Don’t Take Your Eye Off the Prize

1 There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil. If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life’s good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. For it comes in vanity and goes in darkness, and in darkness its name is covered. Moreover, it has not seen the sun or known anything, yet it finds rest rather than he. Even though he should live a thousand years twice over, yet enjoy no good—do not all go to the one place?

All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied. For what advantage has the wise man over the fool? And what does the poor man have who knows how to conduct himself before the living? Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind.

10 Whatever has come to be has already been named, and it is known what man is, and that he is not able to dispute with one stronger than he. 11 The more words, the more vanity, and what is the advantage to man? 12 For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? For who can tell man what will be after him under the sun? Ecclesiastes 6:1-12 ESV

From Solomon’s unique vantage point as king, he has been able to see and experience a great deal of what life has to offer. Some of his observations are more objective in nature, providing the perspective of an impartial outsider, viewing the lives of the people in his kingdom. He has been able to witness first-hand the oppression of the poor. As a judge over his people, he has had to preside over countless cases involving injustice and abuse. He has listened to the cries of the destitute and needy, as they have begged for someone to help them in their time of need.

But some of Solomon’s most powerful insights come from his willingness to look at his own life and share his more subjective and personal observations. In this chapter, he continues to speak from his own personal experience, revealing his frustrations over what he sees and fears.

First of all, he starts with what he describes as a form of evil or wickedness that he has observed “under the sun” or in this life. He writes from a human perspective, presenting his earth-bound opinion concerning a prevalent problem among mankind. There are those whom God has obviously blessed with great wealth, but He has also denied them the power or capacity to enjoy all that they have been given.

God gives some people great wealth and honor and everything they could ever want, but then he doesn’t give them the chance to enjoy these things. – Ecclesiastes 6:2 NLT

These people have all that their hearts desire, except contentment and joy. And to make matters even worse, when they die, “someone else, even a stranger, ends up enjoying their wealth!” (Ecclesiastes 6:2 NLT). And Solomon deems it all as “meaningless—a sickening tragedy(Ecclesiastes 6:2 NLT). But is he right?

First of all, Solomon’s viewpoint reflects the prevailing attitude of his day. It was commonly believed that anyone who enjoyed great wealth had obviously been blessed by God. And if they had been blessed by God, their lives must have been pleasing to God. This is why it made no sense that God would withhold the one thing these people wanted and needed: The ability to enjoy what He had given them.

Solomon was right when he concluded that all good things come from God. In fact, he would have based his view on the Scriptures themselves.

Truth springs up from the earth,
    and righteousness smiles down from heaven.
Yes, the Lord pours down his blessings.
    Our land will yield its bountiful harvest. – Psalm 85:11-12 ESV

Even the New Testament author, James, echoes this view.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights… – James 1:17 ESV

But where Solomon missed the point was in his assumption that wealth and material goods were to be the sole source of his enjoyment. In other words, he wrongly assumed that it was the blessings of God that brought joy, contentment, satisfaction, and significance. He misunderstood the true nature of their purpose and the significance of their source. The gifts had become the priority rather than the Giver. God was to have been the primary focus of Solomon’s life but not as the giver of good things. In fact, God should have been the only Solomon or anyone else needed in their life. God should have been enough. The apostle Paul expressed this viewpoint when he said:

Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:11-13 NLT

It didn’t really matter to Paul whether he had a little or a lot. All that really mattered was his relationship with Christ. Yet Solomon and his contemporaries placed their emphasis on the tangible and temporal. For them, the proof of God’s love was in the presence of material goods and the ability to enjoy them. Solomon’s misguided and misplaced emphasis on material goods and earthly pleasures left him with a sense of emptiness and frustration. He was experiencing the very painful lesson that nothing satisfies man’s inner longings and desires like God Himself.

For Solomon, the measurement of a successful life was based on both quantity and quality. He pessimistically observed that if a man ended up fathering hundreds of children (and he had), and lived a long life (which he did), but his soul was not satisfied with life’s good things (and his wasn’t), then his life was a waste.

