Do you ever look at Israel in the Old Testament and wonder: “What were they thinking?” There’s a pattern of God seeking to bless His people, Israel messing up, God punishing Israel, Israel repenting, God relenting, and repeating the pattern in the next generation. Did they ever learn? While the answer to that question is a little vague, we can spot some patterns in this seemingly endless cycle, and we can learn from them.

1. Israel was unfaithful.

Israel was unfaithful. There is no escaping this fact or blaming God for the consequences. Many of the wars and sieges of God’s people were a direct result of sin by God’s people. After God led them across the Red Sea on dry ground, they created idols to worship (Exodus 32:1-4). After God brought them to the doors of a land flowing with milk and honey, they sinned and had to wander in the desert for 40 years (Numbers 14:26-35). When God stood at the door, waiting to help them, they ran to other kings, kings who would later take them into captivity (Hosea 5:10-13). Israel was a mess, and the pattern is easy to see in Scripture.

2. We are just like Israel.

While it is so easy to spot the sin in someone else, it is often much harder to identify it in ourselves. We are just like Israel. God gives us a new job, and we often make it our idol. God gives us a home, and we often point to our neighbors and wonder why God didn’t give us the bigger house, better car, and more well-behaved kids. God gives us His Word as a guide, and we text or call our friends, family, and strangers before we sit at the feet of the God of the Universe and ask for His direction. We are Israel, friend. We are just as broken, and just as prone to wander.

3. God kept pursuing.

But God. Even when we continue to repeat the cycle, our loving Father pursues us in our sin. The book of Hosea is a story that holds a lot of symbolism for God’s love for us. God told Hosea to marry a prostitute and have children (Hosea 1:2). Hosea’s wife left him because she believed her lovers would give her something better than her husband (Hosea 2:5-8). She ended up enslaved, and God told Hosea to buy her back and live with her as his wife (Hosea 3). What a picture of how God also loved Israel, and how He loves us. The best part of our broken cycle is that we have a God who pursues us. Not because we deserve it. Not because we remain faithful. He is a God who is in the business of restoring, redeeming, and meeting us in our mess.

The truth is, we don’t have to stay stuck in our cycle. At every step, Jesus is waiting to pull us back home from the “lovers” we have deemed better than Him. His discipline is painful, but His love and the life He desires for us and with us is more than we could imagine.