I was thinking about the rebellious people I know, those who are rebelling against God in one way or another, and wondered how God will deal with them. I know its God business how He chooses to work in another person’s life and I probably shouldn’t be wondering about other people’s rebelliousness against God and should curtail any rebellion in me. But it still is something I can’t help but ponder. Sitting in Sunday School recently as we were studying one of the most stubborn and rebellious against God, Jonah, it hit me! Jonah was dealt with by God for refusing to go to Nineveh and preach repentance to the people in Nineveh. Jonah’s story is one way God deals with rebellious people; He won’t give up on them but keeps working on them until they repent. But there are two other ways I can think of in scripture as to how God dealt with rebellion against Him. He either killed them on the spot or he let them go their own way until they spun out of rebelliousness and returned to God to ask for His forgiveness. So today I want to explore the three ways God deals with rebellious people.
By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land. But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt. Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the Lord. He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace. So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived. Genesis 19:23-29, (New International Version or NIV).
Korah son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and certain Reubenites—Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth—became insolent and rose up against Moses. With them were 250 Israelite men, well-known community leaders who had been appointed members of the council. They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?” When Moses heard this, he fell facedown. Then he said to Korah and all his followers: “In the morning the Lord will show who belongs to him and who is holy, and he will have that person come near him. The man he chooses he will cause to come near him. You, Korah, and all your followers are to do this: Take censers and tomorrow put burning coals and incense in them before the Lord. The man the Lord chooses will be the one who is holy. You Levites have gone too far!”
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Say to the assembly, ‘Move away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.’ ” Moses got up and went to Dathan and Abiram, and the elders of Israel followed him. He warned the assembly, “Move back from the tents of these wicked men! Do not touch anything belonging to them, or you will be swept away because of all their sins.” So they moved away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. Dathan and Abiram had come out and were standing with their wives, children and little ones at the entrances to their tents. Then Moses said, “This is how you will know that the Lord has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea: If these men die a natural death and suffer the fate of all mankind, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the realm of the dead, then you will know that these men have treated the Lord with contempt.”
As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, and all those associated with Korah, together with their possessions. They went down alive into the realm of the dead, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community. At their cries, all the Israelites around them fled, shouting, “The earth is going to swallow us too!” Numbers 16:1-7 and 23-34, (NIV).
These are two of the most interesting times when God simply destroyed a group of people because they refused to obey Him and in the case of the two cities Sodom and Gomorrah the inhabitants had become so evil that only one man was found to be righteous, Lot the nephew of Abraham. If you have some time I encourage you to read the complete account of the destruction of these two cities. Abraham pleaded with the angels to let the people live not unlike many of us today who are pleading to God for our rebellious loved ones to be given more time before judgement falls upon them. I have full confidence that God listens to our pleading and answers our prayers. The second passage is also very interesting to me because it shows how God does not always allow disobedient and rebellious people to live. He destroyed not only the men who were rebellious but all of their families and all their possessions as well. There are also other examples sprinkled throughout the Old Testament of God destroying rebellious people who would not obey His commands. I am reminded that we should never take God for granted and we should keep praying for those we know who are rebelling against our Lord and ask that God continue to work in their lives to bring them to repentance, like God did Jonah.
The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. Jonah 1:1-4.
Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Jonah 1:17.
And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. Jonah 2:10.
Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah 3:1-3, (NIV).
There is a lot more to the story. You would think that after being thrown overboard a ship during a terrible storm and swallowed by a large fish would be enough drama to get the message that you can’t fight with God and win. But Jonah had much more to learn and I will let you read the book to find out the rest of his story. My point is that God dealt with Jonah not unlike how He deals with some people today. God never let Jonah get by with running away from Him. God kept working on Jonah until he submitted to the will of God and did what God asked him to do. There are some people who God continues to work on and through the circumstances of their lives they are slowly brought around to God’s way of thinking and eventually repent and turn back to God. For some this battle with God may last most of their life until they repent, for others the battle may take less time. I am always so thankful when God uses this approach rather than the first one we discussed. We have one more way in which God works on bringing people to repentance to discuss.
Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. Luke 15:11-24, (NIV).
God sometimes allows the rebellious person to spin out their rebelliousness by letting them go because God knows there will come a time when they stop rebelling and come to their senses. There will be a time when they realize that all they have done has gained them nothing they really ever wanted and so they return to God and are then willing to walk in newness of life and obey God. I have some people in mind when I read this story of the prodigal son and I often pray that God will protect them in the midst of their rebellion against Him. So often they need protection from themselves and I pray for that too. I also pray for the innocents who are having to live with the consequences of the rebellious person’s sins and ask that God will take care of them and protect them from harm. There may be other ways in which God deals with rebellious human beings but these three are ways I have seen Him work today. I hope you find encouragement to hang in there and keep praying for those you know who are rebelling against God today. One thing I am sure about and that is that God loves them too.