged, He responds in mercy and blessing.
But what about nations? You cannot read the prophets of the Old Testament without concluding that God judges not only His people Israel, but other nations as well. Perhaps the most notorious examples are Sodom and Gomorrah (during Abraham and Lot’s lifetimes), and Nineveh (during the days of the prophet Jonah).
So, is this judging of nations only an Old Testament phenomenon? I was recently struck by the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:20-24.
Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”
Notice the words of judgment against Jesus’ own town of Capernaum. He compares them to the wicked city of Sodom—that locale that didn’t have even ten righteous people left in it during the days of Lot and his family.
Jesus says a startling thing here: If the miracles He performed in Capernaum had been performed in wicked Sodom, they would have been spared, obviously because they would have repented. In fact, Jesus says that Sodom would have lasted another thousand years until Jesus’ day! But, because the people of Sodom did not repent, they were—long before the days of Jesus—destroyed by fire.
The conclusion we can draw here is that God does indeed stand in judgment over all nations. But true repentance by those nations who have violated His eternal standards can often avert His judgment.
What should that repentance look like? One great example is the city of Nineveh in Jonah’s day. After Jonah preached that the city would be destroyed in forty days, the king of Nineveh issued a decree for humility, fasting, and crying out to God for mercy. And the king himself led the way by exchanging his royal robes for sackcloth and by humbly sitting in ashes as he fasted, repented, and prayed.
This is reminiscent of what President Lincoln led our nation to do during the dark days of the Civil War. In 1863, he called our people to a day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer. Here is part of his proclamation:
Whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord. And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People?
We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us! It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.
Our nation today is under the judgment of God and, as a result, is increasingly vulnerable to disruption from enemies, both foreign and domestic. How appropriate it would be, then, for our current leaders to call our nation to repentance, fasting, and prayer!
Perhaps as our desperation increases, political correctness will wane, we will shake off our proud arrogance, and we will humbly seek His pardon, blessing, and protection once again.