GOD’S GREAT MERCY
Then the Lord said to Moses: “How long will these people reject Me? And how long will they not believe Me, with all the signs which I have performed among them? I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.”
And Moses said to the Lord: “Then the Egyptians will hear it, for by Your might You brought these people up from among them, and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, Lord, are among these people; that You, Lord, are seen face to face and Your cloud stands above them, and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if You kill these people as one man, then the nations which have heard of Your fame will speak, saying, ‘Because the Lord was not able to bring this people to the land which He swore to give them, therefore He killed them in the wilderness.’ And now, I pray, let the power of my Lord be great, just as You have spoken, saying, ‘The Lord is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He by no means clears the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation.’ Pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray, according to the greatness of Your mercy, just as You have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.” (NKJV)
This is the second time that God has told Moses that he wanted to destroy the nation of Israel. The other account can be found in Exodus 32:30. As you proceed in the next two chapters, we find that God twice more wants Moses to step aside and let Him destroy Israel. In all situations, Moses intercedes for the children of Israel and pleads with God to forgive them their sins. In every case, Moses refused to allow Israel to be destroyed that he might be exalted.
I find in these examples two very important lessons. The first lesson is that God’s mind and direction in matters can be changed by proper and sincere intercession by saints. The other is that God’s patience with sinners, especially those who are His children, will only extend so long. These are two very important aspects that we need to consider.
God the Father is all knowing, and none will deny this. Yet, to what extent is God’s all knowing knowledge? Does God know my thoughts before I think? Does God know my actions before I act? Does God know my words before I speak? Some will declare – Yes! If this is the case, then why was God not able to know the four situations that arise to cause Him to want to destroy Israel?
God is all powerful and all knowing, I do not deny this fact. I do, however, believe that God is, at times, limited in His knowledge by the same restrain that we are limited – time. God possesses the power to make His will come to pass. God has the power to arrange history in such a way as to accomplish His greater goals. Examples abound in the scriptures regarding such matters. For example, God prophesied to Abraham that after 400 years He would deliver Abraham’s descendants out of bondage in Egypt. God set in motion the scheme of our redemption by the first prophecy to our first parents. God laid out history before Daniel of world events hundreds of hears prior to their occurrence. We cannot deny these events, nor would we attempt such a thing. God possesses the power to make His will come to past. What God finally determines to do, none can alter that direction.
When God created mankind, He did not know all that would or could occur as a result of His creation. God granted to humankind an attribute that was not possessed by any other created being. This attribute was the power of choice. With this attribute, humankind also would possess the power of redemption. Where choice exists, there must also be the opportunity for correction.
We cannot and will not attempt to look into the mind of God and determine His motives for creating humankind. Perhaps, one day, in eternity, we shall learn this noble motive. What we do know is that when God created man, He made him in His likeness. There is an element of humankind that is after the very image of God. That, I feel, is the spiritual nature of humankind. With this likeness of God, we find that humankind, like God, possessed the power of choice. With that power, or attribute, comes the power of change. Understanding this attribute will help us understand God’s willingness to change His mind when Moses interceded on behalf of Israel.
Man sinned. God’s mercy was shown towards humankind by being driven out of the garden before man could eat of the tree of life. God’s desire was not for His creation to be eternally locked in their sin. He wanted us to have the opportunity to change our ways and alter the direction of our relationship with Him. So, in this little example, we see the great mercy of God towards His creation.
Like parents who have children, God began to learn, by experience and time, the full extent of man’s great attribute of choice. I am asserting that God was learning as humankind began to grow and multiply upon the earth. As the ages of humankind developed, God saw that every imagination of humankind was fulfilled. The human race became so corrupt that God saw no other alternative than to destroy the entire population. The only thing that spared the human race was eight righteous souls.
Even with this example, we still find the mercy and grace of God. God gave the human race 120 years, while Noah was building the ark, to repent and change their ways. Humankind did not change, and in the end, only eight souls were rescued from destruction. From these eight, God would begin, again, to allow humankind to grow and develop a relationship with Him.
We know the history. Within just a few hundred years humankind rebelled against God’s authority. Instead of spreading out and populating the earth, they were drawn together and began to build a tower towards heaven. In this rebellion, God’s answer was to confound the languages of the people and to spread them out over the world.
It was not long after this that humankind again rebelled against God. Idol worship began in the Ur of the Chaldees. This was the home of Abram. In this man, God would now focus His mercy and grace. God revealed Himself to Abram over a long expanse of time to accomplish His will in this man. First, God had to teach Abram that He would be a faithful God to His promises. This was a lesson that was difficult for Abram to learn. It took twenty-five years of experience before Abram, now Abraham to fully depend upon the promises of God. Again, we see the patience and longsuffering of God.
At this junction in time, God allowed humankind to go its own way. He was now defining His greater goals for the human race. Through this man Abraham, and the promised son by Sarah, God would, over time, bring about man’s full redemption. We know this to be God’s son offered in sacrifice for our sins.
Now to the nation of Israel: God manifested Himself with mighty deeds before the children of Israel. With a mighty hand God delivered them out of their bondage in Egypt. This fulfilled His promise to Abraham over 400 years prior. God not only brought them out of Egypt, He fully defeated the Egyptian army before the eyes of all Israel. God had not manifested Himself like this at any time in the past. What He did for Israel was wonderful and marvelous. It was signs and miracles beyond human ability to imitate or duplicate. It showed God’s great power. Yet, God was still learning the full nature of His creation.
