We will never fathom God’s amazing love for us:
Would you marry someone if you knew ahead of time they would continually be unfaithful, untrue, and adulterous? I do not think too many people would even consider heading down a road like that. Why would they? Yet it seems that is exactly what God had done when it came to ancient Israel – and to us as well.
As I have mentioned before, Jeremiah and other prophets were told ahead of time when God raised them up to minister to Israel that the people would not listen to them and their words would be rejected. Most of us would say, ‘Why bother trying to warn them and get them to change their ways if we know for sure they will refuse to listen and repent?’ Yet the prophets did their job anyway.
I have just been reading Deuteronomy again and I find a similar thing being said about the people just before they were to enter into Canaan and take possession of the land God had promised them so long ago. In Deuteronomy 31:14-23 we read about how the Lord commissioned Joshua to lead the people into the Promised Land:
And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, the days approach when you must die. Call Joshua and present yourselves in the tent of meeting, that I may commission him.” And Moses and Joshua went and presented themselves in the tent of meeting. And the Lord appeared in the tent in a pillar of cloud. And the pillar of cloud stood over the entrance of the tent.
And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers. Then this people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering, and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them. Then my anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them, and they will be devoured. And many evils and troubles will come upon them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?’ And I will surely hide my face in that day because of all the evil that they have done, because they have turned to other gods.
“Now therefore write this song and teach it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the people of Israel. For when I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to give to their fathers, and they have eaten and are full and grown fat, they will turn to other gods and serve them, and despise me and break my covenant. And when many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring). For I know what they are inclined to do even today, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give.” So Moses wrote this song the same day and taught it to the people of Israel.
And the Lord commissioned Joshua the son of Nun and said, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the people of Israel into the land that I swore to give them. I will be with you.”
Wow. When God tells you ahead of time that something is going to happen, you can count on it happening. Imagine being Joshua knowing how things would pan out. One has to ask why God has even bothered to put up with the people. Why would Joshua put up with the people, knowing all this?
And in the next chapter we read the “Song of Moses”. Part of it says this (Deut. 32:10-12):
He found him in a desert land,
and in the howling waste of the wilderness;
he encircled him, he cared for him,
he kept him as the apple of his eye.
Like an eagle that stirs up its nest,
that flutters over its young,
spreading out its wings, catching them,
bearing them on its pinions,
the Lord alone guided him,
no foreign god was with him.
Such deep, deep love for a people that God knew were stubborn, disobedient, disloyal and unfaithful. Amazing love. Let me offer a few comments on this. Ajith Fernando reminds us of the seriousness of these things:
God introduces to Moses the theme of prostitution, which the prophets will later use often to describe Israel’s unfaithfulness (Jeremiah 3:1; Ezekiel 6:9; 20:30; Hosea 2:5-7; 4:15). . . . Prostitution is an apt way to describe breaking the binding covenant with God of which the covenant of marriage is one of the best illustrations. . . . Often the Bible states a promise and also adds that it won’t be fulfilled if the people disobey. The Bible is faithful in giving the other side of the good news. Are we?
He goes on to discuss those, like Samson, who did know that God had left them. He continues: “There is a warning for us here. If there is an element of unfaithfulness in our lives, we must move away from it completely without negotiating to see how far we can go into the dangerous field without giving up our faith. Otherwise we may soon realize that God has left us completely.”
Or as Daniel Block puts it:
It is fitting that Yahweh should speak of Israel’s infidelity as “prostitution,” since his relationship with Israel is portrayed in marital terms, and his jealousy/passion is kindled whenever his people flirt with other gods. Furthermore, the gods competing for the people’s allegiance are lusty fertility gods, who will seduce the Israelites with promises of prosperity and security. The reference to the covenant the people will break (cf. v. 20) as “my covenant,” and the comment “[that] I made [lit. ‘cut’] with him,” highlights the monergistic nature of the covenant. Yahweh chose the covenant partner; he set the terms and graciously revealed them to his people; he graciously announced the consequences of fidelity/infidelity.
Christopher Wright comments on “the gloomy prediction of the people’s future unfaithfulness”:
Yahweh’s faithfulness to his long-term covenant purposes for Israel is maintained in spite of his knowledge of Israel’s future covenant unfaithfulness (v. 21). Even the promise of God’s presence (v. 23) is set alongside the expectation that sin will entail God’s absence (vv. 17f)….
If there is to be a future at all, it must be with God, not in the capacity of Israel. That much has already been demonstrated by the previous generation, and there is no reason to expect future generations to be markedly superior. God has no illusions (v. 21). Neither has Moses (v. 27). But then, neither God, nor Moses, nor the Bible as a whole deals with illusions.
Application for us today should be obvious – and I can begin with myself. I have often said that if I were God, I would have given up on that Bill character long ago. All his wavering and halfheartedness and disobedience and unfaithfulness and indifference, etc. – who would want to establish a love relationship with someone like that?
Yet God’s great love is so unfathomable. Recall what he said of wayward Israel in the book of Hosea (and recall that God told the prophet to marry a prostitute to offer a living example of all this). As we find the Lord saying in Hosea 11:8-9:
How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my burning anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath.
Again, why did God love and call Israel to himself, knowing full well how she would respond? Why did God love and call you and I, knowing full well how we would respond? A little ditty by Ogden Nash goes as follows: “How odd of God, to choose the Jews.” In my case we could say, ‘How odd of God, to will that Bill.’
All this is beyond human comprehension. Such amazing love. Such long-suffering, mercy and grace. May this always drive us further into his arms and further away from sin and self.