Sunday, November 6, 2011

…Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord…

This is part 3 of a continuing series on hard questions from the Old Testament. They have been adapted from a series of articles I wrote for my church's community groups during our Old Testament Challenge. You can also read the introduction and part 2.

All throughout the book of Deuteronomy, God repeatedly explained to Israel that they were to be a holy people. That word holy literally meant “set apart”. God was seeking to establish a kingdom and community that was so counter-cultural that every other nation would be drawn to them and blessed through them.

But instead Israel wanted to be just like all the other nations. They envied the gods of the other nations (and with them came all the detestable practices for which God had judged the Canaanites). Soon we will read they envied the kings of the other nations too.

Joshua saw this coming and warned all of Israel before his death (Joshua 23:15,16). And Israel renewed their covenant with God (Joshua 24:19-23). Despite all this, the tone of the book of Judges turns with the phrase, “And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10). From this point on, the book of Judges is virtually an account of the downward spiral of the nation of Israel.

God is true to his word

Through Israel’s unfaithfulness, however, we see God’s faithfulness in a number of ways:
  • God is faithful to judge. As promised in Deuteronomy 28, God begins to judge Israel in the same way he had judged Canaan and Egypt before them. This judgment (like those before) centered around Israel’s idolatry and worship of false gods.
  • God is faithful to forgive. Like children, the people of Israel repeatedly ignore past instruction and correction and do things their own way until things get unbearably bad. Yet every time, when their hearts are broken with genuine repentance, the Lord is always ready with grace and salvation.
  • God is faithful to preserve. Though God allows Israel to fall under oppression—and eventually exile—he is faithful to his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He saves a remnant of Israel that will pave the way for the coming Messiah and ultimately the descendants of Israel (both ethnic and spiritual, see Rom. 11) explode exponentially.

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