For who heard and rebelled? Wasn’t it really all who came out of Egypt under Moses? And who was He provoked with for 40 years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? They were unable to enter because of unbelief. Hebrews 3:16-19
Is God easily provoked? Do I see Him as a picky Father who punishes the least little thing? Do I find myself sticking up for the rights of the Israelites to enter the promised land? Maybe I excuse their unbelief because they were just scared. Every enemy was different in character and in their number. Every turn on the journey held a different and unwelcome surprise. Didn’t they just feel helpless and afraid? And when people are afraid, they do lash out and do unpredictable things.
But, to put their unbelief in perspective, I consider a child who holds a father’s hand. They’re about to encounter something frightening and this exchange takes place.
“Daddy, I don’t want to go. I’m scared.”
“I know you’re scared. Trust me and it will be okay.”
“But I’m really scared. How about if I stay here and you take someone else?”
“No, I really want to take you. Please trust me.” The father squeezes her hand tighter and she decides to go.
The father would not be angry because she was scared. He would not be angry that she thought of an alternative. He was eager to repeat, “Don’t be afraid. Trust me.” He knows how frightening things looked and the important thing was her obedience in the end.
Translating this to Father God and His children of Israel, their sin was not in having to work through fear. It was not that they were intimidated by armies that far outnumbered them. It was not that they despaired when they ran out of food. That, He understood. The Old Testament is dotted with conversations where God comforts and says, “Do not fear!” So, that wasn’t it. Their sin was in the action they took to do what they felt was best instead of doing what God asked of them. Their unbelief caused them to go to war when they shouldn’t have, to build idols instead of fast and pray, and to intermarry to satisfy their desire to fit in instead of being willing to be separate, to be God’s unique and chosen people.
God was not picky, He was patient. They didn’t go their own way just one time. They sinned, in stiff-necked rebellion, throughout 40 years. They did have sterling period of faith but for the most part, their lives could be characterized as people who were unwilling to listen to the voice of God. While much of their unbelief did begin with fear, it quickly morphed into ugly entitlement. “How dare you bring us to the wilderness. And you say you love us?!”
It’s good to re-read the Exodus/wilderness account again, slowly, and ask God to see the events from His perspective. As human parents, we would have been provoked and then probably lashed out much sooner than God did. In spite of the fact that their unbelief kept them from the promised land, God was still longsuffering and merciful.
Why am I so easily led to dispute Your love and discount Your promises? Now, that is the question. Amen