Sin, Punishment of
Sin, Punishment Of.
That God punishes those, who disobey him is a fact generally recognized by men it is justified by the voice of conscience, and illustrated, by the dealings of every parent and judge. The Bible, confirms this opinion and reveals the wrath of God against all sin, whether that sin be outward immorality or inward impurity; whether it be positive rebellion, against divine law or the absence of a childlike, trusting love exercised towards our heavenly Father.
There are three principles on which punishment is inflicted by men — the remedial, the deterrent, and the retributive; and we find each of these recognized in Scripture as the principles on which God punishes nations and individuals.
1. National punishments are for national sins. They are inflicted where a nation as a whole takes part in sins of a grievous character. This was the case with Sodom and Gomorrah, the punishment of which was retributive, not remedial, though intended, doubtless, to deter other nations from similar wickedness. But before a city was visited with final retribution a time of repentance was allowed, and God is represented as waiting till the iniquity of a place was complete, and till it was ripe for destruction. Thus a time was given to Nineveh, and it repented; and the cities of the Canaanites were not destroyed until they had filled up the measure of their iniquity; so it was, also, in the case of the final destruction of Jerusalem. We constantly find that God recognizes corporate civil existence and official acts, and that he punishes a nation for the acts of its rulers, as when the pestilence came upon Israel for the sin of David in numbering the people. In many cases the sins of the fathers were visited on the children; for, as an ungodly nation grew older, its sins grew more abundant and its rebellion more unpardonable, until at last the time came when long suffering turned to wrath (Jer 4:4; Jer 6:11) and God poured out his fury and indignation on the people. The case of Israel is clearly set before us. When, as a nation, they forgot God, he chastised them in order to bring them to a sense of their sins; he warned them from time to time that these chastisements, which were remedial, would be followed by more severe punishments, and in dueo season, when all warnings were in vain, retribution came their land was desolated and they were carried into captivity. Here their history would have ended, as the history of many other nations has ended, had not God a special purpose to fulfil through their means. They were brought back to their country, not because they were better than they had been before — though it is true that their punishment had its effect in giving them a lasting abhorrence of idolatry — but because God had made a promise to Abraham which involved the continuation of their national existence. We do not find this in the case of other nations; and thus God's dealings with the heathen mark the retributive principle of punishment, while his conduct towards the chosen people gives more frequent illustrations of remedial chastisement.
2. The punishment of individuals was either judicially inflicted by the hand of man for breaches of positive law, as was, doubtless, ordinarily the case in the history of Israel; or it was a special providential visitation for an act of disobedience against God's revealed will, as in the case of the man of God who prophesied against the altar in Bethel; or else it was inflicted to mark God's abhorrence of all sin, however trifling it might seem in man's sight, as in the case of the punishment of Moses.