Job teaches us that we have no business judging God, especially for his extraordinary generosity. I wish space allowed a thorough study of Job.
Chapters 33-42 particularly make the point. Beginning in chapter 33, Elihu charges Job with arrogance in being angry with God—
(Job 33:12-18, 29-30) “But I tell you, in this you are not right, for God is greater than man. Why do you complain to him that he answers none of man’s words? For God does speak — now one way, now another—though man may not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men as they slumber in their beds, he may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings, to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride, to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword.” …
“God does all these things to a man — twice, even three times — to turn back his soul from the pit, that the light of life may shine on him.”
God’s greatness manifests itself, not in condemnation, but in his continual efforts to rescue man from spiritual death. God is continually striving to save us, not to find a technicality by which to damn us!
Later, God himself upbraids Job for his arrogance —
(Job 40:2,8) “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!” …
“Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?”
These brief quotations give but a taste of the lesson taught in Job: God is so far beyond us that we have no right to question God’s justice and judgment. Nonetheless, we should also know that God is good. We may not live to see his ways come to righteous fruition, and we may be too foolish to even understand God’s purposes — but God’s purposes are always good.
Paul teaches a similar lesson in Rom. 9:8-26 —
Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?” But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? …
As he says in Hosea: “I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,” and, “It will happen that in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”
God is sovereign. He will keep his promises, but he will also do more than he promises! This is his right and does not make him a liar. Rather, he makes him a loving, gracious God worthy of our worship.
Jesus describes God in the Parable of the Day Laborers as a master who pays some of his servants more than they have earned while others receive only the wages they deserve. When some servants complain, God replies,
(Matt. 20:15) “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
When we are unhappy that God might be more generous than he has promised, we act just like the envious day laborers — and we sin in so doing. We should rather celebrate serving a gracious Lord. God loves those whom he created. God loves the world so much that he gave up Jesus to die for our sins so that we might be saved through faith in him. How can we dare criticize God for making exceptions?
Everyone of us deserves damnation. That’s what sin means. And we’ve been saved on the thinnest of technicalities — the fact that Jesus can serve our sentence for us. Thank God for exceptions! And may he forever make exceptions generously!
(Psa. 135:5-6) I know that the LORD is great, that our Lord is greater than all gods. The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.
We should all be thankful that what pleases God is to do whatever is required to save people with faith, even though none of them deserve it.
Mercy, not sacrifice
The essence of the heart of Jesus is found, I believe, in Hosea 6:6—
For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
This passage is so important to Jesus that Matthew twice refers to Jesus’ quoting from it (Matt. 9:11-13; 12:1-8). Now what does this have to do with baptism? Everything. Because sacrifice was the Mosaic event when forgiveness of sins was granted, just as baptism is the Christian event of forgiveness (for example, Lev. 16, dealing with Day of Atonement, and Lev. 4 and 5, dealing with sacrifices for unintentional sins). How could God prefer mercy to sacrifice when sacrifice is the prescribed covenant-means of forgiving sins?
Hosea’s declaration is hardly an isolated concept:
(Prov. 21:2-3) All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the LORD weighs the heart. To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.
(Isa. 1:11-20) “The multitude of your sacrifices—what are they to me?” says the LORD. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations — I cannot bear your evil assemblies. Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”
“Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
(Amos 5:21-24) “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
(Micah 6:6-8) With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
In each of these passages, which in many ways foreshadow the New Covenant, God disdains sacrifice and urges justice, mercy, humility, and righteousness. And in each case, forgiveness of sins is predicated, not on God’s own sacrificial system, but on whether we walk humbly with our God. Indeed, the prophets say, do so and “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool”—and all this without regard to ritual sacrifice.
Baptism is in many ways analogous to Old Testament sacrifice. The Law of Moses makes clear, for example, that sacrifice must be offered for the forgiveness of sin. But, of course, the sacrifice itself does not forgive the sin — forgiveness was by God’s grace. And yet the sacrifice was a necessary step.
Sacrifice, like baptism, was the event at which God’s forgiveness was received by the faithful. And baptism compares to sacrifice because it unites us with Christ’s sacrifice:
(Rom. 6:3) Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
Jesus, following the prophets of the Old Testament, taught that the condition of a man’s heart is far more important than ritual — even a ritual commanded by God as a condition to and the very occasion of salvation!