A man might have a hundred children and live to be very old. But if he finds no satisfaction in life and doesn’t even get a decent burial, it would have been better for him to be born dead. – Ecclesiastes 6:3 NLT

That is a grim assessment. But notice what he is saying. He is measuring the significance of life using a quantitative matrix. He operated on the commonly held maxim: The more, the merrier. It was long life and lots of kids that brought joy. But having hundreds of children, none of whose names you know will ever bring satisfaction. And living a long life, but without a relationship with the Giver of life will never satisfy. Acquiring much wealth and accomplishing great deeds cannot make anyone truly happy or content if they fail to seek the One from whom all good things come.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights… – James 1:17 ESV

For Solomon, nothing was more futile or frustrating than the thought of living a long life devoid of contentment. He states that a man “might live a thousand years twice over but still not find contentment. And since he must die like everyone else—well, what’s the use?” (Ecclesiastes 6:6 NLT).

And, sadly, this aptly describes Solomon’s own life. When he wrote this verse, he was at the end of life looking back, and while he could claim to have fathered hundreds of children and lived many years, he could say as Paul did, “I have learned to be content.” He had discovered the painful lesson that more was not merrier.

In his mind, it was all about satisfaction. Even the poor, who spend their days trying to scratch out a living and provide food for their next meal, end up discovering that they’re hungry again. The wise, the wealthy, the foolish, and the poor are all faced with the same grievous problem: Enough is never enough. Satisfaction and contentment are elusive. And the only advice Solomon can come up with is “Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have” (Ecclesiastes 6:9 NLT).

But again, his emphasis is misplaced. He is not recommending that we find our satisfaction in God, but that we simply resign ourselves to enjoying what little we have been given by God. He has missed the point. And in doing so, he misses out on the real meaning and purpose of life. It is not about gaining and getting. It is not about acquiring and accumulating. It is about learning to seek satisfaction, significance, joy, and contentment from a relationship with the God of the universe.

But Solomon had a warped perspective about God. He euphemistically refers to God as “one stronger than he” (Ecclesiastes 6:10 ESV). He doesn’t see God as his Father but as an enforcer. Rather than approaching God as the gracious giver of good things, Solomon views Him as a capricious tyrant who withholds the ability to enjoy what has been given. And while he rightly understands that God knows all and sees all, Solomon seems to resent the fact that God keeps man’s future fate a mystery. To Solomon, this leaves man stuck in the here-and-now, trying to make the most out of what he has before his life comes to an abrupt end.

What Solomon describes in this chapter is the sad state of all men and women who refuse to see God as the central source of all that is good in their lives. God does bless. God does give good things. God is the author of life and the source of all that we can see. But God is not to be viewed as some disembodied purveyor of presents, like a cosmic Genie in a bottle. He is the gift. He is the good. He is the satisfaction and significance that man so desperately seeks. The apostle Paul summarized it well when he spoke to the people of Athens, describing the nature of the “unknown god” to whom they offered sacrifices, but with whom they had no relationship.

“He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.

“His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist. – Acts 17:24-28 NLT

God created man to have a relationship with Him. His purpose was for the nations to seek after Him. But sin changed all that. Because of the fall, the blessings of God became substitutes for Him. We made idols out of the good gifts He had given us. The apostle Paul describes the subtle shift that took place among humanity as they took their eyes off the Giver and began to seek satisfaction and significance from the good things He had given.

They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself… – Romans 1:25 NLT

Solomon’s relentless quest to find meaning in life had taken him away from the very One who had given him life. He had made false gods out of the good and perfect gifts that had come down from the Father of lights…and he found himself unfulfilled and discontented with life and anxious about death.

