Volume 21, Issue 22 (June 2, 2019)
When God Cries
By Chuck Durham
In 1779, Major John André became Adjutant General of the British Army in America. In April, he took charge of the British Secret Service and covertly began negotiating with disillusioned American General Benedict Arnold for the surrender of the Fort at West Point on the Hudson River. This would have enabled the British to cut off New England from the rest of the colonies and hasten the War’s end.
In face-to-face negotiations with Arnold, André was caught behind American lines. Arnold provided André with civilian clothes and an American passport bearing the name “John Anderson” to help André pass through the lines to British held territory. He was captured by American militiamen on September 23—a British officer dressed in civilian clothes and carrying incriminating papers proving Arnold’s treason.
The American military court convicted André of being a spy, and not as a prisoner-of-war, since he was not wearing his military uniform when he was caught. Under the law of war, the tribunal sentenced André to death by hanging for being a spy (and not firing squad permitted to a soldier).
While a prisoner, he endeared himself to the American officers as much as he was held in honor by his British superiors. General Henry Clinton tried his best to save André but refused to exchange Arnold for André’s release. On 2 October 1780 he was hanged dressed in his royal regimentals and boots. Alexander Hamilton wrote of him: “Never perhaps did any man suffer death with more justice, or deserve it less."
In Albert Barnes New Testament Commentary on James 2:13, he tells this story: “On the one hand, there was the undoubted proof that he . . . had been taken as a spy . . . that what he had done had tended to the ruin of the American cause . . . On the other hand, there were his youth, his high attainments, his honourable connections, his brilliant hopes, all pleading that he might live, and that he might be pardoned. In the bosom of Washington, the prompting of justice and mercy thus came into collision . . . His sense of justice was shown in the act by which he signed the death-warrant; his feelings of compassion in the fact that when he did it his eyes poured forth a flood of tears” (42).
Does God rejoice when He judges the wicked? In 2 Kings 8:1-15, Elisha anoints Hazael to be king over Syria (v.13). When Hazael inquires of Elisha for his master’s health, Elisha tells him that Ben-hadad will die (as it turns out by the murdering hands of Hazael). Verse 11 (ESV) states: “And he [Elisha] fixed his gaze and stared at him [Hazael], until he was embarrassed. And the man of God wept.” Hazael was not only embarrassed by Elisha’s stare, but puzzled as well by the weeping of the prophet. Elisha answered with tear-stained face: “Because I know the evil that you will do to the people of Israel . . . you will kill their young men with the sword and dash in pieces their little ones and rip open their pregnant women” (v.12).
When God judges His apostate people, does He weep inconsolably for them? In Luke 19:41, the text says: “Now as He [Jesus] drew near, He saw the city [Jerusalem] and wept over it.” Leon Morris says the Greek word may rightly be rendered “wailed.” He burst into outward, audible sobbing when he saw Jerusalem (Tyndale NT Commentaries, 280). Why did he “audibly” weep? Because His people had exhausted the long-suffering mercy of their God; His people had forsaken Him for the last time. They had rejected the day of peace for the judgment of war. Thus, their Great Father (cf. Isaiah 9:6) wept inconsolably, knowing the fullness of judgment: Rome will “level you, and your children within you, to the ground” (v.44). God never rejoices in judgment. He carries it forth in righteousness, tears staining His face to the end. A British journalist once commended the patience and good-will of the United States by stating: “If we had no conscience, we would have long ago made the earth a parking lot” (speaking of our nuclear arsenal). When we nailed His Son to the tree, the heavens darkened at midday and the earth quaked in fear—no one but One knew how close we came to being a parking lot! But mercy triumphed over judgment (James 2:13).
The scene of Jesus’ weeping over Jerusalem is immediately followed by His cleansing the temple of those who bought and sold in it (v.45). He physically drove them out. The zeal of his righteous indignation was stained with the tears of his love. It is an amazing contrast in the heart of God. It both consoles and terrifies. It really matters in the great scheme of things, how we behave each day of our lives. Mark this passage in your heart: God does cry when He judges His people.
“I think He will weep over the lost as He did over Jerusalem. It will be something to be said forever in heaven, ‘Jesus wept as He said, Depart ye cursed. I think that the shower of fire and brimstone was wet with the tears of God as it fell, for God has ‘no pleasure in the death of him that dieth.” (Andrew Bonar as quoted in Dale Ralph Davis, 2 Kings: The Power and The Fury, 135).
Pressing On Magazine (March 2019): 18-19