feast: God's Faithfulness and Hope
God Never Gives Up On Us
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Given 17-Oct-03; 66 minutes
Have you ever given up on someone? I mean, just dumped them?
For most of us, it is not something that we are proud of, or that we necessarily cared to admit to if we were asked, but I would bet that most of us have at one time or another given up on somebody. They treated us wrongly, they offended us, they did something to make us just totally turn off, and we wrote them out of the book of life, or our own little book of friends and acquaintances, and those that we consider to be close to us.
It is kind of unfortunate, though, that it is a normal part of life, because if we are realistic, some people are just not trustworthy. You cannot trust them to do anything without messing up. There are thousands of things and ways that people can offend. Finally you just get down to personalities. They clash. You really do not want to have much to do with them. Or, they just do not inspire a great deal of hope that they are ever going to change. And so, you just have to break things off.
I know some people have given up hope of ever getting books, tools, or money back from certain people. And, as Paul said, those things are counted as loss. Oh well.
Well, I have a little story. In it, my wife and I are the bad guys.
About eighteen months ago, as I was getting ready for work, I heard on the radio an advertisement for free purebred Siberian huskies. And I jumped at it. I had read Jack London stories as a boy, and sled dogs to me were pretty high on the list of canine acquaintances I wanted to meet and own. Malamutes, huskies, I liked them, because of the adventure of pulling a sled across the Yukon. They are pretty dogs. They are about one step away from a wolf. They are just beautiful creatures. So, I thought that my kids would like to have a dog, and here is a Siberian Husky free, purebred!
So, I jumped at it. I called up the station. The producer of the show was the one who was breeding these Siberian Huskies and he had a couple left from the litter, and, could not seem to get rid of them. (That should have been the first clue.) They were about six months old. They wanted to get these puppies out, so they offered them to families since they were giving them away—free.
And so, we packed up the van, and went out to see these puppies. There were two of them left. It did not take us long to decide to take six month old Chocolate home. Why they called her Chocolate, I have no idea. We did not want to confuse her by giving her a different name. There was no chocolate coloring on the dog at all. Maybe it was her eyes. That is what Beth thinks it was. She had brown eyes. Maybe that was it.
We stuck with the name Chocolate and brought her home. Thus began the saga.
Money for vet fees, shots, food (lots of food), accessories, you name it, we bought it as long as we had this dog. Maybe five or six hundred dollars worth. And we did not even pay for her. Just think what it would have been had we had to shell out money for the dog.
But, she chewed up everything. What did not get chewed up she scratched up. We had just put a new addition on the house the previous fall, and she scratched that door, and the frame up pretty badly. Anything that had some give to it, she chewed. She liked wood for some reason. A lot of things were ruined in our backyard.
Again, she is one step away from a wolf. For the first week or so, she howled like you would not believe. I do not know what our neighbors thought. We live in the city limits. I do not know if they thought that they were being invaded or what. We do have coyotes there. Chocolate could put up a pretty good howl when she wanted to.
She ripped up grass. (I really wish I could have found a way for her to actually mow it! That would have been nice.) She liked to rip it up, and make trails. She got into the flower beds and made places to sit right in the middle of them. They were nice and cushy. Great for a dog bed.
Of course, she made her requisite messes on the lawn. We knew that going in.
But, the thing that really bugged us was part of her very nature. She ran. She ran and she ran, and she ran some more. Running is bred into them. They are running dogs. They pull sleds. They run, run, run. And now I know why they put lines on them—to make them go where you want them to go. Every chance she got, Chocolate would dig under the fence, or shoot through a hole, or otherwise miraculously escape the backyard. We cannot figure out some of the ways she was actually able to get out.
She would take off just for the joy of running. No particular direction, she would just run and run and run. She loved it.
We tried to tie her up. You do not tie up dogs that like to run. She was miserable tied up.
We tried training her to the (PETA-hated) leash—the one that grips them, and digs into their skin to train them to the leash. She had such thick fur it did not make an impression on her. You are supposed to get it up under the fur, but it did not work. She would calm down for half a second, and then she would be off again.
We thought about invisible fencing. We had already spent all this money on her. We said, no, that would be too much. We contemplated pouring concrete along the line of the fence so she could not dig out. We did not do that.
Another thing was to buy chicken wire, or some sort of wire mesh, and dig down a certain 12 or 18 inches and put the wire mesh down in there, so she could not dig out. We decided not to do that.
Harsh words and discipline made no impression on her at all. Nothing worked on this dog that loved to run.
