I posted the following on my blog today and re-post it here with a few comments about how it connects with UR:
In the prison bible study I lead we were going through 2 Samuel, which mainly recounts the reign of King David.
The book of 2 Samuel ends with what many scholars call “appendices,” bits of poetry and narrative that are tacked on to the end of the book. These appendices are found in 2 Samuel 21-24.
The last story from the appendices, found in Chapter 24, recounts the census David undertakes and God’s judgment upon him for doing so. Explanations vary as to why God was angered by the census. For whatever reason, the census was taken as act of hubris by the king, a usurping of God’s prerogatives as the True King of Israel.
David realizes his sin and confesses. God, through the prophet of Gad, gives David a choice of punishments: three years of famine, three years of being chased by enemies, or three years of plague. David chooses the plague. And so the destroying angel begins to work, killing 70,000 people.
But then something interesting happens. As the destroying angel approaches Jerusalem God changes his mind and says “Enough!”:
David sees the angel stopped at the threshing floor of Araunah and asks for God to stop the plague. David then buys the threshing floor, builds an altar on the spot, and offers sacrifices to God.
But what I find interesting in the narrative is that God already stopped, before David’s request and his sacrifices. Various translations of verse 16 read that God “relented,” “repented,” “changed his mind,” and “felt sorry.” The destruction stopped because something happened in the heart of God prior to any human appeal or sacrifice.
I think this is interesting because of why this story is included as an appendix to 2 Samuel. Specifically, this story was included in the book to explain why the temple was built where it was built. The threshing floor of Araunah was on Mount Moriah–the Temple Mount–where the temple was built:
I think this is interesting as from this point forward the temple becomes the location of sacrifice in ancient Israel. You would come to the temple to offer sacrifices so that God would forgive your sins. And because of those rituals you might be lead to believe that God needs or requires these sacrifices in order to show and extend mercy.
And yet, in the primordial account of the threshing floor of Araunah we note that mercy wasn’t triggered or effected by sacrifice. Mercy was found in the heart of a God who repents, relents and changes his mind. Mercy was found in a God who says “Enough!” to punishment, without sacrifices or blood.
Lessons learned here? A few I think.
The sacrifices at the temple might lead us to draw the wrong conclusions about God’s mercy and the necessity of sacrifice. As seen in 2 Samuel 24, the story of the origins of the temple, God doesn’t need sacrifice to show mercy. And God can stop punishment whenever God wants.
Mercy is found in the heart and freedom of God.
And I think this goes to an important issue in the debates between UR and ECT. Can God relent? More sharply, can God relent in a punishment God promised to carry out? That is, God says punishment X will go to a certain point. Can God, because of God’s mercy, choose to stop short of X? Stories like those found in 1 Samuel 24 suggest that God can stop short and has stopped short. In fact, I’d argue that the entire narrative witness of the bible suggests that this–stopping short, relenting–is God’s default mode of operation.
And that, it seems to me, has important implications for what we think God can and can’t do when it comes to punishment post-mortem.