Saturday, January 24, 2015

Eden’s Three Lands: God’s Justice, Mercy and Grace

As with Havilah, the other two lands of Ethiopia and Assyria comprising the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:11-14) also demonstrate how Holy God deals with man’s sin, not only with deserved justice, but with undeserved mercy and grace. When man repents and prays to God, He restores what was lost.

Ethiopia was the home country of Moses’ wife (Numbers 12:1), causing Moses’ siblings Aaron and Miriam to criticize him. Evidently they thought the Ethiopians were inferior to the Jews and unworthy of marrying into their family. In addition to their prejudice, they were guilty of coveting Moses’ favored position with God and of pride in thinking they were as fit as Moses to be God’s spokespersons (v. 2).

God punished their sins by summoning them to stand before Him (what a terrifying thought to be called on the carpet by our Creator!), verbally chastising them, and striking Miriam with leprosy (v. 4-10). But when Aaron confessed his sin, and Moses and Aaron begged God to save Miriam (v. 11-13), in His mercy He let her return to the camp, presumably healed, after seven days (v. 14-15).

The Ethiopians, Lubims and Sukkiims followed king Shishak of Egypt in the attack against Jerusalem, which came as part of God’s judgment for the disobedience of evil king Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 12:1-5). To appease His holy and justified wrath, God allowed the attackers to take the fenced cities of Judah, to enslave the Hebrews and to plunder their treasure. Shishak took spoils of the treasures of the house of the Lord; the treasures of King Solomon's house; and the shields of gold which Solomon had made (v.4-9).

But when the Hebrew king and princes heard God’s judgment delivered by Shemaiah the prophet, they humbled themselves before God and praised Him for His righteousness (v. 5-6). In His mercy, He spared their lives, gave them some deliverance, and vowed not to pour out His anger on Jerusalem by the hand of Shishak (v. 7).

The Ethiopians continued to war against Judah, but during the reign of good king Asa, who prayed to God, obeyed and served Him (2 Chronicles 14:2-7,11), God smote, overthrew, and destroyed the Ethiopians (v.12-13).

Tirhakah, king of Ethiopia, joined with Assyria in warring against the Israelites, causing the Hebrew king Hezekiah to mourn that day of trouble, and of rebuke, and blasphemy (2 Kings 19). But in answer to Hezekiah’s prayer, God kept His promise to save the faithful remnant of His people, to defend the city against the king of Assyria, and to kill 145,000 Assyrian soldiers before they even left their camp.

The people of Assyria were enemies of Israel used by God as an instrument of judgment against the people of God for their disobedience not only in Hezekiah’s day (2 Kings 18:11-17; Isaiah 36), but also in the time of king Hoshea, Jeroboam and Menahem (2 Kings 15, 17). The Assyrians were a bad influence on God’s people, seducing them to worship false gods. Scripture metaphorically describes Israel’s disloyalty to God, calling the Assyrians her lovers, described as desirable, young, renowned horsemen, who were captains, rulers, or great lords (Ezekiel 23:5-23).

Yet God in His mercy could even use the Assyrians for the good of His faithful people. The children of Israel, the priests, and the Levites showed their obedience to God by dedicating His newly built temple of God; making offerings at the dedication; and setting the priests for God’s service. The children of the captivity showed their obedience by keeping the passover; separating themselves from the heathen; and keeping the feast of unleavened bread (Ezra 6:16-22).

In return, the Lord showered them with His grace. He made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God. (Ezra 6:22).

Assyria’s capital was the wicked city of Nineveh, an exceeding great city of three days' journey (Jonah 3:3). When Jonah disobeyed God by refusing to preach in that den of iniquity, God’s judgment was to allow him to be swallowed up by a great fish and remain in its belly three days and three nights (Jonah 1:17). Once Jonah offered repentance, prayer, and thanksgiving to God, the fish vomited Jonah onto dry land (Jonah 2).

God again commanded Jonah to arise, go to Nineveh, and preach. God spared the Assyrian capital when they fasted, cried out to God and repented, showing His great mercy, grace and redemption even to His worst enemies (Jonah 3).

The one whom the Bible calls “the Assyrian,” suggested by some commentators to be Gog or even the Antichrist, is the rod of God’s anger, and the staff of God’s indignation. He will be used by God in judgment against the people of His anger to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets (Isaiah 10:5-6).

