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Perseverance is a good thing. It serves you well if it means that you keep working hard to get good grades in school even when things aren’t going well. Or when you keep trusting in God no matter how difficult things are in your life.
Stubbornness, on the other hand, is negative. The ancient Israelites were described as stubborn and rebellious (Ps. 78:8; Jer. 5:23; Hos. 4:16). Just read through the Old Testament if you have any doubt. God had done amazing things to free them from slavery
in Egypt. He had performed huge miracles to care for them in the wilderness. He had done so much to show His love and devotion for them, yet they constantly rebelled against Him, stubbornly refusing to keep His laws. He warned them of the results of sin. They even experienced some of them, but still stubbornly held on to their sins, not caring that they were hurting themselves.
For the last few months, I’ve been reading the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. These two prophets lived around the same time, just before the southern half of Israel, the kingdom of Judah, went into captivity to Babylon. Their calling was to deliver the messages God gave them for Israel. Most of these messages pointed out the sins of Israel, warned them of the consequences, and called them to repentance. As I read through their messages to the children of Israel, two things jump out at me:
1. The children of Israel always seemed to have a problem with idolatry. And it wasn’t just during the time period before Babylon took over. All throughout the history of the children of Israel from the time God brought them out Egypt, they kept on going after other gods. It started with the golden calf. Later, when they settled in the land of promise, they went through cycles, where for a while they would serve God exclusively, then later they would try to serve Him as well as the gods of the surrounding nations on the side.
And you would think that after experiencing first-hand the power of the true God they would want nothing to do with impotent images made by man’s hands. But instead they enthusiastically embraced idol worship, even going so far as to sacrifice their children by causing them to pass through the fire in the worship ceremony for the god Moloch (Jer. 32:35; Ez. 16:20, 21).
You would think they’d prefer to serve a God who didn’t claim their dear children as burnt offerings or put them through such torture. But they stubbornly preferred to bind themselves to gods whose rituals went against everything that was right and true rather than surrendering to the God who delivered them from slavery and obeying His simple commands: don’t kill; don’t bear false witness; don’t steal; honor your parents; don’t have other gods; remember the Sabbath day, etc. They preferred to serve self, living hedonistic lives instead of serving their Savior by loving Him with all their heart, soul, and might (Deut. 6:5), and their neighbor as themselves (Lev. 19:18).
Today, many of us are not in such great danger of turning to images to worship. But we do make idols out of other things: possessions, people, relationships, money…even ourselves. This one is huge in our day, with messages of “It’s all about you and making you happy.” Everything is geared towards making myself the center of attention, putting myself first, doing whatever it takes to make me happy, even if someone else suffers in the process.
We are just as much in danger of idolatry in our day as the ancient Israelites were in theirs. We must be watchful and take care where our affections lie.
2. God’s mercy, love, and justice all mixed together in His warnings to His stubborn, rebellious children. He consistently warns the Israelites that judgment is coming if they don’t turn from their sins. One may argue that it is their choice if they want to sin or not. That is true, and God never removes the element of choice from the equation. But He does warn that if they continue in their sins, He will have to allow the consequences of sin to fall on them.
Sometimes when we read about God calling the Israelites to repentance, we think of them as a nation of kind people who generally obeyed God’s laws, but just slipped up once in a while. Not so. When you read through Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, you find that their loyalty was divided. While they kept God’s sanctioned feasts and holy days and the Sabbath, they also sacrificed to idols and willingly participated in ceremonies and rites to manmade gods. They oppressed the poor and needy (Ez. 18:12). They gave no help to the widows and orphans (Ez. 22:7). They had turned so far from God and obedience to His laws that they no longer resembled His character.
Yet God did not give up on them. In mercy and love, He warned them of the results of their course of action. He pleaded with them through His prophets. He held back the judgments as long as possible to allow as many as were willing to come to repentance.
But so many chose not to listen. So many chose to go their own way, continuing in their sins, walking in the footsteps of the Enemy. So God allowed judgment to come upon them.
However, there is a key point that cannot be missed: just before judgment came, God also gave a promise. He said that although He would allow judgment to fall on the children of Israel and send them into captivity, He would be with them in the place they would go (Jer. 30:11; Ez. 11:16)! Even after all their rejection of Him, He still didn’t abandon them!
But wait, it gets better: He also promised that He would forgive their sins and, after a time, bring them out of captivity and back to the land of promise (Jer. 29:10; Ez. 11:17-20)!
Now that’s love and mercy mixed with justice right there! It’s just the way a faithful parent would reach out to a stubborn, erring child: allowing the consequences of wrong actions, while being there for the child through it all and promising a complete restoration to the way things were before, and better.
This is the truth of who God is.
How can we resist such an awesome God? He is powerful! His power comes from the fact that He is truth and He is love; He is justice and He is mercy. He’s unlike anyone we’ve ever known. Even the best, kindest, most loving, most amazing person we’ve ever met cannot hold a candle to who God is. He loved us, before we ever cared about Him (1 John 4:19). He loved us and died for us, even while we hated Him and opposed Him (Rom. 5:6-8). Such a God is amazing and more than deserves to be revered above everything and everyone else in our lives. He’s the only one who is never-changing, faithful, compassionate, slow to anger, and full of mercy (Mal. 3:6; 1 Cor. 1:9; Ps. 145:8; Ex. 34:6, 7).
That’s who God is.
And because of who He is, He gives us a simple choice: to serve Him or not to serve Him. What will you choose?