In the Bible, the history of humanity is one of failure, with some notable exceptions due to God’s grace. That is true of the history of the Gentiles. It is also true of the history of Israel. In choosing their own direction, all peoples have failed to fulfill God’s purpose.
The Biblical history of Israel, the most blessed of peoples, demonstrates what is true of all mankind. During her history, Israel rejected God’s Redeemer (Moses), His provision (manna), His land (Canaan), His Kingship, His Covenant, and His messengers (the prophets). (Ex. 5:21, 16:3; Num. 11:5-6, 13:31-14:10; 1 Sam. 8:7-8; Neh. 9:34-35; Dan. 9:6) Yet despite all this, the Lord remained faithful.
The children of Israel turned away from the Lord to live for their own purposes. (cf. Is. 53:6) They wanted leeks and onions rather than the Promised Land. (Num. 11:4-6) In reviewing their history, God said through Jeremiah that Israel had not heeded His prophets, but continued to do evil. (Jer. 7:25-26)
In the wilderness, Aaron yielded to the people and made for them an idol of gold. God told Moses that He would punish the people and make a great nation of Moses. (Ex. 32:7-10) Yet Moses was not seeking a name or inheritance for himself at Israel’s expense. Moses, like God himself, loved Israel. So he pleaded with God to change His mind. (Ex. 32:12-13) The Lord listened to the entreaty of Moses, and spared Israel. Even though His people had forsaken Him, God remained faithful.
Later, Israel sinned by rejecting the Lord as King. Samuel, the servant of the Lord, rebuked the people, but at the same time he assured them of God’s eternal faithfulness: “Do not fear. You have committed all this evil, yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. . . . For the Lord will not abandon His people on account of His great name, because the Lord has been pleased to make you a people for Himself.” (1 Sam. 12:20, 22)
But Israel continued in infidelity. After God had sent the northern kingdom of Israel into captivity, He said, “And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also.” (Jer. 3:8) Nevertheless, God still loved His people and remained true to His promise. “‘Return, O faithless sons, I will heal your faithlessness. . . . If you will return, O Israel,’ declares the Lord, ‘Then you should return to Me. And if you will put away your detested things from My presence, and will not waver, and you will swear, “As the Lord lives,” in truth, in justice, and in righteousness; then the Gentiles will bless themselves in Him, and in Him they will glory.'” (Jer. 3:22, 4:1-2)
Throughout the book of Hosea, the Lord compares Israel to an unfaithful wife who must be judged and sent away. Yet He says, “How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I surrender you, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart is turned over within Me, all my compassions are kindled. . . . I will heal their apostasy, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from them. I will be like the dew to Israel; He will blossom like the lily.” (Hos. 11:8, 14:4-5; cf. Dt. 29:23)
God declared that there would be distress and exile because of the infidelity of Jacob’s children, but went on to promise restoration. “‘And fear not, O Jacob My Servant,’ declares the Lord, ‘And do not be dismayed, O Israel; for behold, I will save you from afar, and your seed from the land of their captivity. And Jacob shall return, and shall be quiet and at ease, and no one shall make him afraid. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord, ‘to save you. For I will destroy completely all the nations where I have scattered you, only I will not destroy you completely. But I will chasten you justly, and will by no means leave you unpunished.'” (Jer. 30:10-11) The judgment is what God’s people deserved; the redemption and restoration are the fruit of His love and grace.
In unfaithfulness, Israel refused to be separate from the goyim (Gentiles), so God drove them into exile among the goyim. Because of God’s faithfulness, He promised to bring them back to their own land.
“For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.” (Mal. 3:6) As long as God does not change, the sons of Jacob will endure.“For neither Israel nor Judah has been widowed by his God, the Lord of hosts, although their land is full of guilt before the Holy One of Israel.” (Jer. 51:5) In the midst of Moses’ prophecy of Israel’s future unfaithfulness, God’s judgment upon it, and her eventual restoration, the Lord promised Israel, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” (Dt. 31:6, 8)
Psalm 106 reviews Israel’s history of sin and unfaithfulness. It describes the anger of the Lord toward His people, and His judgments upon them. But then it concludes: “Nevertheless He looked upon their distress, when He heard their cry; and He remembered His covenant for their sake, and relented according to the greatness of His lovingkindness. He also made them objects of compassion in the presence of all their captives.
“Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the Gentiles, to give thanks to Thy holy name, and glory in Thy holy name, and glory in Thy praise. Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting even to everlasting. And let all the people say, ‘Amen.’ Praise the Lord.” (Ps. 106:44-48)
The sin of Israel was great; but nevertheless God, in judgment, remembered mercy.