Inquiring Minds Want to Know.

I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the sons of man.

So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. 10 And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. 11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 ESV

Solomon was on a quest. He was a man on a desperate search for the meaning to life. Blessed by God with remarkable wisdom and abundant wealth, he found himself in the seemingly enviable position of having all that his heart could desire. But that was the problem. He was discontent, lacking any sense of fulfillment or satisfaction. So, he used his wisdom to investigate all the options available to him, and because of his great wealth and influence as king, there was little he could not acquire. And in this chapter, Solomon provides us with a glimpse into the somewhat hedonistic experiment that became his life.

One of the things that likely led to Solomon’s dilemma, was the peace that marked his reign. Unlike his father, David, Solomon ruled during a period in Israel’s history when they enjoyed unprecedented peace and prosperity. The book of First Kings describes the situation.

20 The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They were very contented, with plenty to eat and drink. 21 Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River in the north to the land of the Philistines and the border of Egypt in the south. The conquered peoples of those lands sent tribute money to Solomon and continued to serve him throughout his lifetime. – 1 Kings 4:20-21 NLT

24 Solomon’s dominion extended over all the kingdoms west of the Euphrates River, from Tiphsah to Gaza. And there was peace on all his borders. 25 During the lifetime of Solomon, all of Judah and Israel lived in peace and safety. And from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south, each family had its own home and garden.1 Kings 4:24-25 NLT

David had spent the entirety of his reign fighting the enemies of Israel and extending the borders of the nation. And his son inherited the kingdom he had established. That left Solomon with little to do, other than maintain what he had been given. So, he built. He constructed an opulent palace for himself that took 13 years to complete. He also built the temple, in fulfillment of his father’s dream. But Solomon was not done.

1 It took Solomon twenty years to build the Lord’s Temple and his own royal palace. At the end of that time, Solomon turned his attention to rebuilding the towns that King Hiram had given him, and he settled Israelites in them.

Solomon also fought against the town of Hamath-zobah and conquered it. He rebuilt Tadmor in the wilderness and built towns in the region of Hamath as supply centers. He fortified the towns of Upper Beth-horon and Lower Beth-horon, rebuilding their walls and installing barred gates. He also rebuilt Baalath and other supply centers and constructed towns where his chariots and horses could be stationed. He built everything he desired in Jerusalem and Lebanon and throughout his entire realm. – 2 Chronicles 8:1-6 NLT

Solomon built. But none of these massive construction projects satisfied him. So, he pursued pleasure.

I said to myself, “Come on, let’s try pleasure. Let’s look for the ‘good things’ in life.” But I found that this, too, was meaningless. – Ecclesiastes 2:1 NLT

This wasn’t a case of Solomon running headlong into a life of unbridled hedonism, but the well-thought-out efforts of an inquiring mind. He wanted to know the source of man’s satisfaction and significance. Being king was not enough. Having great wealth and unparalleled wisdom didn’t do it. So, he sought out all the ways he might bring pleasure to his life. He tried wine, architecture, horticulture, and ranching. He purchased countless slaves to serve him and meet his every desire. He surrounded himself with concubines, literally hundreds of them, whose sole purpose in life was to meet his sensual desires. He filled his vaults with gold and silver and his palace with the sounds of singers. Solomon was on a never-ending quest for meaning in life. And he lived with a motto that said, “Enough is never enough.” In fact, he stated, “Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors” (Ecclesiastes 2:10 NLT).

But none of it satisfied him. He describes it as vanity, as profitable as chasing the wind. All his efforts were getting him nowhere. His accumulation of material goods had left him surrounded by all the trappings of success, but he still had a huge void in his life. He had hundreds of wives and concubines, thousands of slaves and servants, and countless admirers and courtiers, but he was still lonely.

It would be a mistake to assert that Solomon received no pleasure or satisfaction from the many things listed in this passage. He most certainly did. The sex was satisfying, for the moment. But it didn’t last. The gold and silver made his extravagant lifestyle possible, and brought him short periods of happiness, but no lasting joy. The palace in which he lived provided all the comforts he could ever desire, but it couldn’t make him content. Solomon was learning the difficult life lesson that acquisition and accumulation were lousy substitutes for a vital relationship with God. Only He can satisfy our deepest longings and desires. The blessings of God are never intended to be a substitute for God. Somewhere along the way, Solomon had lost sight of his father’s warnings. Nearing the end of his life, David had given his son some final words of wisdom, encouraging him to remain faithful to God.

“I am going where everyone on earth must someday go. Take courage and be a man. Observe the requirements of the Lord your God, and follow all his ways. Keep the decrees, commands, regulations, and laws written in the Law of Moses so that you will be successful in all you do and wherever you go. If you do this, then the Lord will keep the promise he made to me. He told me, ‘If your descendants live as they should and follow me faithfully with all their heart and soul, one of them will always sit on the throne of Israel.’ – 1 Kings 2:2-4 NLT

And while the early years of Solomon’s reign would be marked by faithfulness, it didn’t take long before he began to allow his wealth and power to turn him away from God. He became self-sufficient and self-reliant. He had all he needed and he filled his life with everything but God. He even worshiped other gods, the sad result of his marriages to hundreds of women from other cultures who brought their pagan idols with them. Solomon forgot God. He lost sight of the fact that his wisdom and wealth had been gifts to him from God. And the minute he began to think that he was a self-made man, he began his descent toward self-destruction. Yes, he maintained all the outward signs of success, portraying to all those around him the visible manifestations of extreme affluence. To everyone else, he looked like the man who had it all. He was handsome, wealthy and powerful. He was admired and envied by all. Kings and queens found themselves jealous of his success, looking on in awe-struck wonder at his many accomplishments and extensive political influence.

But it was all a facade, a house of cards. It all added up to nothing and provided Solomon with no lasting satisfaction. This great king, like everyone else who has ever lived, was learning the painful lesson that our possessions always end up possessing us. What we hope will deliver us, almost always ends up enslaving us. And thousands of years later, Jesus would speak these powerful words of warning:

19 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. – Matthew 6:19-21 NLT

And the apostle Paul would echo the words of Jesus when he wrote to his young protege, Timothy.

17 Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. 18 Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. 19 By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life. – 1 Timothy 6:17-19 NLT

Solomon had taken his eyes off of God. He had placed his hope in anything and everything but God. And he found himself mired in a never-ending cycle of accumulation and acquisition that always ended in dissatisfaction. In his quest to know the meaning of life, Solomon forgot what it meant to know God, the author of life.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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

Take Courage.

21 Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. 22 Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ 25 So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. 26 But we must run aground on some island.”

27 When the fourteenth night had come, as we were being driven across the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors suspected that they were nearing land. 28 So they took a sounding and found twenty fathoms. A little farther on they took a sounding again and found fifteen fathoms. 29 And fearing that we might run on the rocks, they let down four anchors from the stern and prayed for day to come. 30 And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, and had lowered the ship’s boat into the sea under pretense of laying out anchors from the bow, 31 Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship’s boat and let it go.