So finally, we had had enough. We had to give up on a very beautiful, playful dog. She was show quality. As she grew older, we checked her against the purebred book standards that had all the points in them. And she had them all. She was just a beautiful dog. I do not know if there was anything about her, physically, that would have scored against her. She was just a beautiful dog.
But, she had this desire to get out all the time. It was taking a great deal of our time.
So, Beth put an AD in the newspaper. In the first day, several families came, and took her home—and brought her back. Finally, there was a family who had another dog, and several acres of land. We are only on about a third of an acre. We did not have much of a track for her to run on. But, this family had something like five acres.
So, we gave her away with a little bit of sadness because she was a nice dog, otherwise.
And you know that a few months later, we received a phone call from somebody saying, "Hey! We've got your dog." And we said, "We don't have a dog. We used to have a dog." "Well, this is your number isn't it?"
What we found out was that the new owners had never taken our tag off the collar, and she had gotten out again. She got away again from that person, and it was not a couple of hours later that we got another call from someone else saying, "We've got your dog! Want to come and get her?"
Evidently, she had escaped from the people whom we had given her away to. She continued to escape from all subsequent owners and caretakers down the line.
She was a beautiful dog. We wish we could have kept her. But, we think that what the problem was that we got her when she was six months old. Her personality was already ingrained in her, and there was nothing we could do, short of chopping her legs off, to keep her in the yard.
We had given Chocolate six months to change her ways, but she never repented, not once. Her personality was there. It was almost innate within her to run. And so, since there was nothing we could do to make her stop bolting to freedom, we gave up on her.
Are you not glad that I am not God in charge of you? Are you not glad that God does not give up so quickly on us?
He gives us plenty of leash. He lets us have our heads at times. He brings us back to the backyard when we bolt and He suffers long with our stubbornness. But His faithfulness to us has within it a great deal of hope. He is not like me, who is willing to give up after six months. He is willing to stick with us for years and years, through all the times when we do these things that He is trying to work out of us.
In the end it will result in our entrance into His Kingdom. That should give us a great deal of hope.
Please begin with me in Romans 15. I want to use this as a springboard.
The Old Testament scriptures mentioned here was written to teach us certain lessons. Maybe the primary reason of those lessons being there was so that we would not have to go through "the school of hard knocks" ourselves. We have the example of the Israelites, and all the other people whom God decided to focus on, so that we can actually sit in the comfort of our homes, and services, and read these things. We can take out important lessons from them and not have to actually experience them but use the experience of others in order to have the learning, instruction, and admonition.
As it says, here, in this scripture, it produces in us three things especially. Patience, or perseverance, a kind of endurance through thick and thin. He mentions comfort here. It is a feeling of being taken care of, a feeling of not having to go through these things ourselves, and this should lead to hope.
Thus, we should be able to derive from Scripture a sense of God's view of time. Because, if we look at how God worked with people, we would see that He worked with them over many years. That should help us have this idea of patience, and perseverance, and comfort, too, because we can see the end of these individual stories as they occur in the Bible, and know that with God in control, things work out just fine. So, that gives us a great deal of comfort. These things fill us with hope because we know that God does not change. These same results can happen with us.
We are going to go through some of the story of the children of Israel to see if we can derive a sense of this patience, and comfort, and ultimately hope. We are going to be keying in on God's faithfulness to them.
Oftentimes we read the first part of Deuteronomy 7. I would like to read the last part of it. We need to think of this in terms of the Exodus. As a matter of fact, down in verses 18 and 19, He brings this out.
He had just been talking to them about the need to keep the commandments and the covenant.
Deuteronomy 7:12 Then it shall come to pass, because you listen to these judgments, and keep and do them, that the LORD your God will keep with you the covenant and the mercy which He swore to your fathers.
So, He is saying that He is going to be faithful to His end of the bargain.
Deuteronomy 7:13-15 And He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flock, in the land of which He swore to your fathers to give you. You shall be blessed above all peoples; there shall not be a male or female barren among you or among your livestock. And the LORD will take away from you all sickness, and will afflict you with none of the terrible diseases of Egypt which you have known, but will lay them on all those who hate you.
What a wonderful promise of health, and healing, and of keeping us from disease!
Deuteronomy 7:16, 18-19 And you shall destroy all the peoples whom the LORD your God delivers over to you; your eye shall have no pity on them; nor shall you serve their gods, for that will be a snare to you, . . . you shall not be afraid of them, but you shall remember well what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt: the great trials which your eyes saw, the signs and the wonders, the mighty hand and the outstretched arm, by which the LORD your God brought you out. So shall the LORD your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid.
