Sunday, 1 June 2008

The long-suffering of God

The time of the judges is an interesting period. God intends to lead Israel by men he raises up. Though he commands the Israelites to obey him, frequently they don't and God removes his protection and allows evil men (of which there is no shortage in the world) to oppress them. We see them following God in the time of Joshua but depart soon after his death and several times again even though God delivers them thru Othniel, Ehud and Barak.

We reach a period when the Israelites again choose disobedience:
The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. And they forsook the LORD and did not serve him. So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the Ammonites, and they crushed and oppressed the people of Israel that year. For eighteen years they oppressed all the people of Israel who were beyond the Jordan in the land of the Amorites, which is in Gilead. And the Ammonites crossed the Jordan to fight also against Judah and against Benjamin and against the house of Ephraim, so that Israel was severely distressed. (Judges 10)
It is in their distress that they cried out to the Lord,
"We have sinned against you, because we have forsaken our God and have served the Baals." (Judges 10)
I find this response of God interesting. God said,
"Did I not save you from the Egyptians and from the Amorites, from the Ammonites and from the Philistines? The Sidonians also, and the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you, and you cried out to me, and I saved you out of their hand. Yet you have forsaken me and served other gods; therefore I will save you no more. Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress."
God says enough! He has delivered Israel repeatedly, he will do so no more. And if Israel continues in her idolatry then let her ask for help from the false gods she clings to.

This example of wearing out God's patience is reminiscent of God's words to Moses when the Israelites made a golden calf shortly after God delivered them from Egypt:
And the LORD said to Moses, "Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'" And the LORD said to Moses, "I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you." (Exodus 32)
After rejecting God, God rejects them. In the first he would have destroyed Israel had not Moses interceded for them. In the second he tells Israel that he has delivered them several times already and he is thru.

Nevertheless, the Israelites acknowledged their sin, acknowledged God was right, accepted God's judgment on the matter, stopped their idolatry, and again requested deliverance. They would have worn out my patience, yet God remains ever merciful and kind. After the Israelites' repentance in word and deed God...
became impatient over the misery of Israel (Judges 10)
And again God raises up a deliverer for Israel!

These passages tell us much about the patience and grace of God and it gives us much hope that even those who reject God continually may not be beyond his redemption. But we would do well not to presume on his grace. Some have rejected God and are then only useful for God to show his glory thru his righteous wrath, such as God's judgment on the Egyptians. Proverbs warns:
He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck,/
will suddenly be broken beyond healing. (Proverbs 29)
We do not know the length of our days. None of us deserves life. God is not compelled to save us. These stories give hope for the sinner contemplating repentance but leave no room for presumption.

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