Israel is under the thumb (or tent peg) of yet another one of the nations around it. This time it is Midian. The people cry out for help and God answers them with the REASON for their distress.
When I look at our reading today I don’t see a military power oppressing Israel. I see a population explosion! Israel has been lax from the beginning with removing all the inhabitants of the land. They decided to go with the ‘live and let live’ strategy. They had Canaanites, Jebusites, Philistines and so many more races living with them even in their walled cities. What’s one more group joining in?
I have NO doubt that there were Midianites living in the cities with Israel too. But now they come in MASS! I would assume that God first drew them into the heart of Israel but once they got there they brought everyone else they knew along with them. “For they would come up with their livestock and their tents; they would come like locusts in number – both they and their camels could not be counted – so that they laid waste the land as they came in” (verse 5).
This overrunning wasn’t just for a festival or a short term visit. Midian came in mass for SEVEN years! They came whenever Israel planted crops or when the fields were lush and green for their animals to graze. The people of Israel didn’t get to enjoy ANY of the fruits of their labor. They starved in an abundance of food for that abundance was taken by another. The Midianites consumed EVERYTHING in sight, including the flocks of Israel.
Israelites were commanded to offer hospitality but this was far and above that. The people were pushed from their own homes by the invading people. “Because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds” (verse 2b). They hid wherever they could and left behind anything that wasn’t essential for survival.
After living like this for seven years they FINALLY called out to God for help. Once again God is asked to intervene on Israel’s behalf. He has answered every one of their pleas. Every time He does they follow Him for a while then turn back into their old ways of idolatry. We were told in the beginning of this book that every time God rescued them they would remain true to Him until the prophet/judge died and then they would go back into sin that was even worse than that they displayed before they were disciplined. Talk about a stubborn ‘child’!
This reminds me of a story my mom told me when I was growing up. I was a stubborn child. Not if’s, and’s or but’s about it. When I was very young my mom swatted me for something. I turned around and hit her back. She smacked me again. I smacked her again. I don’t know how long this went on but I went tit for tat with her, crying in pain the whole time. I did the same with biting. Of course that one I started but she didn’t stop biting me back until I surrendered to the discipline. Israel still hasn’t surrendered, yet.
I LOVE how God answers them this time! Instead of just delivering them from yet another oppressor He answers the ‘why’ question for them with unequivocal terms. “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel; I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of slavery. And I delivered you for the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. And I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice” (verses 9-10).
After ALL God did for them they still won’t listen to His voice or follow His commandments! They had no excuse either. He wrote out His instructions in great detail for His people to follow. He also put in CAPITAL LETTERS His command about NOT serving other gods.
But this wasn’t the end of His answer. Even though Israel had time and time again returned to their sin once the heat was off, God still loved them. He still had a plan to get them out of the situation they were in. He still was going to answer their plea for help. Why? Not because they deserved another chance but because He loved them.
As stubborn and hardheaded as I am, God still forgives me too. NOT because I deserve it but because He loves me. I am SO GRATEFUL for that love! He loves EACH of us that much!
I want to share one final point before I go. It was actually shared with me in my spirit as I was writing/saying my closing prayer but I thought the point was important enough that I needed to share it with you. Israel let Midian get between them and their blessings from God. They let them in with their behavior; their rebellion. The let sin push them away from the land God had given them. It crowded out their relationship with Him both spiritually and physically. What have we let crowd us out? What has gotten in the way of our relationship with Him? DON’T let it stay!
Father God, what cares of the world have I let crowd out Your blessings? What have I let overrun our space together? Whatever it is, PLEASE help me root it out! I want NOTHING coming between us. I want NOTHING trampling what we plant together. Thank You for loving me enough to put up with my stubbornness and hardheadedness. I DO NOT deserve Your love if I were judged by my own actions. But I CRAVE it at all times! Help me appreciate it even more and show that appreciation by keeping my focus on You and NOT on any ‘idols’, whatever form they may take in my life.