Celebrating July 4th While Remembering Divine Judgment
A while back, President George W. Bush released his book of memoirs titled, Decision Points. Each chapter of the book concerns some point of major decision in his life or presidency. Borrowing from his terminology, I suggest that “Decision Point” sums up the basic message of a passage from the Old Testament prophet Joel which says, “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision” (Joel 3:14). The statement is located in the context of an announcement of the judgment of God in time, and at the end oftime. I believe Aebi to be correct in his conclusion that this “is  primarily descriptive of Pentecost, in which the gospel by which people are judged began to be preached; then  it is descriptive of the any judgments of God throughout the Christian era, and  finally descriptive of the day of judgment at the end of the world” (75).
Humanity is engaged in an ongoing battle. It is a battle for minds and souls; of right against wrong; good against evil; truth against error. It is intellectual and spiritual in nature. When the divine meets the human in this battle for the minds and souls of humanity, the sovereignty of God’s nature is evidenced. God declares, “Then you will know that I am the Lord your God” (Joel 3:17a). Scripture reports the affirmation of God: “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10). In contrast, “Put them in fear, O Lord; Let the nations know they are but men” (Psalm 9:20). Make no mistake about it!—“God reigns over the nations, God sits on His holy throne. . . . He is highly exalted” (Psalm 47:8-9, emp. added).
Burton Coffman referenced an extremely interesting and significant incident concerning this third chapter of Joel. The 33rd President of the United States, Harry Truman, was visited by a group of five preachers who came to the White House during the Korean War. Some preachers in Washington had been preaching from Isaiah 2:4 that refers to swords beaten into plowshares in contrast to Joel’s plowshares into swords (v. 10). President Truman took the Bible he had just received from the visiting group of preachers and, turning to Joel 3:10, he read, “Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears; Let the weak say, ‘I am a mighty man.’” The President then said, “I don’t think these are Minor Prophets at all; some of the most important things in the Bible are found in these short books.” Burton Coffman happened to be one of those preachers who had visited with Truman on that occasion. Coffman observed, “[T]he President’s words regarding the Minor Prophets have always been remembered as solemn truth” (58-59).
To quote President Truman, one of “the most important things in the Bible . . . found in [this] short” book of Joel is the universal accountability of humanity to the Creator. Nations are composed of individuals, and individuals commit specific sins which result in divine judgment. In Joel 3:2-8, the presentment (i.e. a formal statement of the matters to be considered legally before the divine seat of infinite justice) includes the sins of persecution (v. 2), fornication (v. 3), prostitution (v. 3), drunkenness (v. 3), idolatry (v. 5), and slavery (v. 6). Coffman has identified these as “universally the hallmark of evil societies” (56).
The announcement is: “Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, tread for the wine press is full; The vats overflow, for their wickedness is great” (v. 13, emp. added). This is the picture of sin in a nation that reaches such a level that judgment is not only unavoidable, but it is urgent (cf. Revelation 14:17-20). What is this level that sin must reach in a nation before the nation is described as having “great” sin or wickedness?
- How many times must the name of God be censored in a nation?
- How many judicial decisions attacking marriage and family, Christian ethics, goodness, and truth must be handed down from the Supreme Court that only exists, in the first place, due to the allowance of “the Supreme Judge of the world” (cf. The Declaration of Independence July 4, 1776)?
- How many babies must be killed in the womb? [Note: The floodgates for abortion in America were opened 40 years ago with the Roe v. Wade decision. The U.S. abortion rate is now more than 20%. In New York City the rate of abortion is over 40%, and among African Americans in NYC it has reached nearly 60% (Mohler).]
- How many young people must come to believe in Darwinism?
- How many people must lose faith in the existence of God, the divine origin of the Bible, and the deity of Jesus Christ? [Note: Atheism is on the increase in America, especially among teens and young adults (Habermas). Some credible estimates suggest 65-90% of those in high level American academics today do not believe in God.]
Revelation does not provide the details concerning how much sin it takes before God enters into “verdict valley” with a nation. What revelation does affirm is, when “the sin of the Amorites” reaches its “full measure” (cf. Genesis 15:6, NIV), then the decision of the infinite God is made.
