But the Israelites said to the Lord, “We have sinned. Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now.” Then they got rid of the foreign gods among them and served the Lord. And He could bear Israel’s misery no longer.
– Judges 10:15-16
After their 40 years in the desert, you’d think that the people of God would improve their record a little–get their act together, make sure everyone’s on board, set up some accountability and reasonable goals. But again and again as we read through their history, they fall away from the way they should be walking: in a covenant of loving obedience to the One who chose to bless them. I’m reading through the history books of the Old Testament these days and groaning every time I come across the phrase, “Again the Israelites did evil…” though of course I know that their history is a foreshadowing of my own.
But then I got to the verse above, where God could bear their misery no longer, and it stopped me mid-groan. This particular time, Israel’s in a real pickle because they’ve become major idol worshipers. They’ve forsaken God —uh-gain— despite some of His most unbelievable miracles in all of humanhistory happening just a few generations before. They’re prostituting themselves before the gods of Aram, Sidon, Moab, and so on. Now they’re oppressed, beaten, wounded, defeated, and they come crawling back pathetically to the God they rejected. They swear their loyalty and promise (again!) to love and serve Him only.
Fool me once, shame on me; fool me twice, shame on you. Right?
Not according to God, apparently.
His inability to bear Israel’s misery led to their restoration and victory, for a time, until they decided they were finished with Him again. But God’s inability to bear the misery of His beloved is a relentless force. Ultimately it took on human form in Jesus, who likewise was moved with agonizing compassion when He looked on crowds of people needing a Shepherd, needing healing, needing truth.
If we get a little nerdy with the Greek, there’s a great mental image here. Jesus’ response of being “moved with compassion”, as Mark likes to write, comes from this awesome Greek word. The root word is “spleen.” Yeah, like the organ. It sounds strange but if you think about it, we talk about feeling things “deeply” or “in our core.” Just as God was unable to bear the Israelites’ misery no longer and moved mightily to rescue them, so too did Jesus feel kicked in the gut with agony at the reality of people’s pain. Ours is a deeply compassionate God, far beyond our own standards or even comprehension.
I tend to think that God’s attitude toward my rebellion is what my own attitude would be toward a bad friend or my misbehaving toddler: eventually I get fed up. Reluctant to forgive. Unmoved.
Not so, my God. And it’s a good thing: His love is so fierce and high and wide and deep that He can bear our misery no longer and continues to rescue.