by Arthur W. Pink
Philologos Religious Online Books
Studies in the Scriptures
by Arthur W. Pink
GOD GOVERNING THE NATIONS.
“If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them” (Jer. 18:8). Then is no “if” in connection with what God has foreordained, and the history of nations has been as truly and definitely predestinated as the destiny of each individual. “Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18), and they are known to Him because they were decreed by Him. Now if God decreed an event He either foresaw what would be the issue of it or He did not. If He did not, where is His infinite wisdom and understanding? On the other hand, if He foresaw an event would not be, why did He purpose it should be? If God purposed a thing, then either He is able to bring it to pass by His wisdom and power, or He is not. If not, where is His omniscience and omnipotence? From the horns of that dilemma there is no escape. If God be God then there can be no failure with Him “The counsel of the LORD standeth forever, the thoughts of His heart to all generations” (Psa. 33:11).
“If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto it.” There is always an “if” in connection with human responsibility, for man is as “unstable as water” being influenced by many things both from within and without; nevertheless he is held strictly accountable unto God. Nations, equally with Christians, are responsible: the Lord is their Maker, their Ruler, their God. His Moral Law is as binding upon kingdoms as it is upon the Church. If the rulers of the nations acknowledge God in the discharge of their office, if their laws be equitable and beneficent, maintaining a balance between justice and mercy, if the Sabbath be duly enforced, if the Lord be owned in prosperity and sought unto in adversity, then the smile of Heaven will be upon that people. But if He be slighted and defied His frown will be experienced. As effects are dependent upon the operation of causes, and the character of the one determines the nature of the other, so a course of obedience is followed by very different consequence from one of disobedience, be it the case of a nation or individual.
“Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people” (Prov. 14:34) expresses a foundational principle and an unchanging fact. Right doing or walking according to the Divine Rule is the basic condition of national prosperity. A righteous administration of government and the public worship of God gives an ascendancy to a people over those where such things prevail not. Nothing so tends to uphold the throne, elevate the mind of the masses, promote industry, sobriety and equity between man and man, as does the genuine practice of piety, the preservation of the virtues and suppression of vice, as nothing more qualifies a nation for the favour of God. Righteousness is productive of health, of population, of peace and prosperity. But every kind of sin has the contrary tendency. “The prevalence of vice and impiety is a nation's reproach, conduces to disunion, weakness and disgrace, and exposes any people to the wrath and vengeance of God” (Thomas Scott). When sin has become a public “reproach” then ruin is imminent.
We repeat, then, that Jeremiah 18 portrays not Jehovah as the Determiner of eternal destiny but rather as the Dispenser of temporal benefits, not as decreeing the hereafter of individuals but as distributing the portions of the kingdoms. “Thou art the God, even Thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth” (2 Kings 19:15), and as such He governs them on the basis of His moral Law and in accordance with the discharge of their responsibilities thereto. Jeremiah 18 reveals to us the fundamental principles which regulate the dealings of the Most High with the nations and the relations which He sustains to them. First, He is shown as an absolute Sovereign over Israel in particular and over all peoples in general: “as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in Mine hand, O house of Israel” (v. 6). Jehovah has the most incontestable and immediate power over them. This shows the infinite ease with which He can deal with the most fractious. “He increaseth the nations and destroyeth them: He enlargeth the nations and straiteneth them” (Job 12:23).
Second, the Lord is here depicted as the righteous Governor of the nations, dealing with them according to their deserts. In the exercise of His high and unchallengeable authority the Most High is pleased to act according to the principles of goodness and equity. There is no arbitrary caprice in the infliction of punishment: “the curse causeless shall not come” (Prov. 26:2). The Lord “doth not afflict willingly (“from the heart,” margin) nor grieve the children of men” (Lam. 3:33), but only because they give Him occasion to and because the honour of His name requires it. “O that thou hadst hearkened to My commandments, then had thy peace been as a river and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea” (Isa. 48:18) is His own avowal. Yea, had they respected His authority “I should soon have subdued their enemies and turned My hand against their adversaries” (Psa. 81:14) He declares. Let it be definitely recognized that God's dealings with the nation of Israel illustrate His administration of the nations today.
Third, the justice of God is tempered with mercy in His government of the nations. “The Lord is of great mercy” (Num. 14:18) and “plenteous in mercy” (Psa. 86:5), and therefore, “His tender mercies are over all His work” (Psa. 145:9). Consequently, when the dark clouds of Divine wrath gather over a kingdom, yea even when His thunderbolts have begun to be launched, genuine repentance will check the storm. When a people humble themselves beneath God's almighty hand, evidencing the genuineness of their repentance by turning away from their wickedness and doing that which is pleasing in His sight, His judgments are turned away from them. “And the children of Israel (1) did evil in the sight of the LORD and forgat the LORD their God, and served Baalim and the groves. Therefore (2) the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel and He sold them into the hand of Chushanrishathaim and the children of Israel served Chushanrishathaim eight years. And (3) when the children cried unto the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer to the children of Israel, who delivered them” (Judges 3:7-9). The same order—sin, punishment, penitence and merciful deliverance—is repeated again and again in the book of Judges.
That these principles of the Divine administration apply to the Gentiles, equally with the Jews, is unmistakably clear from the case of Nineveh a heathen city, concerning which the Lord said “their wickedness is come up before Me” (Jonah 1:2). Unto the vast metropolis the Prophet was sent, crying, “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (3:4). But note well the sequel: “So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them... And he (the king) caused it to be proclaimed . . . Let neither man nor beast, herd or flock, taste anything: let them not feed nor drink water . . . let them cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way and from the violence that is in their hands. Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from His fierce anger, that we perish not? And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil that He had said that He would do unto them, and He did it not” (Jonah 3:5-10).—A.W.P.