The Israelites regarded their wealth as a sign of God’s approval, when actually it had been acquired through oppression and exploitation (verse 7). Thus they convinced themselves that all was well, when the very opposite was the case. And the Church can make the same mistake, confusing Western prosperity with divine blessing. “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (Revelation 3:17)
Israel had completely failed to understand the purpose of the Feast of Tabernacles – an annual reminder of their ancestors’ wanderings in the wilderness. They did not realise that God could, at a stroke, uproot them from their homes and farmlands and cause them to experience once again the austerities and uncertainties of a nomadic life (verse 9). He had tried to warn them – but His appeals had fallen on deaf ears.
The lessons of the past
The answer to Israel’s problem was not more sacrifices, but a change of attitude. Just as Jacob, homeless and penniless, had been forced to do menial labour for his uncle in Aram, so his descendants would have to work out the bitter consequences of their sins in exile.
Did God not love them? Of course He did. But all His love and care for them over the centuries would end in anguish and suffering. This was because they kept on provoking and insulting Him; did they really expect Him not to react? Even though He loved them, their sins were too great for Him to overlook.