Two Ways To Be Overtaken
In the days of the prophet Samuel, the people of Israel demanded a king (1 Samuel 8). This demand was a grave act of disobedience. In spite of God’s warnings against this (Deuteronomy 17), it would have been “well” with them had they heeded all that God had spoken through his servants the prophets. But the people didn’t listen. What’s more, disobedience characterized the lives of the majority of the nation of Israel after the demand for a king.
Because of their persistent disobedience, the messages of the prophets called upon the people to repent. God warned time and again that if they persisted in rejecting his words, there would be grave penalties. God’s words are never spoken in vain. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55.10-11). To “overtake” meant that God would carry out what he purposed (Lamentations 2.17; Jeremiah 44.28-29).
Disobedience is fueled (ignited) by false words. As in Old Testament times, false words abound today. Therefore, truth is as rare today as it was then. The responsibility falls upon each of us to distinguish between God’s words and false words. Pleading ignorance is only a feeble attempt to place our blame upon someone else. This was what Adam and Eve did (Genesis 3).
God warned the prophet Ezekiel of those who preached error, prophesying “from their own inspiration,” “following their own spirit,” “false visions,” and “lying divinations” rather than listening “to the word of the Lord” (Ezekiel 13).
The devastating effect upon those who heard such was seen from the words of another prophet, Zechariah. He opened his message by reminding the people of what had happened to their ancestors when they refused to listen to “the word of the Lord” by the prophets. Zechariah wrote, “Thus saith Jehovah of hosts: Return unto me…and I will return unit you, saith Jehovah of hosts. Be ye not as your fathers, unto whom the former prophets cried, saying…return ye now from your evil ways, and from your evil doings: but they did not hear, nor hearken unto me…your fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live for ever? But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not overtake your fathers? And they turned and said, Like as Jehovah of hosts thought to do unto us, according to our ways, and according to our doings, so hath he dealt with us” (Zechariah 1.3-6). We see from this that God’s words overtook those who listened to these false prophets as well as the false prophets themselves.
God’s words are designed to overtake us. The manner in which they will overtake us depends upon our acceptance or rejection of them. “If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it” (Jeremiah 18.7-10). The earlier prophets spoke to the ancestors of the people of Israel of Zechariah’s day. These ancestors were warned to repent of their sins, yet refused. But those to whom Zechariah spoke, repented.
In repentance there is, of course, a submitting of one’s own will to the will of God. It is in the submitting that the “overtaking" of God of God’s words occurs. Likewise, when God’s words are rejected, one will still be overtaken. It will occur at the appointed time of God’s choosing. This manner of being overtaken is in the form of punishment. Clearly, as in Ezekiel’s day, those who questioned not the error, along with those who preached “falsehood” and a “lie” would perish together. Ezekiel was told to expose them and their false doctrine (Ezekiel 13.1-8).
As God told the prophet Jeremiah, only a message of truth will open one’s understanding, giving a “heart to know me, that I am the Lord…so that wayward people will return to God…with their whole heart” (Jeremiah 24.7). If we allow God’s words to “overtake” us now, in repentance and fruit unto righteousness, that die (i.e., the day of the Lord) will not overtake us as a thief (1 Thessalonians 5.2).