Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.
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“With their flocks and their herds they will go to seek Jehovah,
but they shall not find Him. He has withdrawn from them.”
Those who have studied the Old Testament well know that God’s mercy is great. They know how He suffered patiently great indignities and disrespect from His own people for centuries before He finally turned them over to heathen conquerors. It was heartbreaking to God Himself when the time came for Him to withdraw from His people and turn them over to the will of their enemies.
Our point here, though, is not how much it grieved God to withdraw from His own beloved people, but that He did it at all. What does the fact that God ceased trying to communicate with Israel and withdrew from His chosen people teach us about God?
The most important lesson for us in this is that we know, from observing His example with Israel, that there is a limit to God’s patience with sin and rebellion. He will make a greater effort than any man would, to save His people from their sins. There is no man who would have waited as long as God did before turning away from Israel. But He did it. At long last, He did it. It broke His heart, but He did it. And He did it because He did not know what else to do for them. “What could have been done more unto my vineyard?” God cried (Isa. 5:4). “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for the Lord has spoken: I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me’ ” (Isa. 1:2). Through Micah, God pleaded with the children of Israel, “O my people, what have I done unto thee? And wherein have I wearied thee? Testify against me” (6:3). But they could not tell God anything wrong He had done to them, or how He in any way had wearied them with too many commandments, or with commandments that were difficult to keep.
And in the end, He resigned Himself to carry out the only remaining course of action. He would leave them alone. “You are not my people, and I will not be your God.” . . . “For the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them away from my house. I will no longer love them.” . . . “I am going. I am returning to my place until they admit their guilt, and seek my face. In their distress, they will seek me earnestly” (Hos. 1:9; 9:15; 5:15).
Hosea cried out, “My God will cast them away because they did not hearken unto Him, and they shall be wanderers among the nations” (9:17). But it appears that nobody who heard him paid any attention to his words or his grief.
It happened. That is the point. And Paul said that these things happened to Israel, “as examples for us, that we should not desire evil things, as those people did” (1Cor. 10:6), and that they “happened to them as examples, and they are written for our admonition . . . . Therefore, let him who thinks he stands take heed, lest he fall” (1Cor. 10:11–12).
If we are already saved, and if our salvation is assured whether we do God’s will or not, then how does God’s treatment of His people in the Old Testament serve as an example to us? The whole point of the history of Israel being preserved by God is to warn us of what God will do to His own people when they fail to keep the covenant they made with Him when they become His.
The point is that “if God did not spare the natural branches, He might not spare you, either” (Rom. 11:21). Or, as Jesus repeatedly said, one way or another, “Not everyone who says to me, Master! Master! will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (e.g. Mt. 7:21). And Peter went so far as to say that it is better never come to Christ at all than after coming and being washed from sin, a child of God is unfaithful to the Lord. “For if after escaping the defilements of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they become involved in them again, and are overcome, their last state is worse than the first” (2Pet. 2:20–21).
“Worse than the beginning”! Isn’t it worse to have been called and cleansed by God and then have Him withdraw from us than never to have felt His love at all? Aren’t they in a worse state who have been received into the household of God, and then cast out, than are those who have never been in the family of God at all? It happened to many in Israel, and it has happened to many in this covenant. We must confess that it really happened. As deeply as it grieved God to do it, He withdrew Himself from His own people who did not walk uprightly with Him. And that fearful reality serves as a warning to us who believe.
Let’s cause our heavenly Father no heartache. He wants to care for us and to save us, and He will. All we have to do is humble ourselves and co-operate with His love. Let us resolve to “be followers of God, as dear children, and live in love, as Christ also loved us.” Let’s make our loving heavenly Father happy, not sad.