John Bradshaw - Love and Destruction
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This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. It's one of the most celebrated of all things. Love has been called "a many-splendored thing". Songs have been sung about love: "Love Me Tender," "Love Me Do". In classical music there's "Liebestraum", "Dream of Love", by Liszt. "Salut d'Amour", "Love's Greeting", was given by the English composer Elgar as an engagement gift. Shakespeare wrote "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Romeo and Juliet" and "Much Ado About Nothing", all love stories. Poetry and love go hand in hand, always have. "Oh, my Luve is like a red, red rose, that's newly sprung in June," wrote Robert Burns in the 1700s. The Western world has even set aside a day on which to remember love: Valentine's Day.
And when you come to the Bible, there it is: love. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life", John 3:16. Twice in the same chapter, 1 John 4, we are told that "God is love". Paul wrote, "I am persuaded, that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord". Beautiful! Love cannot be separated from God. And the Bible depicts love in some beautiful ways. In Genesis, "Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her". "Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would be utterly contemned". And Jesus said, "The Father Himself loves you". That's John 16:27.
So let's ask ourselves about this, then. God says through the prophet Samuel, "Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass". That's 1 Samuel 15 in verse 3. Now, I know you got that. God commanded King Saul, the leader of His people Israel, to utterly destroy all that they have, men, women, young children, even nursing babies, even the animals. God said, "Wipe them out. Kill them all". How do we reconcile this with the idea that God is love? How is that love? Atheists love passages of the Bible like this. They'll tell you that the God of the Bible is murderous, a tyrant, a megalomaniac, a bully. Except, of course, God is love, as we've read from Holy Scripture. Can God be both? Can He be love? And notice, it's not that God loves, but that God is love. It's not just who He is, but love is what He is.
Can God be love and order the total annihilation of an entire people group? The answer, of course, has to be...yes. And I'll tell you why. But even after I do that, there'll still be questions hanging in the air because someone has to ask, but what about the Flood? What happened to Amalek is a drop in the bucket compared to what happened in Noah's day when God destroyed an entire planet with the exception of just eight people. There may have been millions of people in the world at that time, and yet God killed them all and saved only eight. Eight! Two-thirds of a dozen, 20 percent less than 10. That's all God saved out of the entire population of the world at that time. How does a God of love do that? And what's the justification?
Now, I'm okay with questions like these. These are real questions. They're not the questions of only skeptics and cynics and critics; they're the questions of thinking people, of searching people. I mean, ya have to ask those questions, don't you? How can God be love and yet... well, we'll find out. Let's consider the Amalekites, the descendants of Esau. The union of Esau's son Eliphaz and a concubine named Timna produced, among others, a child called Amalek. Immediately after the Exodus, his descendants attacked Israel. This was the time when Aaron and Hur held up Moses' arms during that famous battle. As long as Moses' arms were outstretched toward the heavens, the battle was in Israel's favor. But when Moses' arms were down, the battle turned against Israel, and Amalek prevailed, the Bible says. Ultimately, the armies of Israel led by Joshua defeated Amalek.
But notice that God said, "Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven", Exodus 17:14. After that, Amalek was a thorn in the side of Israel. The Amalekites were in the promised land when Israel got there. It was one of the people groups that Israel should have eradicated. And it was the Amalekites who attacked Israel and caused a great amount of loss and damage when Israel thought, presumptuously, to take the promised land without the blessing of God. There was a reason God wanted the Amalekites destroyed. It wasn't that He held a grudge. Keep the context in mind. God's people had been enslaved for hundreds of years. He delivered them so they could go on to the promised land, where they could thrive and where Israel would function as an incubator out of which would spring the Messiah. No Israel? No Messiah. No Messiah? No salvation. No salvation, and you are lost.
Israel's survival depended on their safety and security, and as long as the Amalekites were around, Israel was in jeopardy. They were not safe, and they were not secure. You couldn't make the case that the Amalekites were upstanding citizens or that they'd made any kind of positive contribution to the world. You have to understand that after a couple of thousand years of sin, some people were profoundly wicked. Well, couldn't God have brought them over, led them to repentance, convinced them that He had their best interests at heart? Obviously not. They knew about Israel's deliverance from Egypt and the miracle that that was. They had evidence that God was with Israel. They knew about this God. Yet they chose to remain defiant. They had crossed the line. God knew they would never repent.
I think the problem some people have with this is that they think the Amalekites were something like their own rowdy neighbors, that they had a penchant for playing loud music late at night; they left old cars in their front yard, drank too much, got in occasional trouble with the law, lovable rogues who could never straighten up. No, the Amalekites were profoundly wicked. That's why God wanted them gone. They'd have lived miserable lives, and they would have made other people miserable. Rather than leaving them to pollute the earth with their presence, rather than leaving them to commit atrocity after atrocity, rather than leaving their children be subject to degradation, without a future to look forward to, God knew, and this wouldn't have been simple for God, but God knew it was better off that they were gone.