33 As day was about to dawn, Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have continued in suspense and without food, having taken nothing. 34 Therefore I urge you to take some food. For it will give you strength, for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you.” 35 And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat. 36 Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves. 37 (We were in all 276 persons in the ship.) 38 And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, throwing out the wheat into the sea. Acts 27:21-38 ESV

pauls-journey-to-rome

Earlier in the voyage. Paul had warned the ship’s officers of a bad premonition he had regarding the outcome of their voyage if they proceeded. And Paul had minced no words, saying, “I believe there is trouble ahead if we go on—shipwreck, loss of cargo, and danger to our lives as well” (Acts 27:10 NLT). But the soldier in charge of Paul and the rest of the prisoners on board had listened to the advice of the ship’s captain and crew, who had all agreed to keep sailing, in search of a safer port. Now, they found themselves in a predicament. They had sailed for days in violent seas, their ship battered by the waves and wind. The storm was so intense that it blocked out the sun during the day, thrusting Paul and his 275 shipmates into a perpetual state of darkness. For days on end, the sailors had battled the storm, unable to eat or sleep, and Luke indicates that they finally abandoned all hope. 

But in the heat of the storm, Paul addressed the crew, reminding them that they should have heeded his initial advice. All that he had predicted had come true, and now they were on the brink of disaster. Things were out of their control. They had done all they could do, but the storm had proven too great and their attempts to save themselves, too small. Yet, this wasn’t a case of Paul telling them, “I told you so.” He wasn’t rubbing their noses in their failure to heed his advice. He was letting them know that His God was greater than the storm.

22 “But take courage! None of you will lose your lives, even though the ship will go down. 23 For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me, 24 and he said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar! What’s more, God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you.’ 25 So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as he said. 26 But we will be shipwrecked on an island.” – Acts 27:22-26 NLT

Right in the middle of what was probably the worst storm any of these sea-hardened sailors had ever experienced, Paul stood up and told them to take courage. He encouraged them not to fear. Can you imagine how ludicrous his words must have sounded to those men? Here was some Jewish prisoner and landlubber, attempting to calm their fears and assure them that none of them would die. All would turn out well. And, even more incredibly, this man was basing his words on a dream he had received from his God.

Paul had faith, and his faith would prove contagious. He had heard from God and he believed what he had been told. So, he told the men, “euthymeō” – take courage. They were to be of good cheer. Now think about what Paul was saying. The storm was still raging. The waves were still crashing against the side of the boat. The rain was still pouring down. The noise must have been deafening. But Paul was telling them to take courage and he clearly stated why they should. “For I believe God. It will be just as he said” (Acts 27:25 NLT). Paul trusted God. Even in the midst of the storm. Nothing had changed. Their circumstances had not improved. Paul was telling them to trust a God they didn’t know and couldn’t see, while everything was crashing down around them. Paul had learned not to focus his attention on immediate circumstances. What was happening around them was not proof of what was going to happen to them. While they had abandoned all hope, they had not been abandoned by God, and Paul told them as much. “God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you” (Acts 27:24 NLT).

This story reminds me of a poem written in 1774 by William Cowper.  

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sov’reign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

All the sailors could see was the storm raging around them. They were drenched from the incessant rain and weakened from going for days without food. They had lost all hope. They had probably called out to their various gods, begging for salvation. They had thought about their wives and children at home and the likelihood of never seeing them again. They had exhausted all their mental and physical resources trying to save themselves. And now, Paul was telling them that his God had everything under control. They would be safe. There would be a shipwreck, but not a single man would be lost.

As the storm progressed, the sailors determined that their best hope of salvation was to abandon ship. Under the pretext of setting out additional anchors to keep the ship from running aground on the rocks, these men attempted to lower the ship’s skiff or lifeboat. But Paul warned the guards who were watching he and the other prisoners, that if the sailors did not stay on board, everyone would die. So, the soldiers cut the ropes to the lifeboat, allowing it to drift away in the storm. Now, they had to trust God. There were no other options. For the sailors, the lifeboat had become an idol, a false hope of salvation. But Paul knew that it would have failed them. They would not have survived the storm in a boat so small. Their best hope for salvation was to remain in the ship and under the watchful care of God Almighty. But their actions reflect those of every human being who, when caught in the storms of life, attempts to find a way out. They seek a way of salvation and escape. Rather than place their trust in a God they can’t see, they rely on something more tangible in nature. When the Israelites had been set free from slavery in Egypt and found themselves in the wilderness, they began to wonder about this God of Moses. While Moses was up on the mountain talking to God, the people determined to make their own god, an idol made of precious metal. They sought to create a god of their own making, something they could see. Their leader had disappeared. He had gone to the top of the mountain and they had assumed he was not returning. And the God that had rescued them seemed to have bailed on them. So, they took matters into their own hands and fabricated their own source of salvation.

Paul wanted everyone to know that the best course of action was to remain right where they were. They were to stay on the boat, not to abandon ship. What they believed was going to be the source of their death, would actually play a vital role in their salvation. They were going to have to trust Paul, who had placed his trust in God. And Paul was so confident, that he encouraged the men to eat so that they could regain their strength, assuring them, “For not a hair of your heads will perish” (Acts 27:34 NLT). Then, Luke tells us, “everyone was encouraged and began to eat—all 276 of us who were on board” (Acts 27:36-37 NLT). The faith of Paul had infected the entire ship. When everyone else on board had abandoned hope and the sailors had tried to abandon ship, Paul had remained confident in the faithfulness of God. Instead of fear, he had exhibited faith. When everyone else was panicking, he was trusting. While the crew had grown weak and abandoned all hope, Paul had remained strong. He was exhibiting the very characteristics he had encouraged the Corinthians to have. “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13 ESV). And his courage had made an impact on all those around him.

 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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

Worthless Things.

Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, 10 said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking. 11 And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. 14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, 15 “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” 18 Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them. Acts 14:8-18 ESV

acts-pauls-first-missionary-journey

After having to leave Iconium due to the Jews stirring up a mob against them, Paul and Barnabas made their way to Lystra, another Roman colony about 20 miles or a day’s journey away. Upon their arrival in Lystra, Paul and Barnabas had another one of those “chance” encounters that were becoming an everyday part of their lives. They were speaking somewhere in Lystra to a crowd that had gathered. There is no mention of them attending the synagogue, as had become their custom. So, it may be that there were not enough Jews in Lystra to warrant a synagogue. But, as usual, Paul and Barnabas had no problem attracting attention to themselves. They simply began to speak to any who would listen. And, in the crowd that day, there happened to be a man who had been lame since birth.
Luke makes note of the fact that the man was listening to what Paul was saying, and that Paul, spotting the man in the crowd, could tell that the man “had faith to be made well” (Acts 14:9 ESV). Luke provides no insight into how Paul knew this. Most likely, Paul was given a kind of spiritual intuition from the Holy Spirit. He was somehow able to see into the man’s heart and perceive in his eyes that this man had faith that God could heal him. He believed. We are not told what Paul said to the crowd, but whatever it was, it produced in this man a believing faith that the God of whom Paul spoke was powerful enough to restore the use of his limbs. Now, it is important that we consider not only why this event was included by Luke, but why this man was in the crowd. By this time in the story, we should be recognizing that nothing that is taking place is happenstance or the result of fate. This man’s presence in the crowd was according to the sovereign will of God. The very fact that Paul made eye-contact with this man was not a byproduct of chance. God had been the one to orchestrate the entire situation. Either God had directed Paul and Barnabas to the very spot where this man was sitting, or this man was able to find help in being carried to where the two men were speaking. God had preordained that this encounter would take place. But why? Because Paul and Barnabas were now entering the frontier, the furthest edges of the world as they knew it. They were in uncharted territory, speaking to people who were primarily Gentiles and who had no knowledge of Jesus at all. They most likely had heard nothing about the events that had taken place in Jerusalem back during the Feast of Pentecost. These two men, Paul and Barnabas, were strangers to them and, their message about Jesus as the Messiah and Savior, would have been alien and foreign to them. So, God arranged for a way to validate the message of His two messengers. They had been given sign gifts, just as Peter and the other apostles had received. These gifts allowed them to perform signs and miracles, providing their message with credibility and their claim to be speaking for God with visible, tangible proof. This man’s presence was going to prove critical. You can almost sense the building sense of anticipation that precede Luke’s description of what happened next. Luke records that Paul, speaking in a very loud voice, cried out, “Stand upright on your feet.” The crowd had no idea what was about to happen, but we do. We have seen this kind of thing happen before. All the way back in chapter three, we have the story of Peter saying to the lame beggar, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” (Acts 3:6 ESV). And the man did, leaving the crowds looking on in wonder and amazement. That had happened all the way back in Jerusalem. Now, we find Paul and Barnabas hundreds of miles away, ministering in a far-flung Roman colony, filled with pagans who knew nothing of Yahweh, had no idea who Jesus was or any reason to believe that what these two men had to say was true. And that was where the lame man came in.
His healing by God would validate Paul and Barnabas’ claims to be speaking for God. And not only that, it would go a long way in establishing Paul as a co-equal with Peter, the recognized spiritual leader of the church at that time. Paul had been a late-comer to the party. He had not been one of the original 12 disciples, but had come to faith in Jesus long after Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, having had a one-on-one encounter with the risen Christ along the road to Damascus. For the rest of his life, Paul would battle with those who would try to question the validity of his apostleship. They would continually attempt to paint him as a charlatan, questioning his authority and raising doubts about his teaching. But here on this occasion, God sovereignly revealed Paul’s impeccable credentials as one of His messengers by providing Paul with the very same powers Peter possessed.
And to say that Paul’s actions got the attention of the crowd would be an understatement. Luke writes that the people cried out, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” (Acts 14:11 ESV). They knew no better than to attribute what they had just seen to the work of gods – the gods with which they were familiar. They called Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes. The Greeks had a pantheon of gods they worshiped, so we can only speculate why they happened to choose these two particular gods as being the ones standing before them. But whatever their reasoning, these people were strong enough in their convictions that they were dealing with deities, that the priest of the local temple, dedicated to Zeus, showed up with oxen and garlands to make a sacrifice. We are left to imagine what this seen must have looked like. Try and picture the confusion and chaos going on as these people shouted out their praises to Paul and Barnabas, bowing in reverence before them. And just imagine what was going through the minds of these two men as they found themselves the mistaken, but unmistakable focus of the crowd’s worship.
We do know that Paul and Barnabas were appalled at what they experienced, because Luke tells us they tore their clothes in a outward display of grief and remorse. They wanted no part of what was going on. And Paul spoke up, saying, “Friends, why are you doing this? We are merely human beings—just like you! We have come to bring you the Good News that you should turn from these worthless things and turn to the living God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them” (Acts 14:15 NLT). What Paul said here was dangerous and risky. He was blatantly denying any claim to deity. But more than that, he was attacking their worship of false gods. When he mentioned “worthless things”, he was speaking of Zeus and Hermes. He compared them to the living God, the one true Creator of heaven and earth. Paul was treading on very thin ice. He was surrounded by a crowd of very passionate devotees to the Greek gods. They were excited and convinced that their deities had come to visit them. And Paul was not only shattering any notion that Zeus and Hermes had come to earth, he was describing two of their most revered gods as worthless.
And Paul made it perfectly clear that it was Yahweh, the God of the Jews, who was the source of any and all things they enjoyed in life, not the Greek gods. It was He who  provided them with food, crops, rain and joyful hearts. This would have been unexpected and unwanted news to the people of Lystra. It would have been seen as a case of slander and blasphemy, treating their gods with disdain and disrespect. But, surprisingly, instead of infuriating the crowd, the words of Paul and Barnabas seemed to have the opposite effect. The people tried to worship them all the more.
What we seem to have here is a clear example of the spiritual hunger of lost mankind. These people were spiritually starving to death. They had plenty of gods, but no real proof that their gods actually existed. Like all false gods, theirs were distant and disconnected from everyday life. They never really knew if their gods were engaged with or even interested in their daily lives. Which might explain why they were so excited when they thought that Paul and Barnabas were gods come to earth. They greatly desired an intimate relationship with their gods, but to date, their experience had been the same as every other people group who has set its desires and affections on “worthless things.” Years later, Paul would write to believers living in nearby Galatia, reminding them of their former love affair with false gods: “you were slaves to so-called gods that do not even exist” (Galatians 4:8 NLT). The people in the crowd that day had no idea that their gods were false. They were blind to the fact that their gods were helpless and hopeless to assist them, and could do nothing to save or protect them. In fact, the psalmist eloquently and unapologetically described the true nature of false gods when he wrote:

Their idols are merely things of silver and gold,
    shaped by human hands.
They have mouths but cannot speak,
    and eyes but cannot see.
They have ears but cannot hear,
    and noses but cannot smell.
They have hands but cannot feel,
    and feet but cannot walk,
    and throats but cannot make a sound.
And those who make idols are just like them,
    as are all who trust in them. – Psalm 115:4-8 NLT

Paul and Barnabas had struck a nerve. They had performed a sign among a people who were desperately in search of proof that their religion was relevant and their gods were real. The world, then as now, was cloaked in deep darkness, and filled with spiritually blind people staggering about looking for any glimmer of hope and help. They were deceived. And Paul would later write to the believers in Corinth, clarifying the source of the world’s deception, and the only means of hope.

Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.

You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. – 2 Corinthians 4:4-6 NLT

The light was spreading. But as we will see, the darkness was great. The enemy had blinded the spiritual eyes of those living in Lystra, leaving them in a state of perpetual darkness, desperately longing for relief and redemption, but unable to see the truth when it stood right in front of them.

 

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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

Our Incomparable God.

“It is he who made the earth by his power,
    who established the world by his wisdom,
and by his understanding stretched out the heavens.
When he utters his voice there is a tumult of waters in the heavens,
    and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth.
He makes lightning for the rain,
    and he brings forth the wind from his storehouses.
Every man is stupid and without knowledge;
    every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols,
for his images are false,
    and there is no breath in them.
They are worthless, a work of delusion;
    at the time of their punishment they shall perish.
Not like these is he who is the portion of Jacob,
    for he is the one who formed all things,
and Israel is the tribe of his inheritance;
    the Lord of hosts is his name.”
Jeremiah 51:15-19 ESV

In these verses, the prophet writes what amounts to be a hymn of praise to Yahweh, God Almighty, the Lord of Hosts. In the first few verses, God is referred to in the third person. His name remains unmentioned, but His deeds are outlines in great detail. He made the earth and preserves it through His wisdom. It was God who laid out the heavens and all they contain: The sun, stars, planets, galaxies, asteroids, nebula, black holes, and all that stretches out into the universe for millions of light years. And He created it with understand and gave it a precise order and structure. Nothing is out of place. Nothing is the result of chance or exists without God’s approval and creative power. And Marduk, the creator-god of the Babylonians played no part in any of it, because he is non-existent.

Jeremiah goes on to describe Yahweh as not only the creator, but the instigator and sustainer of all things.

When he speaks in the thunder,
    the heavens roar with rain.
He causes the clouds to rise over the earth.
    He sends the lightning with the rain
    and releases the wind from his storehouses. – Jeremiah 51:16 NLT

God’s voice carries weight. When He speaks, things happen. He declares that it should rain and it does. He calls the clouds to appear and they do so. The wind is at His beck and call. All nature is subservient to His sovereign will. Bel, the Babylonians storm god was not the one responsible for the weather. He was not the source behind the storms that brought wind, rain, thunder and lightning to the earth. It was all the handiwork of God Almighty. And yet, as obvious as all of this may be, the majority of the people who live on this planet are too ignorant to recognize the unmistakable attributes of God in the world around them. And Jeremiah describes mankind in less-than-flattering terms: “The whole human race is foolish and has no knowledge!” (Jeremiah 51:17 NLT). Rather than attribute the mighty works found it nature to Yahweh, they give the credit to lifeless, man-made idols made of wood and stone.

The craftsmen are disgraced by the idols they make,
for their carefully shaped works are a fraud.
    These idols have no breath or power.
Idols are worthless; they are ridiculous lies! – Jeremiah 51:17-18 NLT

How ridiculous it is for someone to make an idol with their own hands and then step back and claim that this block of wood or carved stone is a deity with powers to rescue them from danger, protect them from harm, bless then for their worship, and sustain them throughout life. The prophet Isaiah echoes the sentiments of Jeremiah.

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.
Who but a fool would make his own god—
    an idol that cannot help him one bit? – Isaiah 44:9-10 NLT

And he’s not done.

The blacksmith stands at his forge to make a sharp tool,
    pounding and shaping it with all his might.
His work makes him hungry and weak.
    It makes him thirsty and faint.
Then 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! – Isaiah 44:12-15 NLT

It’s so pathetic, it’s sad. How silly it all comes across when you see it written down in black and white. How ludicrous the whole idea appears, and yet, man has made a habit of manufacturing his own gods for generations. The apostle Paul describes it in stark terms: “they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise” (Romans 1:25 NLT).

And Isaiah goes on to paint the idiocy of idols in embarrassingly silly terms.

He makes an idol
    and bows down in front of it!
He burns part of the tree to roast his meat
    and to keep himself warm.
    He says, “Ah, that fire feels good.”
Then he takes what’s left
    and makes his god: a carved idol!
He falls down in front of it,
    worshiping and praying to it.
“Rescue me!” he says.
    “You are my god!” – Isaiah 44:15-17 NLT

And Jeremiah provides us with a vivid juxtaposition between these lifeless, helpless idols and the one true God.

But the God of Israel is no idol!
    He is the Creator of everything that exists,
including his people, his own special possession.
    The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name! – Jeremiah 51:19 NLT

That statement should bring us joy and create in us a sense of quiet confidence and growing trust. Our God is real. He is not the byproduct of man’s fertile imagination. He is not created. He is the creator! Everything that exists is due to Him. Even the wood that sinful, foolish men use to make false gods. Even the precious metals and stones they use to decorate their lifeless deities. He is unmade, eternal, all-powerful, and in complete control of all things. The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name! He is incomparable. He is without peer. And, once again, the prophet Isaiah provides us with God’s declaration of His unmatched, unequaled status as the one and only God of the universe.

“To whom will you compare me?
    Who is my equal?
Some people pour out their silver and gold
    and hire a craftsman to make a god from it.
    Then they bow down and worship it!
They carry it around on their shoulders,
    and when they set it down, it stays there.
    It can’t even move!
And when someone prays to it, there is no answer.
    It can’t rescue anyone from trouble.” – Isaiah 46:5-7 NLT

Idols can’t answer prayers. Idols can’t rescue those in trouble. Idols can’t move from one place to another without human help. Idols can’t do anything. But God can. He is incomparable, totally reliable and completely without equal.

 

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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Making It All About Us.

Like the partridge that gathers a brood that she did not hatch,
    so is he who gets riches but not by justice;
in the midst of his days they will leave him,
    and at his end he will be a fool.

A glorious throne set on high from the beginning
    is the place of our sanctuary.
O Lord, the hope of Israel,
    all who forsake you shall be put to shame;
those who turn away from you shall be written in the earth,
    for they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living water.

Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed;
    save me, and I shall be saved,
    for you are my praise.
Behold, they say to me,
    “Where is the word of the Lord?
    Let it come!”
I have not run away from being your shepherd,
    nor have I desired the day of sickness.
You know what came out of my lips;
    it was before your face.
Be not a terror to me;
    you are my refuge in the day of disaster.
Let those be put to shame who persecute me,
    but let me not be put to shame;
let them be dismayed,
    but let me not be dismayed;
bring upon them the day of disaster;
    destroy them with double destruction! – Jeremiah 17:11-18 ESV

The verse immediately preceding this section carried the words of God.

“I, the Lord, search all hearts
    and examine secret motives.
I give all people their due rewards,
    according to what their actions deserve.” – Jeremiah 17:10 NLT

God sees and knows. He alone has insights into the inner motivations of men, seeing what they themselves are incapable of seeing. He knows what prompts their actions and rewards them accordingly. When someone does something righteous and good for the right reason, God knows and blesses them. When someone else does what, for all intents and purposes looks to be good, but out of a wrong motivation, God knows and allows them to experience the curses that come with the territory. And God uses an illustration from nature to describe what is going on.

Like a partridge that hatches eggs she has not laid,
    so are those who get their wealth by unjust means. – Jeremiah 17:11 NLT

The partridge or grouse makes a habit of sitting on the eggs of another bird. In other words, it “steals” what does not belong to it. From the outside, it looks as if it is doing what God intended for it to do, incubating its eggs. But they are not her eggs. And when the eggs hatch and the chicks are old enough to fly, they leave the nest, never to return. So it was with the people of Judah. They were doing all those ritualistic and religious things that made them appear as if they still worshiped Yahweh, but at the same time they were worshiping false gods. To the outside observer they would have appeared to be doing their right thing, but God knows the heart of man. They were practicing injustice while worshiping the God of justice. They were greedy for gain and seeking wealth through inappropriate means, all the while trying to portray themselves as godly people. And Jeremiah points out the absurdity of it all.

But we worship at your throne—
    eternal, high, and glorious! – Jeremiah 17:12 NLT

Yes, they still worshiped God. At least superficially and externally. But as God described them to the prophet Isaiah: “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13 NLT). Like the partridge, they appeared to be doing the right thing, but it was all a sham. Things were not as they appeared. And Jeremiah goes on to describe the true nature of their relationship with God.

O Lord, the hope of Israel,
    all who turn away from you will be disgraced.
They will be buried in the dust of the earth,
    for they have abandoned the Lord, the fountain of living water. – Jeremiah 17:13 NLT

Yes, the throne of God was in Jerusalem. But for all intents and purposes, the people had abandoned God a long time ago. They had turned their back on the fountain of living water. This is reminiscent of a statement God had made to Jeremiah and recorded earlier in his book.

“For my people have done two evil things: They have abandoned me–the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!” – Jeremiah 2:13 NLT

They had created alternatives or replacements for God. But their false gods would prove to provide false hope. They would end up being like water receptacles dug out of rock and intended to hold water, but with cracks that allow the rain to flow out rather than fill up. No matter how things might have appeared or how religious the people of Judah may have thought themselves to be, God knew their hearts and the prognosis was not good. And Jeremiah knew it, which prompted him to call out to God for mercy and grace.

O Lord, if you heal me, I will be truly healed;
    if you save me, I will be truly saved.
    My praises are for you alone!
People scoff at me and say,
“What is this ‘message from the Lord’ you talk about?
    Why don’t your predictions come true?” – Jeremiah 17:14-15 NLT

Jeremiah can’t help but convey his frustration and fears to God. He has been faithful. He has done all that God has asked him to do. But the people do nothing but reject and ridicule him. They make fun of him because, so far, nothing he has predicted has come to pass. He just comes across as a lunatic spouting nonsense. So, Jeremiah cries out to God, “You alone are my hope in the day of disaster” (Jeremiah 17:17 NLT). He feels all alone. He knows the people can’t stand him. They probably crossed to the other side of the street when they saw him in public. People talked behind his back or scowled at him when he drew near. He was a pariah and a persona non grata. But he knew he could trust in God. And he also knew that God knew his heart. He had been faithful. He had never failed to do what God had told him to do or say what God had commanded him to say. And he reminds God, “I have not abandoned my job as a shepherd for your people” (Jeremiah 17:16 NLT). Not only that, Jeremiah reminds God that the destruction of the people of Judah had not been his idea. He had not been the one to ask God to judge them. he had simply been speaking the words of God. And now, out of his deep frustration with his lot in life, Jeremiah asks God to hurry up and fulfill His prediction.

Bring shame and dismay on all who persecute me,
    but don’t let me experience shame and dismay.
Bring a day of terror on them.
    Yes, bring double destruction upon them! – Jeremiah 17:18 NLT

Suddenly, Jeremiah had taken a personal interest in all that was going on. He was put out and frustrated by the way the people of Judah had been treating him and so, he asks God to vindicate him by bringing judgment on them, “double destruction” as he puts it. But notice that Jeremiah makes no mention of what the people of Judah had done to God. He seems unconcerned with how they had treated Yahweh – the God of the universe who had chosen the people of Judah and made Him His own. No, it had all become about Jeremiah. But the real injustice here was not what Jeremiah was experiencing. It was that the people of Judah had abandoned God. Jeremiah seems far less concerned about the harm done to the name and reputation of God than he does with his own suffering. God had blessed them repeatedly and, in return, they had worshiped other gods. God had provided for them consistently, but they returned the favor by seeking aid from false gods and pagan nations. He was the real offended party, not Jeremiah.

When people sin against us, they are really sinning against God. They are rebelling against the God of the universe. Yet, we don’t take up an offense of God. We tend to whine and complain to God about what has been done to us. We demand retribution and justice, but for our sake, not God’s. Jeremiah was missing the point. While he was on the receiving end of the peoples’ frustration, their real anger was directed at God. They hated what Jeremiah was saying, because they feared that he was speaking on behalf of God. And God had warned Jeremiah early on that his message would not be well-received.

“For see, today I have made you strong
    like a fortified city that cannot be captured,
    like an iron pillar or a bronze wall.
You will stand against the whole land—
    the kings, officials, priests, and people of Judah.
They will fight you, but they will fail.
    For I am with you, and I will take care of you.
    I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 1:18-19 NLT

God was not going to be abandon Jeremiah. But He wanted Jeremiah to understand that he was not the one who deserved to be angry. God was the offended party. He was the faithful God who had been treated unfaithfully. He was the loving God who had sat back and watched His people shower their love and affection on false gods. He had blessed only to have His blessings thrown back in His face. If anything, Jeremiah should have been taking up an offense for God. His anger should have been directed at their treatment of God. But how easy it is to make it all about us.

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

Breathless and Worthless.

Thus shall you say to them: “The gods who did not make the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and from under the heavens.”

It is he who made the earth by his power,
    who established the world by his wisdom,
    and by his understanding stretched out the heavens.
When he utters his voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens,
    and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth.
He makes lightning for the rain,
    and he brings forth the wind from his storehouses.
Every man is stupid and without knowledge;
    every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols,
for his images are false,
    and there is no breath in them.
They are worthless, a work of delusion;
    at the time of their punishment they shall perish.
Not like these is he who is the portion of Jacob,
    for he is the one who formed all things,
and Israel is the tribe of his inheritance;
    the Lord of hosts is his name.

Gather up your bundle from the ground,
    O you who dwell under siege!
For thus says the Lord:
“Behold, I am slinging out the inhabitants of the land
    at this time,
and I will bring distress on them,
    that they may feel it.”
Jeremiah 10:11-18 ESV

False gods versus the one true God. There is no comparison. There are no similarities. The only thing they share in common is that when the Babylonians invade Judah, their temples and shrines will all be plundered and destroyed. Even the gods themselves, will be taken as booty. Those made of precious metals will be melted down and re-purposed. Any wooden idols will be burned to ashes with the rest of the city when it is destroyed. And as Jeremiah so bluntly puts it, “When the time comes to punish them, they will be destroyed” (Jeremiah 10:15 NLT). But while the temple of Yahweh will end up plundered and its holy objects taken as loot, Yahweh Himself will remain alive and well. He will not cease to be simply because His house of worship is destroyed. As verse 11 states, it is “the gods who did not make the heavens and the earth” that will perish from the earth and from under the heavens. Not only will they be proven temporal and not eternal, they will be exposed as false. They have no power because they have no life. But it is Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews who “made the earth by his power, and he preserves it by his wisdom. With his own understanding he stretched out the heavens.” (Jeremiah 10:12 NLT). Yahweh is the one who made all that exists, including the trees that provided the wood that was carved into a lifeless idol. He made possible the gold that was used by sinful men to craft a figurine to which they would bow down in worship.

Yahweh alone has power. He controls the seasons. He sends the rain and lightning. He speaks and the skies thunder and shake. He gives life to all living things. He is the great and incomparable Creator-God. And yet, for generations, mankind has managed to look past God’s divine attributes and place their hopes in gods that lifeless and powerless to help them.

The whole human race is foolish and has no knowledge!
    The craftsmen are disgraced by the idols they make,
for their carefully shaped works are a fraud.
    These idols have no breath or power.
Idols are worthless; they are ridiculous lies! – Jeremiah 10:14-15 NLT

But God is no idol. He is not a figment of man’s imagination. The God of the Hebrews was not invented by them. In fact, it was the other way around.

But the God of Israel is no idol!
    He is the Creator of everything that exists,
including Israel, his own special possession.
    The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name! – Jeremiah 10:16 NLT

God made the people of Judah. He crafted them with His own hands. Then He called them to be His own possession. He set them apart to be a holy nation, belonging to Him and commanded to live in obedience to Him. He had made a covenant with them and had promised to provide for and protect them, as long as they remained faithful to Him. He had commanded them not to worship other gods.

“I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. You must not have any other god but me. You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.” – Exodus 20:2-6 NLT

But they had rejected their rescuer. They had turned their backs on their creator. And they had proven unfaithful to the one who had faithfully loved and cared for them over the generations. He had patiently tolerated their stubbornness and forgiven their sins. He had allowed them to sacrifice countless animals in order to experience atonement and enjoy continuing fellowship with Him, even though they had no intention of changing their ways. Like an abused spouse, God had put up with their infidelity and forgiven their indiscretions. But the time had come for Him to repay them for their sins. And He tells Jeremiah to warn the people of Judah that His patience has worn out.

Pack your bags and prepare to leave;
    the siege is about to begin.
For this is what the Lord says:
“Suddenly, I will fling out
    all you who live in this land.
I will pour great troubles upon you,
    and at last you will feel my anger.” – Jeremiah 10:17-18 NLT

God was far from breathless and worthless. He spoke and His words had power. He was and is majestic in nature and fully capable of acting like God. You could destroy His temple, steal his holy treasures, kill His priests, and reduce the city called by His name to rubble, but He would continue to exist in all His glory, might and majesty. You could come up with a host of other gods to worship and manufacture as many idols as there are stars in heaven, but in the end, He would be the last god standing. God could not be relegated to a building or placed on a bookshelf or mantel. He couldn’t be carried from one place to another. Even King Solomon, at the dedication of the great temple he had built for God, was forced to admit: “But will God really live on earth? Why, even the highest heavens cannot contain you. How much less this Temple I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27 NLT). And Stephen, in the sermon he gave that led to his stoning, reminded the Jews of his day that God was greater than the temple.

“…it was Solomon who built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says, ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?’” – Acts 7:47-50 NLT

Idolatry is sheer stupidity. It makes no sense. But that doesn’t change the fact that man has always been drawn to worship what he can make rather than revere the One who made him. Ever since the fall, mankind has made a habit out of making gods, because man was made to worship. We were originally made by God for the worship of God. We were intended to enjoy unbroken fellowship with Him and experience the joy of His love and the pleasure of returning that love in worship, honor and praise. But sin changed all that. Sin brought self-worship. It resulted in man’s obsession with false gods that are really nothing more than mere replicas of man himself. The false gods we make are intended to provide us with a false sense of self-worth and self-satisfaction. We tend to make gods whose primary purposes are to serve us, rather than be served by us. They exist for our pleasure, not the other way around. Because at the end of the day, what we really long for is to be gods ourselves. It was the very desire Satan used to tempt Adam and Eve in the garden.

“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.” – Genesis 3:4-5 NLT

But Adam and Eve proved to be worthless gods. In disobeying God, they gained a knowledge of good and evil, but not the capacity to choose one over the other. Rather than becoming like god, they were forced out of His presence and learned the painful lesson of life without Him. They had become their own gods. And like the people of Judah, they would find that their gods were breathless and worthless.

 

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

The One True God.

Hear the word that the Lord speaks to you, O house of Israel. Thus says the Lord:

“Learn not the way of the nations,
    nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens
    because the nations are dismayed at them,
for the customs of the peoples are vanity.
A tree from the forest is cut down
    and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman.
They decorate it with silver and gold;
    they fasten it with hammer and nails
    so that it cannot move.
Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field,
    and they cannot speak;
they have to be carried,
    for they cannot walk.
Do not be afraid of them,
    for they cannot do evil,
    neither is it in them to do good.”

There is none like you, O Lord;
    you are great, and your name is great in might.
Who would not fear you, O King of the nations?
    For this is your due;
for among all the wise ones of the nations
    and in all their kingdoms
    there is none like you.
They are both stupid and foolish;
    the instruction of idols is but wood!
Beaten silver is brought from Tarshish,
    and gold from Uphaz.
They are the work of the craftsman and of the hands of the goldsmith;
    their clothing is violet and purple;
    they are all the work of skilled men.
But the Lord is the true God;
    he is the living God and the everlasting King.
At his wrath the earth quakes,
    and the nations cannot endure his indignation. Jeremiah 10:1-10 ESV

This passage provides us with a contrast, and one that is such stark differences, it borders on the absurd or ridiculous. And that is the point. In these verses we have the one true God compared with the false gods or idols of the pagan nations. In reality, there is no comparison, but these verses are intended to provide the people of Judah with an embarrassing and convicting illustration of what they have done. They have turned their back on God Almighty, the creator of the universe, and chosen to worship gods they have made with their own hands. From their earliest days in the land of Canaan, God had warned them against following the religions practiced by the nations occupying the land.

“When the Lord your God goes ahead of you and destroys the nations and you drive them out and live in their land, do not fall into the trap of following their customs and worshiping their gods. Do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How do these nations worship their gods? I want to follow their example.’ You must not worship the Lord your God the way the other nations worship their gods, for they perform for their gods every detestable act that the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters as sacrifices to their gods.” – Deuteronomy 12:29-31 NLT

It wasn’t just a ban on worshiping false gods. It was a commandment not to worship the one true God falsely. But the people of Judah were guilty of violating both. They did worship the gods of the surrounding nations and they also worshiped Yahwah in ways He never prescribed. They attempted to “improve” their God-ordained form of worship by adding aspects of idolatry, syncretizing Judaism with paganism. But God never asked them to do so. In fact, His assessment of these pagan religions is painfully blunt: “…the religion of these people is worthless” (Jeremiah 10:3 NLT). Then He explains why.

“They cut down a tree in the forest,
and a craftsman makes it into an idol with his tools.
He decorates it with overlays of silver and gold.
He uses hammer and nails to fasten it together
so that it will not fall over.
Such idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field.
They cannot talk.
They must be carried
because they cannot walk.
Do not be afraid of them
because they cannot hurt you.
And they do not have any power to help you.” – Jeremiah 10:3-5 NLT

They’re not real. They have no life within them. Their very existence is attributable to man. They are a figment of the imagination and the fabrication of someone’s hands. And they have no power to help anyone. Yet, the people of Judah had placed their trust and hope in them. A tree created by God was used to create a false god. This isn’t a legitimate comparison. It is a comedy of errors and a sin of epic proportions. And Jeremiah can’t help but agree and adds His own thoughts regarding the undeniable superiority of Yahweh.

“There is no one like you, Lord.
You are great.
And you are renowned for your power.
Everyone should revere you, O King of all nations,
because you deserve to be revered.
For there is no one like you
among any of the wise people of the nations nor among any of their kings.” – Jeremiah 10:6-7 NLT

There are no other gods. They don’t exist. And anyone in his right mind should recognize that there is only one true God and that He is worthy of praise and honor. Jeremiah pulls no punches when he states: “The Lord is the only true God. He is the living God and the everlasting King” (Jeremiah 10:10 NLT). All the other gods are man-made and, while beautiful to look at, they are worthless to depend upon. They can’t speak, walk, or think for themselves. They can’t answer prayers because they can’t hear prayers. They can’t come to anyone’s rescue because they are incapable of movement. They have to be carried everywhere they go. And Jeremiah doesn’t pull any punches when he states: “The people of those nations are both stupid and foolish. Instruction from a wooden idol is worthless!” (Jeremiah 10:8 NLT).

But who are the real fools here? The people of Judah. They are the ones who have turned their backs on Yahweh, the God who called their patriarch Abraham out of Ur and promised to him the land of Canaan as his inheritance. They are the ones who knew the stories of God’s deliverance of their ancestors out of slavery in Egypt and of His miraculous provision for them during their 40 years in the wilderness. They were very familiar with the story of how God had given their predecessors the law in order to guide their daily conduct, and how He had provided the sacrificial system as a means of receiving forgiveness when the inevitably failed to keep His law. They also knew how He had provided victory over the nations that occupied land of Canaan – in spite of their superior strength and numbers. They were fully aware of God’s power and provision over the centuries. And they were anything but ignorant of the sins of their grandparents and great-grandparents, and how God had dealt severely with their idolatry.

But here they were repeating the same mistakes. Their knowledge of God and His ways was incomplete and unconvincing. They did not revere or fear Him. They showed Him no respect and saw no reason to repent of their ways. They should have known better. They knew the truth. They knew the one true God. But they refused to serve Him alone.

Their guilt was far greater than that of the pagans. They knew the truth, but refused to acknowledge it. They were well aware of God’s commands, but had chosen to disobey them. To know the truth and to ignore it is a dangerous game to play.

But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and instead live lives of wickedness. – Romans 2:8 NLT

If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. – 1 John 2:4 NLT

So whoever knows what is good to do and does not do it is guilty of sin. – James 4:17 NLT

The people of Judah knew the truth about God. There was no comparison between Him and their false gods. This wasn’t a case of good versus better. It wasn’t a matter of one god versus another. The pagans, in their ignorance, had taken what little knowledge they had of God as revealed in creation and made their own versions of Him.

But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.

Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. – Romans 1:18-23 NLT

Paul goes on to say, “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 1:25 NLT). But the people of Judah had met the one true God. They had no excuse. They had witnessed His power. They had experienced His ongoing provision. He had revealed Himself to them. And yet, they had turned their back on Him. To know the truth and to ignore it is a deadly game to play. To have a knowledge of the one true God, but to act as if He doesn’t exist is to be doubly guilty. The people of Judah knew better because they knew God. But their knowledge of Him had become academic and impersonal. They claimed to know Him, but didn’t keep His commandments. And as the apostle John states so plainly, “that person is a liar and is not living in the truth.”

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

Live By Faith.

I will take my stand at my watchpost
    and station myself on the tower,
and look out to see what he will say to me,
    and what I will answer concerning my complaint.
 

And the Lord answered me:

“Write the vision;
    make it plain on tablets,
    so he may run who reads it.
For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
    it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
    it will surely come; it will not delay.

“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
    but the righteous shall live by his faith.

“Moreover, wine is a traitor,
    an arrogant man who is never at rest.
His greed is as wide as Sheol;
    like death he has never enough.
He gathers for himself all nations
    and collects as his own all peoples.” Habakkuk 2:1-5 ESV

Habakkuk has asked God two primary questions so far: “When?” and “Why?” In responding to Habakkuk’s first question, God simply told the prophet how He was going to deal with the violence and iniquity taking place in Judah: He would send the Babylonians. That news led Habakkuk to question why God would ever consider using a pagan nation to do His bidding, especially to punish His own people. And now, the indignant prophet tells God that he is going to sit and wait for God’s answer, like a guard standing in the watchtower on the battlements of a city wall. And Habakkuk is fully prepared to continue his dialogue with God if the answer if the answer he received is not to his liking. He seems to warn God that his response will be dictated by what God has to say to him.

And, as before, God answered Habakkuk. He tells the prophet that he will receive a vision and that he is to put it in writing on tablets. He is to write it clearly and legibly so that whoever reads it can run and tell others what he has seen. The vision will involve future events. In other words, it will be prophetic in nature, but it will all take place. Knowing Habakkuk’s tendency toward impatience, God tells him, “This vision is for a future time. It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled. If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed” (Habakkuk 2:3 NLT). It’s as good as done. And by having Habakkuk write the details concerning the vision in stone or clay tablets, God emphasizes the permanence and inescapable nature of what is to come.

The author of the book of Hebrews quotes from this verse in an attempt to encourage the believers in his day to remain faithful to the end and trust God for what He has promised to do.

Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay” – Hebrews 10:35-37 ESV

God is always faithful to keep His word. What He says He will do, He will do. He keeps His promises. And the author of Hebrews goes on to say, quoting from verses four of Habakkuk chapter two: “but my righteous one shall live by faith” (Hebrews 10:38 ESV).

God now gives the prophet His vision of what is to come. He speaks of the unrighteous and the righteous, the faithful and the unfaithful – those who trust in themselves and those who place their trust in God.

“Look at the proud! They trust in themselves, and their lives are crooked. But the righteous will live by their faithfulness to God.” – Habakkuk 3:4 NLT

The apostle Paul will also quote this verse on two different occasions, emphasizing the “righteous”.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” – Romans 1:16-17 ESV

Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” – Galatians 3:11-12 ESV

Paul used the words of God given to Habakkuk the prophet to emphasize and promote the key to righteousness before God. It is based on faith in God and faithfulness to God. In Habakkuk’s day, the people of Judah had not been faithful to God. They had turned from Him time and time again. They, like their northern neighbors in Israel, had worshiped false gods and proven themselves to be unfaithful to the God who had chosen them and redeemed them out of slavery in Egypt. They had turned their back on the one who had given them the great king, David. The land in which they lived had been the result of God’s gracious provision for them. And yet, they had filled it with idols.

And, to provide Habakkuk with a symbol of unrighteousness run rampant, God tells him to look at Babylon. They are the epitome of arrogance and pride. They are puffed up by their military success and their many conquests. They trust more in themselves than they do in God. In fact, they don’t trust in Yahweh at all. They have their own gods whom they worship and give credit for their many victories in battle. And they use their growing wealth as proof of their gods’ divine blessings. The word in verse five should probably be “wealth” and not ”wine”. Most of the more reliable manuscripts contain “wealth” and it would make more sense given the context. The New Living Translation renders verse five this way:

Wealth is treacherous,
    and the arrogant are never at rest.
They open their mouths as wide as the grave,
    and like death, they are never satisfied.
In their greed they have gathered up many nations
    and swallowed many peoples.

The greed of the Babylonians was insatiable. They couldn’t get enough. They were never satisfied with their conquests or the plunder they provided. They were the ultimate consumers, swallowing up everyone and everything in their path. They lived by what they could see, take, and enjoy. They lived by sight and immediate gratification. But God tells Habakkuk that the righteous are to live by faith. Faith in what? In God. The people of Judah were to put their hope and confidence in the God of their ancestors. He had proven Himself faithful time and time again, and He would do so again. The righteous are those who place their faith in God, not money, military might, false gods, other nations, or any other earthly resource. God tells Habakkuk that “the righteous shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4 ESV). The people of Judah would live through what was coming, but they would have to trust God with the results. They would survive the coming of the Babylonians and their deportment as slaves. The righteous would be those who kept trusting in the faithfulness of God – in spite of the circumstances that surrounded them.

Too often, our faith and our faithfulness is based on our circumstances, not on God and His faithfulness. We take a look at what is happening around us and to us, and begin to doubt our God. We question His faithfulness because we don’t like what is happening to us. We doubt His love because we can’t fathom how a loving God would allow us to experience what we are going through. But God would have us remember that the righteous live by faith. And Paul would have us remember that the righteous are those who endure because they know their God can be trusted.

God is trying to remind Habakkuk that his hope is to be in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is to trust in the God of David – the covenant keeping God who never fails to keep His promises and fulfill His commitment to His people. Just because the Babylonians were coming did not mean that God was done with Judah or turning His back on them. The book of Numbers gives us some powerful words of reminder concerning our God.

God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through? – Numbers 23:19 NLT

God can be trusted. So, as His people, we are to put our trust in Him. The righteous belong to Him and rely upon Him. They do not circumstances dictate or determine their trust. They don’t let the presence of bad times diminish the goodness of their God. They accept the good and the bad as having come from the hand of a loving, faithful God who knows what He is doing and whose plan for them can always be trusted. Like Job, we need to be able to say, “Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” (Job 2:10 NLT). God was going to do something great for the people of Judah. But first, they would have to experience something painful and inexplicable. Yet, they were to keep their faith in God. He was not done yet.

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

This God.

“For who is God, but the Lord?
    And who is a rock, except our God?
This God is my strong refuge
    and has made my way blameless.
He made my feet like the feet of a deer
    and set me secure on the heights.
He trains my hands for war,
    so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
You have given me the shield of your salvation,
    and your gentleness made me great.
You gave a wide place for my steps under me,
    and my feet did not slip;
I pursued my enemies and destroyed them,
    and did not turn back until they were consumed.
I consumed them; I thrust them through, so that they did not rise;
    they fell under my feet.
For you equipped me with strength for the battle;
    you made those who rise against me sink under me.
You made my enemies turn their backs to me,[g]
    those who hated me, and I destroyed them.
They looked, but there was none to save;
    they cried to the Lord, but he did not answer them.
I beat them fine as the dust of the earth;
    I crushed them and stamped them down like the mire of the streets.”  – 2 Samuel 22:32-43 ESV

 

Whether we want to admit it or not, we have other gods we worship. And it has always been that way. While some of our national currency still carries the phrase, “One Nation Under God”, it has never said, “One God Over the Nation.” Like every culture and generation before us, we Americans have, and always have had, a predisposition toward idolatry. And the people of Israel were no different. That’s why God gave them the Ten Commandments, the first four of which have to deal with man’s relationship with God. God prefaced His list of commands with the statement, “I am the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:2 NLT). He was telling Moses and the people of Israel that He was to be their God, their one and only God. And then He clarified exactly what He meant. “You must not have any other god but me” (Exodus 20:3 NLT). In other words, unlike all the other cultures around them, they were to have only one god, not many. They were to worship one deity, not a plethora of gods like the Egyptians had. They were to give their allegiance to the one true God. And it was not as if God was admitting that He had real competition and was demanding their undivided attention. God didn’t have to worry about competitors, but He did have to be concerned about man’s natural tendency to create false gods, man-made substitutes or stand-ins for Him. That is why the psalmist wrote:

Their idols are merely things of silver and gold,
    shaped by human hands.
They have mouths but cannot speak,
    and eyes but cannot see.
They have ears but cannot hear,
    and noses but cannot smell.
They have hands but cannot feel,
    and feet but cannot walk,
    and throats but cannot make a sound.
And those who make idols are just like them,
    as are all who trust in them. – Psalm 115:4-8 NLT

But the fact that these gods are false has never stopped men from placing their hope in them. And while the psalmist is obviously referring to actual 3-dimensional idols made to represent a false deity, we 21st-Century human beings have moved to a much more sophisticated, yet sinister, form of idolatry. Our gods come in a variety of forms. They don’t sit on a shelf where we offer literal sacrifices to them. But they demand our worship nonetheless. We have made gods out of everything from work to entertainment, the television in our home to the money in our bank. There are so many things in our lives that demand our undivided attention or, to put it another way, our worship. We revere these things and sacrifice our time, attention and even our money to them. We turn to them in times of trouble, hoping they will rescue us. We lean on them for a sense of contentment and happiness during the dark days of our lives. We seek satisfaction from them. We put our hope in them. But the God would remind us:

“To whom will you compare me?
    Who is my equal?
Some people pour out their silver and gold
    and hire a craftsman to make a god from it.
    Then they bow down and worship it!
They carry it around on their shoulders,
    and when they set it down, it stays there.
    It can’t even move!
And when someone prays to it, there is no answer.
    It can’t rescue anyone from trouble.” – Isaiah 46:5-7 NLT

David knew there was no reliable source for help and hope in his life, but God. Which is why he rhetorically asks, “who is God except the Lord?” The answer is obvious: No one. There is no god but God. He has no real competition. We may attempt to find help elsewhere, but those things will always come up short. They can’t deliver. That is why David said, “This God is my strong refuge” (2 Samuel 22:33 ESV). It was God to whom he turned for help, hope, safety, security, rescue, rest, strength and victory. THIS God, and no other.

In this passage, David weaves together an interesting mixture of pronouns, repeatedly referring to both himself and God. He was not putting himself on the same level with God, but was simply trying to show that his life was totally dependent upon God.

He makes me as surefooted as a deer – vs 34

He trains my hands for battle – vs 35

You have given me your shield of victory – vs 36

your help has made me great… – vs 36

You have made a wide path for my feet – vs 37

It was God who had done these things for David and, as a result, David was able to say:

I chased my enemies and destroyed them – vs 38

I did not stop until they were conquered… – vs 38

I consumed them – vs 39

I struck them down… – vs 39

I ground them as fine as the dust of the earth… – vs 43

David had done his part, but only because God had made it possible. David knew he was not a self-made man. He could take no credit for his victories. He was in no place to brag about his exploits – apart from God’s help. Anything he had done of value in his life was attributable to God. God got the glory. God deserved the credit. Which is why David was able to say to God, “your help has made me great” (2 Samuel 22:36 NLT). He had no problem acknowledging God as the source of all his victories and the explanation behind any value he had as a person. Without God, David was nothing. Apart from God, David would have done nothing. At least, nothing of lasting note or significance. It was as if David was saying, “THIS God has made THIS man who he is.”

How easy it is for us to take credit for what God has done. How tempting it is to give credit to someone or something else, for what is clearly the work of God in our lives. We are sometimes prone to give more credit to luck than we do to the Lord. We explain our good fortune as fortuitous, when we should be given God the praise He deserves. Back in Exodus 20, we read the words of God. “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods” (Exodus 20:5 NLT). God will share His glory with anyone or anything. He will not tolerate faithlessness and infidelity among His people. Which is why He repeatedly referred to the people of Israel as adulterous. They cheated on Him, on a regular basis. They shared their attention and affections with others. They refused to give Him the credit He deserved and the honor His status as God demanded. But we are so often guilty of the same thing. And David provides us with a sobering reminder that THIS God of ours is worthy of our praise, glory, honor, gratitude, worship, and undivided attention. For who is God except the Lord?

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