There are numerous examples in scripture of God accommodating the needs, conditions and even the wishes of His people. In some cases, He even gave them things that were clearly not good for them. Why did He do that?
- God honors free will and He allows us to make our own decisions. Sometimes, only through the painful lessons learned, can we (stubborn as we are) come to realize that God’s ways are the best.
- God recognizes that we, like children, take time to learn and we have to grow in our understanding of His ways and our commitment to Him.
- God takes into account our circumstances and our level of understanding.
This principle of accommodation on God’s part is especially well illustrated in the history of the children of Israel in their escape from Egypt and beyond. Many times God gave them things that, while not ideal, met them where they were in their development as a people. Understanding this principle helps to better explain many of God’s actions such as His involvement in the wars of Israel. See more discussion on this principle.
God accommodated the needs of or granted the wishes of His people even though it was not God’s preferred action in the following instances (and likely others):
- The rainbow as a promise regarding the flood
- By man shall man’s blood be shed
- Moses turns God down
- Moses appointed as intermediary*
- The Israelites choose warfare
- He gave the Israelites quail
- Statutes that were not good
- Searching the land
- Granting a king for Israel*
- The choice of a king*
- Allowing them to have slaves
- Allowing polygamy
- Allowing divorce
* Items covered below. Links go to examples discussed in separate posts. Others will be added in future blog posts.
Moses Appointed as Intermediary
As Israel gathered at Mount Sinai it was God’s purpose to speak to the people:
“And the LORD said unto Moses, Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and believe thee for ever. And Moses told the words of the people unto the LORD.” (Exo 19:9)
“And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount.” (Exo 19:17)
God spoke the Ten Commandments and we then read of the people’s reaction:
“And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off. And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die. And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not. And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was. And the LORD said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven.” (Exo 20:18-22)
The people withdrew from the mount and asked for Moses to speak with them instead of God. God had spoken with them (Exo 20:22, Deut 4:10,12,15,33,36) giving the Ten Commandments but He granted their request (made an accommodation that was not the original plan) and the remainder of the instructions were given to Moses for him to relay to the people.
Granting a King for Israel
“Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah, And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations. But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the LORD.” (1 Sam 8:4-6)
Samuel must have recognized there was a problem with their request as he brought it right to the Lord.
“And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee. Now therefore hearken unto their voice: howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them, and shew them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.” (1 Sam 8:7-9)
God said to grant them their request (an accommodation) even through it was not the best for them. And he told Samuel to explain to them why it was not a good idea which Samuel did:
“And Samuel told all the words of the LORD unto the people that asked of him a king. And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.” (1 Sam 8:10-17)
God had Samuel tell them that they would have to bear the consequences of their decision:
“And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day.” (1 Sam 8:18)
Even after having the dangers of a monarchy was explained to them, they still insisted on having a king which was granted:
“Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us; That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles. And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he rehearsed them in the ears of the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king. And Samuel said unto the men of Israel, Go ye every man unto his city.” (1 Sam 8:19-22)
That the kings in Israel were reigning where the Lord should have been is shown by this verse.
“Then Solomon sat on the throne of the LORD as king instead of David his father, and prospered; and all Israel obeyed him.” (1 Chron 29:23)
It could say “instead of the God of Israel.” Notice also that the people did not entirely reject God, they just rejected God’s role of reigning over them and directing their affairs via the prophets as He had done previously.
The Choice of a King
Since there was no established monarchy and line of succession from it, who would be king? God knew the sort of king they desired, He made the decision and chose a man who would please them. On the day the king was presented they were reminded again that it was not a good idea:
“And ye have this day rejected your God, who himself saved you out of all your adversities and your tribulations; and ye have said unto him, Nay, but set a king over us. Now therefore present yourselves before the LORD by your tribes, and by your thousands.” (1Sam 10:19)
“And Samuel said to all the people, See ye him whom the LORD hath chosen, that there is none like him among all the people? And all the people shouted, and said, God save the king. Then Samuel told the people the manner of the kingdom, and wrote it in a book, and laid it up before the LORD. And Samuel sent all the people away, every man to his house.” (1 Sam 10:24-25)
The manner of the kingdom that Samuel wrote in a book was what he had told them earlier (1 Sam 10:11-17). After Saul’s first military victory as king, Samuel presented him again confirming that he was their choice:
“Now therefore behold the king whom ye have chosen, and whom ye have desired! and, behold, the LORD hath set a king over you.” (1 Sam 12:13)
Saul was their choice, not God’s – this was a second accommodation on God’s part. Well God picked Saul but he was a man who matched the parameters of what they – the people – wanted. If God had felt free to pick a man to be king at that point it would have been someone like David. Again, it was confirmed that what they had done was sinful:
“And all the people said unto Samuel, Pray for thy servants unto the LORD thy God, that we die not: for we have added unto all our sins this evil, to ask us a king. 20 And Samuel said unto the people, Fear not: ye have done all this wickedness: yet turn not aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart;” (1 Sam 12:19-20)
While they had done wickedly, they had not totally turned from following God and He continued to work with them despite their choices – how gracious is God! Even when Saul didn’t work out, God continued allowing the monarchy but He personally chose the second king:
“But now thy [Saul’s] kingdom shall not continue: the LORD hath sought him a man [David] after his own heart, and the LORD hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the LORD commanded thee.” (1 Sam 13:14)
God, while not approving, worked with them within the choices they had made. We know that God did not approve of Israel having a monarchy but He continued to accommodate them. But where did it lead? To begin with God was their king:
“And when ye saw that Nahash the king of the children of Ammon came against you, ye said unto me, Nay; but a king shall reign over us: when the LORD your God was your king.” (1 Sam 12:12)
Ultimately, they, or, at least, their leaders said:
“… Away with him, away with him, crucify him. … We have no king but Caesar.” (John 19:15)
The Israelites Choose Warfare
This is the next topic I will likely be working to explain but it is such an important one that I wanted to include something about it now. God is so misunderstood in regard to this but it is just another case of Divine accommodation. For now I will just say a few brief things and include an illustration that helps to explain God’s predicament when Israel chose warfare and His response to it.
When the Israelites left Egypt they did not have weapons of war nor were they trained or in any way prepared for conflict. It was not God’s intent that they should even see war.
“And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt:” (Exo 13:17)
He didn’t want them to see war, much less to fight. While they were numerous, Israel was not an army – they had women and children, flocks and herds, they had no military training and no weapons.
However, it seems that the Israelites, seeing the dead Egyptian soldiers, acquired their weapons.
“Thus the LORD saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore.” (Exo 14:30)
In taking these weapons, Israel made a decision that they would use arms in their own defense rather than waiting on God Who had promised to defend them.
God’s actions in the Old Testament must be consistent with what Jesus taught (as the ultimate revelation of the character of His Father) – “I and my Father are one” etc.
“Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” (Matt 26:52)
More will be added in the future on this topic. For now, please read this illustration by F. T. Wright which does a very good job of explaining the situation God found Himself in. Also see this page which explains how it was that King David, a man of war, was not allowed to build the temple – even though it was God Himself who directed much of David’s warfare.