“And they were to prove Israel by them, to know whether they would hearken unto the commandments of the LORD, which He commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses.” Judges 3:4
I think I can’t help but take a diversion from studying Your thoughts, Oh, Lord, on what You commend in women and Your calling on their lives. Why? Because as we were digging into Jael’s God story, these verses came up about why You were allowing hard times and persecution in the lives of Your children, the children of Israel. Because You still allow hard things into the lives of Your children today and this helps me to understand why.
Now, Judges 3:1 begins, “Now these are the nations which the LORD left, to prove Israel by them, even as many of Israel as had not known all the wars of Canaan; only that the generations of the children of Israel might know, to teach them war, at the least such as before knew nothing thereof…And they were to prove Israel by them, to know whether they would hearken unto the commandments of the LORD, which He commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses.” Here’s the thing. These nations were left when Joshua died. Even when the individual tribes of Israel starting pursuing the nations after Joshua’s death, You, Lord, were already restraining whom they could defeat as well as allowing them to not even try to defeat some of the nations they had been commanded to. And even though the Lord was with Judah, the Lord did not allow Judah and Simeon to drive out the inhabitants of the valley. Benjamin, Joseph, Manasseh, Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, Naphtali, and Dan did not choose to complete God’s command to them. There was this partial obedience, that once begun, led to more and more disobedience. There was this partial obedience, that once begun, led to forgetting more and more of the God who delivered them and met their needs. There was this partial obedience that led them to no longer know You, to forget You, to defy You, and to choose lesser, powerless, present things.
But in Your absolute faithfulness, You still care for Your children in the midst of their unfaithfulness and You, though disappointed, are not surprised. But like a loving father, and even better, as a perfect father, You intervene with correction as we need it, correction designed to bring us back to You, to show us our need. “And an angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, ‘I made you to go up out of Egypt, and I have brought you unto the land which I sware unto your fathers; and I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you. And you shall make no league with the inhabitants of this land; you shall throw down their alters’: but you have not obeyed my voice: why have you done this? Wherefor I also said, ‘I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you.'”
God, in Your faithfulness to Your covenant to Your children, You would raise up judges to deliver them. Why? Why would You do that when they were so unfaithful? Scripture says “it repented the LORD because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them.” (Judges 2:18)
Now I have to stop and think about this idea of You repenting, Lord. What is that? And it takes me to these verses in Isaiah 40:1-2, “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak lovingly to the heart of Jerusalem, yes, cry to her that her warfare is done, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she has taken from the hand of the LORD double for all her sins.” That word where “the LORD repented” and “Comfort, O comfort my people” is the same word, “nacham.” It’s the feelingness of God who loves us. It’s the reason we can cry out to You. It’s the reason we have hope no matter how bad things are or how bad things seem.
Nacham actually tells us that You God feel agony over these things effecting our lives, these situations and circumstances. And it tells us that You interact on our behalf and offer us what we need in the midst of these times of distress, or any time. As You hear our groanings, and see the oppression, You feel for us. It brings pain to You that emits a response. Strong’s Concordance says it emits a sigh, breathe strongly. You identify with us. You put us in situations that hurt but help us to see our need for You and the pain of separation from You. Then You are the One who comforts us because of Your love for us. You see and know how we feel even though You designed for us to go through these ordeals.
Could it be telling us that You would do whatever it takes in our life to re-direct us back to You because You long so much for us to walk with You and to have that intimate relationship? Could it be that You long that much for us to long that much for You? And I wonder, isn’t it worth whatever You place in my life to get me back to that relationship? I wonder, isn’t it worth every trial and tribulation and persecution and temptation to come to the point of knowing how much better and fuller and deeper and wider and higher You are than anything else? And I wonder, isn’t it worth it all, to come back to You and to know and experience the magnitude of Your actual feelings for me?
You know the difficulties I am in. You not only allow them but designed them for my good and benefit and for the drawing of myself to You fully. Yet You identify with my pain. And that even before You walked the earth as man and God. You comfort me before my pain, in the midst of my pain, and after my pain. You are never aloof. You know how I feel. You love me in the midst of it all, even in the midst of my sin and punishment. And like the prodigal’s father, You wait, ready to comfort me and draw me back to Your loving arms where I was created to live all along.
Nacham also means “repent”. How can You repent? It brings healing through restoration. You can punish with a goal toward offering restoration. I may suffer, even by Your hand, but You always offer me a solution. There is emotion involved but this emotion leads to a decision. You deal with our hearts and our minds. I don’t just come to know something; I come to act upon what I know and what I feel. In the middle of the pig pen, You come into my mind and I start to see again or maybe for the first time, who You really are. You understand my suffering, You come, You show me how much You care and You invite me back to You with open arms. You even give me new life and renew my spirit! Because You have feelings for me, I can have feelings for You, understand them and act upon them in love. My choices reflect my feelings for You. And if I understood Your purposes for the hard things in my life, then I would understand how Your choices reflect Your tremendous feelings for me. If it takes putting me through the ringer to return me to You, then that is what You would do because You love me so much.
So, sometimes I need tough stuff in my life so I can remember that I am in a battle because of sin in this world. Sometimes I need tough stuff to remind me to keep my eyes and heart and life in You. The children of Israel weren’t the only ones that You gave a thorn in the flesh to. You gave one to Paul to keep him from “becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations” that had been given him because You loved him too and wanted to keep him in the right place near You and before others. And You love me too. That’s why You place tough things in my life. I’m a slow learner who needs to be reminded and refocussed and corrected. But I’m so glad that You love me that much that You would care about me so intimately to design everything to draw me closer to You.
Israel’s sin and my sin don’t ever change Your mind. Your hope was always there. Your compassion was ever present. Your emotions were great to the point that they were expressed. Your purposes remained. In the midst of the calamity of sin, You correct us and show us things and draw us back to You. Your choice never changed because of our sin. Your love never changed because of our sin. You were still faithful to Your covenant despite our sin. Your nacham never ceases. Your comfort remains. Your feelings never change. Your love never stops being expressed. I can rejoice like Isaiah because there is an end to punishment, to the difficulty, to the trial. And the end is found in You, my God who never changes, my God who is compassionate beyond measure. The end is found in Your comfort, Your restoration, and Your rejoicing over us as we return to You. You feel agony over brokenness; it’s why You came. And You long to heal our brokenness and restore our relationship. Your heart longs for it so much it’s expressed in how You act. What about me? How much do I long for a right relationship, an intimate relationship with You? Do I have a desire to delight in You? Do I sing over You? Does my heart ache for You? God, bring me to the point where my heart continually cries for You, not only in tough times, but to be near You every moment. Bring me to where each moment is a moment of rejoicing as I walk next to Your side. And if it takes a thorn to get me there, do whatever You have to. Because You are worth the war.