How Bad Can It Get?
(56) Yet they tested and rebelled against God Most High and did not keep his testimonies, (57) but turned away and acted treacherously like their fathers. They twisted like a faulty bow, (58) for they provoked him to anger with their high places and aroused his jealousy with idols. (59) When God heard (this), he became furious and totally rejected Israel. (60) He abandoned the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent where he established his dwelling place among men (61) and gave his strength over to captivity and his glory into the hand of the enemy. (62) He delivered his people to the sword and was filled with wrath at his inheritance. (63) Fire devoured his young men, and their young women (had) no marriage songs. (64) Their priests fell by the sword and their widows could not lament.
Two groups of verbs give this segment its distinctive flavor. The first describes what Israel did to provoke God: “tested...rebelled...did not keep” (vs. 56), “turned away...acted treacherously...twisted” (vs. 57), “provoked him to anger...aroused his jealousy” (vs. 58). The second describes how God responded: “he became furious...rejected” (vs. 59), “he abandoned” (vs. 60), “he gave over” (vs. 61), “he delivered...was filled with wrath” (vs. 62).
Note that one Hebrew word is used twice. In its first occurrence, it is translated “became furious” (vs. 59) and in its second, “filled with wrath” (vs. 62). We should also pay attention to the terms which the psalmist uses to describe the covenant nation: “Israel” (vs. 59), “his strength...his glory” (vs. 61), “his people...his inheritance” (vs. 62).
I. Israel's rebellion against God in her idolatry (56-58)
II. God wrathful response to Israel’s rebellion (59-64)
God chastens the idolatrous rebellion of his chosen people by displaying his wrath against their sin.
Oprah Winfrey, one of the entertainment world’s most popular luminaries, once declared that she decided to abandon her Christian heritage when, as a young person, she heard a preacher use the phrase, “The Lord your God is a jealous God.” Many, like Oprah, have found the Bible’s depiction of God as a jealous lover who is offended by our sinful ways to be objectionable, something they cannot reconcile with their view of a tolerant God who should love and accept everyone no matter how badly they act.
In this regard we should consider the second of the Ten Commandments found in Exodus 20: “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandment” (Ex. 20:4-6). Psalm 78 describes how God's fulfilled that promise in a specific episode of Israel's early history (1 Samuel 4-6).
Is our God really a jealous God? To answer this, ask any husband or wife who is truly devoted to his or her spouse, “How would you feel if you learned that the love of your life had been carrying on a secret affair?” Would not that make a husband furious? Would not a wife likewise experience deep feelings of jealousy and hurt? The answer is obvious. The stronger our love, the greater our anger when that love is betrayed by deceit and disloyalty. God’s love for Israel, Christ’s love for the church, is far more powerful and passionate than any human love. When Israel worshiped idols and when believers today willfully rebel, our God is rightfully jealous, and his response is understandably a response of wrath.