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The next lesson will talk about false judgment words, and how the devil uses them to alienate people from God. But before we can do that, we need to understand some things about true judgment words that come from God.
Judgment And Repentance
The Old Testament is filled with many examples of legitimate judgment words. Many believers look at these examples and assume this is what prophecy is...speaking forth the wrath and judgments of God on sinners who are about to be condemned. But that this not really God's motivation in speaking these words. The old testament makes God's motivation for releasing judgment words very clear. He released them in hopes that the people who were about to be judged would repent instead, so God would not have to judge them.
We see this clearly in the book of Jonah. I am sure you know this story, but let's look at it a bit closer. God sent Jonah to Ninivah to prophecy judgment. Jonah hated the Ninivites and very much wanted to see them destroyed. So, you would think that he would be delighted to get this assignment. But he wasn't. Instead of rushing to Ninivah to pronounce judgment, he ran the other direction. God had to stop him in his tracks through supernatural means (a great storm and then being swallowed whole by a fish and living in it's belly for three days.)
Have you ever wondered why Jonah did not want to prophesy against Ninivah? Some think it was because the Ninivites would get mad at him and torture him. But that was not the reason. The real reason Jonah did not want to prophesy to them was because he understood God's motives in judgment prophecy. He knew that God was sending him so the people would have a chance to repent and avoid being destroyed. Jonah did not want to see them spared, and that is why he refused to prophesy to them. We know his motivation because he told it to God in Jonah 4:2, "Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm."
After spending three says in the great fish's belly, Jonah repented for disobeying God , and he agreed to go take God's message to Ninivah. What was the message he spoke after all of that? It was pretty cryptic and abbreviated, making it clear he still doesn't want to help the people repent. Jonah 3:4, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" There is no hint of God giving them room to repent in his message, Jonah still hated these people and wanted God to destroy them. However, God cared about them so much that He literally forced Jonah to obey Him and deliver His word of upcoming judgment.
Despite the brevity of the message, the people responded the way that God wanted them to. Jonah 3:8 tells us, "So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them." In short, they repented when they heard of God's upcoming judgment.
Now look at God's response to them in verse 10: "Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it."
This story demonstrates God's true motives in speaking for judgment words. But it is not the only place in the Old Testament that demonstrates this. Let's look at a few verses together. Let's start with where God releases a word of judgment in Jeremiah 3:6-8a:
6 The Lord said also to me in the days of Josiah the king: "Have you seen what backsliding Israel has done? She has gone up on every high mountain and under every green tree, and there played the harlot. 7 And I said, after she had done all these things, 'Return to Me.' But she did not return. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it. 8 Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce...'"
But look at how God throws in an offer for restoration in verse 12:
12 "Go and proclaim these words toward the north, and say: 'Return, backsliding Israel,' says the Lord; 'I will not cause My anger to fall on you. For I am merciful,' says the Lord; 'I will not remain angry forever."
Most of the time, It is God's heart for us to repent and be restored, so that we won't fall under His judgment. There are two exceptions to this in the Bible, two times when God intentionally hardened someone's heart so that they could not repent and would have to be judged. The first was pharaoh in Egypt, who did not want to let the Hebrew slaves go free. We see this in Exodus 9:12, Exodus 10:1, Exodus 10:20, Exodus 10:27, Exodus 11:10 and Exodus 14:1. The second was Sihon king of Heshbon, who would not let Israel pass through his land on their way from Egypt to Canaan (Deuteronomy 2:30). Other than those two isolated instances, God's heart is pronouncing judgment was always or the people to repent and be spared.
We know from Jeremiah 25:4-6 that God's heart is not to harm the people He speaks judgment words to:
"4 And the Lord has sent to you all His servants the prophets, rising early and sending them, but you have not listened nor inclined your ear to hear. 5 They said, 'Repent now everyone of his evil way and his evil doings, and dwell in the land that the Lord has given to you and your fathers forever and ever. 6 Do not go after other gods to serve them and worship them, and do not provoke Me to anger with the works of your hands; and I will not harm you.'"
He says more or less the same thing in Ezekiel 18:30, "'Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways,' says the Lord God. 'Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin.'"
When Jesus walked among us, He talked about Heaven's perspective on repentance. In Luke 15:7, He said, "I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance." He also said in Luke 15:10, "Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
It is God's heart for us to repent and be restored to right relationship with Him so that He won't have to destroy us. That is clearly the message of the gospel, but it has always been God's strategy, even from the time of the first judgment prophecies that He ever spoke.
Judgment And Intercession
There is one more thing I would like to say about judgment words. Sometimes God tells us about a potential upcoming judgment because He wants us to pray and intercede to stop that judgment. We saw this in Amos 7:1-6, where God gives Amos two visions of destruction. Amos intercedes regarding both of them and then God relents of both judgments.
Intercession is powerful in stopping some judgments. If the faithful will stand in the gap and pray, then God is often persuaded to send revival instead of judgment. But if no one raises up to intercede, then God goes ahead and executes His judgment.
We see this spelled out in Ezekiel 22:29-31: "'29 The people of the land have used oppressions, committed robbery, and mistreated the poor and needy; and they wrongfully oppress the stranger. 30 So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one. 31 Therefore I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; and I have recompensed their deeds on their own heads,' says the Lord God."
I would like to close this discussion by briefly sharing a time when God sent me to someone to deliver a judgment word to them. The lady He sent me to was an alcoholic. She had a prophetic call on her life but had walked away from God to alcohol. The jest of that message that God gave me went like this: "God has a wonderful destiny in store for you, but you have to choose to walk in it. The enemy is trying to kill you to circumvent that destiny. The Lord has had a protective umbrella over you, but if you don't repent and get right with God and stop drinking sometime soon, then He is going to life that protective umbrella and allow the devil to kill you."
It was a scary thing for me to go to someone with a message like that. I have a very tender heart towards those who I minister to and I don't like to hurt them. But this was God's message and He sent me to deliver it. I went to her house with a mutual friend and we visited for a short while before I began to prophesy to her. I started by speaking into the call and destiny that God had for her, into the gifts that He had already placed in her. Then I prophesied about how God was aware of her hurts and struggles, and if she would let Him, He would help her with it. Then I spoke the part about the protective covering and God lifting it if she doesn't repent and get right with God. I said it with as much love, hope and encouragement as I could, but I also made it clear that her life was at stake if she did not change her ways.
God's word of judgment does not have to be delivered harshly and negatively to be effective. In fact, I believe it is more effective when it is delivered in love and compassion, with hope (e.g., promises of the good things He will do in their life if they repent). When I left, this lady viewed our encounter as a very positive and encouraging one. At the same time, it was sobering and she knew she was going to have to make some very serious changes in her life.
She relocated to a half-way house and tried to "stay sober" but at first it was too much of a struggle for her. She came very near to death and suddenly God reminded her of the word I had given her. She later told me that she remembered it so strongly that she could almost hear my voice as God brought the words back to her memory. She got very serious with God and truly repented and drew near to Him. She enrolled in a detoxification program and struggled through getting free from her addiction. Her health recovered and instead of dying the way the doctors expected, she got better. It is still a daily struggle of her will to "stay dry," but she is committed to serving God and she is staring to grow in Him and in her gifting. And step by step, she is gaining the victory over her addiction.
You might say that God's purpose in this judgment word was accomplished in her life. She has turned from her old lifestyle, repented and is in right relationship with God. Now God is beginning to do more and more good things in her life and through her to minister to others.