Through the rod, our gracious Heavenly Father shows us the plague in our depraved hearts. We are often quick to judge others and their motives but slow to examine our own lives. Soul searching is a painful process which often brings our hidden sins to light. Hence, God smites us that He may expose the evil that is lying concealed within our hearts.
By correcting us, God moulds and sanctifies our Christian character and makes us “partakers of his holiness” (Heb. 12: 10). It is in the heat of the furnace that we learn to “put off the old man with his deeds” (Col. 3: 9) and to cast aside self-love, self-sufficiency and self-righteousness.
Biblical examples of God’s chastisement
The Bible records many instances of God’s discipline upon His people. Some examples are: Moses, Miriam, Eli, David, Hezekiah and Manasseh. Let us look at two examples for our instruction:
Miriam was from a family of great spiritual leaders. Together with her brothers, Moses and Aaron, they were called of God to serve His people, the Jews, in the wilderness journey from Egypt to the Promised Land of Canaan: “For I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed thee out of the house of servants; and I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam” (Mic. 6: 4). As a prophetess, Miriam led in the song of triumph after God had brought the Israelites safely across the Red Sea (Ex. 15: 20).
However, an incident in the wilderness of Paran marred Miriam’s faithful service. Displeased that Moses had married a Cushite wife, she instigated Aaron to join her in opposing their brother: “And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman” (Num. 12: 1). In verse 1, Miriam’s name is mentioned before Aaron as being the instigator of the rebellion against Moses.
Challenging the God-given authority of Moses, they complained: “Hath the LORD indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us?” (v. 2a). We note that “the LORD heard” their grievance (v. 2b). Commentator John Gill observed that “this was said secretly between themselves; but God, that sees, and hears, and knows all things, took notice of what was spoken by them, and resented it; for it was ultimately against himself, who had ordered Moses to do what he did.”
In His anger, the Lord afflicted Miriam with leprosy (vv. 9-10). But when Moses interceded for his sister, the Lord graciously healed her (vv. 12-15).
We are told in II Samuel 24: 1-2 that David, tempted by Satan, ordered his general, Joab, to number Israel and Judah: “And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah. 2. For the king said to Joab the captain of the host, which was with him, Go now through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan even to Beersheba, and number ye the people, that I may know the number of the people.”
Most commentators believe that David ordered the numbering out of pride in his own strength. What appeared to be an insignificant act was a sin in God’s eyes because of David’s motive. God Who sees the heart saw that “David acted not only independently of such order or sanction, but from motives unworthy of the delegated king of Israel; from pride and vainglory; from self-confidence and distrust of God; and, above all, from ambitious designs of conquest, in furtherance of which he was determined to force the people into military service, and to ascertain whether he could muster an army sufficient for the magnitude of the enterprises he contemplated. It was a breach of the constitution, an infringement of the liberties of the people, and opposed to that divine policy which required that Israel should continue a separate people” (J F Brown Commentary).
After the numbering, “David’s heart smote him” and he confessed his sin before the Lord (v. 10). In response, God sent the prophet Gad to offer His erring servant “three things; choose thee one of them, that I may do it unto thee” (v. 12). David chose the third option – “three days' pestilence in thy land”. He reasoned that it was better to fall “into the hand of the LORD; for his mercies are great” than “into the hand of man” (v. 14). The next verse tells us that “the LORD sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning even to the time appointed: and there died of the people from Dan even to Beersheba seventy thousand men” (v. 15). But even in His wrath, the Lord showed mercy – He ordered the angel to stop the slaying: “And when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough: stay now thine hand. And the angel of the LORD was by the threshingplace of Araunah the Jebusite” (v. 16).
From the two biblical examples, we learn that even the best of God’s children need correction. God, their Heavenly Father applied the rod to rebuke, instruct, humble and turn them back to the path of righteousness. God’s discipline helps us to see our own failures, faults and follies and to repent of our sins.
We thank God that even when applying the rod, He deals with us in mercy (Lam. 3: 31-33; Hab. 3: 2). He graciously restored Miriam. In David’s case, the Lord mercifully restrained the angel’s hand from the further destruction of His people.
On our part, let us closely examine our lives. Have we become complacent in our walk with the Lord? Perhaps we have gone our own wilful way. Or perhaps we have indulged in some secret sin. Let us get right with the Lord lest He smite us to turn us from our sinful ways.
(… to be concluded)