After their deliverance from Egypt, the children of Israel were constantly prodding God with their unbelief. It was not that they did not witness the miracles that God did, because they could not deny them. They refused to bow down and completely submit to God’s authority. They were wholly carnal.
Because of their rebellion against the authority of God at Mount Sinai, God wanted Moses to step aside and allow Him to destroy that rebellious nation. Moses interceded and the people were spared. Moses then became very hard on the people and attempted to bring them back into submission. The only tribe that stood with Moses was Levi. Perhaps this was the reason God chose this tribe to become the priests over the nation of Israel.
These events show that God’s mind can be changed. It was changed because of the love of one man for his fellow human beings. Moses would not allow an opportunity to become great to frustrate the overall plan for God’s people. Moses reminded God of the situation and that if He destroyed the nation of Israel, that His reputation would be greatly hindered in the eyes of the world. God repented and stayed His hand. God also, through Moses, was able to make an impression on the nation by destroying those primarily responsible for the rebellion.
It is now about three years later. The spies have returned and stirred up the people with the notion that God has brought them this far just so that He could destroy them in the land He had promised to them. Only two stood with God – Joshua and Caleb. The children of Israel wanted to stone Moses, then God stepped in with the text we are considering. Consider what God says.:
“How long will these people reject me? And how long will they not believe Me, with all the signs which I have performed among them?”
I see in this statement a very distraught Father (God). Much like a Father who has attempted to please a son and the son has failed to respond favorably. This is a frustration that lacks words to express. Here we see God’s frustration. He so wanted these people, of all the people of the earth, to love and respect Him. Regardless of what He did for them, regardless of how often He showed His power, they still rejected Him as their God.
Before we go any further, please meditate upon this text. God is a very loving and patient Father. He has aided us throughout our lives by His mercy and grace. To His children He has extended kindness and blessings beyond our own ability to number. All He wants from us is our love and faithfulness. We understand this, especially those of us who are parents. All we really want from our children is their love and faithfulness. When we do not receive that love or faithfulness, how do we feel? This is how God feels. Also, consider the consequences of a lack of love and faithfulness. We can reach a point, like Israel was in this text, where God turns away from us and refuses to grant to us His mercy and grace. As Paul says, “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God.” Before we reject God too many times, consider these examples.
Again, Moses intercedes for the children of Israel as he did on Mount Sinai. God then spares the children of Israel, however not without consequences. God would destroy that generation who rebelled, but it would not be all at once like He originally intended. It would take another 37 years. For a total of 40 years, being the number of days the spies were in the land of Canaan, so the number of years for wondering in the wilderness. God promised that none who came out of the land of Egypt over the age of twenty years old, and who had been numbered, would see the promised land. The only exception would be Joshua and Caleb.
To make an impression on the people, God then destroyed those spies who caused the rebellion. Other evils befell those who rebelled as a sign of God’s wrath.
Still, this was not enough to cease the rebellion. Soon the family of Korah rebelled against the authority of Moses. Again God wanted Moses to step aside and allow Him to destroy that rebellious nation. Again Moses stepped between God’s wrath and the people he loved. He was able to convince God to spare the nation, but not the families of Korah. Moses warned the rest of the tribes to move away from the tents of those who were rebelling else they would face the same fate as Korah and those who followed him.
Even with all that Korah had witnessed about God’s power and authority, we see Korah and those who followed him standing by their tents in full rebellion. They would not repent or relent from their position. God opened up the earth and it swallowed all those who rebelled. Those who had stood before the tabernacle with their censers were consumed by fire.
Four times Moses stood between God and the nation of Israel. Each time God stayed His intended purpose. Each time God’s mercy was shortened. Each time the punishment came swifter, yet not to all, but to those who directly caused the rebellion. We should learn from these incidents.
Even, today, we can alter God’s intentions for us. When we sin, we can pray that He will forgive us of our sins. If we truly repent, our sins will be forgiven. By the power of prayer, we can affect the outcome of so many things that occur in our lives. We should never slack in our prayers. We need to consider how God feels when we sin. We can do this by reflecting on our own experiences. More importantly, we should be aware that if we fail to repent, and fail to humble ourselves before God, we can reach that point where God’s mercy no longer will be extended. We will have reached the point where God turns us over to a reprobate mind. This would a fearful thing.
Finally, consider these points and the lessons that we can learn from them. Let us humble ourselves before God and permit Him to shower us with blessing beyond our abilities to comprehend. Draw near to Him and He will draw near to us. God has already extended His arm of mercy and grace, now it is up to us to reach out and touch His hand and be drawn to the safety of His protection.
The issue of God being all powerful and all knowing seems to have been questioned in a certian way. The administrators of this website would have preferred the two questionable paragraphs to have read:
God is all powerful and all knowing; I do not deny this fact. I do, however, believe that God is, at times, limited in His knowledge only because He chooses not to search the immediate future. He could if He wanted to but he set the Universe in motion, gave us free will and sometimes we ask him to modify his decisions. God possesses the power to make His will come to pass, we know that. God has the power to arrange history in such a way as to accomplish His greater goals. Examples abound in the scriptures regarding such matters. For example, God set in motion the scheme of our redemption by the first prophecy to our first parents; God prophesied to Abraham that after 400 years He would deliver Abraham’s descendants out of bondage in Egypt; God laid out the sequence of world events in front of Daniel hundreds of years prior to their occurrence. We are overwhelmed by the power of God, both in His prophecy and Creation.