Yes, it sounds a bit grisly: "Go and destroy them all". That cannot have been pretty. But would it have been better if they died by lethal injection or all died in their sleep? No, it wouldn't. And the destruction of the Amalekites was further evidence to the world that Israel's God was the true God. It wasn't mayhem or malice. It wasn't hate or venom that led to the destruction of the Amalekites. It was love. A God of love knew in His wisdom that this group of people would never repent, that they'd be better off gone, and that Israel would be better for the Amalekites' absence. Also, God was safeguarding the birth of the Messiah. The Amalekites, fueled by the devil, would have messed that up in a big way. But if you thought the destruction of the Amalekites was something, what about the destruction of the world? What about the time God destroyed the entire planet with the exception of only eight people? We'll look at that in just a moment.
Thanks for joining me on It Is Written. "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth", that's Genesis 1:1. And so begins a 66-volume epic tracing the history of the world from its genesis, its creation, to its re-creation when the earth is made new. In between those bookends of creation and re-creation, there are some incredible events: the Exodus where Israel was guided by God out of Egyptian slavery; a sea opening up before them, allowing them to cross from Africa to the Middle East on dry ground; the birth of Jesus when the Son of God became incarnate, God with us; blind men healed, dead people raised from the dead; the walls of a city crashing to the ground after an army circumnavigated it seven times. Oh, and the destruction of the world, the total, complete devastation of an entire planet.
"The fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened". Genesis 7, verse 11. "The flood was forty days upon the earth; and the waters increased, and bare up the ark, and it was lifted up above the earth. And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered". Genesis 7 again. God Himself said, "Every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the face of the earth". Genesis 7, verse 4. That's a whale of a thing to say. And God kept His word. Consider, if you are able, the scale of this destruction, all of it ordered by Almighty God.
"And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man: all in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died. And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground: both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark". Now, I want you to see this verse: "He who does not love does not know God, for God is love". First John 4, verse 8. I'm going to repeat that: "God is love". And now this: "And every man: all in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died".
I don't know how many people were alive in Noah's day, scholars estimate, in the millions, but all of them, with the exception of just eight, died, and they died because God killed them. Now, remember, God is love. But how do you get to wipe out every man, every woman, every child, every dog, every cat, every cow, every elephant, every bird, except for just a very few of each, and afterwards there's John writing, "For God so loved the world"? Same man again: "We love Him because He first loved us". Well, God definitely is love, and God definitely did destroy the world in a flood. So the act of destroying the world had to have been an act of love. And it wouldn't have been easy for God. Surely it brought immense pain to His heart. But this is where some people kick up. They can't get past the idea that God is a tyrant because of what happened in Noah's day.
So let's look at that. We'll think it through. God created the human family. Adam and Eve had children and one of them, Cain, murdered his brother. That didn't take long. That is, until Adam and Eve disobeyed God, the world had been perfect. But not now. And rather than repenting and seeking God, Cain was surly and mean and spiteful and jealous. He not only killed his brother, but he lied to God about it. "Am I my brother's keeper"? he said to God. "I don't know where my brother is". Five generations later, Cain's descendant Lamech takes a second wife. So polygamy was now in play. You can see what's happening. Humanity was rapidly devolving, sinking, imploding, actually. At the same time, people were living long lives. Methuselah died in the year of the Flood at the age of 969. And you can be sure that back then, close to Creation, people had giant intellects and unfathomable creativity.
So you had very brilliant and very wicked people developing sin and sinfulness over a period of centuries. They had put God out of their minds. Idolatry was rampant. "God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually". Genesis 6:5. Moses went on to write that "the earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence". It sounds like every conceivable sin was being practiced by people who were experts at sin. God's law was being trampled in the dust. Decency was gone. The world was sick. And you know how wicked the world was because after preaching for 120 years, Noah could only convince eight people to get on the ark, and they were all his own family members. Animals got on the ark in twos and sevens. There were almost as many goats on the ark as there were people, seven.
The world was thoroughly wicked. And when there's a minority faithfully following God and a majority who are in apostasy, the majority will often persecute the minority. Ah, but God had plans for His people. The Messiah was to come. But that wouldn't be for almost another 2,000 years. Where would God find a faithful young woman prepared to selflessly raise the promised Messiah? Where would God find a noble man with integrity enough to be the earthly father of the Christ? With only eight people on earth willing to get on the ark, many of whom were very dysfunctional, God knew that if He didn't start over, the Messiah might never be born. God had been pleading with the people of the earth for decades, and yet they did nothing but ignore Him. He had one of the few truly faithful men left on the planet build an ark and warn the people of impending destruction.
