Even when they had made for themselves a golden calf and said, ‘This is your God who brought you up out of Egypt,’ and had committed great blasphemies, you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud to lead them in the way did not depart from them by day, nor the pillar of fire by night to light for them the way by which they should go.
(Nehemiah 9:18-19 ESV)
We are a shallow people indeed! Read Nehemiah’s narrative of the history of ancient Israel, it is easy to focus on the way Israel stumbled. It is even easy to focus on the great deeds of God. But the way verse 18 begins underscores God’s patience.
Even when they made a golden calf…Even when they tried to sell the gold idol as an actual representation of God…even when they had committed great blasphemies…
God’s restraining patience is perhaps one of the greatest of his works. The pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire are great theater, to be sure. But when you think for a moment that a pillar of fire completely destroyed the prophets of Baal in the contest on Mt. Carmel, you begin to realize that God could easily have caused that same pillar to finish off Israel. A cloud can lead, just as a star can. But if God had not showed his immense patience he could have just as easily caused that same cloud to descend on Israel and confuse them into wandering into disaster.
God chose not to depart from his chosen possession because he had a patient plan for them. He was revealing himself to these people a bit at a time. To them it was still very much a question whether YHWH was in fact the God.
We are a shallow people indeed! So much of the news today focuses on the economy. Will the stock market rise or fall? If you listen to the narrative of the financial news, you’ll begin to believe that “The Market” has a personality. You can even begin to believe that The Market is itself behind the good or bad that is happening to you. Are you out of work? Blame it on The Market. It isn’t the fault of Congress (another presence with a personality) that we’re in this mess. The fault belongs to The Market. Is it any wonder we have trouble giving glory to God? We believe the glory belongs to The Market. And so we pay far more attention to the gyrations of The Market than we ever do to the moves of God’s Spirit. And in that we commit great blasphemy.
God is still exercising that same phenomenal patience. He does not punish us as our sins deserve. He loves each of us, and all of us. And God will spend himself letting us commit great blasphemies rather than destroy us in our foolishness.
God loves you today even though you have cast your own gold idol. He will let you make and lose vast sums of money and vast amounts of yourself in order to bring you to the place where you will kneel before his throne and proclaim him as God. And even when you completely ignore him, he will still be there with a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire, not to destroy you but to guide you.