God is love (1 John 4:8) and His mercy is infinite (Ephesians 2:4), but He is also just (Psalm 25:8). In order to uphold His attributes of holiness and justice, He must judge sin and sinners (Numbers 14:18; Nah. 1:3). To understand the dealings of the Lord in the passages you shared, let’s examine their background:
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i. Deuteronomy 20:10-16
The Israelites were instructed, “When you go near a city to fight against it, then proclaim an offer of peace to it” (ch. 10:10). But if that city rejected the offer of peace, this would be regarded as a declaration of war, and hostilities began. The rejection of the offer of peace was the expression of a determination to continue the worship of idols, with all its immoralities.
The moral rottenness and total depravity of the inhabitants of the Canaanites pagan cities made their destruction inevitable if they refused to accept God and turn their backs upon idolatry. Like the cancer that has to be removed from the body or else cause death, these neighboring nations if not destroyed, they would have destroyed Israel. But the Lord gave them a chance first to mend their ways and be saved.
ii. Kings 2:23-24
Elisha was a prophet of peace with a message of peace. One day, as he was starting his important mission, a number of youth came out of the city of Bethel to ridicule him knowing that he was God’s prophet. Although Elisha was a man of kindness, there are limits even to kindness in the work of the Lord. So, the Lord destroyed the mocking youth.
The honor of the Lord’s name must be upheld, and His solemn deeds must not be made the subject of mockery by the irreverent youth. Holy men of the Lord should be treated with reverence and respect for they are His representatives. So, the severity of the punishment that came upon them was in keeping with the seriousness of the issues at stake (Hebrews 12:6).
iii. Numbers 31:7-18
Moses instructed that the justice of the Lord should fall upon the pagans, especially the idolatrous women that were used by Satan to bring sin and death into the camp of Israel. These women “through the counsel of Balaam” enticed men into sin and caused them “to trespass against the LORD in the incident of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD” (verse 16) and many died. For those that died, Moses said, “avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites” (ch. 31:2). As for their children, they were young and impressionable and there was the possibility of their being weaned from idolatry and its unclean practices.
But here is the ultimate truth that illustrates that God is love: the One that received God’s full judgment for the guilt of humanity is the Son of God himself. Christ, the innocent, offered Himself to die on behalf of sinful people. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Thus, at the cross, we see God as both the “just and the justifier” (Matthew 27:33–35; Romans 3:26; John). There is no greater love than this that someone will die for those whom he loves (John 15:13).
In His service,