“Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.” And how did He respond in this Judges cycle to the cries of his wayward people? He might have supernaturally repelled the oppressors or even moved his people to a new land and safety. But He doesn’t, he sends prophet with a word for the Israelites. As we see in his words, the prophet does not bring a comforting word. Instead, he brings a fiery reminder of what the Lord has already done for the people.
The prophet reminds Israel of their previous bondage to the oppressor Egypt and how the Lord lifted them from this slavery to free them into a land of their own. Implicit in this reminder is the ever present reminder of their being sustained by this same Holy Hand. In case the Shema had been forgotten, the prophet further reiterates the loyalty requirement of their covenant. The Israelites are to worship Him alone and have no other gods, specifically taking the gods of the land they now inhabit. Through lowered eyes, Israel listened to this prophet but his final words caused them to pause and lift their gaze directly to him. God’s words were foreboding,
“But you have not listened to me.”
This was not the response they wanted or expected. Rather than deliverance, God has sent an indictment for their breach of the covenant. The duality of the human nature expects the scolding while justifying the behavior that has brought about the rebuke. God’s word has shaken this foundation though. In his statement of their refusal to listen to His commands He is stating that they have sacrificed their right to be delivered from their current travails.
Has God finally wearied of His people? Is God’s patience finite with respect to this hard headed people? What of us? Modern idolatry may take different forms but it is no less an affront to our Holy God who demands single minded devotion. Many a Christian may wonder why the response to their prayers is silent when they continue to chase after the alluring things of this world. We would do well to examine our end of the covenant rather than wonder why God does not respond as we expect. If we “have not listened” and have gone our own way, do we have the right to expect that God will automatically respond to our cries? Our relationship with God is never automatic.