Consider the following Scriptures, paying close attention to the phrase “not willing” and to what it applies:
The unwillingness of people
After God sent Moses to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go and also sent various plagues, Pharaoh “was not willing to let them go” (Exo 10:27). God told the Israelites, “Then, if you walk contrary to Me, and are not willing to obey Me,…” (Lev 26:21) – because He knew they would not be willing to obey Him. Moses, reviewing Israel’s history when God told them to take possession of Canaan and not to fear, said, “Yet you were not willing to go up, but rebelled against the command of the LORD your God;” (Deut 1:26). The Lord brought Israel out of Egypt and blessed them with the rich land of Canaan; “but they rebelled against Me and were not willing to listen to Me;” (Eze 20:8).
Later the people were not willing to accept God as their king and wanted a king like other nations (1 Sam 8:4-8), so He gave them a king. The Lord instructed the first king, Saul, to “strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him” (1 Sam 15:3); “but Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were not willing to destroy them utterly;…” (:9).
Even when the Lord sent prophets to turn the people to Him, the situation did not improve. “For thus the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, has said, ‘In repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength.’ But you were not willing; and you said, ‘No,…’ For they are a rebellious people, lying children, children unwilling to hear the instruction of the LORD;” (Isa 30:15-16, 9). Isaiah said of Israel, “Was it not the LORD, against whom we have sinned, and in whose ways they were not willing to walk, and whose law they did not obey?” (Isaiah 42:24). The Lord told Ezekiel, “Yet the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, since they are not willing to listen to Me. Surely the whole house of Israel is stubborn and obstinate.” (Eze 3:7).
Were things any better when Jesus came? No. On one occasion He said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matt 23:37; Luke 13:34). He told the Jews, “But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” (John 5:40).
In a parable about the kingdom of heaven Jesus described “a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. … But they made light of it and went their ways,” (Matt 22:1-6). No, the people of Jesus’ day were no more willing than their fathers before them.
After the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus His disciples carried the gospel message into all the world. While many believed, some continued to rebel against God. Jesus told John to write of “that woman Jezebel” in the church in Thyatira, “I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling.” (Rev 2:21). Many more were like her.
The unwillingness of God
Now consider the unwillingness of God and how it differs from that of people. When Israel sinned against God at Mt. Sinai by making and worshiping the golden calf, Moses said that “the LORD was not willing to destroy you.” (Deut 10:10). When Balak hired Balaam to prophesy against Israel “the LORD your God was not willing to listen to Balaam, but the LORD your God turned the curse into a blessing for you because the LORD your God loves you.” (Deut 23:5; Josh 24:10).
As wicked as some of the kings of Judah were, “the LORD was not willing to destroy Judah, for the sake of David His servant, since He had promised him to give a lamp to him through his sons always.” (2 Kings 8:19; 2 Chron 21:7). Even with wicked Israel, “the LORD was gracious to them, had compassion on them, and turned toward them because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He was not willing to destroy them.” (2 Kings 13:23).
The pattern continues in the New Testament. Concluding the parable of the lost sheep Jesus said, “In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost” (Matt 18:14). Peter later wrote, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9).
Do you see the pattern and the difference between people and God? When people are not willing to do something, it is normally because of their rejection of God. When God is not willing to do something, it is normally because of His love for people. His unwillingness is better for us than our own unwillingness, so let’s make His will ours. May we say with Jesus, “Not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).