The word “compassion” appears twice at the end of 2 Chronicles. In 36:15 we read the God “had compassion” on his people and his temple: given their responsiveness to God they were spared from disaster. But a moment later, in verse 17, we read just the opposite. God unleashed the Babylonian army on his people, an army that “had no compassion on young man or virgin, old man or aged.”
Why this contrast?
The answer is offered in the intervening verse, 16: “But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD rose against his people, until there was no remedy.” This sums up the biblical story of God’s chosen people over hundreds of years, a story that started with Abraham and continued to the time of the Chaldean victory.
So what should we do with these verses? Do they still apply today? Or is the Old Testament a story of wrath? And can Christians safely ignore it in light of Christ’s New Testament mercies?
In answer, yes, it does apply. And, no, the Bible doesn’t adopt this dichotomy. In our reading we don’t find an angry Old Testament God replaced by a loving New Testament Christ. Instead all of God’s self-disclosures—his words—offer truth spoken in love. So to dismiss his prophets and apostles is to dismiss his love.
Let’s do a quick review.
In Eden Adam believed Satan rather than God. God, undeterred, promised the Seed—his Son—to reestablish faith on the earth. And when the promised Son arrived he once again offered God’s winsome love. But, again, the world despised him and crucified him.
God, still jealous for human hearts, then sent the Son’s followers to preach the cross as a doorway to life. But today the message of the cross only draws a few. Most people still prefer to follow the Prince of the Power of the Air.
So verse 16 in 2 Chronicles 36 offered a lesson that still applies today. God is compassionate as he warns sinners against embracing evil. In every warning he also calls people to his Son who reveals his love; and the Son, alone, is the remedy to sin.
Here’s the lesson. Poor poll ratings don’t stop God. He understands the human heart. His love is what we need whether or not we know it. But he doesn’t force himself on anyone.
Instead God graciously allows people to taste the bitter fruit of evil—not just their own evil, but the evil of a fallen world too. So the consequences of spiritual autonomy roll like tsunami-waves over the landscape of both bowed and unbowed hearts.
Evil then devastates the lives of both the just and the unjust. But relief always follows a great wave of evil. And in the aftermath of destruction people—now alert to the destructiveness of unrestrained evil—begin to rebuild a better world.
Here’s the sequence. Devastation brings humility. And humbled people are better listeners: more alert to God’s words and ready to walk in his ways. The humble prove to be builders, not destroyers. They are more likely to recognize God as trustworthy; and they, too, prove to be trustworthy.
Think, for instance, of the last century and the incredible destruction of the Second World War. An environment of human autonomy, led by the ungodly ambitions of evil leaders, unleashed a huge wave of evil. But as the wave passed and a trough of peace followed there was a time of dramatic recovery.
What recovery? There was an economic boom, of course. But, more importantly, a time of spiritual revival followed the war. The story of Louis Zampereni in Unbroken is a more dramatic account of countless stories of divine grace at work. New campus ministries appeared; Billy Graham’s crusades prospered; and Bible-centered colleges and church movements appeared. Time magazine even declared 1976 to be the “Year of the Evangelical.” Faith in God’s word found space to grow and prosper in a humbled world.
Are we alert to this pattern today? We should be. Especially as we feel the swell of a new wave of godless entertainments, educational values, and political forces emerging.
And we recognize how huge waves of evil are common features of history. The Bible can be read as a survey of spiritual and social tsunamis. And our text in Chronicles should be read as God’s way of working in every age.
Think about it. Adam’s fall in Genesis 3 was met with the message of grace in Abraham’s conversion story of Genesis 12-22. But the time of the Patriarchs was followed by the chaos of the Judges and Saul’s reign. But then we read of a restoration in David’s time.
Then came Solomon’s failures, a civil war, and the moral collapse of the northern kingdom. Yet God soon raised up Elijah and Elisha—from among just 7,000 faithful men—and a revival followed. In the southern kingdom—Judah—we also read about Hezekiah and Josiah as God’s counterpoints to the waves of evil rulers who separated their reigns. And, later, we celebrate the restoration of Ezra and Nehemiah after the humiliation of captivity in Babylon.
Let’s return now to God’s promise of compassion. Is it a perpetual promise? Yes. It remains as the backdrop to all of history. And it comes to us by way of his word. And by way of those who listen to his word and who share it faithfully.
But there will also be times of tsunami-like evil that wash over us. And that humbles us. Even these reveal God’s compassion—but any remedy always awaits spiritual humility. And God, in his compassion, knows how to humble us.