When the Cup is Full
Why does God delay His wrath?
By Dennis Pollock
© Pat Marvenko Smith
The Bible tells us that God “made His ways known to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel.” This simple thought reveals to us first, that God’s ways can be known, and secondly that most people will never know them. The ways of God are truths of His character and working that He reveals only to those who fulfill His stringent requirements: “If you cry out for discernment and lift up your voice for understanding; If you seek her as silver and search for her as for hidden treasures — then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God” (Proverbs 2:3,4).
God’s Strange Ways
One of the ways of God that has been a stumbling block to many has to do with His slowness to respond to good or evil. In our ideal world we have strong ideas about how God should carry on. One of the things we would love to see would be a quicker response time on His part. It seems like God is just too slow, both in judging the evil and rewarding the good.
When people lie and dissemble, it would be wonderful if their noses really would grow prodigiously long, Pinnochio style, but if that has ever happened, I’ve never seen it. When new believers make sacrifices for their faith in Christ it would be neat if they were immediately rewarded for it with large, unexpected checks in the mail and great honors and recognition from an approving public. While this happens occasionally, it is by no means the norm. Evil men often prosper and are not nearly as miserable as we Christians usually paint them. To our frustration, ungodly men sometimes seem to be having a pretty good time in their sinful lifestyles.
How much simpler it would be if the sinner would know nothing but bad luck. He would go from one failure to another. His children would mock him, his dog would bite him, and the neighbors would all despise him and play mean practical jokes on him. He would lose his hair at twenty-five, and it would be all downhill from there.
As anyone with eyes could tell you, “it ain’t necessarily so.” God is not nearly so quick to judge the evil or reward the righteous. The principle that undergirds this obvious reality is one that I call “the filling of the cup.” It is a truth that is abundantly revealed in Scripture and plays a major role in the last days scenario that Revelation speaks of.
All through the Scripture we find the concept of the accumulation of sin and the wrath of God. It seems that God rarely brings judgment upon His creation with their first offense (Adam and Eve being notable exceptions). Typically He allows the sin and His corresponding anger to accumulate, to “pile up” until finally His very nature requires Him to respond in fury.
In God’s dealings with Abraham we find an excellent example of this. Abraham is told by God that his descendants will inherit the land of Canaan. They will be given the land as a permanent possession. But first they must go to a foreign land (Egypt) where they will be slaves for 400 years. And why is it that Abraham and his descendant cannot begin immediate occupation? God gives a perplexing answer: “For the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full” (Genesis 15:16).
Amazing! Here are these ungodly pagans — child sacrificers, idol worshipers, and indulgers in sexual perversion and immorality of every sort — and God says their sin hasn’t filled its appointed measure yet. Israel will have to wait four hundred more years to get possession of the land. This little episode tells us three things: 1) God is amazingly patient, 2) God stores up man’s unconfessed sin, and 3) There will be a day of reckoning.
When Joshua brought Israel into the land as invaders 400 years later, God’s command was to wipe out these people entirely, leaving nothing breathing. Judgment had been slow in coming, but when it arrived it was devastating.
A Mysterious Example
One of the most perplexing stories in the Bible has to do with God’s calling of Moses. God appears to Moses in the burning bush, commissions Him to lead his people out of slavery, anoints Him to do miracles, and sends him on His way with the assurance “I will be with you.” So far, so good. What gets confusing is what happens on the way to Egypt. God shows up a second time, this time not to commission him, but to kill him. The Bible says, “And it came to pass on the way, at the encampment, that the Lord met him and sought to kill him” (Exodus 4:24).
What in the world is going on? Why would God commission Moses and then be ready to kill him? While the answer is not given in explicit terms, a little reading between the lines gives us a pretty likely idea of what was happening. We find that God does not kill Moses after all. Moses’ wife performs a quick circumcision on their son and calls Moses a bloody husband (“husband of blood”).
The most likely explanation of these events seems to be that God had been dealing with Moses for some time about performing the circumcision on his son, and thus identifying himself as one of the people of the covenant. It would seem that Moses was getting some flack from his wife, who no doubt thought this to be a pretty primitive practice. Moses kept putting the thing off, delaying obedience to God’s express commands. After enduring Moses’ continual deferments, the cup had begun to fill up.
To whom much is given, much is required, and Moses, who had been granted a revelation of God as few men ever had or will have, found himself facing a God whose wrath had come. Only Moses’ wife’s quick thinking and action prevented God from destroying His chosen servant and starting again with another.
