Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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God Preserves His People

Dannah Gresh: Isn’t it comforting to know that the love of God is steadfast in spite of our disobedience. Here’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: You may have made foolish choices, disobeyed the Lord, and now you find yourself in a desert that should have been avoidable. Remember: even there “His steadfast love endures forever.” If you are a child of God, He will lead you through this wilderness.

Dannah: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, co-author of Seeking Him, for November 23, 2020. I’m Dannah Gresh.

The steadfast love of the Lord is something to keep coming back to in our hearts and minds.

Last week we camped out in Psalm 136. It’s a passage rich with God’s goodness and love. Nancy’s going to pick back up there in this series she recorded late last winter—just before we felt the full brunt of the pandemic. Here’s Nancy.

Nancy: Well, here we are—Day 6, continuing still in our study of Psalm 136. You may be thinking, This is a little repetitive. Well, it is a psalm with a lot of repetition in it, and we’re taking our time. We’re soaking in it.

By the way, this is one of the greatest ways you can really get into God’s Word and get God’s Word into you. Take a passage of Scripture like this psalm and just live in it. Ponder it. Meditate on it.

I’ve gone to bed thinking about this psalm. I’ve awakened during the night thinking about this psalm in recent weeks. And through the day I’m just turning it over in my mind and saying, “How does creation demonstrate the steadfast love of the Lord? How does our salvation, how does our redemption, how did the wilderness wanderings (which we’re going to look at today) demonstrate the steadfast love of the Lord—not only for those Israelites back then, but for us here today?

Thanks for being along with us on this journey, and I want to invite you again to open your Bible to the psalm book, the Old Testament hymn book, psalm number 136. Let me find it in my Bible here. My Bible should just fall open to that. I’ve said this is my new favorite psalm. I have just been so blessed by meditating on the steadfast love of the Lord.

If you’re just joining us for this series, you can go back to ReviveOurHearts.com and listen to the earlier days because each day we’ve been taking a look at one section of this psalm and seeing what it says for our lives today.

We’ve been reading the psalm, and you’ve memorized half of it. Twenty-six verses, and you’ve memorized half of it. That’s because the second half of each verse is the same line. What is that line? “For His steadfast love endures forever.” I think you’ve got that!

You may be sitting in this room, and you’re saying it with us, but you may be in a car or at a desk or in your home or at the gym on the elliptical or something. Wherever you are, whether it’s quietly or whether you can do it out loud, as we come to that phrase in these remaining sessions, I want to encourage you to say it.

There’s something about verbalizing, saying out loud the truth of God’s Word that takes it deeper into our hearts. Have you been experiencing that as you’ve been speaking out loud about the steadfast love of the Lord? (Nod your head, like, “Yes, you have.”) Good, I like that!

So, let’s start again at the top of the psalm. The first three verses is a wonderful call to give thanks, a call to worship. I’ll read the first line, you join me as the choir in reading the second line for each verse.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
   for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods,
   for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
Give thanks to the Lord to him who alone does great wonders,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;

Now, we’re going to stop there for a moment, and I want to just summarize where we’ve been and look at where we’re going today.

In verses 5–9, the next paragraph, the psalmist gives thanks and tells us to give thanks for the wonders and the mercy and the love of God (the hesed, covenant-keeping, faithful love of God) seen in creation. The earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, these things only God could have made, and they reveal the goodness and the steadfast love of the Lord. That section of this psalm takes us back to the book of Genesis.

And then verses 10–15 we looked at in the last session we had together, where the psalmist takes us back to the book of Exodus. And we give thanks for the wonders of God, the mercy, the steadfast love of the Lord, seen, not in creation, but in salvation—in the salvation of His people. Delivering them, redeeming them from slavery in Egypt.

We said that that exodus of the Old Testament Jews was the most significant chapter in their redemptive history. But even better and bigger than that, it pointed to a greater exodus yet to come—and that is Jesus being sent to this earth, as Moses was sent to Egypt, to lead us out of our slavery to sin and to Satan and to destroy the works of the devil.

Remember, judgment and salvation come together. They run on parallel tracks. They are juxtaposed together. The enemies of God who refuse to repent, they will experience the judgment and the wrath of God. But even in His judgment and wrath, His goodness and His steadfast love are evident as He redeems and delivers us out of His wrath, out of His anger—not because we are any better than those who got judged. We aren’t. But because we have believed and trusted in the sacrifice Jesus paid to deliver us from the wrath of God.

Now, today we come to verses 16–22 in this psalm. We’re going to give thanks for the wonders and the mercy of God seen—not in creation; not in salvation—but now in the preservation of His people.

We’ve seen that God made us. God saved us. And God keeps us. That’s what we’re going to look at in this section. All of these—creation, salvation, and preservation—reveal the steadfast love and the goodness of the Lord.

