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Friday, 04 June 2021 00:00

Reward and Punishment

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Exodus 23:20–33

Parents may say something like this to their children: If you obey, I’ll buy you an ice cream sundae taller than the Empire State building! But if you disobey, I’ll put you on a plane to Timbuktu and it’s a one-way ticket!

God, the Perfect Parent, has similar things to say:

Walk before me faithfully and be blameless, and . . . 

I will lead you into a land flowing with milk and honey

By the blast of my nostrils, I will pile the waters up

I will carry you on eagles’ wings

I will send the hornet ahead of you to drive the enemies out of your way

I will break the bars of your yoke

Every place where you set your foot will be yours

You will always be at the top, never at the bottom

I will prepare a feast of rich food for all people

Every valley will be raised up; every mountain and hill made low

The heavens will rain down righteousness

The trees of the field will clap their hands

The sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.

But if you remain stiff-necked and do not circumcise your hearts, then . . .

            I will make the sky above like iron, the earth beneath like bronze

            I will pile your dead bodies on the lifeless forms of your idols

            I will draw out my sword and pursue you

            I will make you so fearful that the sound of a wind-blown leaf will put you to flight

            I will turn the rain into dust and powder

            Your carcasses will be food for the birds of the air

            You will become a thing of horror and an object of scorn and ridicule

            You will live in constant suspense, filled with dread both day and night

            I will send you back in ships to Egypt

            You will offer yourselves as slaves, but no one will buy you

Even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen

            I will lift your skirts over your face and show the nations your nakedness

            I will sweep everything away from the face of the earth

            I will smear on your faces the dung from your festival sacrifices.

(For these words from God, see: Gen 17:1; Ex 3:17; 15:8; 19:4; 23:28; Lev 26:13; Duet 11:24; 28:13; Isa 25:6; 40:4; 45:8; 55:12; Mal 4:2 Lev 26:19, 30, 33, 36; Deut 28:24, 26, 37, 66, 68; Isa 1:15; Nah 3:5; Zeph 1:2; Mal 2:3.)

Life Application Questions

  • How does it make us feel when we read, “If you listen carefully . . . and do what I saythen. . .” (Ex 23:22), but if we don’t? Does God have high expectations for us? Do exciting rewards and scary punishments help us grasp the importance of obeying everything God says?
  • Does God teach his children using a similar approach to how parents teach theirs? 
  • Hosea records that the Chosen People became so sinful that God declared, “Because of all their wickedness in Gilgal, I hated them there . . . I will no longer love them”(Hos 9:15). Malachi speaks of God regrettably divorcing his bride. How do we respond to statements like, “The Lord will judge his people.It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:30-31)?!


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