Psalm 33:12 says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!” The psalmist is speaking of the nation of Israel. God chose Israel as the nation through which He would bring His promised Messiah (Deuteronomy 18:15; Malachi 4:5–6; Isaiah 7:14–16). He promised to provide, bless, and protect the Israelites if they followed Him. But the Old Testament gives us heartbreaking details of what happened when they turned away from Him (Ezekiel 5; 20:8; Isaiah 1). Israel’s history shows us some of the consequences that can befall a nation when its people turn away from God.
No other nation on earth will ever have the position that Israel has in God’s grand plan. It would be a mistake to “claim” many of the specific promises that God made to Israel, because they were for a specific time and purpose. For example, nations today are not promised bumper crops and healthy livestock if they obey the Mosaic Law (see Deuteronomy 28:4); that promise was for Israel under the Old Covenant in the Promised Land—the blessing was specifically tied to the land of Israel (verse 11). But many of the general principles found in Scripture are applicable to everyone. We can learn from Israel’s history what generally to expect when nations honor the Lord and what generally to expect when they rebel against His commands.
As long as the Israelites honored the Lord, destroyed idol temples, and kept God’s commandments, the Lord was actively involved in their defense when other nations fought against them. Exodus 14 is the first example of the Lord as Defender for the newly formed nation of Israel. As Moses led the people out of Egypt, Pharaoh and his armies raced after them. The people were terrified and began to doubt whether Moses knew what he was doing. But then “Moses answered the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still’” (Exodus 14:13–14). What followed was the miraculous parting of the Red Sea (verses 21–22).
In contrast to this miraculous intervention, the Bible gives us examples of God refusing to intervene when destruction came upon Israel. Second Kings, beginning in chapter 24, details the end of God’s blessing on Israel. God’s chosen people had defied the Lord, built idol temples, and filled their lives with fornication, murder, and adultery. They had desecrated the temple and ignored the Law for generations. God sent prophets to call them to repentance, but they would not listen and often killed those messengers (Luke 11:27–28). The Lord had warned them repeatedly, and, when they refused to listen, He sent judgment in the form of invaders who took them captive and destroyed their cities (2 Kings 24:12–14). The once-great nation had been brought low and lost the blessings God desired to give it. The general principle we learn from this is that sin brings negative consequences. Galatians 6:7 is God’s warning to individuals and to nations that He will not be mocked. We reap what we sow.
Many nations of antiquity are nonexistent now, having brought God’s judgment upon themselves for their sin. Edom (Jeremiah 49:17–22), Assyria (Zephaniah 2:13–15), Sodom (Genesis 18:20), and Babylon (Jeremiah 51) were all wiped out, according to the biblical prophets, for their evil before the Lord. There remain no representatives of the Hittites (Exodus 23:23), Moabites (Zephaniah 2:8–10), or Philistines (Zephaniah 2:5) due to their stubborn rebellion against the Lord.
God blessed Israel in prospering them when the people honored Him. God had brought them into a land that was “flowing with milk and honey” (Numbers 14:8). When they obeyed Him, He promised to provide all they needed and to protect their lives (Exodus 23:25–26). He cared that they lived peacefully and happily (1 Kings 4:25; Psalm 29:11; Proverbs 19:23). He commanded them to honor His Sabbaths so that they would have rest (Leviticus 19:30). But, when Israel followed wicked kings into idolatry and harlotry, God sent famines and pestilence on the land that He loved (Ezekiel 5:17). We learn from this that the Lord delights in prospering His loyal servants (Psalm 25:12–13; Proverbs 13:21). Material wealth is not proof that God is blessing a nation, since evil kings and countries prosper too. But, when we honor the Lord and obey His commands, we reap the benefits of living honorably, morally, and honestly. A nation that honors God’s laws reaps that benefit as well. History shows that those that do not are often destroyed from within.
God gives us His laws for our own good. He created us to fellowship with Him and walk in righteousness. When we do that, we are living within the healthy boundaries He established and are protected from much of the heartache and catastrophe Satan devises. But, when a nation turns away from the true God and becomes its own god, the Lord removes His protective hand and allows that nation to experience the world it has demanded. Romans 1:18–32 shows us the progression of people and nations that have defied God and redefined morality. Homosexuality, unbridled lust, and idolatry are all part of God’s judgment on a nation that has turned away from Him.
The good news is that God knows those who are His and promises to reward them, even when all others have turned away. Malachi 3:13–18 contains one of the most comforting passages in the Old Testament. It reminds us that God is watching, He knows all, and He will judge righteously. Even when a nation turns away from God, individuals within that nation can still follow Him and know that their names are written in God’s book of remembrance.