As we are living out and working out our salvation, we may find ourselves in challenging situations or even times when we are being disciplined by the Lord. The Book of Hebrews tells us that this is always for our good. In fact, we have the promise that God causes ALL things (even what we would call the bad things) to work together for good to those who love God, and are called according to His purpose.
In Jeremiah 2, God in His complaint against the people of Israel recounts how he brought them through the desert:
“…through a land of deserts and of pits, Through a land of drought and of deep darkness, Through a land that no one crossed And where no man dwelt…” (Jeremiah 2:6, NASB)
Israel’s desert sojourn was God’s punishment for their disobedience and unbelief demonstrated in their refusal to go into the Promised Land. They were to spend 40 years as nomads in one of the most hostile landscapes on earth; a place that “no one crossed and where no man dwelt.”
Though the punishment was severe, it was not TOO severe; and though punishment was one goal, it wasn’t the only one. What good could come from this? Even in this awful place, while the evil and rebellious died out or were killed by disease or other misfortunes, God still provided for their every need. During that time they were sustained by food directly from heaven; their shoes didn’t even wear out. Even in this, God was being glorified.
This could not have gone unnoticed by nations on either side of the desert. Consider what they must have thought about this people. The Israelites, the refugees of Egypt, were obviously surviving by miraculous means by the hundreds of thousands in a hostile place where no one crossed or lived. Food fell out of the sky for them; water came out of rocks. Flocks of birds flew to their camp. Anyone who attacked them was defeated or destroyed. They were not only surviving, their population was growing.
Consider what the surrounding nations must have thought watching this people become a nation out of nothing, in a place where there was nothing. Is it any wonder that the fear of them was on all the surrounding nations?
Those paying attention to these events would have seen that the God of Israel was worthy of worship as the only true God. They would have seen both His justice and His mercy. God wasn’t just punishing a disobedient people that he scraped out of Egyptian slavery; He was also spreading His fame throughout the area and teaching His own people obedience and endurance. Had those surrounding nations paid attention and understood, they could have shared in the blessings of Abraham.
We can take hope and comfort in this when we are suffering discipline or even just suffering: nothing escapes Gods sovereignty, and nothing happens except by his permission. Even our disobedience, for which we sometimes suffer His discipline, cannot thwart His good purposes or diminish His glory.
Scriptural References: Jeremiah 2; Romans 8:28; Hebrew 12.