God so wanted His children Israel to love and follow only Him. Unfortunately, it wasn’t an easy sell. Spending 400 years in the midst of a pagan culture that worshiped many gods tainted them. It wasn’t like what we’re told today in Hebrews 11:1 concerning our belief in Jesus Christ and all He has for us:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
First, Yahweh had to get their attention, which He did as noted in Deuteronomy 29:2-3:
And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: “You have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders.”
God did amazing things before the very eyes of His people so that they would see how different He was from the gods they’d known for centuries in Egypt. Interestingly, even as Yahweh showed Israel all these signs and wonders, He withheld something vital , which Deuteronomy 29:4 tells us:
“But to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.”
In Old Testament times and even to the present, has God ever given Israel such a heart? We know that in the final days of the Tribulation when all Israel is saved that their hearts will finally turn to Him (Zechariah 13:8-9), but prior? Perhaps this is true only for the few who call on Jesus today and know Him as Messiah.
Moses made God’s desire plainly known in Deuteronomy 29:12-13, as he had conveyed many other times to His people:
“…so that you may enter into the sworn covenant of the Lord your God, which the Lord your God is making with you today, that he may establish you today as his people, and that he may be your God, as he promised you, and as he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”
God wanted His children to settle in the Promised Land; to be fruitful and multiply in the many blessings He had planned for them. Yet, knowing their sinful hearts, God warned them time and again of the pitfalls of looking elsewhere besides to Him. Deuteronomy 29:18 spells it out:
“Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the Lord our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit.”
The danger always was, and continues to this day, for anyone – Jew or Gentile, one of the Chosen People or a true Christian – that pagan gods form a snare. The gods of the other nations were real. We’ve discussed this extensively that they are the fallen, rebellious sons of God (bene Elohim) who set themselves up in the place of Yahweh. Just like the serpent’s whispered exhortation to Adam and Eve that they believed, so it likely was with these many spiritual beings: “You shall be as gods” (Genesis 3:5). Mankind believed the lie; God’s spiritual sons believed it as well.
Whether for human or divine, that deceit was and is a root that bears poisonous and bitter fruit. As Christians, we know someone by their fruit, even as Jesus warned in Matthew 7:17-20:
“So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”
Anyone who follows false gods, or sets himself up as one, is rotten at the root. The fruit such a person bears is worthless. The worship of false gods leads to the fire, i.e. eternal damnation.
Because the people foolishly chose the gods of their neighbors rather than Yahweh, Israel suffered the consequences, of which she was warned as shown in Deuteronomy 29:23:
“… the whole land burned out with brimstone and salt, nothing sown and nothing growing, where no plant can sprout, an overthrow like that of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, which the Lord overthrew in his anger and wrath—”
God effectively threw the land of Israel itself into the fire because of the poison and bitterness of the root that had grown in the people’s hearts. (Note: for a vivid description of this, read Mark Twain’s book The Innocents Abroad.) It was a tough lesson.
However, because God chose Israel as His special inheritance (Deuteronomy 32:9), to love her and to be a blessing to the world (Genesis 12:3); despite knowing that His children would betray Him, God declared that He would bring them back into the land after scattering them and bless it as He originally intended.
Israel today remains largely secular. The people haven’t yet turned their hearts to the God of their fathers. But, they will. God has a plan and a purpose; He also has His timing.
That day is approaching. How glorious it will be for those Jews who turn to Jesus as Savior and Lord, and how wonderful for all the world!