Yet he, being compassionate, atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them; he restrained his anger often and did not stir up all his wrath. – Psalm 78:38
This psalm is filled with many examples of Israel’s rebellious tendencies and many examples of God’s mercies. Coming up to this verse, the psalmist recalls Israel’s grumbling about the manna from heaven and their demand for meat. And he recalls how God disciplines them for that.
When they’re disciplined, they sought Him and repented, remembering that God was their rock, the Most High God their redeemer. Yet they flattered Him with their mouths; they lied to Him with their tongues. Their heart was not steadfast toward Him and they were not faithful to His covenant.
A totally just response from the LORD here would be to just wipe them out. Destroy them and start over. But that’s not what happens.
We see a crucial word in this: yet. Yet He, being compassionate, atoned for their iniquity. This is likely referring to the provision of the sacrificial system that gave a sort of atonement pointing forward to the Savior. He graciously gave them a way to appease His wrath.
And He did not destroy them. Any day that the Lord does not destroy a wicked people is a day that His great mercy shines forth.
He restrained His anger often, because their sins were quite regular. And He did not stir up all His wrath. Any hardship that Israel did face for their sins was far, far less than they deserved.
This is the kind of mercy that God still has for us today. Though we often grumble and sin despite what God has done for us, He has compassion on us. He atoned for our sins on the cross of Christ. He chose not to destroy sinners like us, everyone who believes in Jesus.
The key difference for us is that God did not restrain His anger for us, and He did indeed stir up all His wrath. But rather than put it on us, He put it on His only Son. And Jesus, who willingly endured that for everyone who believes, conquered sin and death on their behalf.
Praise God for His amazing mercy and grace!
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