Friday, March 02, 2007

Carrot and stick? Try 2 pots of gold and 5 sticks

There's more than one place in the Old Testament where God sets up conditions: If you listen and obey, I'll bless you like this, but if you refuse and rebel, these other things will happen instead. A carrot and a stick.

In this morning's reading, Leviticus 26 offers a variant on this in no fewer than seven clauses, or stanzas if you will:
  1. 3If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, 4I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees of the field their fruit. ... (lots of other good stuff)
  2. 14But if you will not listen to me and carry out all these commands, 15and if you reject my decrees and abhor my laws and fail to carry out all my commands and so violate my covenant, 16then I will do this to you: I will bring upon you sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and drain away your life. ... (other bad stuff)

  3. 18If after all this you will not listen to me, I will punish you for your sins seven times over. ... (more bad stuff)

  4. 21If you remain hostile toward me and refuse to listen to me, I will multiply your afflictions seven times over, as your sins deserve. ... (more bad stuff)

  5. 23If in spite of these things you do not accept my correction but continue to be hostile toward me, 24I myself will be hostile toward you and will afflict you for your sins seven times over. ... (more bad stuff)

  6. 27If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me, ... 33I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out my sword and pursue you. Your land will be laid waste, and your cities will lie in ruins. ... 39Those of you who are left will waste away in the lands of their enemies because of their sins; also because of their fathers' sins they will waste away.
  7. 40But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers — their treachery against me and their hostility toward me, ... 42I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.
Isn't that interesting? The first and the last (7th) clauses promise lots of good stuff, and clauses 2-6 talk about the bad things that will happen "if" they rebel, disobey, etc.

I put "if" in quotes because he clearly knows that they will, and at each stage he'll try to get their attention but they'll still refuse, and so on, until they are exiled. He tells them all this in advance, so they can avoid all the bad stuff.

I often think about the messy situation all over the world -- corruption in government, abuse of people's trust, exploitation, violence, poverty, oppression, and rampant disregard for the truth -- and I think, "If I were king..." Which it's a good thing I'm not, because I don't have mercy and patience like God has. I don't think I'd ever come up with the two pots of gold and the five sticks in between; I'd probably have the carrot, followed shortly by cataclysmic global thermonuclear destruction. (Oh, waitaminute; he tried the water-based version of that back in Genesis 6, and it didn't work.)

But on second thought, what would I tell my children? How patient would I be with them if they refused and rebelled? I would weep and mourn, probably, and hope that we could get to clause 7 without having to go through all the others.

Thank heaven for a merciful God; this messed-up world (including me) certainly needs mercy and grace and patience.

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