Then Paul stood up and motioning with his hand said, “Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen: The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an uplifted arm He brought them out of it. Now for a time of about forty years, He put up with their ways in the wilderness. (Acts 13:16-18)
The Longsuffering Patience Of God
Israel would become the poster child to demonstrate the longsuffering and patience of a loving and compassionate God. Of the many reasons holy writ preserves the record of the Israelite nation, it would be foremost to show the eternal forgiving spirit of God towards the fickle hearts of men. Abraham had been promised through his seed a great nation that would receive a wonderful land. Through Isaac and Jacob, the promise came true with the sons of Jacob dwelling in Egypt. After many years the Hebrews were enslaved by the Egyptians and they cried out to God for deliverance. By the mighty hand of the Lord God, the people of Abraham were delivered from bondage being led through the Red Sea on dry land and receiving the covenant of God’s love at Sinai. Everything was in place for them to march to the land of promise and receive the blessings given through Abraham but that was not to be. It was not long after the Hebrews came out of Egypt the early signs of rebellion began to show itself among the people. Their faith was not secure in the deliverance of God. They complained about not having water to drink and then thought they would die of hunger in the wilderness of Sin. The Lord provided water and manna to nourish the people but this would not satisfy them. Arriving at Mt. Sinai where they would receive the Law and create a nation of Israel, the people fell into the idolatrous worship of the Egyptians molding a golden calf. Many died as a result of their evil hearts. Leaving Sinai it was not long before they were complaining again bringing the wrath of God upon them with fire. After more complaining, the Lord sent the people quail to feed their hungry stomachs. The anger of the Lord was aroused against them again and He struck them with a great plague that killed many of the people.
Dissension and disharmony did not only come from the people but also for Aaron and Miriam. The brother and sister of Moses felt slighted in their leadership roles and the anger of the Lord was aroused against them. Miriam became a leprous, as white as snow. After seven days she was restored whole again. The people came to Kadesh-Barnea with preparations to enter the land of Canaan sending twelve spies into the land to see how to conquer the people. When the spies returned ten of them declared the task impossible with only Joshua and Caleb saying that with God’s help the land could be conquered. Israel refused to enter the promised land and was sentenced to wander around the wilderness forty years for their rebellion. During the four decades of wanderings, the people rebelled, complained, murmured, dissented, and made the life of Moses a grievous task and often kindled the anger of God. Finally arriving at the Jordan River and the land promised to Abraham, the children of Israel would cross over and take the land. Their troubles would never end. Instead of doing what the Lord commanded them to remove all the inhabitants of the land they only did a partial job and settled into life with judge’s ruling over them for many years before entering the three forty year rules of Saul, David, and Solomon. Israel would divide in a civil war with the ten northern tribes having no righteous king and few to be found in the southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin. In time, the northern tribes disappeared from history and only the two southern tribes retaining the seed promise of God to Abraham. After a seventy-year period of captivity, Israel returned to be under bondage to three empires when Christ came to bring the eternal message of hope for all men.
The apostle Paul is very frank in his discussion of the history of Israel. He does not hide the truth that God chose the people of Israel as His exalted nation and how he with an uplifted hand delivered them. Paul takes special note that during the forty years in the wilderness that God put up with their ways. That is putting it mildly, to say the least. How often it would have been easy to dismiss the people and raise up another nation from the stones the people walked on. The Lord God put up with the ways of the rebellious people because He loved them and promised great things through them. Israel is an example of how the character of a man is constantly striving to find grace in the eyes of the Lord and yet time and again the nature of man is to rebel against God. Sin is a tragic part of life and struggle as hard as a man can try there will be times of failure and ruin. Throughout a lifetime of service to Christ, the times and seasons of spiritual drought can drain the spirit of a man if it were not for the longsuffering of God to put up with the ways of man. David summed up the plight of man when he recognized how merciful and gracious, and slow to anger God is towards man when the Lord does not deal with him according to his sins, nor repay man according to his iniquities. Thank God the Lord puts up with the ways of man in the wilderness of life.