The Consequences of Righteousness

Sometimes we get fooled by the Health-and-Wealth-Gospel. Sometimes we get lulled into the idea that God owes us something because of how we have been living. Despite numerous examples throughout scriptures to the contrary, we sometimes find ourselves thinking that if we follow the righteous ways of God, then our lives will be easy.

In a perfect world, I am inclined to believe that would be true. Unfortunately, we live in a world with sin. Because we do not live righteously all the time, we have brought brokenness into this world. The trouble with brokenness is that it wants to create more brokenness.

Unrighteous brokenness constantly wages against righteous restoration.

It is for this reason that righteousness does not often result in immediate, or even semi-immediate, blessings. The beginning of Exodus is a great reminder of this. Again and again, we see the righteous actions of the Israelites being opposed by the unrighteous actions of the Egyptians, and it seems like the brokenness of the Egyptians wins most of the time.

Built into the bedrock of the Abrahamic covenant is God’s promise to grow the nation of Israel. The growth of Israel is in alignment with the righteous ways of God because God has plans to use Israel to bring about restoration in the world. But it seems to be the very fulfillment of that righteous promise that causes the brutal slavery of the Israelites.

Exodus 1:7

The Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them.

God promised Abraham, “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore,” (Genesis 22:17a). God is remaining faith to that promise. The Israelites are multiplying greatly! They not just numerous, they are exceedingly numerous!

God continues saying to Abraham, “and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed because you have obeyed me,” (Genesis 22:18). When reading about the Israelites filling the land, one might expect a blessing to come after that. If God is fulfilling the promise to multiply the Israelites, the next logical step would be for the Israelites to bless the nations around around them. And in a way they did…

Exodus 1:8-9, 11

Then a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt. “Look!” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become much too numerous for us.”

So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh.

The growth Israel was experiencing from God’s faithfulness scared the leaders of Egypt so Pharaoh enslaved the nation. Pharaoh used them ruthlessly to build up Egypt. The Israelites were growing, and they were blessing Egypt, but this doesn’t quite seem to be what God had in mind.

Why did the faithfulness of God lead to the slavery of the Israelites? Why did the righteous ways of God lead to oppression for the Israelites? It is because unrighteousness wages war against righteousness. Sin and brokenness desire the destruction of God’s righteous ways.

Pharaoh could have seen the growth of the Israelites in his land as a good thing. He could have befriended the Israelites and partnered with them. But instead he viewed the Israelites as a threat and acted out of fear.

Exodus 1:10

Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us, and leave the country.

Pharaoh’s fear led him to unrighteous actions of oppression. His unrighteous oppression warred against God’s righteous growth of the Israelites. “But the more [the Israelites] were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread,” (Exodus 1:12a). Pharaoh planned to reduced the number of Israelites through oppression, but God’s righteous growth was stronger. Pharaoh’s plan was failing so he decided to increase the intensity of his unrighteous actions.

Exodus 1:15-16

The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, “When you help the Hebrew women in childbirth and observe them on the delivery stool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.”

As Pharaoh increases his unrighteousness from oppression to bloodshed, we again see a response of fear, this time from the midwives. “The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live,” (Exodus 1:17). Their fear is different. Their fear lead them to acts of righteousness. Their fear placed them in alignment with God. And for this, they were rewarded.

Exodus 1:20-21

So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.

As unrighteousness grows more forceful, God’s righteous ways remain more powerful. Pharaoh seeks to kill the Israelites but God continues to grow them. But Pharaoh’s fear continues to grow his unrighteous actions and increases his demands yet again. Instead of just tasking the midwives, Pharaoh tells all of his people to throw every boy into the Nile River.

This first chapter of Exodus produces a tension between righteousness and unrighteous that seems unfair. God’s righteous ways continue to win, but they seem to come at the expense of God’s people. The Israelites grow and become ruthlessly enslaved. The Israelites grow and then have their baby boys killed.

All throughout Scripture, righteousness leads to consequences. In the Garden of Eden, the righteousness of God leads to Adam and Eve being cast out into the wilderness. In Egypt, the righteousness of God leads to the slavery and death of the Israelites. In the New Testament, the righteousness of God leads to the death of Jesus.

These consequences exist not because the way of God is broken, but because sin has created brokenness. The sin of Adam and Eve opposed the righteousness of God and lead to their removal from Eden and the tree of life. The sin of Pharaoh opposed the righteousness of God and lead to the oppression of the Israelites. The sin of the Jewish priests opposed the righteousness of God and lead to the oppression of the Israelites.

Because of the brokenness of sin in the world, righteous actions might be meet with punishment. Following in the ways of God and doing the righteous thing often leads to opposition because sin does not want God’s way to succeed. Sin will do whatever it can to prevent the way of God.

While the brokenness of sin causes Jesus’ death, the righteousness of God resurrects Jesus and provides hope for all of humanity. While the brokenness of sin causes the oppression of the Israelites, the righteousness of God frees them from slavery and reaffirms their identity as God’s people. While the brokenness of sin causes humanity’s removal from Eden and the tree of life, the righteousness of God brings humanity into the kingdom of God and back to the tree of life.

Do not be deterred or discouraged by the consequences and hardships of righteousness. Sin and brokenness want you to dwell on these. They want you to feel defeated. They want you to feel as though the righteous ways of God are futile. They want you to quit.

As frequently as we see the consequences of righteousness in Scripture, we also see the final victory of righteousness. God’s righteous ways reign in the end. Persevere through the opposition to righteous living. Persevere through the pain of sin’s brokenness. Persevere because when all is said and done, God’s righteousness and healing will remain.

James 1:12

Blessed is the person who perseveres under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

Comment with any thoughts, ideas, or questions. Share any stories of righteousness winning in you life. I would love to hear what you think!