And yet God promises to protect His faithful remnant from the Assyrian, when God’s indignation shall cease, and His anger in their destruction shall cease, and He shall stir up a scourge for the Assyrian (v. 26). God will remove the Assyrian’s load from His people’s shoulders, and will remove his yoke of bondage from their neck, and destroy his yoke altogether (v. 27).

At times God deals with the enemies of Israel by having them war against one another, as when Assyria leads Ethiopia and Egypt into shame, fear and captivity (Isaiah 20:4-5).  Prophecy tells of Ethiopia being allied with Egypt and Libya against Israel (Ezekiel 38:5; Daniel 11:43).

Ultimately, God redeemed His nation Israel using Ethiopia, Egypt and Seba as ransom (Isaiah 43:1-4), and gave her spoil from the labor of Egypt, and merchandise of Ethiopia and of the Sabeans (Isaiah 45:14). But when Israel rebelled against God, He chastised them by saying they were like children of the Ethiopians (Amos 9:7).

These three lands in the Garden of Eden therefore foretell man’s sinful rebellion, God’s judgment, and ultimately God’s redemption. Not only did God protect His faithful, but He gave them victory in war, and provides for the redemption of all people who place their faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6).

God’s mercy, love and grace are so great that they extend even to His enemies whom He has judged, and to the foes of His chosen people Israel. God has even promised to bless Assyria, saying, Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance (Isaiah 19:24-25), for He knows that one day they shall all worship Him in the holy city of Jerusalem (Isaiah 27:13).

The Psalms foretold of even the Ethiopians stretching out their hands to God (Psalm 68:31). That prophecy was fulfilled when the Ethiopian eunuch Ebedmelech rescued God’s prophet Jeremiah from prison (Jeremiah 38:7-13) and when the Ethiopian eunuch witnessed to by Philip was saved and baptized (Acts 8:26-39).

The pagan nations, and those that curse Israel, have reason to fear God’s judgment (Ezekiel 30). Specific judgments for Ethiopia are great pain (v.4,9), falling by the sword (v. 5), and  messengers in ships causing fear (v. 9). But thanks to Jesus Christ, all those born in Ethiopia, or in any nation once fighting God, can now be reborn into the church of God and enter the glorious city of Zion (Psalm 87).

May we learn from Havilah, Ethiopia and Assyria that God’s mercy and grace are greater than all our sins, and may we believe, repent, and pray!

© 2015 Laurie Collett
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Frank E. Blasi said...

Dear Laurie,
The whole of the Old Testament is a record of man's rebellion against God and His resulting judgments. It is a whole saga of mankind's sorry state.
But thanks be to God that he loved the world so much that he gave his only begotten Son, to take upon himself the judgments and punishments that would have fallen upon all of us.
Once again the triple areas of Havilah, Ethiopia and Assyria demonstrates the nature of the Trinitarian God who prefers to communicate with sinful mankind and set upon rescuing him than, to abandon him to his own ways.
God bless.

Laurie Collett said...

Amen, Frank! Because of our sin nature, we can never do better on our own, but praise God for His saving grace through the death, burial and resurrection of His Son.
God bless,

Donald Fishgrab said...

During the 50's and 60's Ethiopia was begging for missionaries to come and teach their people about God. After Emperor Haile Selassie's death, they turned to communism instead, In recent years, Islamic groups have seized most of the power. I find it fascinating to see how the various prophecies are being played out with these groups. .

Laurie Collett said...

So true, Donald -- God has known the outcomes from the beginning, and it is fascinating to see prophecies fulfilled as we speak. Surely His coming must not be far away. We help to support a Filipino missionary who was saved because of a U.S. missionary to the Philippines. After planring churches there, the Filipino national became a missionary to Ethiopia. Thanks for your comment & God bless,

Unknown said...

I was struck again by this story on Sunday. How the people of Ninevah responded so quickly and so deeply. It really made me stop and think about my own confessions and repentance.

Laurie Collett said...

So true, Jen -- no sin is too deep for God's mercy, for where sin abounds, grace much more abounds. Praise God that if we confess our sins, He is swift and merciful to forgive us.
May you have a blessed weekend in Him!

Tina at said...

I love how God's heart for all the nations is so evident from page 1 of the Bible! Thanks for sharing this at Booknificent Thursday!

Laurie Collett said...

Amen, Tina! Praise God for His infinite love, and for telling us about it in His Word. Thanks for your comment and for hosting!
God bless,