Let’s look at verse 16. We’re just going to park there. I’ll read the first part, and you join me in the chorus.

Give thanks to the Lord to him who led his people through the wilderness,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;

We’ll stop there. And in this one verse we have summarized a painful, forty-year period of Israel’s history. It took place right after their miraculous deliverance out of 400 years of slavery in Egypt. We read about this period—the wilderness, the forty-year period of the wilderness—in the book of Numbers.

What did these Israelites experience during those forty years? And how did those years in the wilderness reveal the faithful, covenant-keeping, hesed love of the Lord—the goodness of the Lord?

You think about being out in the wilderness, and you don’t think that’s a happy place. You don’t think, Oh, I just want to live out in the wilderness. I mean, when we think of being in the desert of the wilderness as it relates to scriptural illustrations , you think, I don’t want to go there! I want to go to the Promised Land! I want to go to the good place, the land flowing with milk and honey.

But forty years in the wilderness, how was God’s goodness and His steadfast love available to them in their wilderness? And how are God’s goodness and steadfast love revealed to you and to me when we are in those periods of the wilderness?

Well, after their deliverance from Egypt, God led the children of Israel into the wilderness, right up to the Red Sea. God led them into the wilderness.

Exodus 13 tell us that, 

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. (v. 17)

The most direct route to the Promised Land was through the land of the Philistines, but God didn’t take them that way.

For God said, "Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” (v. 17)

God knew they weren’t ready for the most direct route.

But God led the people [God was leading. God led the people] around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. (v. 18)

Now, we know the Red Sea was going to be a huge test. It was going to be a huge roadblock. God didn’t lead them in that most direct straight line. God led them around, kind of in a circuitous route. It was a detour. It wasn’t the most direct route, but God led them into the wilderness and toward the Red Sea.

That’s important to remember because the children of Israel didn’t end up in the wilderness or at the Red Sea by accident. This was part of God’s plan for them. He led them.

And remember that many times when you find yourself in a desert, off the beaten path, not where you thought you should be, not the most direct route to where you hoped to go. Remember that you can get there because of sin, but you can also get there just because God led you in this difficult way for purposes that only He knows at the time.

Now, God never intended the Israelites to spend forty years in the wilderness. His plan was to deliver them out of Egypt, give them His law at Mt. Sinai, and take them to the Promised Land. There was a little bit of an interlude in there when He stopped. He kept them at one place for about a year at Mt. Sinai where they received the Law. So He wasn’t going to take them immediately there, but He never intended that it should take forty years.

What happened? Two years after coming out of Egypt, the Israelites finally came to the entrance of the Promised Land. It was right before them—all set. God had prepared it for them. But rather than trust God and move forward into the land, they rebelled. They refused to believe God. So God said, “You want to stay in the wilderness? Back to the wilderness you go—for another thirty-eight years.”

Those years spent in the wilderness were an unnecessary detour and delay. It was the result of their own willfulness and sin. Yet, through all those years, God never abandoned or forsook His people. The Scripture says in Psalm 136, “He led his people through the wilderness; (forty years in total) for his steadfast love endures forever.”

How do you see God’s steadfast love in those wilderness years? Well, throughout those forty years, God provided for His people—food, drink, clothes, protection—everything they needed.

Listen to these verses in the Old Testament history.

The people of Israel ate the manna forty years (every morning) till they came to the border of the land of Canaan. (Ex. 16:35)

Forty years God provided food for them.

Deuteronomy 29, verse 5, God said (this is as they’re coming now into the Promised Land, after the forty years of wandering, God looks back and reviews their history, and He says), 

I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet.

Wouldn’t you like to have clothes and shoes that would last forty years? Were they still in style? I don’t know. They were God’s style. God provided food, clothing, everything they needed. And that was an evidence of God’s goodness and His steadfast love for His people.

But there’s something else about those forty years that isn’t quite as easy to understand how it could be an expression of God’s goodness and faithfulness. During those forty years, as God had promised, the entire adult population died off in the wilderness.

If you’re into math, in Numbers chapter 1, we read that approximately 600,000 men age twenty and older came out of Egypt. When you added wives, that would easily have been more than a million adults.

Forty years later, another count was taken and only three of those million adults lived to enter the Promised Land. All the others had been destroyed in the wilderness. That would be an average of more than seventy funerals every day for forty years—thirty-eight years, the last thirty-eight years there.

In fact, 1 Corinthians 10 tells us that in one day, because of a plague God sent on His murmuring people, 23,000 people died.

Can you imagine all the funerals, all the burials, all the dealing with the dead? That was always a reminder, “We should have trusted God. We should have believed God. We didn’t have to be here.” But even through that wilderness experience, when it became the “valley of the shadow of death,” all those people lost parents and mates and grandparents and cousins and aunts and uncles, all the adults died off, the children grew up seeing God keeps His promises. “We better trust God.”

