(16) But to the wicked God says: “What right have you to pronounce my statutes or to take my covenant into your mouth, (17) for you hate discipline and cast my words behind you? (18) If you see a thief, you approve of him, and you keep company with adulterers. (19) You give your mouth to evil, and your tongue frames deceit. (20) You sit and speak against your brother. You slander your own mother’s son. (21) These things you have done, and I have remained silent. You thought I was altogether like you, but now I rebuke you and set (the charge) in order before your eyes. (22) Now consider this, you who forget God, lest I tear you to pieces and there be no one to deliver. (23) He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors me, and to the one who orders his way rightly, I will show the salvation of God.”
The message of this segment contains God’s stern but gracious warning to the wicked. In these verses we find three pairs of synonyms for speaking: “pronounce...take into your mouth” (vs. 16), “give your mouth...tongue frames” (vs. 19), and “speak...slander” (vs. 20). Note that up to the present moment God has “remained silent” (vs. 21), that is, has refrained from pronouncing judgment on those who have disregarded him. However, he now conveys to those who purposely “forget God” (vs. 22) a message of “rebuke” (vs. 21) in order to persuade them to “consider” (vs. 22) their ways. If they repent of their sins by offering “a sacrifice of thanksgiving” and “ordering their ways rightly” (vs. 23), they will be shown “the salvation of God” (vs. 23).
I. God presents his case against the wicked. (16-20)
II. God, silent until now, rebukes their hypocrisy. (21)
III. God offers mercy to those who have rejected him. (22 & 23)
Knowing that God will soon end his silence and punish the wicked should lead them to repent and pursue lives of righteousness.
The silence of God, his patient grace toward sinners, is what causes mockers to think, “God is just like us…indifferent towards sin” (vs. 21). The Apostle Peter addressed this very issue of God’s silence in his second epistle. He first gives us a sampling of what scoffers say about the Second Coming of Christ and the judgment accompanying that return: “Where is this coming he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation” (2 Pet. 3:4). Peter’s response is found a few verses later: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). God in mercy delays his judgment so that sinners who would otherwise experience his wrath might have further opportunity to repent and be forgiven.
God’s silence should never be misunderstood as indifference toward sin. God passionately hates sin and will someday punish every sin ever committed. However, God also passionately loves sinners and patiently waits for them to come to their senses and repent so that his punishment for their sins might be covered by Christ’s death on the cross. He leaves this decision to us. If we heed this warning and receive his grace, God promises to forgive us. However, if we ignore him and refuse his grace, we will experience his wrath forever.