The Statesman Leading in Appealing for MercyDownload a PDF of this essay
Our Creator, the One we know as the God of the universe and the ultimate King over every king, created from one righteous man a nation that was to be a visible model to every other nation of what it means to live in obedience to Him and experience His abundant blessings. The more we get to know our God, the more we are convinced that the blessings promised to that people as a result of obedience to Him are intended to motivate other nations to learn from that obedience and apply that same obedience to God. This raises the question of whether the blessings promised to ancient Israel in response to righteousness and obedience to God apply to other nations that would commit to the same obedience. We have historical evidence of God disciplining nations as a result of their lack of righteousness. God, speaking through His spokesman Jeremiah, tells us:
At one moment I might announce concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will uproot, tear down, and destroy it. However, if that nation I have made an announcement about turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the disaster I had planned to do to it. At another time I announce that I will build and plant a nation or a kingdom. However, if it does what is evil in My sight by not listening to My voice, I will relent concerning the good I had said I would do to it (Jeremiah 18:7-10).
From this, we learn that God holds each nation accountable for its obedience to His revealed requirements of it. From His character, we know that He has made Himself and His requirement for righteousness known to all mankind. Furthermore, from this passage, we learn that God would prefer to pour out abundant blessings upon a nation – every nation – but that He asks that we place ourselves under obedience to Him.
We learn a lot about God’s mercy from the example of Nineveh, which became the most prosperous city in the ancient world in the eighth century B.C. In the midst of that growing prosperity, God sent His prophet Jonah to Nineveh. We are told that God warned the population:
In 40 days Nineveh will be demolished! (Jonah 3:4)
The men of Nineveh believed in God. They proclaimed a fast and dressed in sackcloth—from the greatest of them to the least. When word reached the king of Nineveh, he got up from his throne, took off his royal robe, put on sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he issued a decree in Nineveh:
By order of the king and his nobles: No man or beast, herd or flock, is to taste anything at all. They must not eat or drink water. Furthermore, both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth, and everyone must call out earnestly to God. Each must turn from his evil ways and from the violence he is doing. Who knows? God may turn and relent; He may turn from His burning anger so that we will not perish.
Then God saw their actions—that they had turned from their evil ways—so God relented from the disaster He had threatened to do to them. And He did not do it (Jonah 3:5-10).
The king recognized the truth of God’s message through Jonah that they were disobedient to the requirements imposed by God and the king led the people in seeking God’s mercy, while imploring:
Each must turn from his evil ways and from the violence he is doing.
In response, God extended mercy to the people of Nineveh and not the punishment He had warned. Jonah, the prophet, quickly understood this character of God when he said:
I knew that You are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to become angry, rich in faithful love, and One who relents from sending disaster (Jonah 4:2).
In light of the suffering that exists in our world and in our nations, I believe we must consider whether our disobedience is at the root of our suffering as a nation and that we must lead our people in repentance and appealing to God for mercy. Should we view some of our difficulties as due to our disobedience to God’s clear instructions and then seek His mercy?
During one of the most painful periods in American history – the Civil War – U.S. President Abraham Lincoln issued a call to the people on August 12, 1861 for a day of national repentance and pleading with God for mercy. Included were these words:
Whereas it is fit and becoming in all people, at all times, to acknowledge and revere the Supreme Government of God; to bow in humble submission to His chastisements; to confess and deplore their sins and transgressions in the full conviction that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; and to pray, with all fervency and contrition, for the pardon of their past offences, and for a blessing upon their present and prospective action;
And whereas, when our own beloved Country, once, by the blessing of God, united, prosperous and happy, is now afflicted with faction and civil war, it is peculiarly fit for us to recognize the hand of God in this terrible visitation, and in sorrowful remembrance of our own faults and crimes as a nation and as individuals, to humble ourselves before Him, and to pray for His mercy,—to pray that we may be spared further punishment, though most justly deserved… that the inestimable boon of civil and religious liberty, earned under His guidance and blessing, by the labors and sufferings of our fathers, may be restored in all its original excellence….
I am not in a position to confirm that the outcome of this conflict leading to the nation becoming greater than it had ever been before was due to this action by Lincoln, as previously demonstrated by the King of Nineveh. However, I am convinced that at times of national suffering and uncertainty, we should explore with God whether He desires repentance and a turning away from disobedience and a recognition of the need for greater obedience to Him. Too much is at stake to risk carelessly disregarding our Creator God’s stated requirements and His promises for blessings.
APPLICATION FOR THE STATESMAN:
Do I owe it to the people, whose well-being I am charged with, to ask God if there is behaviour displeasing to Him that is hindering us receiving the full blessing He desires for us?