Hebrews 3 tells us, 

For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt led by Moses? Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? (vv. 16–17 NKJV).

But even while God was disciplining His people, He still loved them. He still led them.

I love this verse in Deuteronomy chapter 32, that says, 

God found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him. . . .The Lord alone guided him  (v. 10, 12).

They were there because of their sin, their rebellion, their disobedience, their unbelief, but God still loved them. “Give thanks to the Lord to him who led his people through the wilderness, for his steadfast love endures forever.”

You may have made foolish choices, disobeyed the Lord, and now you find yourself in a desert that should have been avoidable. Remember that even there, “His steadfast love endures forever.” And if you are a child of God, He will lead you through this wilderness.

You may have a son or daughter or family member who has rebelled and is wandering in a moral wilderness. Even there, remember, “His steadfast love endures forever.” And if that loved one is a child of God, God is at work and will lead him or her through the wilderness when you may not even have any clue where that loved one is. God knows. God sees. And God will lead.

Well, God delivered His people out of slavery in Egypt. He brought them safely through the Red Sea. He led them through the wilderness. He took them, finally, after forty years, into the Promised Land. And in the next six verses we’re going to see a summary of the conquest of Canaan. This part of Psalm 136 is based on a record we find in the book of Joshua.

So let’s read, beginning in verse 17–22.

Give thanks to the Lord to him who struck down great kings,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
and killed mighty kings,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
Sihon, king of the Amorites,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
and Og, king of Bashan,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
and gave their land as a heritage,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
a heritage to Israel his servant,
   for his steadfast love endures forever.

Now, when we start talking about names and incidents that took place thousands of years ago, it’s easy for our eyes to glaze over, like Og and Sihon and Bashan and the Amorites, like, do we really care about this? Do we really know about this? What relevance does this have for us today?

Well, in this psalm, and in many others, God’s people are called to remember their history, to remember the works of God on their behalf in the past. The battle referenced here were amazing displays of the power of God and the steadfast (hesed) love of God for His people.

These battles were a reminder, as king after king after king after king—dozens of them—in Canaan fell. They resisted God. God gave them opportunity to repent. They refused. Walls came tumbling down. All kinds of amazing things happened—a reminder that God keeps His promises. When God told His people, “I’m going to give you this land,” God gave them the land.

We need to remember our history with God, the battles He has won, the promises He has kept. And as we rehearse those—some of you maybe keep a journal, and you can go back and look and see how God met with you, how He met your needs, how He went before you. When you see His promises fulfilled, doesn’t that give you hope for today and for tomorrow as you look back and rehearse your past?

Well, when we come to verse 23, there’s a transition as we come toward the end of this psalm. It’s a transition from His wonders in the past to His kindness and mercy and provision in the present.

We’ve been talking about what He did for them back then—Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua. We’ve rehearsed a lot of this history. But then we come to verses 23–24, and Scripture says:

It is he who remembered us in our low estate,
   [say it with me] for his steadfast love endures forever;
and rescued us from our foes,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;

God not only remembered people back then, rescued people back then, delivered people back then, God remembered us. He rescued us. He delivered us. The same steadfast (hesed) covenant-keeping love that God showed to His people in the past, He has shown to us. And we see this theme all through the Scripture: The God who remembered us when we were brought low, who has rescued us from our enemies.

Listen to Psalm 72, verse 13: “He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.” Aren’t you glad?! Not just then and them, but now and us.

Luke chapter 1, when John the Baptist was born, his father prayed, 

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people . . .
that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant (vv. 68, 71–72).

The covenant God made with His people, to lead them out of Egypt, to take them into the Promised Land, was all intended to picture a plan that God has for His people of all ages, in all places of the world, to lead us out of sin and its bondage and lead us into that great land of promise and plenty and blessing.

For while we were still weak [brought low], at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. . . . God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:6, 8).

He remembered us in our lowest state. He rescued us from our enemies. Why? Because “His steadfast love endures forever.”

So as we think about our salvation, our deliverance, and how God is continuing, rescuing us and redeeming us from ourselves and from our sin and from the influence of Satan and the world, He is a God who is always showing His steadfast love to us. So what do we do? “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”

A year ago I recorded a Thanksgiving greeting for our ministry partners—how thankful I am for those partners. In that greeting I talked briefly about Psalm 136, and particularly about this verse 1: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” In fact, I think it was that day, probably, that the idea for doing this series first started, because it planted a seed in my heart that you’re hearing now in this series.

