King David, in the Bible called a “man after God’s own heart”, was in many ways a great raw model for us because of His deep and intimate relationship with God and great dedication for God’s plans and purposes. Stories from the life of David are often referred to as old testament “types and shadows” of God’s grace toward us who are believers in Jesus today.
But in 2 Samuel chapter 24, we find a strange story. God became angry with the people of Israel, and because of that He caused David to conduct a great census. David’s motive, was probably to know the number of men ready to defend the nation in war. But in the law of Moses, there was a requirement that each man who was registered in the count had to pay a ransom for himself, to avoid God’s judgment (Ex. 30:11-16). No ransom was paid, and according to the context it was God who caused David to conduct the census, so that God could get an opportunity to punish the people of Israel after David had violated the law of Moses (!).
A parallel scripture in First Chronicles chapter 21, says that it was the devil – not God – who enticed David to commit this sin. The purpose of this teaching is not to address whether it was God, the devil, or both, that caused David to conduct the census, although this is an interesting and important topic in itself. What I want to discuss here is: Does God punish us when we sin today as in the old testament?
After the census was completed, God gave David three alternative punishments to choose from:
- 3 years of famine.
- That David would have to flee from his enemies for 3 months while they were pursuing him.
- 3 days of plague in the country.
David chose the last option, which resulted in the death of 70.000 people (!).
Another example of how God punished sin from the life of David occurred after he had sinned with Bat-Sheba. You probably know the story. The punishment for David’s sin in that case, was that their child had to die.
A third example of God’s punishment from David’s life, took place when David was going to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. The ark was transported on a cart pulled by oxen. At one point the oxen stumbled, and to prevent the Ark from falling to the ground, Uzzah took hold of the Ark with his bare hands. But only the Levites were allowed to touch and carry the Ark, and because of this God struck Uzzah so that he died.
But is this how God would deal with us today? Most Christians would probably agree that there is a difference, but many still believe that God still punishes us for our sins today.
Before I answer this question, I want to emphasize the following: In my home country of Sweden, we have a saying that “sin punishes itself” and that’s very true. If I go out and rob a bank tomorrow, there is a great chance that I will get caught and spend the remaining days of my life in jail (and rightly so). If I treat others badly, my behavior will most likely also lead to bad consequences for myself. Sin leads to negative consequences – no question about that – and we should do all we can to avoid sinning. But this fact doesn’t necessarily mean that God is the one who punishes us when we sin or fail.
In Isaiah chapter 54 we find the answer. Remember that Isaiah chapter 54 comes right after chapter 53, which is a prophetic description of how Jesus one day would die for humanity on the cross. Isaiah chapter 54 describes the consequences for us today, because of what happened in chapter 53.
8With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment; But with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you,” Says the Lord, your Redeemer. 9“For this is like the waters of Noah to Me; For as I have sworn that the waters of Noah would no longer cover the earth, so have I sworn that I would not be angry with you, nor rebuke you. 10For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall My covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has mercy on you. (Is. 54:8-10)
We see in verse 8 that God – because of what Jesus did for us at the cross – has mercy on us with “everlasting kindness”. This means that God’s mercy and grace do not change or fluctuate. It is constant. We will always receive mercy and grace from God, even in moments when we don’t deserve it. His kindness is everlasting! In verse 9 we see that God has “sworn” – these are very strong words from God – that He will not be angry with us nor rebuke us again. In verse 10 we find how long this promise from God is lasting; even if the mountains cease to exist, or the hills are removed, His kindness shall not depart from us, nor shall His covenant of peace be removed!
What “covenant of peace” is God talking about? The new covenant, which was established because of what Jesus did for us at the cross, as described in Isaiah 53.
Do you still have mountains or hills in the country where you live today? As far as I know, people are still trying to climb Mount Everest and many other of the highest mountain tops today. God says, even if all the mountains and hills disappear, His covenant will not change, and He will not be angry with us nor rebuke us anymore! Why? Because Jesus took all punishment on Himself. Isaiah chapter 53 says:
“The chastisement [punishment] for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” (Is. 53:5)
Because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, because we have a covenant of peace, the new covenant, we can be assured that God’s eternal mercy, kindness and grace constantly flows toward us – even in moments when we least deserve it. God no longer punishes us because the punishment for our sins was placed on Jesus!
This is good news, and it doesn’t make us go out and sin more because we now know that God no longer punishes us. No, instead this makes us love God more, because we understand how much He loves us! Instead of running away from God when we have sinned, we run toward Him, because we know that He always receives us with His open arms.