“Indeed, I will no longer have compassion on the inhabitants of the land” — this is the Lord’s declaration. “Instead, I will turn everyone over to his neighbor and his king. They will devastate the land, and I will not rescue it from their hand.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
We tend to think about God’s judgment in very active terms. It is something that He does to those who are deserving. When He is going to punish sins, He does it. And, this is a hard thing to think about God. No one wants to imagine a God who is good actively doing things to hurt people. But what if there was another way to think about it? Would you be interested?
What we see here in Zechariah is a shift in focus. The prophet has been offering words of hope and comfort. He has been sharing visions of restoration and redemption. That is not what we find here. Here we see judgment once again.
Specifically, God is speaking judgment over the leaders of the people. It’s not simply that they have gone astray, they have been actively led there. Or, when they started drifting, their leaders were too focused on themselves and what they wanted to do anything meaningful about it. They watched as the people walked off a cliff.
In other words, both the people and the leaders were bad. But, that’s not totally true here. This is a statement of the judgment God had unleashed in the past. He is explaining another angle of the judgment. At the same time, though, there is a warning here for the future. Judgment in the past is no guarantee of a lack of judgment in the future.
In any event, think about the nature of this judgment as God described it here. Does He specify anything active He is going to do to them?
In the Scriptures we see several instances of God’s judgment against sin. He is often pictured as actively doing this or that. And sometimes He really is. But sometimes, where God is given credit for exercising judgment—and even where He claims it for Himself—what He’s actually done is to step back and let us destroy ourselves. He allows the natural consequences of sin to be the only judgment we need to experience.
Take the end of the book of Judges for example. God brings judgment on the people for their incorrigible sinfulness not by necessarily doing anything, but by allowing the consequences of their own sinfulness to play out naturally. He gives them over to their neighbors and their leaders. He stops restraining their evil and lets it run rampant.
Indeed, in most cases of human sinfulness, God doesn’t have to bring any kind of active judgment against us. Often, the most effective judgment He can bring is to simply let our sin play itself out. Sin destroys. That’s what it does. God doesn’t have to destroy us for our sin. He just needs to not stop the destruction sin naturally unleashes.
That changes our view of God’s judgment a bit, doesn’t it? He’s not an angry God who comes to get us when we get out of line. He’s a heartbroken father who lets our actions experience their natural consequences so we learn the lesson of obedience.
Now, this doesn’t make judgment any more pleasant. Nothing is going to do that. Judgment isn’t supposed to be pleasant. But we don’t have to fear the God who allows it to happen. He’s not out to get us. He loves us and wants the best for us. But, if we insist on doing things our own way, He’ll let us. That won’t go well. Let’s follow the path to life.