A Consistent Principle
Throughout the Scriptures we continually see this thought of the filling up of the cup of God’s anger. In Romans we read: “But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Romans 2:5).
In Revelation we read of the harlot city of Babylon which is responsible for killing great numbers of Christians during the Tribulation. After allowing this to go on for some time, God finally announces: “Come out of her my people… for her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities” (Revelation 18:4, 5). God gives us the picture of the sins of this wicked city piling up year after year until finally they reach the zenith which acts as a triggering device for the wrath of God to completely obliterate her.
Jesus, in His stern denunciation of the Pharisees, made the declaration, “Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers guilt.” In 1 Thessalonians Paul writes that the Jews “killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us… forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins…” Over and over the Bible emphasizes this peculiar concept of the accumulation of sins, guilt, and the wrath of God.
Cosmic Heart Disease
The thing that makes this concept so dangerous is that it is so silent. Heart disease can be a very silent killer. The reason for this is that often there are few or no symptoms as it builds up to that moment where it takes your life with a fatal, massive heart attack. We cannot see what is going on inside of our bodies. We do not notice the buildup of deadly plaque inside our arteries and veins. They give no warning bell — all seems fine. Day after day, month after month, and year after year these deadly deposits slowly accumulate. Our blood is ever increasingly forced into narrower and narrower channels. Finally a crisis develops. An artery from the heart reaches that state of blockage which puts too much strain on the heart. The heart beats wildly for a few painful seconds and then stops beating altogether. The ever so quiet accumulation of deadly plaque has claimed another victim.
As we approach the beginning of the twenty-first century, America seems like a paradox to many Christians. At the end of the “decade of free love” (the 60’s) there were a half million Americans that were living together without marriage. Today that number has risen to four million! We may not be wearing beads and bell-bottoms, but sexual immorality is more rampant than ever. We just don’t look as colorful now as we did then.
We have exonerated a president whose lies, deceits, and immoral acts have made us the laughingstock of the world. We have declared that such filth doesn’t “rise to the level of impeachment,” even as we sink lower and lower to the level of debauchery. We have little children asking their parents about the meaning of “oral sex.” Prime time television programs feature nudity and crude sexuality. We routinely murder over a million unborn babies each year, paying the “doctors” handsomely for their services. Divorce is at epidemic proportions. Children are killing other children, killing their parents, and parents are killing their children. God has been banned from our nation’s schools, and murder and mayhem have taken His place.
And yet America prospers. If any one thing saved Mr. Clinton’s hide, it was the fact that most Americans have jobs, and the stock market is high while interest rates are low. God surely must love America!
The truth is that — like the man whose arteries are filling with deadly obstructions — America is well on her way to filling her cup with sin, wrath, and judgment, a judgment that will ultimately lead to her collapse. Every baby that is slaughtered on the altar of convenience, every sexual dalliance that goes unrepented of, every pornographic web site established by lecherous, greedy men are but more and more drops in the filling of this cup.
Can the Process be Reversed?
Can cups that are nearly filled ever be emptied? The Bible assures us that they can. Individually this happens all the time. The thief on the cross had come to the end of a life of wickedness as he hung beside Jesus. His cup was filled to the brim; death and hell opened her mouth to receive him. Before he succumbed, by the grace of God and the revelation of the Holy Spirit, he made that famous declaration: “Remember me when you come into Your kingdom.” Such a statement of faith in the Savior was all that it took for his cup to be emptied. He died forgiven.
Perhaps the greatest example of a collective cup being emptied is to be found in the famous story of Jonah. God sent him to proclaim judgment and destruction to the city of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. When the residents of that city repented en masse (much to Jonah’s amazement and chagrin), their appointment with God’s wrath was abruptly canceled. But sadly, a century and a half later, the cup was nearly full again. God sent another prophet named Nahum to call the city to repentance, but that time they refused, and the city was utterly destroyed.
A Day of Reckoning
Not all that is happening in America is bad news. There are churches that are preaching the gospel. There are pockets of revival and spiritual blessing here and there. But as a whole, the picture is not pretty. We show no sign of turning from the sins which will surely bring us down. The cup continues to fill. The wheels of God’s justice grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine.
Ultimately, not only America, but all nations will fill up the measure of their sins. We do not have to wonder what the outcome will be. The book of Revelation gives us a very graphic picture. John records it thus: “And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come and who is able to stand?'” (Revelation 6:15-17)
Until that day, we who have tasted the forgiveness Jesus offers, must cry out to a generation bent on destruction, “Flee from the wrath to come… be saved from this perverse generation!”