Isaiah 13:6–13 (NLT): 6 Scream in terror, for the day of the Lord has arrived—

the time for the Almighty to destroy.

7 Every arm is paralyzed with fear.

Every heart melts,

8 and people are terrified.

Pangs of anguish grip them,

like those of a woman in labor.

They look helplessly at one another,

their faces aflame with fear.

9 For see, the day of the Lord is coming—

the terrible day of his fury and fierce anger.

The land will be made desolate,

and all the sinners destroyed with it.

10 The heavens will be black above them;

the stars will give no light.

The sun will be dark when it rises,

and the moon will provide no light.

11 “I, the Lord, will punish the world for its evil

and the wicked for their sin.

I will crush the arrogance of the proud

and humble the pride of the mighty.

12 I will make people scarcer than gold—

more rare than the fine gold of Ophir.

13 For I will shake the heavens.

The earth will move from its place

when the Lord of Heaven’s Armies displays his wrath

in the day of his fierce anger.”

There is a difference between punishment and payback. Punishment involves correction. In a way, it is only done when the victim sees more in the perpetrator than that perpetrators sees in themselves. Punishment requires some hope of restoration and redemption in both parties – even if whatever was taken or destroyed cannot be brought back.

I heard a story a few months back about two women who travel the country doing church revivals and raising awareness of drunk driving. One of the women lost a son to a drunk driver. The other woman was the drunk driver who took her son’s life. There was punishment meted out, fines and prison time served, but relationships are restored and redeemed and now both women work to make sure it does not happen again.

Payback is something else. Payback dehumanizes the perpetrator and seeks only to do to them what had been done to their victim. There is no hope for restoration or redemption. It is exemplified in the phrase, “an eye for an eye” which Mahatma Ghandi taught that when followed, “leaves everyone blind”. Incidently, Ghandi may have taken his cues from Jesus here….

God punishes those who disobedient, particularly those who disobey him to the point of causing harm. Not just intentional harm either. A big part of God’s law is to prevent us from even accidentally causing harm. We harm one another when we let our arrogance and envy get in the way of looking out for one another. The best cure for an arrogant or envious community is to be shaken up, so they are forced to reassess what they already have and should be grateful for, as well as who they should be grateful to. God’s punishment involves shaking things up so that those who put their trust in things other than God see them fall away, leaving only God left standing. God does not punish out of spite or cruelty… He simply wants us to see the truth that He is the only one we can truly count on.

This Advent season we remember the justice of God and the way He came to earth Himself to take the bulk of that punishment Himself.

  • How does God shake up your life in order to bring you closer to Him?
  • When life gets stressful, who or what do you turn to for support?
  • Does that support bring you closer to God? How so?

From the squalor of a borrowed stable

By the Spirit and a virgin’s faith

To the anguish and the shame of scandal

Came the Savior of the human race

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