God’s Loving Discipline of Israel

This post is part of the Series "A Biblical Perspective of God's Judgment and Discipline"

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We are usually uncomfortable with God’s judgments because we lack a revelation of the greatness of God and His name. When we esteem a person, we are naturally enraged when their name is maligned. The greater revelation we have of the greatness of God, the greater agreement we will have regarding God and His judgments.

Some are uncomfortable with God’s judgments because they have experienced ungodly discipline by flawed fathers. But God is not like that. He is patient. He does not act out of vindictive rage. He is a good Father who acts for our good. His discipline is an expression of our sonship and His love for us.[1]

Israel’s time in the wilderness reveals God’s tender concern in His judgments. The people rebelled repeatedly against Him, complained constantly, and even worshipped a golden calf. Because of their rebellion, an entire generation was not allowed to enter the Promised Land.[2]

The time Israel spent in the wilderness seems like a tragic story because of the people’s sin and God’s judgments. However, when God referred to Israel’s wandering in the wilderness, He referred to it as a time of love rather than as a time of rebellion. He described it the way a man would describe the love of the woman he was going to marry:[3]

“Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the Lord, ‘I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.’” (Jeremiah 2:2)

God’s language in Jeremiah 2 is surprising, especially when we compare it to the stories about Israel’s time in the wilderness. It gives us tremendous insight into God’s emotions, His mercy, His patience, and His purposes for His judgments. His love for Israel caused Him to view Israel’s rebellious beginnings with deep affection.

God’s assessment of Israel’s time in the wilderness reminds us what happens when we ask parents about their children’s early years. The parents of older children will typically describe those early years with tenderness and affection. They will mention the cute and endearing things their children did. They will pull out pictures and boast about their children’s milestones.

In reality, those were years when the parents were exhausted, tired, frustrated, and frequently had to discipline and restrain their children. However, the memories that are highlighted by the parents reveal what they truly think about their children. Even if hard work and discipline are necessary, parents have positive memories of their children’s early years because their kids are theirkids. Parents discipline and struggle with their children because they care for their children, not because they are disgusted with them.

God often evaluates things differently than we do because He knows the outcome, just as a parent evaluates childish rebellion and immaturity in light of the child’s future maturity. God cannot overlook sin, and so His discipline is serious and real. At the same time, He is not a vindictive tyrant waiting to punish and cut off His people. He is a loving Father laboring to bring a people to maturity.

God does not shy away from His judgments, but He also makes it clear that His end is mercy. The same mercy that has saved every believer is going to one day save Israel.

[1]           See Hebrews 12:6–8.

[2]           See Leviticus 10:2; Numbers 16:30–-35; 21:6; Deuteronomy 1:35.

[3]           See also Hosea 2:15.

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