Often times when we read about Israel (the nation, not the man) we read about the whopper sins they committed or the continuous complaining in the desert. We learn how God speaks about them as “a stiff-necked people,” and how He wanted to wipe them off the face of the earth at least once. How is it that this nation, so full of blunders, can turn so quickly and overwhelm us with goodness?
In the course of 5 chapters in Exodus, Israel goes from erecting a golden calf and worshiping this false god, to giving so selflessly that the workers making the Tabernacle and its furnishings tell Moses to stop the influx of gifts and materials.
It amazes me to read such portions of scripture that show how blatantly Israel denies their True Savior, and in the next breath, complies so willingly. Read the following two sections and savor their inequality...
“When Moses failed to come back down the mountain right away, the people went to Aaron. ‘Look,’ they said, ‘make us some gods who can lead us. This man Moses, who brought us here from Egypt, has disappeared. We don’t know what has happened to him.’ ... Then Aaron took the gold, melted it down, and molded and tooled it into the shape of a calf. The people exclaimed, ‘O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of Egypt!’” (Exodus 32:1-4, excerpts)
Wow. These same Israelites had just experienced the miracles, or plagues, in Egypt, where they had not been affected by many of these horrific happenings, even though they were right there in the middle of it all. These same Israelites had just walked across a sea--large enough to drown ALL of Pharaoh's army--on dry ground, with walls of water on either side. This pilgrimage across the Red Sea was only after they had miraculously plundered all of Egypt of its gold, silver and clothing. These were the Israelites that had no patience to wait for Moses while he was going up the mountain of the Lord to receive instructions.
I read this and think about how this stiff-necked nation went from obedience to rebellion in a matter of hours. Mob mentality. One person cries out and the rest begin to panic. But I think it was much more than just a snowball effect at heart here. The nation of Israel had been enslaved in a foreign country for more than 400 years. During this time God was silent. 400 years of silence. How would you feel if the one in charge of you chose not to speak, much less deliver, you for 400 years? I am sure they were a bit jaded. But then the silence is broken with such drastic magnitude! How can you NOT recognize the awesome faithfulness of God? But this generation had never had to live in faith until this moment. Up till now, these Israelite slaves had everything they needed for survival provided by their masters, the Egyptians. True, they weren’t free. True, they weren’t treated in the best way, but no one has a perfect life, right? The point is, they never had to wonder about their next meal. Out in the dessert, every step had to be made in absolute faith. But to turn so completely backwards, craft a calf-god and worship it?! That is seriously insane.
After Moses goes down the mountain, deals with the people, and God puts a nice plague upon them, Moses heads back up the mountain to receive--once again--the commandments written by God’s own finger, and other instructions. After 40 days and nights, Moses heads back down and addresses the people. He tells them of the tabernacle they are to construct and all its accessories. A call is made to bring in gifts, if they so desire, to donate to the cause of building this meeting place.
“Moses gave them the materials donated by the people for the completion of the sanctuary. Additional gifts were brought each morning. But finally the craftsmen left their work to meet with Moses. ‘We have more than enough materials on hand now to complete the job the Lord has given us to do!’ they exclaimed. So Moses gave the command, and this message was sent throughout the camp: ‘Bring no more materials! You have already given more than enough.’ So the people stopped bringing their offerings.” (Exodus 36:3-6)
When I read this at first, my heart was warmed by the amazing ability to give and give until the needs were met for, what we could basically call the equivalent of, the church. It reminded me of reading the book of Acts, and how the early church had everything in common and no one had need for anything. I thought about how it would be so terrific if only the church today could look like that, on a global perspective. But then I thought about how just after this beautiful display of generosity and selflessness, the nation of Israel continues its journey, only to fall into rebellion again almost immediately.
So my question for today is this: How similar am I to Israel? How quickly can my heart turn from rebellion to obedience, and back to rebellion again? The truth is that it can take a moment. Sadly. The flesh rises up when we least expect it, most times. Which is why Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:12, “If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall.” And also why in Romans 5:20 we are reminded, “God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant.”
No matter what happens in this life, God knows. God knows not only that we, as born again believers, strive to hit the mark in our lives and in worship to Him, but also how much we fall short. And this is why His grace abounds more than does our sin. Jesus Christ, His sacrifice and righteousness far outweighs our sins and rebellion.
Oh, Israel... You never cease to amaze me. And Jesus, You always amaze me more.