“Therefore, I am going to persuade her, lead her to the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
One of the ideas about the Scriptures that has been around a long time is that the God of the Old Testament is not the same as the God of the New Testament. The picture of God presented in the pages of each is so different that it’s not the same person. The primary source for this supposed contrast is the judgmental God the prophets describe versus the God of love and mercy and compassion found in the pages of the Gospels, especially if we are going to accept that Jesus really is God. My take? Try actually reading it. Then you’ll see a bit more clearly.
This verse is a great example of what I’m talking about. In fact, this whole passage is. The first half of this chapter, as we talked about last time, is God speaking from such ferocious anger that He had to use this extreme language in order to give word to His feelings. His words sound pretty angry too. He talks of judgment and punishment and wrath.
But, as I said then, this wasn’t simply some irrational rage that was doing the talking. It was heartbreak. The people had abandoned Him and run after other gods in spite of all He had done to pour out His love for them. This was a wounded lover speaking from out of His great grief.
That being said, the final statement of that section sounds ominous. It seems to undercut my whole argument. Look at this from v. 13: “And I will punish her for the days of the Baals, to which she burned incense. She put on her rings and her jewelry and followed her lovers, but she forgot me. This is the Lord’s declaration.”
Yikes, right? What should we expect after such a statement? Perhaps something about His plans to make her remember Him. Maybe He’ll talk about how He’s going to punish her in such a way that she won’t forget Him ever again. We expect a statement of judgment after this. And indeed, the next word is, “therefore,” meaning what comes next is directly in light of what came before it. Here comes the judgment…except, it doesn’t.
Therefore I am going to persuade her…to get her head on straight with judgment. No, that’s not it. He’s going to persuade her and lead her into the wilderness…that’s right, because the wilderness is where He can get her without anybody seeing. No, that’s not it either. He’s going to persuade her, lead her to the wilderness, and speak…the words that will make her feel as badly as she should for what she had done? Stop it and listen. He’s going to persuade her, lead her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her? Wait, what? Speak tenderly? That is not what we expected.
Welcome to the heart of the God of the Bible; the one who exists equally in both Testaments. What He said to Moses when revealing His glory to him turns out to be true: He really is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in faithful love. He does hold us responsible for our sins for the extent of our lifetime—meaning He lets the natural consequences play themselves out mostly naturally—but His faithfulness to those who are faithful extends infinitely beyond us to those who come after us.
The people were still being blessed because of the faithfulness of David. They were still being blessed because of the faithfulness of Abraham. We are still being blessed because of the faithfulness of men like William Wilberforce and George Whitfield and Jonathan Edwards and the like. The world will bear the blessing of Billy Graham’s faithfulness for many, many more years should our Lord tarry. Because that’s the kind of God we serve. That’s the kind of God who is revealed consistently in the pages of Scripture.
The God of the Old Testament, the God of the Bible, is one who is just and so deals with sin justly. But He is love, and so He always tempers His justice with mercy. When we have thrown His lovingkindness back in His face by running into the arms of every other “god” out there, turning to what we think works instead of to the God who IS, He’s going to be upset. He loves us too much not to be. And there will be consequences for that. Sometimes active consequences from Him. Mostly natural consequences that He allows us to experience, letting the justice happen naturally. That will be part of the taking us to the wilderness.
But that won’t ever be the end of the story. It wasn’t for Israel; it won’t be for us. He will come and speak tenderly to us. He will speak tenderly to woo us back into His arms again. Love never forces itself. It is always patient and kind and endures all things. And He is love. Always. This is a God worth following. He is worth turning to no matter what lies in your past. You haven’t done anything bad enough that He won’t try to persuade you, take you into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to you. Come to Him and receive the life you’re searching to find.