Chapter 20:18-26 (ESV) - “And I said to their children in the wilderness, ‘Do not walk in the statutes of your fathers, nor keep their rules, nor defile yourselves with their idols. I am the Lord your God; walk in my statutes, and be careful to obey my rules, and keep my Sabbaths holy that they may be a sign between me and you, that you may know that I am the Lord your God.’ But the children rebelled against me. They did not walk in my statutes and were not careful to obey my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; they profaned my Sabbaths.
“Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them and spend my anger against them in the wilderness. But I withheld my hand and acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I had brought them out. Moreover, I swore to them in the wilderness that I would scatter them among the nations and disperse them through the countries, because they had not obeyed my rules, but had rejected my statutes and profaned my Sabbaths, and their eyes were set on their fathers' idols. Moreover, I gave them statutes that were not good and rules by which they could not have life, and I defiled them through their very gifts in their offering up all their firstborn, that I might devastate them. I did it that they might know that I am the Lord.
Question to consider: Why would the children of Israel rebel against God even in the midst of such blessing?
Though God did not let the generation of the Exodus enter into the promised land due to their idolatry and forsaking of His Law and Sabbaths, He gave the land to their children instead of pouring out His wrath and completely destroying the Israelites. The reason He gave Ezekiel for doing this was to keep His name from being profaned in the sight of the nations.
You would think that the children entering the land would recognize the sin of their forefathers and repent of it so that they could continue to enjoy the blessings of the land. However, they continued in the same pattern of rebellion to the point where God was ready to wipe them out, but once again, as He told Ezekiel, He held back from the destruction to keep His name from being profaned in the sight of the nations.
Rather than destroying them, God scattered them among the nations as He promised He would do in Leviticus 26 for their continued rebellion against Him (I really recommend you read that chapter). In scattering them, God also gave them over to their desires which were to follow the “good works” of the pagan nations which were really not good at all. Rather than bringing life, these works brought devastation and defilement so that the people would understand that the only true God is the Lord.
Ever since Adam led us into rebellion against God, we in our flesh have desired to be like God and decide right and wrong for ourselves. During times of difficulty, we walk closely with the Lord and depend on Him for our very existence. During times of blessing, the temptation is to walk closely with the world and depend on our wealth. This is what happened among the children of Israel when they inherited a land flowing with milk and honey. They sought to increase their wealth instead of their relationship with God. The change happens slowly at first. The culture begins to compromise and downplay the life-giving nature of God’s statutes, and eventually people are calling evil good and good evil in an attempt to protect their worldly assets and lifestyles.
Upon first reading the text, it sounds like God regretted the promise to Abraham that He would make him a blessing to all nations, for it says that the only reason God didn’t wipe out Israel was because it would make Him a liar in the sight of the nations. However, God knew exactly what would happen with Abraham’s descendants before Abraham was even born, and yet He still made the promise. In case any of us were to think that God set His love upon us because there was anything lovable about us, this statement should remove all doubt. God has willed Himself to love us for His own sake and the sake of His Son who died for us. As difficult as it may be to think that there was nothing about me that earned God’s love, it should also be reassuring to know that there is nothing about me that would cause God’s love to fail.
Dear heavenly father, thank You for keeping Your promises. Please help us to respond with grateful hearts and a desire to do the things that bring glory to Christ through both difficulty and blessing. Amen.