> 11 Different words from God about suffering (on this page 2° part)
God did not hide from the wilderness Israelites > Is God hiding His face when He is seemingly silent?
> Hidden, we're not forgotten by God
Words of encouragement for those who are depressed
Faith is to believe what we do not see
Faithful and just to forgive us our sins
10. Clear words from God about suffering - creation to the kings
There were always clear words and messages from God to His people in the OT – which tree to eat of, when to build an ark, manna from heaven, sandals never wearing out, when to move on, when to stay, how to spy, when to make war, and when to leave it to God and even a brazen serpent to look upon if they were harmed, a wonderful sign of compassion, even today.
God did not hide from the wilderness Israelites, for in the startling familiarity they had every proof that He was with them in the shining face of Moses and the tables of stone. There were rules in abundance on how to worship, but even that did not make obedient children. God’s life instruction and every provision of over reaching care, made little difference to the Israelites. They responded with ill temper, sin, evil, unfaithfulness and rebellion and they turned their eyes to other gods, and they listened unhearing to the His songs He sung them about the hiding of His face from them, if they continued in their sin. They said to God, ”All that you have said we will do”, but they did not
Why did their faith falter and their hope desert them? Why did their evil ways bring them so much pleasure in the vast desert in the 40 years journey, and later in their life in the chosen land? They did not thirst in the waterless land. They were fed and sheltered. God made every provision for their health and safety and their worship of Him. But that was not enough, and they asked for a king saying, “We want to be like the other nations round about”. Seeking to emulate the glory of the other nations in their admiration, they turned away their attention from the desires of God.
Was it that God was too close and that He tended them too closely? That cannot possibly be so. Or was it that there were not enough willing hearts to respond to God, making good relationships with Him? So, when God gave them choice of will their hearts took them towards evil.
God, even in His disappointment with His people, granted them a king, when they asked Him. He promised, “My eyes and my heart will always be there,” 1 Kings 9:3, in the glory of Solomon’s Temple. Yet in one generation, with all the gifts that anyone would ever want from God, and even with the notable gift of wisdom from God, Solomon took Israel from a kingdom dependent on God for every convenience, to a great political and powerful force. But on the way Solomon forsook God and encouraged his subjects to admire him and his visage, and turned that kingdom into something closely resembling the Egypt from which they had fought so hard to escape.
We often feel God’s unfairness, and His silence, and His hiddenness and so we too have major reasons for disappointment with Him. However, if God leaves room for doubts and doubters, and we know He does, He also leaves room for the faithless, and in my disappointment, even for me. If there is room for me in my rebellion and disappointment, what is the difference?
The relationship with God must be the difference. There is no Divine abdication in His gift to us of freewill, but it does allow God to be disappointed with us. If there is no respite from us, and our rebellion, with us disappointing God, He will finally reject us as well, as He did His people. But if we reach out to touch Him as He reaches out to us, we will find a safe harbour.
Old people often know about the safe harbour, for they enter their final draft when they are frail and tired like a ship lowering the sails. They come into a secure place from the raging sea, and with a putting down of the anchor they find help and comfort readily available. It seems without the hustle and bustle of responsibilities in the daily life it is easier to be there with God. So it is for anyone who comes into that safety and lowers his own sail, leaving his/her difficulties with God.
So do overwhelming gifts and great blessings from God ensure there will be no suffering? No. Without a secure relationship with God, riches will be as useless as the riches of the evil man. They were useless for Solomon, and he fell into great evil. And many kings emulated him.
11. Different words from God about suffering – kings to the prophets
It is often a tragic dilemma, not getting what one wants, or getting what one wants. Solomon asked for wisdom and was commended of God for his choice, and received riches as well. The more he thought about all the gifts he had been given, a large harem of wives and concubines, a large palace, a well trained, best equipped, well stocked army, a strong thriving economy, with excessive wealth and large symbols of power and status, the more he thought about himself as self made, and he moved away from God. The brief vision of a covenant and the promises that went with the implementation of his gifts from God turned into an untended light in an unsafe place and destruction loomed, and God withdrew His sanction. The ruin of that king and the end of that kingdom was greater than the rise of that son of David, and the promises God made to him. And so in the lives of the ensuing kings, and then in their captivity, God turned from kings to prophets. But the prophets too, speaking and enacting the messages that God had given them, failed to rein in the evil that God’s people determined to do. God seemed to draw further and further away from his people, as they made so little effort to fulfill His desires for them.
There are seventeen books of the prophets, from Isaiah to Malachi. Each time, when the people’s cry was delivered to God by the prophets, the prophets would bring back the answer. Their continuing cry to God was a cry of disappointment that He is seemingly is hidden, turning His face away, and uncaring of their troubles. The answer from God that repentance would restore them with God, came back through the prophets. They never heard His searing reply.
God was not silent, for surely it was true that He spoke through his prophets. It was no more drama of the supernatural kind, no more fire not burning in bushes, no more floods of water gushing from rocks, no more heavenly manna, and 40 year lasting sandals with a light in the sky to follow. It was more than that now. The miracles had not moved His people to obey Him, nor the prophets, so God’s permanent record first preserved in fragments, and eventually brought together in one book, the Bible, became His encouragement. This permanent record eventually reached us. That record was preserved for us all and became His lasting record. It is worth saying that even when He sent His son, they did not recognize him. Peter brought the message that He condemned the “willingly ignorant”, 2 Peter 2, who decried Him in word and deed. “I have withdrawn my presence, my slowness to act is a sign of mercy to you, not slackness, though my judgments appear stern, I am suffering with you, repent at anytime, despite it all I will forgive you”.
God was condemned by those within and outside the covenant for being slack with Israel and their wickedness, despite His well known standard for them. Jeremiah 14:9, “why should you be as a man, astonied who cannot save us”. Simeon and Levi were condemned by Jacob on the occasion of the ruthless behaviour at Shechem, and later at Jacob’s death bed blessing. “You have troubled me to make me to stink among the nations”. It was not Jacob’s name so much which came into disrepute. It was God’s name, for He was known as the Saviour of the Jacob family. So God wished it known that it was not slackness, but mercy shown to His people over those long periods of slack time. 2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slack, as some men count slackness, but is longsuffering to us ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance”. He was not silent to their sufferings, but His covenant included obedience.
In the face of such wickedness their God was viewed as merciful by the nations round about. But in the continuing display of evil practices, the perception of the onlookers changed. God’s mercy with the seeming lack of punishment of the Israelites, made Him appear too longsuffering, like a God of Ridicule, so “God gave them over to their sins. I do not this for your sake but for mine. I will sanctify my name”, Ezekiel 36:22. It began in Eden, with a highlight at Shechem, and ended with Paul’s message to the Gentiles. Here at last were some “who were dead to trespasses and sins and were now quickened to receive the gospel”. This mystery was revealed in Ephesians 2:1 and now God used His son as a focus for penitence and restitution.