Even with all of the iniquity the children of Israel committed, God still stretched out His hand toward them and all they had to do is reach out to Him and forsake their artificial gods. What unbelievers and scoffers like Dawkins forget to mention is the magnitude of the disobedience of God’s statutes by both the children of Israel and humanity as a whole.
God warned the first man and woman in plain and easily understood terms about His expectations and the consequences of disobedience and they still disobeyed.
And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” –Genesis 2:16-17
Then, God told humans to replenish the earth after the flood and they disobeyed again by staying in the plain of Shinar.
And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth. –Genesis 9:1
And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. –Genesis 11:4-7
Again God laid out His expectations and humanity would not heed his commandments and received punishment. The flood was still fresh in early humanity’s mind; so, they knew God didn’t play around with the wickedness in men’s hearts; however, even that thought couldn’t bring men to the straight and narrow (God did promise He would never destroy the world for humanity’s sake again, but there was plenty of precedence for punishment from disobedience). Now, this brings us to Israel.
The children of Israel were commanded almost from day one (right after the Red Sea had parted for the Israelites and collapsed upon the Egyptians) to follow God and His commandments.
And said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee. –Exodus 15:26
Not long after this commandment, the Israelites started complaining about food and God hearkened unto them raining manna (bread) down from heaven. God gave these people specific commands about collection.
Then said the LORD unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no. And it shall come to pass, that on the sixth day they shall prepare that which they bring in; and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily. –Exodus 16:4-5
Yet, still many Israelites disobeyed even these simple commands.
Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto Moses; but some of them left of it until the morning, and it bred worms, and stank: and Moses was wroth with them. –Exodus 16:20
The point of these passages is to demonstrate that God mapped out His expectations and consequences countless times and the one common theme is the disobedience of humanity. Here are a few more passages to show God laying out His expectations to the children of Israel.
Therefore it shall come to pass, that as all good things are come upon you, which the LORD your God promised you; so shall the LORD bring upon you all evil things, until he have destroyed you from off this good land which the LORD your God hath given you. When ye have transgressed the covenant of the LORD your God, which he commanded you, and have gone and served other gods, and bowed yourselves to them; then shall the anger of the LORD be kindled against you, and ye shall perish quickly from off the good land which he hath given unto you.. –Joshua 23:15-16
And an angel of the LORD came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land which I sware unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break my covenant with you. And ye shall make no league with the inhabitants of this land; ye shall throw down their altars: but ye have not obeyed my voice: why have ye done this? Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you. And it came to pass, when the angel of the LORD spake these words unto all the children of Israel, that the people lifted up their voice, and wept. –Judges 2:1-4
In the next chapter, the Israelites disobeyed even these commands and ended up reaping what they had sown.
And the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites, Hittites, and Amorites, and Perizzites, and Hivites, and Jebusites: And they took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their daughters to their sons, and served their gods. And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and forgat the LORD their God, and served Baalim and the groves. Therefore the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Chushanrishathaim king of Mesopotamia: and the children of Israel served Chushanrishathaim eight years. –Judges 3:5-8
Now, we fast forward to Samuel and the children of Israel gathered to ask for a king.
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. -1 Samuel 8:7-8
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… 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. 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 Samuel 8:10-22
The time of kings and Nehemiah show even more evidence of disobedience which God warned against.
And the children of Israel that were present at Jerusalem kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with great gladness: and the Levites and the priests praised the LORD day by day, singing with loud instruments unto the LORD…So there was great joy in Jerusalem: for since the time of Solomon the son of David king of Israel there was not the like in Jerusalem. -2 Chronicles 30:21 and 26
And there was no passover like to that kept in Israel from the days of Samuel the prophet; neither did all the kings of Israel keep such a passover as Josiah kept, and the priests, and the Levites, and all Judah and Israel that were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. -2 Chronicles 35:18
And all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths, and sat under the booths: for since the days of Jeshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness. –Nehemiah 8:17
The point to take away from these passages is that the children of Israel had a very hard time obeying the commandment of the Passover laid out in Exodus 13.
Then we come full circle to the time of Zedekiah in a reality of an Israel who did not obey God for a very long time. Actually, the first year of the Exodus, and the date of God’s first command to Israel, is estimated to be 1445 B.C. and the fall of Jerusalem under Zedekiah is the year 586 B.C. So, the time between the Exodus and the Babylonian Captivity was a period of 859 years. Taking this a step further, Joshua’s address and commandment to Israel in Joshua 23:15-16 happened in approximately 1375 B.C. Thus, the commandment by Joshua outlining the consequence of losing the land to the actual surrender of Jerusalem is 789 years. No matter how you interpret this amount of time, God tolerated a long period of disobedience and disrespect by the Israelites. Let’s stop thinking of God as a blood thirsty tyrant bent on genocide in the Old Testament and realize the mercy and longsuffering He displayed throughout the time before the coming of His Son Jesus Christ.