As I said, think of this in terms of the Exodus. We want to put our minds back to the time of them coming out of Egypt. They had just been through ten horrible plagues, and had actually experienced three of them. The first three descended upon Israelites as well as the Egyptians. They saw what God is able to do from a firsthand experience.
They felt it. They had seen it. They had walked through it. They had lived through it.
Beyond that, they had seen Egypt plundered by God opening up the Egyptians' minds to giving Israel their valuables as payment for their years of servitude in Egypt.
And then, on top of all that, they marched out of Egypt, out of the land of Goshen—all of them, and many others who had decided to mix with them—behind a pillar of cloud, and of fire in the night. One would think that if he had just experienced all of these things himself—10 plagues—and seen all these things happen in Egypt, been given millions of dollars, and then marched out without any opposition, that there would be an impression on the mind that God was very willing to help. God had done all these things for the Israelites. They should have had some idea of what God was willing to do for them.
He had just defeated the greatest nation on earth at that time, and He was willing to do it again if He had to. And with the power that He displayed in all the miracles, in all the plagues, everything that He had done, He could do it without even lifting a finger.
All He had to do was speak a word, and all of Egypt was laid waste.
Exodus 14 is the account of the Red Sea crossing one week after they had left Egypt, the land of Goshen, and Rameses in particular. Pharaoh had a change of heart again, and so he got all his chariots together, and they marched out after the Israelites before they had actually left the territory of Egypt.
Exodus 14:10 And when Pharaoh drew near, the children of Israel lifted their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians marched after them. So they were very afraid, and the children of Israel cried out to the LORD.
Listen to what they said:
Exodus 14:11-12 Then they said to Moses, "Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying, 'Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians?' For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness."
One week is all it took them to forget the great power of God to save them. One week! That was it! Here they were crying, "Oh no, we're going to die out here! waaahhhhhhh!"
Here is their first big test out in the wilderness and they just failed miserably. Even Moses, if you would go on and look at the rest of the story—Moses must have expressed something to God because God answers him rather sharply. He said, "Don't just stand there talking with Me about it, do something!" So he says, "Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord." God says, "Why do you cry to Me?"
Exodus 14:15 Tell the children of Israel to go forward.
"Look! I've already shown you that I was going to do these things. I told you I would bring you out! I'll take you out on eagles' wings if I have to. Move!"
And they did.
Exodus 14:30-31 So the LORD saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Thus Israel saw the great work which the LORD had done in Egypt; so the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD and His servant Moses.
God saved them despite their faithlessness, despite their ingratitude, despite their awful attitude, thinking that God would have done all these things just to let them die in the wilderness a week later. He saved them despite their not having the foresight to see that He had already promised to bring them into the land that He was going to give them, which He had sworn to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They just forgot it all, because of the circumstances in which they were in at the time. It was like God had never done anything for them.
But, He saved them anyway despite all those terrible things that they were expressing to Him and to Moses.
And then they believed God, it says; and Moses; and they feared, but for how long?
Exodus 15:22-25 follows the Song of Miriam. They are dancing on the seashore. They see the Egyptians dead. They are making up songs. They are shouting, "Hallelujahs!"
Exodus 15:22 So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea; then they went out into the Wilderness of Shur. And they went three days in the wilderness and found no water.
It is getting worse! They had been a week before. God does this astounding miracle at the Red Sea and that only impresses them for about 3 days.
Exodus 15:23-25 Now when they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter. Therefore the name of it was called Marah. And the people complained against Moses, saying, "What shall we drink?" So he cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a tree. When he cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweet. There He made a statute and an ordinance for them, and there He tested them.
He tested their attitude. He tested their response. And despite their grumbling again, saying, "Oh no! We're going to die!" He gave them what they wanted. And He called this a test. They complained to high heaven. But, He was faithful to that covenant; faithful to His promise that He would bring them through the wilderness and into the Promised Land despite them. He performed another astounding miracle by throwing a tree into the water.
But, it had only taken three days this time for them to totally lose sight of God and all that He had done for them, and all that He had promised that He would do for them.
I have always felt that that phrase, "Wilderness of Sin," was one of the greatest ironies of all time! I wonder if it was called the "Wilderness of Sin" before or after the children of Israel walked through it?
Exodus 16:1-3 . . . which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they departed from the land of Egypt. Then the whole congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. And the children of Israel said to them, "Oh, that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt . . .
This time they are not just dying by the hand of the Egyptians, now they want God to