Meditations on “The Big Picture” 9. A People of Failure
Deut 9:24 You have been rebellious against the LORD ever since I have known you.
Now it may well be that anyone reading this particular study will question it as particularly negative and wonder why I include it in a series that seeks to cover the big stepping stones of biblical history. The simple answer is that as I have been studying the Old Testament over the past year or so for research purposes I came to a point – which surprised me – of wondering why in fact God had NOT acted in judgement more than He has done through that period. This study is, I suspect, a summary of my findings about God’s judgements in the Old Testament or rather more why such judgements were due and yet not forthcoming.
Earlier on we did a study about Israel and my conclusion as to why Israel existed is always that God’s intention was that they should be a light to the Gentiles (Isa 42:6 & 49:22 – clearly words initially meant for the Messiah and yet surely also applicable to Israel as a nation.)
The initial reference to all the nations of the world being blessed through Abraham is reiterated in Gen 17:3-7 / 18:17,18 / 22:15-18 and then to Isaac in 26:2-4, then to Jacob in 28:13,14. With Moses the intent becomes more immediate, that Israel will be an immediate means of revealing God to the surrounding nations and indeed then to the rest of the world – see Ex 15:14-16 / Num 14:13-17 / Deut 2:24,25 / 4:5,6 / 28:8-10, and so it continues with later leaders. There is this explicit understanding that Israel should reveal God through His dealings with her.
However when you come to observe those dealings although they reach their peak of blessing through David and then Solomon, the vast majority of God’s dealings with Israel are of a corrective nature. The history of Israel is one of failure and so one wonders why God ever raised up Israel, knowing as He must have known, that this would happen? The answer has got to be that God was revealing to the world the presence or existence of Sin that caused the folly of unrighteousness through self-centred godlessness, and if it was true of Israel, a nation receiving all of God’s help in a major way, how much more true would that be of the rest of the world?
But why would He want to show that? Well, first, because it was true, this is the effect of free will being given to mankind, this is the state of mankind; Sin and free-will go hand in hand. Second, this reveals mankind needs God’s help to rise above this helpless and hopeless state. If any thinking person reflects on these things, they will see that we are all in the same boat and we all need something other that human self-effort. This paves the way to receive the Son of God as Saviour of the world.
Now what is the reality of what I have been saying. Self-effort is at the heart of human sinfulness, this self-centred propensity towards godlessness. We see it from the outset in Genesis in the fall by Adam and Eve (Gen 3), then in Cain (Gen 4), then in the increasing wickedness of mankind (Gen 6), in Abram’s life (in the way he dealt with the famine – Gen 12) and the way he and Sarai ‘tried’ to fulfil God’s promise via their maid (see Gen 16). We see it in Isaac’s mishandling of the blessing of his sons (see Gen 27) then in the cooked dealings of Jacob and then the wrongs of his sons selling Joseph in to slavery. Case after case of individual failures in Genesis.
In Exodus of course we see the blinding pride of Pharaoh and then the crass stupid idolatry with the golden calf by some of Israel at Mount Sinai, so soon after amazing revelation of God. Between that and the entering the Promised Land we see Israel again and again grumbling against God despite His miraculous provision, and even refusing to enter the Land and so dying in the wilderness. In the book of Judges we see an almost constant cycle of Israel drifting away from the Lord, being disciplined, crying out to the Lord, and then Him providing a saviour for them. It is one of the classic passages showing the folly of the nation.
But then move on into the historic books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles and you find example after example of the folly of sinful behaviour by Israel. There is not a single leader who does not fail in some way or other. Samuel fell short in his weak disciplining of his sons, David lusted after another man’s wife and murdered her husband, and Solomon gave way to his many foreign wives and ended up worshipping their gods. When God split the kingdom, despite clear prophetic guidance, the first king of the north set up two idols to be worshipped and every single northern king continued that idolatry. The southern kings were marginally better but no single king had a completely clean slate and when their sin continued to build and build, despite having seen the northern kingdom sold into exile in 722BC, they too were sold into exile in 587. After the Lord brought them back and re-established them they continued with a chequered history in the four hundred years or so before the coming of Jesus Christ.
It was the combined folly of Jew AND Gentile that brought about Jesus’ death, the climax of the revelation of Sin in the Bible we might say. Well not quite. In the midst of the horrific judgements in the End Times, in the book of Revelation, we read, “The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshipping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood–idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.” (Rev 9:20,21) and “They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him… Men gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent.” (Rev 16:10,11) Is it any wonder that at ‘the end’ God remakes heaven and earth and it is only the redeemed who are saved, that minority who did respond to the news of Jesus.
Have no romantic feelings about Israel or about the human race. They and we are lost without Christ. That is the clear message of the entire Bible. See it, understand it and then stop and reflect on the grace and mercy of God, which is what we will do in the next study.