May 13, 2010

Is God Glorified Even When We are Disciplined By Him?

 Israel at Mt. Sinai

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.

May 8, 2010

Lessons from the Life of Gideon 10: Full Circle

ephod
The battle was over. The Kings and leaders of the Midianite armies were dead and their armies dead or scattered.  The Israelite collaborators at Penuel and Succoth had been disciplined or executed.
Because of this miraculous victory the the men of Israel were ready to have Gideon be King over them (Judges 8:22).  Gideon refused in accordance with the instructions of Moses, “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you. (Judges 8:23). 
Then we find one of the saddest words found in the annals of heroes of any era.  This word, where it is found in scripture, dealing with the affairs of God and men, usually brings no good with it.  The word: “YET”.
Gideon refuses to be made King over the Israelites and take glory that belongs only to God; however, (YET) he decides that he should get something for his trouble, (just to dedicate to God):
24Yet Gideon said to them, "I would request of you, that each of you give me an earring from his spoil." (For they had gold earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.)
25They said, "We will surely give them." So they spread out a garment, and every one of them threw an earring there from his spoil.
26The weight of the gold earrings that he requested was 1,700 shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments and the pendants and the purple robes which were on the kings of Midian, and besides the neck bands that were on their camels' necks.  (Judges 8: 24-26)
It is with the gold he receives that he makes an Ephod and sets it up in his home town, perhaps to commemorate the victory.  But it fell into use by the Israelites as an object of worship.
Pretending not to want to rule, Gideon has begun to deceive himself by degrees.  The account further says that Gideon had seventy sons by his many wives, (a sign of a ruler wishing to ensure his continued reign) plus one son by a concubine whom he named Abimelech.  The meaning of this name: “Father is King”. This Abimelech, in his lust for power and wealth, has his seventy brothers killed at the same time, and is himself later killed in a battle by a woman who drops a millstone on him. 
Even so, God allows Gideon to live to a ripe old age, and Israel has peace for forty years.  But as soon as Gideon is dead, the cycle that ends centuries later with the destruction of Israel and Judah begins again:
33Then it came about, as soon as Gideon was dead, (R)that the sons of Israel again played the harlot with the Baals, and made (S)Baal-berith their god.
34Thus the sons of Israel did not remember the LORD their God, who had delivered them from the hands of all their enemies on every side;
35nor did they show kindness to the household of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) in accord with all the good that he had done to Israel. (Judges 8: 33-35)
In this we see the character and fate of the unchanged, un-regenerated heart.  No matter what good it may first intend, the end is always the same: evil.  Only when God has made us new creatures in Christ Jesus are we capable of not sinning (though we do).  And in the end, when we leave this body and live in His presence, we will finally be incapable of sinning.

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission