The Choice Is Yours

But you, draw near,
    sons of the sorceress,
    offspring of the adulterer and the loose woman.
Whom are you mocking?
    Against whom do you open your mouth wide
    and stick out your tongue?
Are you not children of transgression,
    the offspring of deceit,
you who burn with lust among the oaks,
    under every green tree,
who slaughter your children in the valleys,
    under the clefts of the rocks?
Among the smooth stones of the valley is your portion;
    they, they, are your lot;
to them you have poured out a drink offering,
    you have brought a grain offering.
    Shall I relent for these things?
On a high and lofty mountain
    you have set your bed,
    and there you went up to offer sacrifice.
Behind the door and the doorpost
    you have set up your memorial;
for, deserting me, you have uncovered your bed,
    you have gone up to it,
    you have made it wide;
and you have made a covenant for yourself with them,
    you have loved their bed,
    you have looked on nakedness.
You journeyed to the king with oil
    and multiplied your perfumes;
you sent your envoys far off,
    and sent down even to Sheol.
10 You were wearied with the length of your way,
    but you did not say, “It is hopeless”;
you found new life for your strength,
    and so you were not faint.

11 Whom did you dread and fear,
    so that you lied,
and did not remember me,
    did not lay it to heart?
Have I not held my peace, even for a long time,
    and you do not fear me?
12 I will declare your righteousness and your deeds,
    but they will not profit you.
13 When you cry out, let your collection of idols deliver you!
    The wind will carry them all off,
    a breath will take them away.
But he who takes refuge in me shall possess the land
    and shall inherit my holy mountain.Isaiah 57:3-13 ESV

After castigating and condemning the watchmen, the self-proclaimed spiritual leaders of Judah, God turns His attention to the people. While they had been misinformed and mislead by the false prophets, they were not without a measure of guilt. And God makes it painfully clear what He thought about their behavior towards Him. He addresses them in not-so-flattering terms, calling them “sons of sorcerors, offspring of the adulterer and the loose woman” (Isaiah 57:3 ESV). The New Living Translation makes it even more unpleasant, translating verse3 as “you witches’ children, you offspring of adulterers and prostitutes!” And God is not done. he goes on to describe them as “children of transgression, the offspring of deceit” (Isaiah 57:4 ESV).

God is not happy with them. And all these unflattering appellations are tied directly to their practice of idolatry. God is unsparing in His accusations against them. Like a criminal prosecutor in a court of law, God lays out His evidence, providing more than enough proof to convict the people of Judah of their crime and justify their well-deserved punishment.

God accuses them of worshiping their false gods under every oak and green tree they can find and doing so with passion. The Hebrew word translated as “passion” is chamam and it carries a sexual connotation. It can be translated as “inflamed” or “aroused.” To put it in rather graphic terms, the people of Judah “got off” on practicing idolatry. They set up shrines and high places all over the land of Canaan, where they worshiped their false deities and even practiced child sacrifice as part of their passionate adoration of their gods. And God had been very clear in His commands regarding child sacrifice.

“Do not permit any of your children to be offered as a sacrifice to Molech, for you must not bring shame on the name of your God. I am the LORD.”  – Leviticus 18:21 NLT

“Give the people of Israel these instructions, which apply both to native Israelites and to the foreigners living in Israel. If any of them offer their children as a sacrifice to Molech, they must be put to death.” – Leviticus 20:2 NLT

“I myself will turn against them and cut them off from the community, because they have defiled my sanctuary and brought shame on my holy name by offering their children to Molech.” – Leviticus 20:3 NLT

Yet, here was God, generations later, accusing His people of doing exactly what He had told them not to do. They had idols under the trees, in the valleys, on top of the mountains, and just about every other place you could imagine. False gods were ubiquitous in Judah. And in the very act of worship their many false gods, they were proving themselves unfaithful and spiritually adulterous to the one true God. Like a faithful husband speaking to his promiscuous wife, God tells them, “You have left me and climbed into bed with these detestable gods. You have committed yourselves to them. You love to look at their naked bodies” (Isaiah 57:8 NLT).

Their passion for their false gods was relentless. Many of their gods were the result of political or military alliances with pagan nations. Envoys from Judah would travel long distances to worship the false gods of their potential allies, carrying olive oil and perfume to use as tributes to these idols. God describes them as constantly in search of some god who could provide them what they were seeking. And just when they would start to lose hope, they would discover yet another potential savior in the form of a statue made of stone, wood or precious metal.

“You grew weary in your search,
    but you never gave up.
Desire gave you renewed strength,
    and you did not grow weary.” – Isaiah 57:10 NLT

In the face of God’s whithering charges against them, He poses a question:

“Whom did you dread and fear,
    so that you lied,
and did not remember me,
    did not lay it to heart?” – Isaiah 57:11 ESV

Obviously, they had not feared God, or they wouldn’t have disobeyed His commands like they had. So, was their unfaithfulness driven by fear of their enemies? Or was it due to fear of their enemies’ gods? Whatever the case, they had not exhited any fear of God, even though He had displayed tremendous patience with them. Now, God was done showing them patience. And, knowing that they would argue with Him and try to present themselves as faithful servants who had done acts of righteousness deserving of His grace and mercy, God breaks the not-so-good news to them.

“Now I will expose your so-called good deeds.
    None of them will help you.” – Isaiah 57:12 NLT

Later on in this very same book, Isaiah will deliver some seriously bad news to the people of Judah, that will blow their concept of self-righteousness out of the water.

You welcome those who gladly do good,
    who follow godly ways.
But you have been very angry with us,
    for we are not godly.
We are constant sinners;
    how can people like us be saved?
We are all infected and impure with sin.
    When we display our righteous deeds,
    they are nothing but filthy rags. – Isaiah 64:5-6 NLT

They had no righteous deeds. Their best deeds done on their best day with the best of intentions were worthless in the eyes of God. He could see into their hearts. And as God stated earlier in the book of Isaiah, “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote” (Isaiah29:13 NLT). 

So, God offers His disobedient and idolatrous people a challenge. The next time they faced trouble, He suggests that they call on their false gods to save them. And, because God has already made it clear that the next thing that was going to happen to them would be His judgment of them, He was basically taunting them to use their gods to stop Him. But God lets them know the outcome ahead of time.

“The wind will carry them all off,
    a breath will take them away.” – Isaiah 57:13 ESV

They will prove laughingly impotent. But God says that “whoever trusts in me will inherit the land and possess my holy mountain” (Isaiah 57:13 NLT). They could continue to trust in their false gods. They could passionately pursue deliverance from lifeless idols or put their hope in the God of the universe. The choice was theirs, but the outcome of that choice was completely up to God and not up for debate.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson


When God Is Not Enough.

The word of the Lord came to me: “You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place. For thus says the Lord concerning the sons and daughters who are born in this place, and concerning the mothers who bore them and the fathers who fathered them in this land: They shall die of deadly diseases. They shall not be lamented, nor shall they be buried. They shall be as dung on the surface of the ground. They shall perish by the sword and by famine, and their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and for the beasts of the earth.

“For thus says the Lord: Do not enter the house of mourning, or go to lament or grieve for them, for I have taken away my peace from this people, my steadfast love and mercy, declares the Lord. Both great and small shall die in this land. They shall not be buried, and no one shall lament for them or cut himself or make himself bald for them. No one shall break bread for the mourner, to comfort him for the dead, nor shall anyone give him the cup of consolation to drink for his father or his mother. You shall not go into the house of feasting to sit with them, to eat and drink. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will silence in this place, before your eyes and in your days, the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride.

“And when you tell this people all these words, and they say to you, ‘Why has the Lord pronounced all this great evil against us? What is our iniquity? What is the sin that we have committed against the Lord our God?’ then you shall say to them: ‘Because your fathers have forsaken me, declares the Lord, and have gone after other gods and have served and worshiped them, and have forsaken me and have not kept my law, and because you have done worse than your fathers, for behold, every one of you follows his stubborn, evil will, refusing to listen to me. Therefore I will hurl you out of this land into a land that neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor.’” – Jeremiah 16:1-13 ESV

Perhaps God was only sparing Jeremiah the potential pain of watching his family suffer and die before his eyes. Or it could be that God’s prohibiting of Jeremiah from getting married and having children had a more symbolic meaning behind it. As a bachelor living in Judah, Jeremiah would be an oddity. In that culture it was seen as a shame and a curse to be an able-bodied man of marrying age and still be unattached. Jeremiah would have stood out like a sore thumb and his singleness would have given the people of Judah one more reason to ridicule him. But it could be that God, who was the one who came up with the idea of marriage in the first place, was going to use Jeremiah as a living example of the end of His relationship with Judah. They would be as good as divorced from Yahweh, having to learn to live without Him. And as a single man, Jeremiah would never know the joy of having and raising children – as God would be giving up His own children to devastation and destruction. There is no doubt that marrying and raising a family with the coming invasion by the Babylonians looming over their heads would have been difficult. It was a less-than-ideal environment. And God makes it painfully clear that all those with families would suffer terribly as a result of the nation’s sin.

“They will die from terrible diseases. No one will mourn for them or bury them, and they will lie scattered on the ground like manure. They will die from war and famine, and their bodies will be food for the vultures and wild animals.” – Jeremiah 16:4 NLT

So, God was graciously sparing Jeremiah from having to endure the pain and suffering that the rest of the nation would have to experience. But he would have to stand by and watch his fellow Judahites die, and God refused to allow him to attend their funerals or mourn on their behalf. Once again, this would make Jeremiah a pariah among his own people. To refuse to mourn over the death of someone was unacceptable behavior. But as God’s representative and spokesperson, Jeremiah’s actions were to be a reminder to the people of Judah that God was removing His compassion from them.

“I have removed my protection and peace from them. I have taken away my unfailing love and my mercy.” – Jeremiah 16:5 NLT

And in a real way, God was simply giving the people of Judah what they wanted: Distance from Him. Their unfaithfulness to Him illustrated by their pursuit of false gods was evidence of their lack of love for Him. They had put their hope and trust in other gods. Yahweh was not enough for them. So, God was going to let them experience life without Him. He even warns them:

“Therefore I will hurl you out of this land into a land that neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor.” – Jeremiah 16:13 NLT

There were going to get their fill of false gods. And they would no longer have Yahweh as a backup. These people who had made a habit of idolatry were going to be immersed in the worship of false gods. It would be all they had turn to. The temple would be gone. Their sacrificial system would be non-existent, leaving them with no means by which to receive atonement for their sins. And they would find themselves enslaved to the very gods they worshiped instead of Yahweh.

And God reveals a significant insight into just how idolatrous the people of Judah had become. When He refuses to allow Jeremiah to mourn on their behalf, He states, “Both the great and the lowly will die in this land. No one will bury them or mourn for them. Their friends will not cut themselves in sorrow or shave their heads in sadness” (Jeremiah 16:6 NLT). That last line is a reference to the pagan practices associated with their false gods. Idolatry had permeated every aspect of their lives, even their mourning over the death of a loved one. God had been pushed to the margins and treated as unnecessary. So, God was going to let them see what life was like without Him altogether.

And God knew the people of Judah well. He was well aware that when they heard what He was going to do to them, they would respond with incredulity and disbelief, asking, “Why has the Lord decreed such terrible things against us? What have we done to deserve such treatment? What is our sin against the Lord our God?” (Jeremiah 16:10 NLT). It is amazing to think that they would be so disconnected from reality that they would not know the cause of their suffering, but sometimes our sin blinds us. When we choose to live in darkness, we lose the ability to see the true nature of our condition. Jesus spoke of this very problem when He said, “God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants” (John 3:19-21 NLT). The people of Judah had become accustomed to the dark and could no longer see that their sins against God were the cause of their punishment by God. But He would make it perfectly clear why they were going to undergo such devastating destruction.

“It is because your ancestors were unfaithful to me. They worshiped other gods and served them. They abandoned me and did not obey my word. And you are even worse than your ancestors! You stubbornly follow your own evil desires and refuse to listen to me.” – Jeremiah 16:11-12 NLT

This was not something new. The sins of Judah went back generations. Since the day God had rescued them from captivity in Egypt, the people of Israel had shown their propensity to worship other gods. In fact, when they were living in Egypt, they had forsaken Yahweh for the gods of Egypt. That is why God spent so much time revealing His power to them. Over and over again in the Exodus story, God told the people of Israel that He was going to rescue them and prove to them that He was their one and only God.

“I am the Lord. I will free you from your oppression and will rescue you from your slavery in Egypt. I will redeem you with a powerful arm and great acts of judgment. I will claim you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God who has freed you from your oppression in Egypt. I will bring you into the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I will give it to you as your very own possession. I am the Lord!” – Exodus 6:6-8 NLT

And while God had proven time and time again, that He was the one true God, the people of Israel had continued to seek after false gods. In spite of His love, mercy, grace, provision and protection, they had made a habit of turning their backs on God. So, now He would turn them over to their own desires. As Paul so aptly describes in his letter to the Romans:

So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! – Romans 1:24-25 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Driven By Desire and Distraction.

When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Blessed be the Lord who has avenged the insult I received at the hand of Nabal, and has kept back his servant from wrongdoing. The Lord has returned the evil of Nabal on his own head.” Then David sent and spoke to Abigail, to take her as his wife. When the servants of David came to Abigail at Carmel, they said to her, “David has sent us to you to take you to him as his wife.” And she rose and bowed with her face to the ground and said, “Behold, your handmaid is a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord.” And Abigail hurried and rose and mounted a donkey, and her five young women attended her. She followed the messengers of David and became his wife.

David also took Ahinoam of Jezreel, and both of them became his wives. Saul had given Michal his daughter, David’s wife, to Palti the son of Laish, who was of Gallim. – 1 Samuel 25:39-44 ESV

In these closing verses of chapter 25, we are given a glimpse into an area of David’s life that was going to prove an ongoing problem for him throughout his life. He loved women. And this attraction to the opposite sex would be a constant thorn in his side even after becoming king. He would even pass on this propensity to his son, Solomon, who took David’s obsession with women to a whole new level.

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women. Besides Pharaoh’s daughter, he married women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and from among the Hittites. The Lord had clearly instructed the people of Israel, “You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.” Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway. He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines. And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the Lord. – 1 Kings 11:1-3 NLT

And all of this, as the passage reflects, was in direct violation of God’s commands.

The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the LORD. – Deuteronomy 17:17 NLT

Yet, after David finally became king, he would continue his practice of accumulating wives, in direct violation of God’s command.

After moving from Hebron to Jerusalem, David married more concubines and wives, and they had more sons and daughters. – 2 Samuel 5:13 NLT

David was a man after God’s own heart, but he was far from perfect. Women were his Achilles heel. And he found Abigail highly attractive. On top of that, she was godly, wise, assertive, brave, insightful, and a take-charge kind of woman. And it didn’t hurt that she was recently widowed. In fact, David didn’t seem to give Nabal’s body time to cool off before he made the move on Abigail, asking her to marry him.

The text ends with the statement that “David also took Ahinoam of Jezreel, and both of them became his wives” (1 Samuel 25:43 ESV). It also references Michal, David’s first wife, whom he had to leave behind when he fled from Saul. She was eventually given to another man, but David most likely didn’t know that at the time. So effectively, he had three wives at one time. Again, in direct disobedience to the will of God.

Why is this important? It provides us with an insight into the life of this man who would prove to be Israel’s greatest king and who, as has already been pointed out, was declared by God to be a man after His own heart. David loved God. He wanted to serve God. He had a deep desire to honor and obey God. But he also had a sin nature, just like the rest of us. And one of David’s weak spots would be his attraction to women. Satan would repeatedly use this weakness to his own advantage, tempting David to give in to his overactive libido. David would learn to justify his actions, excusing his sexual obsession as natural and normal. And yet, this sinful proclivity was a spiritual weakness, a chink in his armor that would make him an easy target for the enemy.

There are some less-than-flattering similarities between David and the Old Testament judge, Samson, when it comes to this issue. During a time when the Jews were being tormented by the Philistines because of their disobedience, God raised up Samson to be their judge and deliverer. He was a powerful man, but he had a particular weakness.

One day when Samson was in Timnah, one of the Philistine women caught his eye. When he returned home, he told his father and mother, “A young Philistine woman in Timnah caught my eye. I want to marry her. Get her for me.” – Judges 14:1-2 NLT

Like David, Samson couldn’t keep his eyes or his hands off of women. His mother and father tried to reason with Samson and talk him out of choosing a wife who was a pagan, but he would not listen.

“Get her for me! She looks good to me.” – Judges 14:3 NLT

Later on we read, “One day Samson went to the Philistine town of Gaza and spent the night with a prostitute” (Judges 16:1 NLT). And then, “Some time later Samson fell in love with a woman named Delilah, who lived in the valley of Sorek” (Judges 16:4 NLT). Each of these women would prove to be a thorn in Samson’s side. They would cause him much grief and sorrow. And his dalliance with Delilah would result in his own death.

David too, would struggle with a lustful, almost lascivious attraction to women. The most infamous story concerning David and his love affair with the opposite sex involves his affair with Bathsheba. David was the king. He was rich, powerful, and happily married to several women already. But one day, as he walked on the rooftop patio of his palace, he spied Bathsheba bathing alfresco. David was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The passage tells us “In the spring of the year, when kings normally go out to war, David sent Joab and the Israelite army to fight the Ammonites…However, David stayed behind in Jerusalem” (2 Samuel 11:1 NLT). David wasn’t where he was supposed to be. He was the warrior-king, but instead of doing battle with the Ammonites, David would end up battling his own lusts and losing. His lust for Bathsheba quickly turned to action and he had sex with her. When their affair resulted in her pregnancy, he began a cover-up campaign, that eventually led him to have her husband, a faithful soldier in his army, purposely exposed and killed on the front lines of battle. All so David could marry his wife and cover up his illicit affair.

James provides us with a stark explanation of how this whole process works.

Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. – James 1:14-15 NLT

David was a man after God’s own heart, but he had a problem. His heart was divided. He loved women. He saw them as a source of satisfaction, comfort, pleasure and self-worth. They made him feel good. They provided him with companionship. Perhaps they helped fulfill his need for conquest. Whatever drove his love affair with women, it would end up distracting him from what should have been his primary focus: His love for and dedication to God.

The chapter ends with the statement that “Saul had given Michal his daughter, David’s wife, to Palti the son of Laish, who was of Gallim” (1 Samuel 25:44 ESV). This is important, because, while it might be easy to use this as an explanation why David took Abigail to be his wife, it falls short. Years later, when David became king and Saul was dead, he would send for Michal, demanding that Ish-bosheth, the sole remaining heir to the throne of Saul, hand her over.

So David sent messengers to Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, saying, “Give me my wife Michal, to whom I was betrothed for a hundred foreskins of the Philistines.”  Ish-bosheth sent and took her from her husband, from Paltiel the son of Laish. But her husband went with her, weeping as he went, and followed her as far as Bahurim. Then Abner said to him, “Go, return.” So he returned. – 2 Samuel 3:14-16 ESV

In spite of the fact that David had married multiple wives since his departure from Saul’s palace, he had not been able to stop thinking about Michal. He had to have her. So he had her forcibly removed from her husband. And like so many of David’s decisions regarding women, this one would prove to be less-than-ideal. Michal would end up despising David and his God. Their marriage would produce little in the way of love and no offspring.

David had a propensity to be driven by desire, and that desire would prove to be a distraction throughout his life. Even in his old age, near the point of death, an attractive woman would play a significant role in his life.

King David was now very old, and no matter how many blankets covered him, he could not keep warm. So his advisers told him, “Let us find a young virgin to wait on you and look after you, my lord. She will lie in your arms and keep you warm.”

So they searched throughout the land of Israel for a beautiful girl, and they found Abishag from Shunem and brought her to the king. The girl was very beautiful, and she looked after the king and took care of him. But the king had no sexual relations with her. – 1 Kings 1:1-4 NLT

We all have weaknesses. Each of us has our spiritual Achilles heel, which Satan, our enemy, knows about and takes full advantage of at every opportunity. He tempts, lures and entices us. He baits the hook with the very thing we find most attractive. It may be sex, popularity, material possessions, pleasure, a sense of accomplishment, power, or any of a number of things. In essence, our weakness is nothing more than an insight into what we have made an idol in our life – a god that serves as a stand-in or substitute for the one true God. For David, women were his go-to choice for satisfaction, self-worth, and a sense of joy. Sexual pleasure was his idol of choice. What is yours? What do you turn to other than God? What do you worship in place of God? Anything that we allow to rob God of worship is a weakness in our lives that must be confessed and removed. When God said, “You must not have any other god but me” (Exodus 20:3 NLT), He meant it. And David was going to have to learn to believe it.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Protection For Our Affections.

I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he? – 1 Corinthians 10:15-22 ESV

As far as Paul is concerned, this is all about our affections. It is about what we love and choose to make a priority in our lives. As Paul addresses the issue of idols and meat sacrificed to them, he is not implying the idols really represent other gods. In fact, he says that when the pagans offer sacrifices to their idols, they are actually sacrificing to demons. The fact that the gods they worshiped were non-existent did not make their activity any less sinful. They were giving their affections to something they believed existed. They were associating themselves with a god that represented an alternative to the one true God. And they were joining in with those who shared their beliefs, participating in worship and the giving of sacrifices together. When they held their feasts, they were doing so with those who were of like mind.

Paul uses the Lord’s Table to illustrate what he means. Paul asks the Corinthians to consider that when they take the cup and the bread together as part of communion, “is it not a participation in the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:16 ESV). It was a common celebration and commemoration of their shared belief in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. And when the Israelites made sacrifices to God at the altar in the tabernacle of temple, did they not do so with a sense of shared belief in God? And aren’t the pagans doing the very same thing? In participating together in their sacrificial services, feasts and celebrations, they are expressing their common bond as worshipers of their particular god – whether he is false or real. And when the Corinthians joined in with them, they were aligning themselves with the pagan worshipers and their false gods – or as Paul indicates, demons.

Paul’s line of reasoning was proceeding as follows. Christians who eat the bread at the Lord’s Supper thereby express their solidarity with one another and with Christ. Likewise Jews who ate the meat of animals offered in the sacrifices of Judaism expressed their solidarity with one another and with God. Therefore Christians who eat the meat offered to pagan gods as part of pagan worship express their solidarity with pagans and with the pagan deities. – Thomas L. Constable, Notes of 1 Corinthians, 2007 Edition

There is a spiritual dimension or aspect to virtually everything we do. We are spiritual beings and their is a spiritual battle taking place all around us, hidden from our view, but as real as the air we breath. Paul warned the Ephesians about this spiritual war. “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” Ephesians 6:12 NLT). There is very little in life that is not impacted and influenced by this unseen spiritual conflict. While we may view a particular action or activity as amoral, being neither right or wrong, and not prohibited by God, we need to walk carefully. We need to examine our motivation. We need to check our affections. We need to ask ourselves why this activity or item is so important to us. Would we be unwilling to give it up if the circumstances required it? There were those in the Corinthian church who were eating meat that had been sacrificed to false gods. They were even participating alongside pagan worshipers at the feasts associated with these false gods. But their rationale was that these gods did not exist, so their activity was perfectly acceptable. But Paul warns them that if their participation causes a brother or sister in Christ to stumble, then they are wrong. Not only that, by joining in the feasts alongside idol worshipers, they are expressing a unity with them. To the rest of the world, both pagan and Christian, they appear to be one with those who worship false gods. And as if that was not bad enough, Paul indicates that they are really associating themselves with demons.

There are a great many things that we are free to do as followers of Jesus Christ. But that does not mean that all of them are things we should do. We are free to read books other than the Bible. But it is essential that we give thought to the content of the books that we read. We are free to watch TV and movies as believers. But not every show is one we should expose ourselves to. We need to examine the content and to consider the message that it is sending. There are very few movies that do not have an agenda behind them. The world we live in is heavily influenced by the unseen spiritual battle taking place behind the scenes. Satan will use any resource available to him to influence our affections and affect our dedication to God. It always goes back to our affections. When God commanded that the Israelites were to have no other gods before Him, He was not suggesting that these gods actually existed. He simple knew that man was wired to worship. He was created to share his affections with God, but was fully capable of giving those affections away.

When Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment given by God, He responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37 ESV). The greatest challenge we face as Christians involves our affections. Do we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind? The answer is no, because we can’t. We are incapable of doing so. But that does not mean we are not to try or to make it a high priority in our lives. The enemy wants to get our minds off of God. He wants to distract our affections from God. He wants our souls to be satisfied by something other than God. There is a spiritual battle taking place all around us. And Satan is subtly using the seemingly innocuous and inconspicuous things of this world to deceive us. Our lack of belief in the demonic realm does not make it cease to exist. Just because we don’t see the spiritual warfare taking place all around us doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It is because the battle in invisible that we need to arm ourselves with the spiritual weapons provided to us by God. We need spiritual discernment. We need divine assistance to fight a battle that is invisible, yet real. That is why Paul told the Ephesians, “Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm” (Ephesians 6:13 NLT). God offers us protection for our affections. He provides a way of escape. “God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure” (1 Corinthians 10:13 NLT).

The Cult of Personality.

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. – 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 ESV

It was A. W. Tozer who said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us” (A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy). Our theology will have a direct impact on how we live our lives, and a faulty view of God will end up dramatically affecting our behavior. That was the situation in Corinth and the reason why Paul mentioned God six times and Jesus Christ ten times in the first ten verses alone. He was refocusing their attention back to the nature of their relationship with God the Father and His Son. They were members of the church of God. They belonged to Him. Their very existence was due to Him. Their salvation was the result of His grace and the sacrificial death of His Son. They enjoyed fellowship with God because of Christ’s payment of their sin debt with His own life. They owed all that they were to God and His Son.

And yet, they were guilty of worshiping men. They were a house divided. It had come to Paul’s attention that divisive cliques had developed within the church there in Corinth. People were taking sides. They were aligning themselves with different leaders and claiming superiority based on who it was that they followed. There were those who bragged about their relationship with Apollos. Others claimed allegiance to Cephas (Peter). Much to his dislike, there were some who boasted that Paul was their leader. And then were those who claimed the high road, claiming to be followers of Christ. The end result of all this was petty arguing and prideful posturing. They had missed the point. It wasn’t supposed to be about Apollos, Paul or Cephas. None of them had been crucified in order to pay for the sins of mankind. None of them were preaching their own message of salvation, but each was acting as a messenger of God, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.

For Paul, a proper view of God should result in proper behavior. If people had an accurate understanding of God and the future-based focus of His plan of redemption, they would not put all their hopes in this life. They would be less likely to make more of the messenger than the message. God had been using Paul, Cephas and Apollos, but they were simply the bearers of the good news of Jesus Christ. But the Corinthians had turned these men into celebrities, and this growing cult of personality was dividing the church. The worship of man was inadvertently replacing the proper worship of God. Without realizing it, the believers in Corinth were boasting in men rather than God. They were attributing their salvation to men, instead of God. And they were focusing all their attention on the here-and-now rather than the hereafter. Who baptized them had become far more important to them than why they had been baptized in the first place. They had given their favorite preacher more prominence than they rightfully deserved. And Paul was going to make sure that they saw the error of their way.

The Corinthian believers were just as susceptible to hero worship as we are. They found themselves susceptible to making much of the messenger. Some were naturally attracted to Paul. Others found Apollos more appealing. There were those who found the style of Cephas more to their liking. But they had allowed these personal preferences to become points of contention, leading to division within the church. They were elevating style over substance. But Paul was determined to make more of the message than the messenger. In the very next chapter he writes,

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 ESV

It wasn’t about Paul’s preaching style or oratory skills. It wasn’t about his persuasive abilities or clever crafting of a good sermon. It was about Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The focus of the message of the gospel is as it always has been: the redemptive work of Jesus Christ on the cross. It is about the God-ordained, Spirit-empowered transformation of men’s lives as they place their faith in Christ, who died in their place and on their behalf. When we care more about the messenger than we do about the message, we are guilty of idol worship. When we prefer style over substance, we are no longer interested in having our hearts transformed, but simply want to have our ears tickled. We want to be entertained and satisfied, rather than sanctified. We find ourselves living for the moment, hoping our favorite preacher will keep us interested for an hour, while God would rather have us living with a much loftier goal: Our ongoing sanctification and future glorification.

A Spirit of Whoredom.

My people inquire of a piece of wood, and their walking staff gives them oracles. For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray, and they have left their God to play the whore. They sacrifice on the tops of the mountains and burn offerings on the hills, under oak, poplar, and terebinth, because their shade is good. Therefore your daughters play the whore, and your brides commit adultery. I will not punish your daughters when they play the whore, nor your brides when they commit adultery; for the men themselves go aside with prostitutes and sacrifice with cult prostitutes, and a people without understanding shall come to ruin. – Hosea 4:12-14 ESV

Idolatry should seem like a not-so-subtle form of idiocy to us. The idea of taking a piece of wood and carving an image out of it and bowing down before it as some kind of god should come across as utterly ridiculous. The prophet, Isaiah, provides us with God’s very comical description of just how silly idol worship should be to us.

“the wood-carver measures a block of wood and draws a pattern on it. He works with chisel and plane and carves it into a human figure. He gives it human beauty and puts it in a little shrine. He cuts down cedars; he selects the cypress and the oak; he plants the pine in the forest to be nourished by the rain. Then he uses part of the wood to make a fire. With it he warms himself and bakes his bread. Then—yes, it’s true—he takes the rest of it and makes himself a god to worship! He makes an idol and bows down in front of it!” – Isaiah 44:13-15 NLT

Regarding idols, God pulls no punches. “How foolish are those who manufacture idols. These prized objects are really worthless. The people who worship idols don’t know this, so they are all put to shame” (Isaiah 44:9 NLT).  And as sophisticated, modern believers, we would probably agree with His assessment. The thought of bowing down before a block of wood or some kind of man-make object sounds ridiculous to us. But for the people of Israel, idol worship was a part of the daily fabric of life. It was a common practice among all the nations surrounding them. Idol worship was socially acceptable. But the real issue behind all idol worship is the rejection of the one true God. God calls it a “spirit of whoredom.” What drives it is a desire for something other than God. It is built on dissatisfaction, distrust, and a belief that God is not enough. Rather than trust God and His promises, the people of Israel hedged their bets and turned to the gods of other nations in a hope that they would have all their bases covered. It God didn’t come through, maybe one of the other gods would. Some of their unfaithfulness to God was also driven by mere peer pressure, the desire to fit in with the nations around them. One of the reasons God had demanded that the people of Israel destroy all the nations living in the land of promise was so that they would not be tempted to worship their gods. But Israel failed to keep God’s command and soon found themselves intermarrying with those nations and worshiping their false gods.

By the time we get to the period in which Hosea prophesied, things had digressed to a dangerous point. Israel had actually manufactured their own idols – two golden calves – to replace the worship of Yahweh. They had set up their own priesthood and sacrificial system to replace that which God had instituted in Jerusalem. Their unfaithfulness had reached epic proportions and God had had enough. The “spirit of whoredom” was rampant. It even led their daughters to become actual prostitutes. The marriages of the people of Israel were marked by adultery and unfaithfulness. God declared, “your men are doing the same thing, sinning with whores and shrine prostitutes” (Hosea 4:14 NLT).

Unfaithfulness to God stems from an ignorance of God. If the Israelites had really known and understood just how great their God was, they would never have considered turning their back on Him. But over time, they had grown foolish in their understanding. They had lost their intimacy with God and had no real personal relationship with Him. God had become little more than a concept to them, an impersonal, distant deity whom they couldn’t see and with whom they had little or no interaction. The spirit of whoredom creeps in when we stray from God. The less time we spend with Him, reading His Word, sharing with Him our wants and needs, listening to His direction and hearing of His love for us, the more we will tend to stray from Him. They say distance makes the heart grow fonder, but distance from God is dangerous. It can lead to disinterest and, ultimately, unfaithfulness. Like the people of Israel, we will find ourselves turning to something other than God in order to have our needs met. And while we may not have wooden idols in our homes or shrines located under trees or on top of hills. we will find ourselves worshiping false gods. The spirit of whoredom will creep in, tempting us to seek out something other than God to bring us satisfaction, contentment, joy, pleasure, hope, peace, or fulfillment. Anything we turn to other than God is an idol in our lives. Anything we fear losing has become an idol in our lives. Anything we wake up at night worrying about has become an idol in our lives. If sleeping in means more to us than seeking God, sleep has become an idol. If watching TV brings us more joy than reading God’s Word, then TV has become an idol. If becoming successful is more appealing to us than becoming holy, then our job has become an idol to us. If we place more trust in our money than we do God, then money has become an idol to us. And we are suffering from the spirit of whoredom.

God is not enough for us. His love is insufficient for us. We need more. We demand more. When He doesn’t give us what we think we need, we turn to something else. When we think we deserve more or better, we seek what we’re looking for elsewhere. And when we do, we shouldn’t be surprised when our children end up seeking their hope, help, fulfillment and satisfaction from the things of this world. The spirit of whoredom is contagious. It can spread through a family, a church and a generation. In a very short time, we can find ourselves in the same predicament that Israel was in – unfaithful to God,  spiritually adulterous and facing God’s wrath for their infidelity and insubordination. But God would have us return to Him, placing our faith and trust in Him. He wants to love us, bless us and fulfill His will in us.

When God Is Not Enough.

Say to your brothers, “You are my people,” and to your sisters, “You have received mercy.”

Plead with your mother, plead—for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband—that she put away her whoring from her face, and her adultery from between her breasts; lest I strip her naked and make her as in the day she was born, and make her like a wilderness, and make her like a parched land, and kill her with thirst.

Upon her children also I will have no mercy, because they are children of whoredom. For their mother has played the whore; she who conceived them has acted shamefully. For she said, “I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.”

Therefore I will hedge up her way with thorns, and I will build a wall against her, so that she cannot find her paths. She shall pursue her lovers but not overtake them, and she shall seek them but shall not find them. Then she shall say,I will go and return to my first husband, for it was better for me then than now.”

And she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil,
and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal. Therefore I will take back my grain in its time, and my wine in its season, and I will take away my wool and my flax, which were to cover her nakedness. Now I will uncover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers, and no one shall rescue her out of my hand. And I will put an end to all her mirth, her feasts, her new moons, her Sabbaths, and all her appointed feasts. And I will lay waste her vines and her fig trees, of which she said, “These are my wages, which my lovers have given me.” I will make them a forest, and the beasts of the field shall devour them. And I will punish her for the feast days of the Baals when she burned offerings to them and adorned herself with her ring and jewelry, and went after her lovers and forgot me, declares the Lord. – Hosea 2:1-13 ESV

The narrative suddenly moves from God giving directions to Hosea regarding his wife and children to His real purpose behind the book: His assessment of Israel’s faithfulness. The whole point in Hosea having marry a woman who would prove unfaithful to him was to illustrate the long-standing unfaithfulness of Israel to God. And God’s command for Hosea to give his children such odd and offensive names was to make a painful point to the people of Israel. Even as the prophet of God, Hosea was going to have an up-close and personal experience with what unfaithfulness really looked and felt like. His own wife would leave him for a life of prostitution, and every time he called his children by name, he would be reminded of this painful fact.

But God’s primary purpose was to communicate to Israel just how grieved and angry He was with their sin of apostasy. From the moment their nation had been formed, they had chosen to reject Him as God. Jeroboam had commanded the construction of his own gods – golden calves – so that the people would not be tempted to return to Jerusalem to worship. He even appointed his own priests and set up his own temples. And God was not pleased.

Verse one appears to be tied directly to the closing verses of chapter one, where God had foretold of the coming restoration of the entire nation of Israel. There was a day coming when He would once again bless Israel and restore them to their privileged position as His children. He would even restore the divided nation, making them one once again. “And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head” (Hosea 1:11 ESV). In that day, both Judah and Israel will be able to call each other brothers and claim to be God’s people. The names Hosea gave to his two children would no longer apply. This is a future-oriented prophecy dealing with the millennial kingdom of Christ, but because God is faithful, it is guaranteed to happen.

But until that day arrived, God would deal with Israel according to their sin as a nation. And God made it quite clear to Hosea how He viewed the nation. “But now bring charges against Israel—your mother—for she is no longer my wife, and I am no longer her husband. Tell her to remove the prostitute’s makeup from her face and the clothing that exposes her breasts” (Hosea 2:2 NLT). God was fed up. He had had enough. And the rest of the verses in this passage reflect just what God thought about the nation of Israel. They had been unfaithful to Him. Like a prostitute, they had thrown themselves at any god that had come along, including Baal, the god of the Canaanites. They had sought from false gods what they should have only expected to receive from the hand of God Almighty. In fact, God made it clear that it had been Him who had provided for her all along yet “she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold” (Hosea 2:8 ESV). And what had they done with all that God had given them? They had used it all to worship a false god. They had taken the blessings of God and used them to make offerings to a god who didn’t even exist.

Now God was going to remove His hand of blessing and protection from them, and they would find no relief from those gods to whom it had turned. Their destruction was coming. Spiritual unfaithfulness always has ramifications. We cannot abuse the grace and mercy of God repeatedly and not expect there to be consequences. Israel was taking its status as God’s chosen people for granted. They were treating His goodness with contempt. And we can do the same thing today. We can be guilty of taking the blessings of God – our talents, resources, gifts, etc. – and using them to “worship” and serve the gods of this world. Like Israel, we can end up turning to false gods rather than the one true God for our hope and help. Trusting in men, money, governments and other institutions rather than God will never provide us with that for which we are looking. God wanted Israel to love and trust Him. He wants us to turn to Him for all our needs. We are to be His people, living life according to His terms and in complete dependence upon His strength.

Isaiah 21-22, 1 John 2

Love of the World.

Isaiah 21-22, 1 John 2

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.  1 John 2:15-16 NLT

Our love affair with the world comes in all kinds of shapes and forms. Sometimes we simply love what the world has to offer – its pleasures and attractions, promises and appeals to our pride. Other times we reveal our love of the world through our tendencies to turn to it for deliverance from difficulties and salvation from life’s sorrows. The people of Judah were guilty of forsaking God and replacing His role in their lives as their Savior, Lord and King. They had made a habit of turning to the world as the solution to their problems. Not only did they put their hope in foreign nations, they actually worshiped the false gods of those nations. The people of God in Isaiah’s day were addicted to and craved physical pleasure. They were driven by their senses. And they took tremendous pride in their own accomplishments and material attainments. But just as John warned his readers that “the world is passing away along with its desires,” so God warned the people of Judah that their world of false idols, replacements gods, and psuedo-saviors were going to be done away with. Babylon was going to fall. So would Edom and Arabia. Even the city of God, Jerusalem, would eventually fall at the hands of outside forces in 586 B.C.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God never intended for man to love this world. Even when the creation was free from the effects of sin, it was intended to remind mankind of the one who created it. In Romans, Paul makes it clear that man was never intended to worship the creation. “So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise!” (Romans 1:25 NLT). We are to love the Creator God, not the creation of God. But when John refers to our love affair with the world, he is not speaking of physical creation, but he uses the Greek word, kosmos. In this context, he seems to be referring to what Strong’s Concordance refers to as “the whole circle of earthly goods, endowments riches, advantages, pleasures, etc, which although hollow and frail and fleeting, stir desire, seduce from God and are obstacles to the cause of Christ.” There is nothing inherently wrong with earthly goods, riches, or pleasures, but when we treat them as gods, we allow them to replace the one true God in our life. We expect from them what we should only expect from God Himself. The people of Judah had come to expect salvation from foreign nations. They had learned to seek pleasure from false gods and the immoral religions associated with them. They had made a habit out of seeking pleasure rather than holiness. They were driven more by their sensual desires than by spiritual appetites. And God was neither pleased nor tolerant. John so starkly reminds us, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the father is not in him” (1 John 2:15 ESV). 

What does this passage reveal about man?

When we love the world and the things it offers, it manifests itself in desires that come from our sin nature, rather than the Holy Spirit. It shows up as a insatiable lust for things we see and can’t seem to live without. It also reveals itself in an unhealthy pride in our possessions. We tend to become what we own. Our identity becomes wrapped up in the outward accouterments of life. In other words, the phrase, “the clothes make the man” becomes a form of truth for us. We believe we are what we own, what we have accomplished and how we are perceived by the outside world. But God would have us remember, “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 NLT). God is not impressed with our exterior. He is not swayed by what we wear, drive, or live in. He looks at the condition of our hearts. Even so-called religious acts do nothing to impress God if our hearts are not in them. Later on, in chapter 29 of the book of Isaiah, God will declare of the people of Judah, “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote” (Isaiah 29:13 NLT). Somehow, we have convinced ourselves that the outside is far more important than the inside. We have allowed ourselves to fall in love with the world’s version of the truth. We have listened to the lies of the enemy and bought in to his convincing offers of hope, healing, satisfaction, fulfillment and happiness. But God’s people are designed to turn to Him as their only source for all their needs. He alone can deliver what they are looking for.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

John goes on to remind us, “And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming” (1 John 2:28 ESV). We are to abide in Christ. That word, abide, literally means “to remain in” or “to be held, kept.” It carries the idea that we are to stay focused on and at rest in the saving work of Jesus Christ. We are to seek our satisfaction in Him and no one or nothing else. It is He who keeps us and sustains us in this life. The world will constantly offer false hope and a form of pseudo-salvation, but it will always disappoint and fall short. John would encourage us to remember that not only can we abide in Him now, we will be able to abide in Him for all eternity. “So you must remain faithful to what you have been taught from the beginning. If you do, you will remain in fellowship with the Son and with the Father. And in this fellowship we enjoy the eternal life he promised us.” (1 John 2:24-25 NLT). Our hope is in Christ, right now and for eternity. We can abide in Him. We can rest in Him. We can find all that we need in Him. There is no need to love the world or the things it offers. Those things will pass away, but our relationship with God the Father through Christ the Son is eternal and everlasting, and worthy of our total trust and commitment.

Father, the world can be a pretty enticing place. The things of this world can be a huge distraction and cause us to lose our focus on You and Your Son. Help us to remain in You. Help us to find all our help, hope, happiness and ultimate satisfaction in Your Son and His saving work on the cross. There is nothing this world can offer that Christ has not already provided through His sacrificial death on my behalf. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Isaiah 1-2, James 5

Dangerously Fat and Happy.

Isaiah 1-2, James 5

Their land is filled with silver and gold, and there is no end to their treasures; their land is filled with horses, and there is no end to their chariots. Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their own fingers have made. Isaiah 2:7-8 ESV

Isaiah was a prophet of God living in the city of Jerusalem whose ministry spanned the reigns of four different kings of Judah. He had unenviable task of warning the people of Judah about God’s coming judgment if they did not repent of their sin and rebellion against Him. The opening chapters of this book are not an easy read, and do not paint a very flattering picture of the people of Judah. Isaiah pulled no punches in his stinging assessment of God’s rebellious people. Speaking on behalf of God, he called them a “sinful nation” and the “offspring of evildoers.” He accused them of having “despised the Holy One of Israel.” He compared them to a sick body with “no soundness in it.” If God had not mercifully left a few survivors, their fate would have been as devastating as that of Sodom and Gomorrah. God was fed up with their religious rituals that had become nothing but rote exercises lacking in heartfelt conviction or true repentance. According to Isaiah, God had “had enough of burnt offerings or rams and the fat of well-fed beasts” (Isaiah 1:11 ESV). God was sick of their hypocrisy as they stormed into His holy presence all high and mighty, but filled with iniquity. He was done listening to their heartless prayers and gagging on their incense. His recommendation was a simple one: “Wash yourselves and be clean! Get your sins out of my sight. Give up your evil ways. Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows” (Isaiah 1:16-17 NLT). In other words, change your behavior. Let your actions reflect the true condition of your heart.

What does this passage reveal about God?

It grieved God to look at the Israelites and His holy city, Jerusalem, and witness the blatant unfaithfulness of the city and people that both bore His name. But God was not done with either. Through Isaiah, He foretells the coming day when He would restore His people and the city of Zion. “Zion will be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness” (Isaiah 1:27 ESV). There is a day coming when God will accomplish for the people of Israel what they could not have done for themselves. He will send His Son to rule and reign. He will defeat the enemies of Israel and reestablish the Kingdom of God on earth, with His Son, Jesus Christ, sitting on the throne of David in the city of Jerusalem. God will bring peace to the earth. “The Lord will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes. They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4 NLT). But those days are in the distant future. In the meantime, God had more immediate plans for the people of Judah. He had legitimate charges against them that deserved His righteous judgment. These people, whom God had chosen and promised to bless in incredible ways if they would only remain faithful, had proven to be unfaithful time and time again. Their greatest problem was a staggering self-sufficiency that sprang from their pride. Rather than being satisfied with God, they had filled up on anything and everything. They were “full of things from the east, and of furtune-tellers like the Philistines” (Isaiah 2:6 ESV). The land of Judah was “filled” with silver and gold, treasure, horses and chariots, and all kinds of idols they had made with their own hands. During the reign of King Uzziah, the nation of Judah had experienced unprecedented peace and prosperity, and it had gone to the peoples’ heads. They had replaced the worship of God with the worship of trinkets and treasures, idols and idle pleasures. And as a result, they were about to experience what it was like to try and hide from “the terror of the Lord” and “the splendor of His majesty” (Isaiah 2:10 ESV). A holy God would not put up with their sin any longer.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Mankind has always suffered from pride. It is the root of all sin. It was the cause of the original sin of Adam and Eve. They desired to be like God. Their desire for self-worship caused them to take God off the throne of their lives and attempt to take His place. But God warned the people of Judah, “the haughty looks of man shall be brought low, and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled” (Isaiah 2:11 ESV). In fact, God makes it painfully clear that there is a day coming when “the Lord alone will be exalted” (Isaiah 2:17 ESV). The problem of pride spans the centuries and has plagued the generations of mankind. Even in the day of James, the specter of pride hung over the body of Christ. He had harsh warnings for those who placed their hope in the things of this world. “Look here, you rich people: Weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you. Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags. Your gold and silver are corroded. The very wealth you were counting on will eat away your flesh like fire. This corroded treasure you have hoarded will testify against you on the day of judgment. For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The cries of those who harvest your fields have reached the ears of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies” (James 5:1-4 NLT). There were those in the local church who had made a god out of money. They worshiped wealth to such a degree that they were guilty of taking advantage of those around them. Like the people if Isaiah’s day, they were guilty of injustice and oppression. It all reminds me of the words spoken against the church of Laodicea: “You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17 NLT). Pride blinds us to the reality of our sin. Jesus Himself goes on to tell the church of Laodicea, “So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference” (Revelation 3:18-19 NLT).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

We must turn to God for help. We are incapable of defeating the pride in our own lives. God reminded the people of Judah, “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool” (Isaiah 1:18 NLT). We must bring our pride to the cross. We must humble ourselves before the Savior and ask Him to do for us what we could never do for ourselves. Peter provides us with this encouraging words: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:5-7 ESV). We can never afford to allow the love of money to replace our love for God. We can never be willing to let our dependence on God to be replaced by a reliance upon wealth. Anything we allow to take the place of God in our lives will become an idol. Whatever we turn to for contentment, fulfillment, rescue, self-worth, our value, or confidence, will always fail to deliver what we desire. All idols prove themselves incapable of fulfilling our expectations in them. But if we place our hope and trust in God, we will never be disappointed. We should never place our trust in anything other than God – especially man. “Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?” (Isaiah 2:22 ESV).

Father, never let me get fat and happy in this world. I don’t want to become content and complacent, falling in love with the plastic hopes and dreams of this fleeting world. I want to constantly remember that my treasure lies elsewhere. My hope is not found in the things of this earth, but in You. Forgive me for making idols out of so many things. Open my eyes. Help me to see them for what they are. Give me the strength to turn from anything and everything that tries to capture my affection for You. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

1 Kings 17-18, 2 Corinthians 7

Limping Along.

1 Kings 17-18, 2 Corinthians 7

And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” – 1 Kings 11:21 ESV

The story of the history of Israel is filled with images of indecisiveness, unfaithfulness, mixed allegiances, and self-centered motives. In other words, it is the story of mankind. But these were the chosen people of God. They had experienced first-hand the powerful hand of God on their lives, having been miraculously set free from captivity in Egypt, provided for and protected for more than 40 years as they wandered in the wilderness, and eventually, given a land of rich abundance and fruitfulness filled with cities and homes they hadn’t built and crops they hadn’t planted. God had proven Himself faithful time and time again over the years. He had given them a great king in David. He had made them a powerful nation. He had blessed them with a wise king in Solomon whose reign was marked by a period of peace and plenty. But despite all of God’s goodness and blessing, the people of Israel could not remain faithful. They never full rejected God. Instead, they hedged their bets and worshiped other gods as well, ensuring that they had all their bases covered when it came to divine protection and provision. But the gods they worshiped proved to be no gods at all. They were impotent and non-existent. When the prophets of Baal called out to him, he remained silent. He gave no answer. “And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, O Baal, answer us! But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made” (1 Kings 18:26 ESV). It’s interesting to note that the same verb is used in verse 26 to describe the actions of the prophets of Baal that Elijah uses in verse 21 to describe the people of God – they limped. The actual Hebrew word can mean “to limp, to hop, to jump around.” It is the image of someone on crutches who is unsteady, unstable indecisive, and hesitant in their actions. They were anxious and fearful, unsure if their god was going to come through for them. They lacked conviction and faith. They weren’t short on effort or determination, because they even “cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them” (1 Kings 18:28 ESV). But for all their effort and energy, their god remained silent.

What does this passage reveal about God?

But in contrast, we have the God of Elijah. In the period of time leading up to this event, Elijah had been personally cared for by God, having been miraculously fed by ravens. He had seen a poor widow’s meager oil and flour multiplied by God in order to keep herself, her son, and himself alive. He had watched as the widow’s son became sick and died, but he had trusted God to bring him back to life, and He did. Elijah’s God was alive and well. He could hear and He could respond. He was powerful and compassionate. He could be trusted. And we see in Elijah’s actions that day on Mount Carmel that he believed in his God. He did not limp along in unbelief. He was not hesitant. He exhibited no doubt or indecisiveness. His actions were clear and his orders, concise. He called and his God responded – in power. “Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stone and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God’” (1 Kings 18:38-39 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

As long as the people continued to share their allegiance between God and a host of false gods, they would continue to limp along, living lives marked by powerlessness, hopelessness, and physical, as well as spiritual drought. Placing their trust in anyone or anything other than God would continue to prove unproductive and, ultimately, destructive. For all their expended effort and religious zeal, the prophets of Baal only ended up doing harm to themselves. Their blind faith in a false god would result in their own deaths. But the people of Israel were like a lame person on two crutches. Their faith was unsteady and their spiritual walk was unstable. They limped about between the one true God and a host of false gods. They staggered between truth and falsehood. But Elijah challenged them to choose. “If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18:21 ESV). But they were indecisive. They were unsure. They had long ago begun to doubt in the power of the one true God. As a result, they had begun seeking out the potential help of any and all gods who might meet their needs or fulfill their desires. If God couldn’t or wouldn’t come through, perhaps they could find another god who would meet their needs. As is usually the case, they were seeking a god would would accommodate their wishes. They wanted a god of their own making, who would take care of them according to their own standards. But because their gods were powerless and silent, they wavered back and forth between a host of gods, waiting and watching, hoping that one of them would prove to be the god they were looking for.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Paul has already reminded us that the people of Israel were the chosen people of God. He had promised to dwell among them. He had promised to walk among them. He had promised to be their Father and treat them as His own children. All they had to do was live like who they were: the children of God. They were to separate themselves from the rest of the world and live distinctively different lives, according to God’s standards, not their own. And Paul reminded the Corinthians, that as followers of Christ, they were also to see themselves as holy and distinct, children of God. He pleaded, “beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1 ESV). In other words, they were to make the pursuit of holiness their primary focus. Rather than waver in indecisiveness, they were to do everything in their power to “make a clean break with everything that defiles or distracts us, both within and without” (The Message). Paul was wanting to see them live with a singular focus: pursuing holiness and Christ-likeness. But far too often, as believers, we can find ourselves limping along, like someone trying to navigate life while leaning on two crutches. We are unsteady and unsure of ourselves. We are placing our hope and leaning our lives on things that can’t deliver. We are relying on things that, in the long run, will prove themselves unreliable. Only God can be trusted. Only God can come through for us. Only God can deliver what it is we need. How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him.

Father, I want to follow You. I want to lean on You, rely on You, trust in You. I am tired of limping along in indecisiveness. You have proven Yourself faithful and true time and time again in my life. The things of this world have proven themselves unreliable and unworthy of my allegiance. Help me to stop wavering and begin trusting You more. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men