It was Passover in Jerusalem, a festive time for Jews, and one of great preparation for remembering God’s liberating Israel from bondage. There was plenty of activity and good spirits in the city, and there was likely no more festive and active place than the Temple of the Living God. However, not everyone was happy:
- John 2:14-17 And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: (15) And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables; (16) And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise. (17) And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.
Righteousness has a reputation for being gentle, caring, and a danger to no one. However, seemingly unprovoked, the most righteous man fashioned a Roman implement of corporal punishment and went off on the people in God’s Temple…as they prepared for Passover. This does not square with the perception many have of Jesus; there is a broad perception of Jesus as someone who would not hurt a fly. After all, it is written of Him:
- Isaiah 42:1-3 Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. (2) He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. (3) A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth.
Yet, there He is, whip in hand, turning over tables, scattering money, and running folks out. Was Jesus being righteous? Could this actually be righteousness? Of course, the answer to both questions is “Yes.” In fact, it was a willingness to act forcefully on behalf of righteousness. Of course, Jesus is a special case, as human beings go; He did things in the name of righteousness that would be inappropriate for others to even consider…
Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth. (Numbers 12:3) That is definitely a Christ-like quality, as the Lord Himself said, Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. (Matthew 11:29)
So, Moses was meek, even before Christ had come. And the meek are hardly harsh or forceful, right? There is that Christ-in-the-Temple incident, but Jesus of Nazareth was God manifest in flesh, a little indignation is forgivable; others should never represent God in that way, right?
- Exodus 32:19-20, 26 – 28 And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount. (20) And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strawed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it…Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the LORD’S side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him. (27) And he said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour. (28) And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.
That sounds like pretty harsh and forceful action, in pursuit of righteousness, from the meekest man on earth, does it not? Now, I can hear the objection, “Well, that was BEFORE Numbers 12; Moses did not have his act together yet. After he walked with the Lord awhile longer, THAT’S when he became so meek.” Well, only if Numbers, Chapter 12 occurs AFTER Numbers, Chapter 20:
- Numbers 20:7-12 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, (8) Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink. (9) And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as he commanded him. (10) And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock? (11) And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also. (12) And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.
Moses displayed the same “anger management” problem in the wilderness that Jesus of Nazareth showed in the Temple. Or was it simply a willingness to act for righteousness, even when the action was harsh?
There are numerous examples in scripture of righteousness that many would consider harsh, cruel, or injurious; they are righteous nonetheless, because righteousness is not determined by how it impacts people’s thinking, but by whether it adheres to God’s standards. Therefore, the prophet wrote, But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away (Isaiah 64:6) and, For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
So, the question, the only question, for the saint of God, is whether he is willing to act in righteousness, even when such actions bring harm? Moses did so, as did Christ. Recall what happened in the time of Ezra:
- Ezra 10:1-4, 9-14 While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children, gathered to him out of Israel, for the people wept bitterly. (2) And Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, of the sons of Elam, addressed Ezra: “We have broken faith with our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land, but even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this. (3) Therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God, and let it be done according to the Law. (4) Arise, for it is your task, and we are with you; be strong and do it…” (9) Then all the men of Judah and Benjamin assembled at Jerusalem within the three days. It was the ninth month, on the twentieth day of the month. And all the people sat in the open square before the house of God, trembling because of this matter and because of the heavy rain. (10) And Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have broken faith and married foreign women, and so increased the guilt of Israel. (11) Now then make confession to the LORD, the God of your fathers and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.” (12) Then all the assembly answered with a loud voice, “It is so; we must do as you have said. (13) But the people are many, and it is a time of heavy rain; we cannot stand in the open. Nor is this a task for one day or for two, for we have greatly transgressed in this matter. (14) Let our officials stand for the whole assembly. Let all in our cities who have taken foreign wives come at appointed times, and with them the elders and judges of every city, until the fierce wrath of our God over this matter is turned away from us.”
Could righteousness require family break-ups and sanction divorce, something God hates (Malachi 2:16)? While many see God hating divorce yet compelling His people to divorce wives and abandon children as contradictory, I do not. God had, long before, forbid such unions for Israel (Exodus 34:10-17, Deuteronomy 7:3-4). Ezra, along with the Israelites, was willing to act for righteousness, despite the pain it would cause. Most people, including those in the church, would think the right way to address the matter would be to leave things alone. After all, the people had acknowledged their guilt, and were truly sorry. They would prefer that to the way of God chosen by Ezra and Israel. To those having that view, that God’s way somehow was not the best approach, God has a reply:
- Ezekiel 18:25-27 Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal? (26) When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die. (27) Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.
The trouble is, many of us would like for God to amend His decrees to make our unrighteous choices at least acceptable, because we see no problem with our decisions. This is especially true if making things right with God is painful for us or those for whom we care. We object: “How insensitive of God to ignore our pain and demand we do hurtful things to be righteous. A loving God should never bring pain upon His children in pursuit of what is right. That’s too narrow a view and has no compassion. With God, nothing is impossible; there is always another way!”
Well, not exactly:
- Mark 14:35-36 And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. (36) And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.
If the Son of God was unable to alter what God required for Him to do in pursuit of righteousness, though it meant excruciating pain and temporary alienation for Him, should anyone believe that God will change the requirements of righteousness for them?
Correcting our unrighteousness requires no action on God’s part; He has already done all to pave the way to heaven. However, there remain some things for us to do:
- 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife. (2) And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. (3) For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, (4) In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, (5) To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
- Isaiah 1:16-17 Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; (17) Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
- 2 Corinthians 6:17-18 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, (18) And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.
- John 5:14 Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.
God’s righteousness will require that people do things they would rather not do, as Simon Peter learned from the resurrected Christ, John 21:18 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. When all is said and done, there are only two responses:
- Acts 21:10-14 And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judaea a certain prophet, named Agabus. (11) And when he was come unto us, he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles. (12) And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem. (13) Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. (14) And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done.
- 2 Timothy 4:10 For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia.
Again, the question, the only question, for the person who belongs to God, is whether he is willing to act in righteousness, whatever that may require. For those who seek compassion for the flesh, they should remember that saving the soul will always be more compassionate than sparing the flesh any pain.