So I sent a greeting to our partners, and I referenced this verse and just talked about how it was blessing me at that Thanksgiving season. A week later I received a letter from a friend. And I want to read quite a lengthy excerpt of what she said. I’ve known her for years, but I didn’t know this part of her history. And she was just reflecting on how her life has been impacted by the steadfast love of the Lord. She said:

Nancy, I was watching a Hallmark movie and beginning to make pie crusts for our Thanksgiving dinner when I got your video on my phone about Psalm 136 and giving thanks. I had to share with you a memory from my childhood.

Every night when I was a girl, my mom would tuck me in bed and read a Bible passage to me. I vividly remember one night when she read Psalm 136. Hearing her read the line, ‘His steadfast love endures forever’ over and over again made me look at my mom, roll my eyes, and sighing repeat, ‘His steadfast love endures forever.’ [As a little girl—you can picture that, can’t you?] I have to admit, it wasn’t my favorite passage because of all the repetition.

Fast forward years down the road to when I was around fifty, and I began hearing that passage again. At first, I didn’t think much about it except I remembered it was that obnoxious, repetitive passage mom had read to me as a kid. Then suddenly, it hit me.

You see, my dad wasn’t a good example of a loving husband or father. I was a rebellious teenager and made some very poor choices. I found myself struggling for years, trying to understand how God could love me. I worked really hard to earn His approval, but always felt I could never measure up.

When I started hearing this psalm again, I thought, Is God trying to tell me something, that His love does endure forever? It was like a lightbulb moment.

I’ve been coming to a new understanding of salvation truly being a gift from God that I had nothing to do with and could never earn. Recently, as I have been reading through the book of Romans, God has shown me that I have been putting faith in myself to earn my salvation, though that’s not what I would have called it. I confessed it as sin, and asked Him to show me more of His love and help me to start trusting and resting. I am learning of God’s love and grace and mercy and asking Him to keep opening my eyes to more of His truth.

All this to say, thank you so much for your Thanksgiving message today. God used Psalm 136 to remind me that indeed, “His steadfast love endures forever.”

I wonder how many listening today to this message have just some mental or emotional resistance when we talk about the steadfast love of the Lord enduring forever, and some memory comes back of somebody who failed you, somebody whose love was not steadfast, somebody you thought you could depend on but they proved to be unreliable, and you go, “I couldn’t trust them. How can I trust God?” So you’ve been trying and trying and trying and trying, maybe for years, to make yourself worthy of being loved by God.

Listen, this psalm says to you as it said to my friend in recent years: It’s not anything you can do for Him. It’s what He’s done for you. “His steadfast love endures forever.” And that love is for you. You don’t have to prove yourself worthy. You don’t have to earn it—you couldn’t earn it if you tried. You don’t deserve it, nor do I. But His love, unlike any other love in this world, is steadfast. It’s faithful. He’s a covenant-keeping God.

And let me say, by the way, those of you who do have committed marriages, or you’re committed parents, you’re faithful. Can I say, not only do you bless your mate and your children, but you give the world a little bitty glimpse of the steadfast love of the Lord. And isn’t that our job to help make the gospel believable in our world?

But you may not have had any believable examples of the steadfast love of the Lord. I want to say to you: If I could look you in the eye, if I could hold your face in my hands and see the doubts, the fears, the trembling in your heart, could I say to you, “Friend, Sister—I’d call you by name—the Lord is good. He loves you. And ‘His steadfast love endures forever.’ He’s not going anywhere. You can’t get away from it. You don’t have to do anything to prove yourself. Receive it. Rest in it. And that will be the cause for great, great thanksgiving.” 

Yes! Thank You, Lord. Amen.

Dannah: Isn’t that a relief? We can’t do anything to earn the steadfast love of the Lord. It’s a faithful love, unlike any kind of earthly love we could ever experience.

We just heard Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth encourage us with a promise of God’s rescue: You are never out of reach of His love and redemption. I take great comfort in His steadfast love for me, knowing He’s personal all while He’s powerfully holding the world and the future—heaven rules. That’s where I place my confidence.

If you were with us last week, you heard us talking about the new thirteen-month “Heaven Rules” 2021 wall calendar. Yes, we know there are only twelve months in a year, but we’re going to start with the month of December—a bonus month for you—because the beautiful design and reminders that God is in control need to fill your home and your heart with hope no matter what the new year brings. We want you to go into 2021 embracing this truth.

Each month you’ll find quotes from Nancy. They’ll be centered around the theme that “Heaven Rules,” and you’ll also discover coordinating Scripture verses for every month.

We’d love to send you one of those calendars. It’s our way of saying “thank you” when you donate any amount to Revive Our Hearts right now. Visit ReviveOurHearts.com to make your gift, or call us at 1–800–569–5959.

Let me ask you: Do you thank God for your meals? Tomorrow we’re talking about the Lord’s provision, particularly with food, and we hope you’ll be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth encourages you with the promise of God’s faithful love. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the ESV unless otherwise noted.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

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About the Speaker

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love …

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