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

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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

When Love Trumps Liberty.

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience—I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience?  If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. – 1 Corinthians 10:23-33 ESV

Paul revisits an point he made back in chapter six. “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12 ESV). The Corinthians had made a big deal out of their liberties or freedoms in Christ. They were convinced that there were certain things that they were at liberty to do because of their newfound freedom in Christ. And Paul doesn’t contradict their conclusion. He simply argues with their motivation. They were only looking at things from self-centered perspective. They were motivated by their own rights and focused on their own selfish pleasures. Which is why Paul repeats their point of reference back to them again. “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up” (1 Corinthians 10:23 ESV). Yes, they had certain freedoms in Christ, but they were not to let those freedoms be driven by selfish desires or motivated by self-centeredness. They were to ask themselves whether those freedoms were helpful and edifying. Paul’s emphasis is on others. In the very next verse, he writes, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor” (1 Corinthians 10:24 ESV). Paul was elevating compassion over lawfulness. He was promoting selflessness over selfishness.

Paul concedes that they were free to eat any meat offered for sale in the marketplace. “For ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof’” (1 Corinthians 10:26 ESV). Even if they were invited to an unbeliever’s house, they were free to eat whatever was served. But should that friend acknowledge that the meat had been sacrificed to idols, the circumstances took on a different light. They were no longer “free” to eat what was served. Why? For the sake of conscience. Not their conscience, Paul asserts, but the conscience of their lost friend and anyone else who might be in attendance. The lost friend would not know of or understand the concept of freedom in Christ. In telling their Christian guests that the meat had been sacrificed to idols, they would be assuming Christians would not want to eat such meat because it would violate their faith. Should the Christian go ahead and eat the meat, the message conveyed to their pagan friend would be confusing. Should a less mature believer be in attendance at that same dinner and see the more mature believer eat meat sacrificed to idols, he or she might be caused to follow their lead, even though their conscience told them it was wrong. 

Paul follows all of this with two logical questions that he knew the Corinthians would ask. “For why should my freedom be limited by what someone else thinks? If I can thank God for the food and enjoy it, why should I be condemned for eating it?” (1 Corinthians 10:29-30 NLT). In other words, why should a Christian let the conscience of a lost person dictate their behavior? Or why should a more mature believer allow the ignorance or a less mature believer determine their actions? Paul answers both questions with a single answer. “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31 NLT). We are to always ask the question: What would bring glory to God? Not, what would bring pleasure to me? The bottom line for Paul was God’s glory and man’s salvation. “I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:33 NLT). He was willing to give up his freedoms so that others might know what it means to be free in Christ. He was willing to die to his rights so that others might be made right with God. Later on, in chapter 13, the great “love chapter”, Paul says that love “does not insist on its own way” (1 Corinthians 13:5 ESV). Love cares about others. It focuses on building up and edifying others, even at the expense of self. Christ-like love focuses on the good of others and the glory of God. It is selfless, not selfish. It is sacrificial, not self-centered. Jesus gave Himself as the example to follow. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NLT). Jesus died so that we might live. All He is asking us to do is die to self. Love trumps liberty every time. Giving up our rights for the sake of others and for the glory of God is well worth any sacrifice we may have to make.

Protection For Our Affections.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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