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3rd December, 2007

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Israelites in the wilderness: forerunners of unbelievers today?

For stubborn refusal to believe in spite of all the evidence, you cannot surpass the example of the Israelites of Moses' day. They stand for all time as the not-to-be-copied model of plain old determination not to use one's brains. I mean, what greater evidence could one possibly ask for of the mind-numbing power of God than what they saw with their own millions of eyes? They witnessed a spectacular series of calamities strike their cruel overlords, the Egyptians, the likes of which have never been seen since. They heard how the plagues fell savagely upon the entire land of Egypt — except the part where they themselves lived. They were painfully aware of the most shocking scourge of them all: the unprecedented, instantaneous death, on the button of midnight, of every Egyptian unfortunate enough to have been his mother's firstborn child. As they marched out of Egypt in the early hours of that morning they passed hundreds of parties of screaming, wailing Egyptians burying their dead.

Here they were; an entire nation of slaves walking to freedom right past the noses of those who had owned them for hundreds of years without a word of resistance from their previous captors. Sure, many curses were no doubt flung in their direction, but not a soul raised a finger in an attempt to halt their escape. Yes, the Israelites could not possibly have failed to understand plainly that their newfound freedom was an act of God. And yet, just days later…

Our fathers in Egypt did not understand Your wonders; they did not remember the multitude of Your mercies, but rebelled by the sea — the Red Sea (Ps. 106:7).

They decided to reject God because they “did not understand” His wonders. Linked as it is with rebellion, we could safely introduce a note of deliberateness to the expression and render it “would not understand” or “refused to understand”. What do you mean, they would not understand? Was the entire nation afflicted with congenital moronism? Of course not. They had their normal share of smart folk, geniuses, and airheads, their Putins, Einsteins, and… well… who am I to finger a dumbo? The usage in this verse of the Hebrew verb, sakhal, is defined in the authoritative Brown, Driver and Briggs lexicon as “give attention to, consider, ponder” (p. 968a.). They had seen all God's wonders, but refused to let the obvious testimony these wonders gave of the might of God sink into their thinking.

We would not be erring from the conceptual intention of this passage to render it “they refused to use their brains” concerning the obvious significance of the wonders they had seen. Their stubborn hearts led them to think illogically, to reason poorly, to ignore the logical conclusions one should draw from the premises provided.

Immediately after this rebellion by the Red Sea they participated directly in an even greater miracle than the plagues of Egypt — they walked through the middle of the sea and watched spellbound from the safety of the far shore as the waters crashed down on the pursuing Egyptian army, crushing it instantly. For a moment they believed (vs. 12) but they weren't going to let their determination to kick against sound logic to last for long:

They soon forgot His works; they did not wait for His counsel… and tried God in the desert (vs. 13-14).

It wasn't long before they forged a bullock of gold and bowed down and worshiped it. You talk about dumb; illogicality of the highest order. The text continues:

They forgot God their Savior, Who had done great things in Egypt, wondrous works in the land of Ham, awesome things by the Red Sea (21-22).

They had not forgotten in the normal sense of the term but in the sense of refusing to let the plain evidence convict them of the need to bow down in humble obedience towards the Creator of all things. Like people of all times and places they decided to believe what they wanted to believe, not what the evidence amply proved.

We are no different today. Not a single scientific fact embarrasses the biblical teaching that God made the entire universe and everything in it. Au contraire, all the evidence reeks of infinitely intelligent mind power behind the wonders in heaven and on earth, of impossible-to-grasp attention to detail. Order and precision are the hallmarks of the material world, but many “do not understand”. They will not use their brains; Occam has definitely been forgotten. They would prefer to believe an eternally existing singularity somehow “exploded” and that out of the chaos and assumed perturbations arose galaxies and stars with endless variations on their respective themes, planets, comets, tektites, coral atolls, sandy beaches, dragonflies, wine, friends, love, and cute little kids. Oh brother, give us a break.

Oh that such illogicality should be

Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: “I am the First and I am the Last; besides Me there is no God.… You are My witnesses. Is there a God besides Me? Indeed there is no other Rock; I know not one." Those who make an image, all of them are useless, and their precious things shall not profit; they are their own witnesses; they neither see nor know, that they may be ashamed. Who would form a god or mold an image that profits him nothing?… The blacksmith with the tongs works one in the coals, fashions it with hammers, and works it with the strength of his arms. Even so, he is hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. The craftsman stretches out his rule, he marks one out with chalk; he fashions it with a plane, he marks it out with the compass, and makes it like the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man, that it may remain in the house. He cuts down cedars for himself, and takes the cypress and the oak; he secures it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a pine, and the rain nourishes it. Then it shall be for a man to burn, for he will take some of it and warm himself; yes, he kindles it and bakes bread; indeed he makes a god and worships it; he makes it a carved image, and falls down to it. He burns half of it in the fire; with this half he eats meat; he roasts a roast, and is satisfied. He even warms himself and says, "Ah! I am warm, I have seen the fire." And the rest of it he makes into a god, his carved image. He falls down before it and worships it, prays to it and says, "Deliver me, for you are my god!" They do not know nor understand; for He has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. And no one considers in his heart, nor is there knowledge nor understanding to say, "I have burned half of it in the fire, yes, I have also baked bread on its coals; I have roasted meat and eaten it; a nd shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?" He feeds on ashes; a deceived heart has turned him aside; and he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, "Is there not a lie [illogical thinking] in my right hand?"

Isaiah 44:6-20


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