A Tale of Holy Love, Unfaithfulness, Justice, Mercy, and Grace
Do you have a stubborn streak? Are you often the one who will not bend on an issue but holds tightly to your position and will not let go?
Sometimes stubbornness can be a good thing especially when it is used in the Spirit and for standing up for the things of the Lord. However, more often than not obstinacy is used in the flesh as a negative thing. It is built on the sin of pride and often rears its ugly head when we don’t want to admit wrongdoing.
This was definitely the case with ancient Israel. After God laid out the issues and controversies He had against His people, Israel refused to acknowledge those areas as sin and remained set in their ways. They rejected God and chose to remain in their sin. They chose an attitude of stubbornness over a heart of repentance and it cost them dearly.
“Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. For the spirit of whoredom is within them, and they know not the LORD.”
Throughout the Old Testament, God welcomes, encourages, and pleads Israel and His children to return to Him. In the New Testament, God made a way for all mankind to be reconciled with Him and to return. But in order to return to the LORD, Israel needed to repent and forsake the sin and idolatry that estranged them in the first place.
God cannot allow sin into His presence. While He did love the children of Israel, His love was not blind. He saw their sin, their idolatry, and their spiritual adultery, and all this drove a wedge in their relationship with Him. Sin breaks fellowship and alienates us from God’s presence, but true, genuine repentance brings restoration.
But in Israel’s case, in order to repent they needed to let go. Let go of their sin. Let go of their pride. And let go of their desire for filth. But they were not ready to do that. They were holding on to their sin and desire for it too tightly. Even in the face of God’s upcoming judgment, they were not willing to let go.
“Ephraim is oppressed, crushed in judgment, because he was determined to go after filth.”
Determined. In Hebrew, this verb means, “to choose to do something. The focus of this verb is on the decision to act. The individual is even more active and voluntarily decides to act a certain way with determination and resolve. This verb provides strong support for the theological concept of human free will because humanity is permitted to decide to act a certain way. God, however, will hold humanity responsible for those decisions and actions.”*
Israel was determined in her course after sin and earthly pleasure. Even after the Lord’s warning and controversy, she refused to listen. She was set in her path and woefully stubborn in her heart. Therefore, God had to bring violent action against His beloved. He had tried the arguing, convincing, and pleading route, but to no avail. So now, it was time to bring out the big guns: oppression, judgment, slavery, and suffering.
Is this unloving and unfair of God? On the contrary, to allow His children to walk in sin would be unloving and unfair. His discipline is a sign of love. His desire and means to bring healing, restoration of fellowship, and reconciliation are all done out of His great love for His people. It is our choice as to what means God uses. We can be humble and allow the gentle prick of our conscience and prompting of the Holy Spirit to point out areas of wrong in our lives. Or we can choose the harder path and be stubborn in our ways, necessitating a stronger form of discipline that includes pain, heartache, and hardship.
In short, the tighter we hold onto our sin the harder God has to try and break our grip. He does this out of love for us and with our best interest in mind. However, we don’t want to experience the various things God uses to break our love for sin if we can avoid it!
Therefore, let us ask ourselves…are we determined in our pursuit of sin? Are we callous to the Holy Spirit’s voice and stirring in our conscience? Or do we have a humble, teachable heart? Do are deeds prevent us from being in God’s presence and experiencing His blessings? Or are we quick to repent from sin and return to wonderful fellowship with God? Are we holding so tightly to a sin, desire, person, or object that we’ve turned our eyes away from God?
Israel took the hard path, remained stubborn in her sin, and thus experienced exile from the Promised Land and the strong discipline of the Lord. Let us not follow in her footsteps, but learn from Israel’s mistakes. Let us not allow our strong-willed stubbornness keep us from reconciliation with God. And let us not desire the lusts of the flesh over fellowship with the living God.
“God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day.
If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword.”
*from Spiros Zodhiates' Complete Old Testament Word Study