Why do we wait so long to seek God’s help in our troubles?
Judges, chapters 6-7; Psalm 52; 1 Corinthians, chapter 14
Judges 6:1-10 (NLT):
The Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight. So the Lord handed them over to the Midianites for seven years. The Midianites were so cruel that the Israelites made hiding places for themselves in the mountains, caves, and strongholds. Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, marauders from Midian, Amalek, and the people of the east would attack Israel, camping in the land and destroying crops as far away as Gaza. They left the Israelites with nothing to eat, taking all the sheep, goats, cattle, and donkeys. These enemy hordes, coming with their livestock and tents, were as thick as locusts; they arrived on droves of camels too numerous to count. And they stayed until the land was stripped bare. So Israel was reduced to starvation by the Midianites. Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help.
When they cried out to the Lord because of Midian, the Lord sent a prophet to the Israelites. He said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of slavery in Egypt. I rescued you from the Egyptians and from all who oppressed you. I drove out your enemies and gave you their land. I told you, ‘I am the Lord your God. You must not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you now live.’ But you have not listened to me.”
As I mentioned in a previous post, the book of Judges describes Israel’s downward spiral away from God. They would go their own way, and God would allow them to experience the consequences. When things got really bad, they would cry out to God. God would raise up a deliverer – a “judge” – to lead the people and set things right. And things would be good – until the next time Israel went its own way.
Today’s passage is probably familiar to many readers: God chose Gideon to deliver Israel. Gideon was an unlikely choice: “My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!” (Judges 6:15). But the story of Gideon reminds us that God does not always choose the strong; he often chooses the weak, so it is clear that God is at work. As the Lord said to Paul, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
What took you so long?
The Midianites and their allies stripped Israel bare – all the crops, and all the animals. So Israel was reduced to starvation by the Midianites. Israel was reduced to hiding out in caves and mountain strongholds when the Midianites came; they could not overcome them. Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help.
I picture God saying, “What took you so long? Why did you wait until the situation seemed completely hopeless to cry out to me?” I know the text doesn’t say that, but I can imagine it – because I often imagine God doing the same with us. Even though we know that God is for us, and has promised to supply what we need, we so often do what the Israelites did: try to work it out on our own, looking for some way that we can “fix” things.
You have not listened to me
I think the answer to that question – “What took you so long?” is found in what God does say. When the people cried out to God, the Lord sent a prophet to the Israelites. Here’s the message that the prophet brought: I brought you up out of slavery in Egypt. I rescued you…I drove out your enemies and gave you their land. I told you, “I am the Lord your God. You must not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you now live. But you have not listened to me.”
There’s the answer: they waited to cry out to God because they knew what God was going to say. They realized, whether they wanted to admit it, that they had created their problem by going their own way. So they waited until their situation became completely unbearable because they didn’t want to hear that this was their own fault.
Notice one other thing: the prophet did not promise God’s help. The message ended with the phrase, “You have not listened to me.” My sense is that God understood that the people needed to come to grips with reality a bit more before he rescued them. We see that in the response of the people when Gideon tore down Baal’s altar. They had not listened to God, and many of them still weren’t listening. But God was preparing his deliverance.
The application ought to be clear: so many times God asks us, “Why did you wait so long?” when we come to him. If we’re honest, the answer would be, “Because I wanted to try to fix it on my own.” And the reason for that is because we don’t want to face our own responsibility. We don’t want to hear, or admit, that we haven’t listened to God, haven’t followed the way he has clearly set out for us.
We need to remember that God’s response, and even God’s correction, is never worse than the circumstances we have created for ourselves. Satan tries to convince us otherwise, but Satan is a liar! The worst consequences are those we experience before we turn to God. Satan doesn’t want us to realize that. He wants us to keep hiding out in the caves and mountain strongholds, trying to do it our way, even though we’re starving, because he knows that when we turn to God, God will rescue us!
But the best way is to walk in God’s way each day! I don’t ever want God to have to say to me, “You have not listened to me.” He’s given us his Word to guide us, his Spirit to lead us and empower us. We can walk in his way – and it is much, much better for us if we do!
Father, thank you for reminding us that problems come when we don’t listen to you, and deliverance comes when we do. Thank you for giving us your Word to lead us, your Spirit to enlighten us, and your Son who has blazed the trail for us. Help us to listen to you and walk in your way each day. Amen.