Chapter 33:10-20 (ESV) - “And you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, Thus have you said: ‘Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we rot away because of them. How then can we live?’ Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?
“And you, son of man, say to your people, The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him when he transgresses, and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall by it when he turns from his wickedness, and the righteous shall not be able to live by his righteousness when he sins. Though I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, yet if he trusts in his righteousness and does injustice, none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered, but in his injustice that he has done he shall die. Again, though I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ yet if he turns from his sin and does what is just and right, if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has taken by robbery, and walks in the statutes of life, not doing injustice, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the sins that he has committed shall be remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he shall surely live.
“Yet your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just,’ when it is their own way that is not just. When the righteous turns from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it. And when the wicked turns from his wickedness and does what is just and right, he shall live by this. Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, I will judge each of you according to his ways.”
Question to consider: What are some of the ways our sin can cloud our view of justice?
If ever someone wants to understand the heart of God and the nature of our sin, this passage sums it up. Ever since Adam rebelled against God and plunged the world into sin, we’ve seen God’s desire for people to repent and turn back to Him even while people instead question the actions and justice of God. When Adam was confronted with sin, he blamed his wife and ultimately God for giving her to him. Rather than immediately taking his life, God mercifully covered over their shame with clothing derived from the substitutionary death of an innocent creature.
When Cain’s sacrifice was rejected, and Abel’s was counted to him as righteousness, Cain questioned the justice of God and murdered his brother. When confronted with his sin, Cain denied responsibility for his brother and then questioned God’s justice in taking away his vocation and exiling him. Mercifully, God gave Cain a long life with every chance to repent and turn back to him, and yet Cain set about building a world corrupted against God.
Throughout scripture, you can see examples of people doing whatever was right in their own eyes while rejecting the word of God, and God actively working to bring people to repentance and mercifully covering over their sin when they did.
People cling to the idea that their righteous deeds will make up for their sins, but deep down we know this isn’t true. If someone were to commit murder, he could not erase his crime by serving the poor. None of his righteous deeds would be remembered, but only his act of injustice. However, the Lord gives an example of what repentance looks like. Someone committed robbery, but confessed his sin, restored what was taken, and lived out his days seeking to do what is right. The sin of this person would be forgotten.
In our sin, we desire justice without mercy when someone wrongs us, and yet we desire mercy without consequence when we have wronged someone else. If we leave justice to God and show mercy to the one who has wronged us, we can trust that God will work out all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. The heart of God is to bring all people to repentance and reconciliation with Him and one another.
Dear heavenly father, thank You for reconciling the lost and bringing people to repentance to keep them from the punishment we deserve. Create in us a pure heart that seeks to do Your will and demonstrates mercy to others in the name of Christ Jesus. Amen.