Posts tagged warning
For some reason, it seems to be human nature to dislike warnings – to bristle at the notion of being told bad news in advance. In the Bible, God goes to great lengths to warn people about the consequences of their actions. He sends prophets to speak words and, in some cases, to demonstrate what will happen. But in most cases, the message falls on deaf ears. In some cases, the message is rejected with outright contempt.
And so, this God who tries so hard to warn his people gets chided for doing so. For Ezekiel, this must have been exasperating. He was laying out for the people of Israel the total destruction that God had for them. No doubt, he thought, if the people would just turn back to God, they could avoid destruction. But the people would not turn back. Not only that, but they dismissed Ezekiel’s prophecies as being in the distant future. Interestingly, they didn’t discount him entirely, they just didn’t think the “bad stuff” would happen in their lifetime, so they didn’t really care.
So God, for his part, tells them, “You know what. No more warnings, no more delays.”
Therefore say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: None of my words will be delayed any longer; whatever I say will be fulfilled, declares the Sovereign Lord.’” (Ezekiel 12:28)
If you were an Israelite in Ezekiel’s time, that was bad news. Even for us today, if God decided not to delay his punishment, that would be bad news. I’ve heard of individuals and groups who are trying to “hasten” the second coming of Christ. You see, they want all the “good stuff” of the second coming to happen in their lifetime and somehow believe that they can actually affect God’s timeline by “making” things happen – things that are prophesied in the Bible.
But even if they could do so, what they are really seeking to do is to hasten God’s final judgement on the world. Instead of working their fingers to the bone to tell people of the good news of Jesus, instead of trying to welcome as many people into the grace and love of God as possible, they are praying for those people’s destruction. Sure, that may not be their motive, but, if they got their way (and God hastened his return) the result would be the destruction of those people.
The bottom line is that we are always in error when we question God’s timing. Sometimes, we think he moves to fast. Other times, we think he moves too slow. We’re wrong. He’s right. And his timing is perfect, even when our feeble minds think otherwise.
As I said yesterday, Samuel was certainly a special child – one who grew into a special man. He would serve as prophet, priest and judge over Israel – the embodiment of God for those people. And the people of Israel weren’t stupid. They knew a good thing when they saw it. As long as Samuel was in charge, they had a good life and they weren’t grumbling about not having a king. But as soon as Samuel’s sons came to power and weren’t following the ways of their father, the Israelites started grumbling again. Presumably, they at least had some notion that the reason they were prospering was because of the faithfulness of Samuel.
And so begins this back and forth between God, Samuel and the people of Israel. The people really wanted a king – if for no other reason than just to be like all the other nations – and Samuel thought the idea was ludicrous. I think it’s interesting that 1 Samuel 8:6 says that it “displeased Samuel” that they asked for a king and “so he prayed to the Lord.” You’ll notice that it doesn’t say, “it displeased the Lord and so he spoke to Samuel.” No, this was initially Samuel’s beef with the people. He heard their request and thought, “I don’t think that’s a good idea.” And so he consulted with God.
Now, there are a lot of directions to go here, but I think maybe the most fruitful is to understand that Samuel had grown up in relationship with God. He regularly heard from the Lord. He was a student of the law of Moses. He apprenticed under Eli the priest. He was, for lack of a better word, “soaked” in God his entire life. And so, it would stand to reason that something that was displeasing to God might also be displeasing to Samuel. Ultimately, Samuel sought God’s direction regarding a king, but even before praying to the Lord, Samuel knew that this wasn’t a good idea. He knew, because he knew the nature of God.
He knew that God was a compassionate monarch. He knew that God didn’t do things out of selfish ambition and always had the people’s best interest in mind. He knew that human kings could never hold a candle to God, the perfect king. He also knew that the people didn’t so much need a ruler as they needed to follow the rules they had already been given.
When Samuel prayed to God, his gut feeling was confirmed, but God inserted another layer of wisdom into the picture. God affirmed Samuel’s belief, but told him to go ahead and give them a king. This would be a lesson for the Israelites. God knew that no matter how good things were, they were never going to be satisfied until they tried out this whole “king thing.” And so, rather than arguing with them, he said, “Give them a king.” But, he told Samuel to let them know the cost of having a human king.
For me, this is akin to telling a child not to touch the hot plate in front of them. “It’s hot, no no, don’t touch!” “Don’t touch, no no.” It’s hot!” For some kids, though, they are going to have to touch the plate before they’re convinced. And so, God lets Israel “touch the hot plate” in order for them to discover that what he has been telling them is actually the truth. Of course, this is a lesson that the people of Israel would have to learn over and over again – and one that we’re still having to relearn today.
Maintaining unity and community is a difficult thing to do, especially when you have a really large number of people and people who are somewhat disgruntled. It seems to be part of human nature that when we aren’t happy, we either withdraw to our selves, grumble to other people or, in the worst scenario, we do both. We find other people who agree with our grumbling and, as a group, we withdraw and grumble together.
I’m guessing that this is the kind of behavior the God, through Moses, is trying to discourage by setting up one dedicated place where the people are to come worship. You see, if the people all have to go to the same place to worship, then they don’t have the luxury of just withdrawing into their own tribes – at least not all of the time.
Can you imagine what would have happened if Moses had told the people that they could each set up a place of worship in their own town and worship there. How quickly would people have simply withdrawn with “their own people” and turned inward. Disunity would have pulled the people of Israel apart, which, during this God-granted peacetime may not have seemed like a big deal. However, there will come a time down the road where the people of Israel will need to stand together as a people (and their failure to do so will be their downfall).
As is so often the case, God is making every effort to educate people in their own nature – trying to help them understand what is almost certain to happen and giving them steps to avoid it. You can hear the urgency in Moses’ writing as if he is worried that he won’t be able to get all of his instructions written down. He is a desperate man trying to save his people from a lot of suffering. And yet, there isn’t much he can do.
We’ve all seen this scenario play out in our own lives. I remember when I was a kid, my grandparents had a tall block wall along one side of their house. My parents warned me not to walk along the top of that wall or I would fall and hurt myself. Of course, I didn’t heed their warning and, naturally, I fell off that wall, scraped my leg, got some other bruises and was fortunate I didn’t break an arm or a leg.
Just like my parents knew I probably wasn’t going to listen to their safety advice, Moses probably knew that the people of Israel wouldn’t listen to his advice about where and how to worship. He certainly seemed to know that they would not only be tempted to follow other gods, but that they would, indeed, fall into that trap and suffer the consequences. But like a good parent, Moses tried. He did everything he could do to warn the people of the consequences of certain actions (and to remind them of the rewards of other actions.)
I have to wonder, to what degree did Moses know that he was writing in vain? How much were these writings meant for the people he was leading and how much were they meant for future generations – those who had suffered the consequences and were looking back on past writings in a search for the meaning of it all.