When I read through my Bible, I mark things that catch my attention. One of the things I have enjoyed finding over the years is Old Testament examples of God's mercy. It seems we too often think of the God of the New Testament as merciful and loving while the God of the Old Testament is mean and quick to judge (i.e. "to wipe out everybody"). Hebrews 13:8 tells us, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.". Granted, we have Christ's sacrifice extended to us in the New Testament, but did God really go through a temperament change between the Old and New Testaments? I don' think so.
Tonight I was reading in Jeremiah and I came across this:
2 "Take a scroll and write on it all the words I have spoken to you concerning Israel, Judah and all the other nations from the time I began speaking to you in the reign of Josiah till now. 3 Perhaps when the people of Judah hear about every disaster I plan to inflict on them, each of them will turn from his wicked way; then I will forgive their wickedness and their sin." (New Living Translation)
During this time in Israel's history, God prophesied through Jeremiah the prophet that Babylon was coming to destroy Jerusalem. God told Israel he was punishing them using Babylon, but after a season, God would restore Israel and punish Babylon. When we read this story, often we focus on the "every disaster I plan to inflict on them" (God speaking) and see this is an illustration of an angry, punitive God.
But read to the end of verse 4...it says, "Perhaps...each of them will turn from his wicked way; then I will forgive their wickedness and their sin." This is a merciful God giving his people yet another chance to repent so that he could forgive them. He's not quick to judge...he's slow to judge and he tells the people once more all the bad stuff that will come down the pike if they do not repent. He wants them to be horrified at the judgment so they can repent and be forgiven.
When I read this, I got a mental image. I pictured some military commander being informed by a fighter on patrol that a group of people are headed toward allied territory. The people are not a threat where they are now, but if they cross the border into allied territory they are a major threat. The commander has no choice but to order the fighter to track the group of people headed toward allied territory. He gives the order to "go hot" and a missile is armed and ready to use on command to wipe out the the threat. But even as the order is given, the commander strains to see the satellite image on the screen before him. The group does not look hostile, but they cannot be allowed to cross into allied territory. As the fighter maneuvers into position and awaits the "fire" command, the commander moves to the edge off his seat and speaks to the monitor in front of him, "Turn around. Turn around now and you will not be hurt". The fighter is lining up for it's attack while the commander is looking for the smallest sign that the unknown group of people will deviate from their course and stop heading toward allied territory. The pilot checks in and let's the commander know he is ready to fire, but instead of hearing the "fire" command, he hears the commander scream, "They are turning away! They are turning away! Abort!! Abort!!!"
In this story with Israel (and I could image the same in my life), I see God as that commander pleading with his people to turn back so he can call off the air strike. As soon as he sees people turning from their evil ways, God declares "abort", the fighter is brought home and the people can return to safety.
Instead of painting a picture with God on the edge of his seat waiting to jump out and beat on the head those who have messed up, I believe this shows our loving God, on the edge of his seat, watching for the first sign of a repentant heart so that he can jump in and forgive.
Calling off the air strike would be called "Old Testament mercy".