A verse in 2 Kings pops this morning. I know it’s because of a book I’ve recently listened to on the heart of Christ, Gentle and Lowly, by Dane Ortlund. Ortlund, in the manner of the deep meditations of the Puritans, helps to lead his reader, or his listener, to explore the depths of Christ’s self-identified nature, that of being gently and lowly in heart (Matt. 11:29). At one point in the book, Ortlund leaves the New Testament and hangs out in the Old Testament for a few chapters to demonstrate that like Son, like Father. That the Son isn’t some different, New Testament manifestation of the God of the Old Testament, but is the perfect representation of the nature of God who is unchanging, the same yesterday, today, and forever.
One of the most impactful points Ortlund makes is that — and these are my feeble words and not his most eloquent contention — God has, in essence, a default disposition (if I can use that word). That there is — again my words not Ortlund’s — a “normative” supernatural context from which God operates. For example, if God is love, then in acting out of who He is, to love is His “default.” God needs to be incited to act outside that divine default (though He never acts outside of His divine nature). In considering that God is slow to anger, Ortlund says:
It takes much accumulated provoking to draw out his ire. Unlike us, who are often emotional dams ready to break, God can put up with a lot. This is why the Old Testament speaks of God being “provoked to anger” by his people dozens of times (especially in Deuteronomy; 1–2 Kings; and Jeremiah). But not once are we told that God is “provoked to love” or “provoked to mercy.” His anger requires provocation; his mercy is pent up, ready to gush forth. We tend to think: divine anger is pent up, spring-loaded; divine mercy is slow to build. It’s just the opposite. Divine mercy is ready to burst forth at the slightest prick. (For fallen humans, we learn in the New Testament, this is reversed. We are to provoke one another to love, according to Hebrews 10:24. Yahweh needs no provoking to love, only to anger. We need no provoking to anger, only to love.)
Ortlund, Dane C.. Gentle and Lowly (pp. 148-149). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
Case in point, the verse that popped this morning.
Now Hazael king of Syria oppressed Israel all the days of Jehoahaz. But the LORD was gracious to them and had compassion on them, and He turned toward them, because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them, nor has He cast them from His presence until now.
(2Kings 13:22-23 ESV)
Jehoahaz was another in the long line of the kings of Israel who “did what was evil in the sight of the LORD” leading Israel deeper and deeper into sin and kindling the LORD’s anger (2Kings 13:2-3). And yet, when hard-pressed by the king of Syria, Jehoahaz seeks “the favor of the LORD” and “the LORD listened to him” (13:4). And how does God respond? He is gracious to them. He has compassion on them. And He turns toward them. That’s how our God rolls. For our God is, by nature and according to His name, “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6).
Sinners, even ones like Jehoahaz, who turn to God seeking His unmerited favor, find a God who is quick to turn towards them because He is gracious and compassionate.
My sin may not be exactly like the sin of Jehoahaz, but it is enough, more than enough, to offend, and even provoke a holy God to anger. But God receives the penitent heart freely because of His covenant — a better covenant than the one with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, a covenant whose guarantor is Jesus Himself (Heb. 7:22).
A better covenant which promises that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is an eternally sufficient atonement for our sins, such that God can justly forgive us our sins when we confess our sins. Which promises that God is ready, willing, and able to faithfully cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Which promises that the work which a God who is love has begun in us through redemption and regeneration, is a work which a God who is love will complete in us on that day of perfected reconciliation.
God was gracious to them. He had compassion on them. He turned toward them.
That’s how our God rolls. Because that’s who our God is.
He is the God of grace.
To God be the glory.