The parting of the Red Sea.
The destruction of Egypt’s army.
Manna from the sky.
Water from a rock.
The nation of Israel saw some incredible things during the first three months of their Exodus. One would think being witness to such clear and personal miracles would make them a thankful and faithful people. But, alas, it did not.
Israel Failed God
Gathered at the base of Mount Sinai, the Israelites listened as Moses related to them God’s covenant: “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5–6).
“All that the LORD has spoken we will do,” they responded (v. 8).
But Israel’s promise of fidelity was short-lived. Their patience wore thin as they waited for Moses to return from talking with God on the mountain. “Come,” they said to Aaron, “make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him” (32:1).
So Aaron did just that. He collected gold from the people and created an image of a calf, which the people worshiped. So much for their promise! Indeed, this incident is really a microcosm of the rest of Israel’s history, which was a cycle of promised faithfulness, followed by infidelity, the chastening of God, repentance, and renewed promises to be faithful again.
We Fail Him Too
It’s easy to read about Israel’s unfaithfulness with a measure of disbelief. How could a people, blessed as they were, turn so quickly and so often from the one, true God?
In Israel’s story of repeated unfaithfulness, we can see the whole human race.
But if we are honest, we must admit that, in Israel’s story of repeated unfaithfulness, we can see the whole human race. Promises of marital fidelity often end in divorce. Money-back guarantees are weakened by loopholes in the fine print. And politicians’ promises are assumed to be merely bait for the voting masses.
Sadly, Christians are not exempt from acts of unfaithfulness. How often do we make proclamations of the importance of God’s Word, yet decide to sleep in instead of spending time reading our Bibles? We rejoice in God’s promise to make a way of escape from temptation, yet we give into the lusts of the flesh.
The gravity of our unfaithfulness must never be minimized. Sin against the sovereign God of creation—the God who took on flesh and died for our sins—is a grievous thing. Israel learned this time and time again.
One of the curses God promised would befall the Israelites if they were not obedient to the covenant was the nation’s captivity by a Gentile nation. In the wake of one such captivity, the prophet Jeremiah wrote an entire book of the Bible in which he sorrowed over his people’s unfaithfulness to the Lord and their resulting captivity. “For the Lᴏʀᴅ has afflicted her because of the multitude of her transgressions,” he wrote. “Her children have gone into captivity before the enemy” (Lamentations 1:5).
In other words, sin has consequences.
But God Is Faithful
But if we stop there, we miss out on a vital truth. Later in the book of Lamentations, Jeremiah reminds himself and his people of the character of the God who chose them—“Through the LORD’S mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (3:22–23).
Our unfaithfulness ought to cause us to thank God that He is not like us.
As believers, we are right to mourn our sin. At the same time, our unfaithfulness ought to cause us to thank God that He is not like us. Paul reminded Timothy of this very truth when he wrote, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).
Believers in the Church Age can learn a great deal from looking at how God has dealt with the nation of Israel. In spite of their rebellion and waywardness, He has never given up on them and never will. In fact, God gave Israel a beautiful illustration of the firmness of His faithfulness in Jeremiah 31:35–37:
Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for a light by day, the ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, who disturbs the sea, and its waves roar (the LORD of hosts is His name): “If those ordinances depart from before Me, says the LORD, then the seed of Israel shall also cease from being a nation before Me forever.” Thus says the LORD: “If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, says the LORD.”
When we look at God’s faithfulness toward Israel—of His compassion, mercy, and even chastening of His rebellious nation—we should be comforted. With the hymn writer we can sing boldly and with thanksgiving: “Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father. There is no shadow of turning with Thee. Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not; as Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.”