In the Bicentennial year of 1976, I heard a powerful speech delivered at Akron University. The speaker cited the work of prominent public speaker Kenneth McFarland (1906-1985) from McFarland’s speech “America’s Opportunity.” The latter speech was delivered in 1976 to an audience of a thousand guests at San Francisco’s famous Fairmont Hotel on the occasion of the national convention of the Independent Petroleum Association of America. Dr. McFarland said,
My college majors were history, government, and economics. I taught in all these fields and I’ve been a very ardent student of them ever since. Now it’s appalling that since the dawn of history no less than 22 civilizations have risen and fallen. And when you go to look for the reasons and classify the reasons, they are monotonous in their similarities. . . . Will you think about this? These are the reasons why all these previous civilizations failed:
1. They lost their religious convictions and flouted basic morality.
2. They became obsessed with sex.
3. They debased their money to its intrinsic value and let inflation run rampant.
4. Honest work ceased to be a virtue.
5. Respect for law disintegrated and violence became an accepted method of achieving individual and group desires, and
6. They reached the point where the citizens were no longer willing to be soldiers and fight for the defense of their nation and their heritage. They resorted to paid mercenaries or tried to buy off their attacker.
America, are you listening?
On April 20, 1778, Jacob Cushing, of Waltham, MA, preached a sermon “Divine Judgments upon Tyrants; and, Compassion to the Oppressed,” at Lexington, MA, “in commemoration of the Murderous War . . . perpetrated by two brigades of British troops, in that town . . . on the Nineteenth of April 1775.” Cushing said:
That there is a God, “is the prime foundation of all religion.” . . . [W]hen a people have been remarkable for justice, temperance, industry, and zeal for the public good, they have prospered in all their affairs. . . . And, perhaps, no instance can be produced of a nation’s being given up to exterminating judgments and calamities, so long as virtue . . . and religion flourished among them. But when falsehood . . . injustice and general corruption, with a contempt of religion, have generally prevailed among them, they have fallen into many calamities, and then deprived of those advantages they so much abused. . . . He is the supreme Lord, governor and judge of the world, therefore will he chastise offenders; to whom belongeth vengeance, therefore the wicked shall not go unpunished. . . . However, we may piously and chearfully leave the event to God when, righteousness remaineth, and his faithfulness to all generations. . . . [W]hen contending powers and jarring nations on earth shall be removed—all kingdoms and states dissolved—and all empire and dominion blotted out, excepting his, who is the first cause, and last end of all things: We may have a place in the highest heavens; be admitted to dwell in GOD’s immediate presence—and join the heavenly host in the warmest ascriptions of blessing, and honor, and praise and glory to GOD and the lamb, for ever and ever. (qtd. in Sandoz 611, 614-15, 626, amp. added)
Though we know not all the details of God’s judgments upon the nations in history, there is a final fixed point—The Day for which all other days are made. “. . . He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a man whom He has appointed having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). What Blaiklock and Blaiklock call “perhaps the best authenticated fact in human history [the resurrection of Christ]” (70) furnishes a solid apologetic for God and His day of final judgment (cf. 1 Peter 1:21). The day of the Lord will come (2 Peter 3:10)!
Aebi, Charles J. “The Application of Old Testament Prophecies Cited in Acts.” MA thesis. Abilene Christian College, 1959.
Blaiklock, E. M. and D.A. Blaiklock. Is It—Or Isn’t It?: Why We Believe in the Existence of God. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968.
Coffman, James Burton. Commentary on the Minor Prophets. Vol. 1. Austin: Firm Foundation, 1981.
Habermas, Gary R. “The Plight of the New Atheist: A Critique.” Journal of Evangelical Theological Society. 51. 4 (Dec. 2008): 813-27.
McFarland, Kenneth. “America’s Opportunity.” Squaresail.com/ameropp.pdf. N.d. Web. 29 June 2013.
Mohler, Albert. “What about the Twins? The Deadly Logic of Abortion.” AlbertMohler.com. 20 Jan. 2011. Web. 23 Jan. 2011.
Sandoz, Ellis, ed. Political Sermons of the American Founding Era: 1730-1805. Indianapolis: Liberty, 1991.