A Biblical Theology of Judgment and Mercy: The Prophets

salvationIn judgment God purifies His people. That’s one of the themes that arise from reading the prophets in the Old Testament. The rebellion of the people of Israel is profound and it results in their exile. But through this judgment God brings a remnant to salvation. Within the prophets God’s judgment is the very means of salvation for the people of Israel.

The prophets provide commentary on the events foretold among the histories of the kingdom of Israel (Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles), and in so doing continually point to the covenant God made with His people. That covenant came with both blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. As Israel continued to rebel they were warned of impending doom. God would come and judge them. But though judgment is coming it is not the final word.

The story moves through judgment to salvation, each prophet adding to the overall picture of eschatological hope. Jim Hamilton notes the various contributions of each section of the prophets. Isaiah notes that after exile God will return to Zion. Jeremiah says that He will make a new covenant with the people of Israel. Ezekiel foresees God dwelling again in the temple and the Davidic king ruling over Israel again. The twelve minor prophets promise restoration of the remnant (see God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment, 191).

Despite their rebellion against Yahweh, God will not let His promise fail (Rom. 11:1-6). He preserves His people and holds out hope of their future restoration, both to the land and to Him. God’s people will turn once again to the Lord. Isaiah writes:

In that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on him who struck them, but will lean on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. (Isa. 10:20)

They once looked to Egypt and foreign nations to protect them, but they won’t always look in that direction. One day they will “lean on the Lord.”

Even the judgment that God brings on Israel is for their restoration, not merely their judgment. It has a purifying effect (Isa. 1:25). It is intended to expose the wickedness of the people and cause them to repent (Ezek. 6:9). They will turn again to God (Isa. 19:22; Jer. 24:7). The judgment of God will bring about their salvation, for if they do not return they will be consumed (Isa. 1:19-20). God’s judgment comes as mercy on His people.

The ultimate example of this interrelationship found among the prophets is that of the “suffering servant” in Isaiah. Here the servant is “crushed for our iniquities” (Isa. 53:5). The text reads:

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isa. 53:3-6)

God’s mercy is so evidently displayed in the judgment of this substitute. The servant takes our place and suffers for our sins. This is the picture, obviously, of Jesus who died for us. The ultimate display of God’s mercy in judgment is found at the cross.

The refrain of the prophets is one of hope in the midst of judgment. Mercy comes as God judges. He judges that His people might not stay far from Him, but might return. As the author of Hebrews says, “the Lord disciplines those He loves” (Heb. 12:6).


  1. Greetings Dave, I haven’t interacted with you for a very long time and I have missed it. Can you recommend a book for our women’s bookclub regarding the issue of homosexuality and the role of the church? Thanks, Bess ________________________________________.

    1. Bess, I love that this is the topic you all are studying together! Grateful for that. The two best books on the subject are, in my opinion, as follows:

      1. Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk: Why and How Christians Should Have Gay Friends by Brad Hambrick. This is an excellent guide to loving, befriending, and navigating relationships with same-sex attracted people.

      2. Same Sex Attraction and the Church: The Surprising Plausibility of the Celibate Life by Ed Shaw. In this book Shaw explores several myths the church has bought into that keep us from loving our same-sex attracted friends well.

      Both are valuable. Hambrick’s is shorter and more practical, Shaw’s is longer and more theoretical.

      Love Into the Light by Peter Hubbard is also good, but it is a bit more designed for leaders in the church, though not exclusively.

      Hope that this helps.

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