You know that many of them were convicted by his warning message. And you have the future to think of. You know the planet is going to still exist 4,000 or so years into the future and that people living in, say, the 21st century will need a Savior. You know that if you start again, there'll be Israel, there'll be a Christian church, and there will be people down through history who will take hold of the message of the Bible. It wasn't hate or cruelty that drove God to destroy the world. It was love, love for you. Because if God had not done so, there would've beeb no Messiah and no salvation, salvation for you. Because if He hadn't, the world would have sunk deeper and deeper into sin and into the misery that comes with it. What did the Bible say? "The thoughts of their hearts were only evil continually". They were better off gone. Because no one is truly happy when they live only for wickedness. And they had fully rejected the pleading of the Holy Spirit.
It was out of mercy for the wicked in that day, and out of mercy for every soul that lived after the Flood that God destroyed the world. If He hadn't, there'd hardly be a world today. Oh, and it's easy to take the lazy route and say, "God destroyed the world, so God is evil". I don't think so. The Bible says, "Noah found grace in the eyes of...God," in Genesis 6 in verse 8. God said to Noah, "Thee I have seen righteous before me in this generation". Genesis 7:1. If there'd been another righteous person, another Noah, they'd have been saved, too. An evil God doesn't build a giant boat and then invite everyone alive to get on the boat and be saved. Love compelled God to push the reset button. And the story of the destruction of the earth is preserved by God out of love in the hope that today's generation will take notice that there's going to be another global destruction and run to God and be saved. So, how are you seeing God's love in your life? And how can you be sure that you experience God's love forever? I'll tell you in just a moment.
The fact is God is love. Even when He destroyed a city or even the world, God was love. Everything God has done, He has done out of love, and all we demonstrate when we accuse God of being tyrannical is our own lack of understanding of the big picture. Of course, Valentine's Day has nothing at all to do with the Bible. To be honest, those caricatures of little angels with bows and arrows representing love, that's the Roman god of love depicted there. Honestly? A little blasphemous. Imagine if the love of God was like Valentine's Day, that is, if just once a year God showered His love upon you. Thankfully God's love is constant. It never fails. Every single day God's love is towards you.
Jeremiah wrote that God's mercies "are new every morning" in Lamentations, chapter 3. The sad truth is that many people don't know the love of God. And for some people that's compounded by their experiences. Maybe you've been rejected. You've been through tough things. Maybe you've made choices that didn't turn out for the best, gone through hardship. Maybe you've been betrayed. You might feel as though nobody loves you, that you've made just too many mistakes. You might find yourself in prison. Right now there are 25 million Americans incarcerated. Some of them will never be released. Under some circumstances it can be hard to really know the love of God. So how can you know for sure that God loves you?
Let me ask you this: How have you seen God's love revealed in your life? I'll give you a moment to think about that. Here's the question again: How have you seen God's love revealed in your life? I know what many people say. They say something like, "When I needed a new vehicle, I got one". "I found a new job right after losing my last one". "We have food on our table". "We went to the Bahamas on vacation". "I almost wrecked my car, and it was a miracle I didn't". Yes, all that's good. But the problem is, what if the accident had occurred? What if you lost your job and went broke? What if you didn't get a new vehicle, and you had to take public transport? Yes, all those things, they're good, and they're blessings from God, no question. But that sort of reasoning is fickle; it's up and down. And if you're going to hang your faith on those things, you'll likely have an up-and-down faith.
So here's how you can know God loves you: Calvary. The greatest demonstration of God's love for you is the cross. The death of Jesus shows us that heaven was willing to do whatever was necessary to reveal how much God loves you. Paul wrote to Titus about how the "love of God our Saviour toward man appeared," and that "He saved us" because of His great mercy, "which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Lord". You find that in Titus, chapter 3. Just that idea, that a wayward human family has a Savior. The drug trafficker, the embezzler, the petty thief, the career criminal, the person on death row, they all have a Savior. Jesus died for the world. You can't do anything about your past. You can't change it. But Jesus died to change your future, to give you a life of hope, to give you the certainty of eternity.
Paul wrote that "Christ died for our sins," and that Jesus died for us "while we were...sinners" and enemies of God. And that's love. That Jesus was willing to die a hideous death on behalf of every sinner who's ever lived is love. Jesus leaving heaven on a rescue mission so daring He ran the risk of being separated from His Father eternally? True love. Look to the cross and you see the love of God, for you. And seeing that love will have a powerful effect on you in your life.
What do you do about a God who became sin for you, who defeated sin, defeated Satan, and has prepared a dwelling place for you in heaven? A mansion, the Bible calls it. The love of God draws out of you love for God. John wrote, "We love Him because He first loved us". Paul wrote that "love is the fulfilling of the law". First John 2, verse 5 says, "But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him". The devil wants you to believe that in spite of the cross, in spite of the Incarnation, in spite of the healings and the miracles, God is a tyrant. The real truth is God is love.