In the few days of our meaningless lives, who knows how our days can best be spent? Our lives are like a shadow. Who can tell what will happen on this earth after we are gone? – Ecclesiastes 6:12 NLT

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 Self-Deception of Self-Importance

1 “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion,
    and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria,
the notable men of the first of the nations,
    to whom the house of Israel comes!
Pass over to Calneh, and see,
    and from there go to Hamath the great;
    then go down to Gath of the Philistines.
Are you better than these kingdoms?
    Or is their territory greater than your territory,
O you who put far away the day of disaster
    and bring near the seat of violence?

“Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory
    and stretch themselves out on their couches,
and eat lambs from the flock
    and calves from the midst of the stall,
who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp
    and like David invent for themselves instruments of music,
who drink wine in bowls
    and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
    but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!
Therefore they shall now be the first of those who go into exile,
    and the revelry of those who stretch themselves out shall pass away.”

The Lord God has sworn by himself, declares the Lord, the God of hosts:

“I abhor the pride of Jacob
    and hate his strongholds,
    and I will deliver up the city and all that is in it.”

And if ten men remain in one house, they shall die. 10 And when one’s relative, the one who anoints him for burial, shall take him up to bring the bones out of the house, and shall say to him who is in the innermost parts of the house, “Is there still anyone with you?” he shall say, “No”; and he shall say, “Silence! We must not mention the name of the Lord.”

11 For behold, the Lord commands,
    and the great house shall be struck down into fragments,
    and the little house into bits.
12 Do horses run on rocks?
    Does one plow there with oxen?
But you have turned justice into poison
    and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood—
13 you who rejoice in Lo-debar,
    who say, “Have we not by our own strength
    captured Karnaim for ourselves?”
14 “For behold, I will raise up against you a nation,
    O house of Israel,” declares the Lord, the God of hosts;
“and they shall oppress you from Lebo-hamath
    to the Brook of the Arabah.” Amos 6:1-14 ESV

In this chapter, Amos addresses both the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah, and he does so by addressing their capital cities: Samaria in the north and Zion (Jerusalem ) in the south. But he focuses his attention on a particular class of individuals living in these two cities. They are “those who are at ease,” “who feel secure,” and are among “the notable men” (Amos 6:1 ESV). In other words, these are the influencers and trendsetters among the people of God, the movers and shakers, the power brokers and policy makers. They’re the well-to-do and looked up to, the social elite, and the upper crust of Israelite society.

But rather than praising these fortunate few, Amos pronounces a “woe” upon them. He uses the Hebrew word, hôy, which is an interjection, an expression of emotion or exclamation. It is sometimes translated as “O!” or “Alas!” And, in Scripture, it is most often associated with mourning over coming judgment. It is the same word he used back in chapter 5, verse 18.

Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord!”

These people who were enjoying the lifestyle of the rich and famous were in for a shock. At the time when Amos was writing his book of prophecy, the northern and southern kingdoms were experiencing unprecedented growth and prosperity. Under the leadership of Jeroboam II, Israel was enjoying a time of geographic expansion and economic revitalization.

He [Jeroboam] restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel… – 2 Kings 14:25 ESV

This statement indicates that Israel had been able to restore its borders back to where they had been during the reign of King Solomon, before God divided his kingdom. Things were looking up in Israel, and the upper crust of Israelite society were the ones who benefited the most from these territorial gains. Their land holdings increased, their flocks grew larger, and their financial portfolios prospered. In other words, the rich grew richer. Yet, Amos calls out these opportunistic and self-aggrandizing individuals.

How terrible for you who sprawl on ivory beds
    and lounge on your couches,
eating the meat of tender lambs from the flock
    and of choice calves fattened in the stall.
You sing trivial songs to the sound of the harp
    and fancy yourselves to be great musicians like David.
You drink wine by the bowlful
    and perfume yourselves with fragrant lotions.
    You care nothing about the ruin of your nation. – Amos 6:4-6 NLT

And he goes on to warn them that all of Jeroboam’s geographic gains would eventually be lost and, with them, their financial fortunes and freedom.

“For behold, I will raise up against you a nation,
    O house of Israel,” declares the Lord, the God of hosts;
“and they shall oppress you from Lebo-hamath
    to the Brook of the Arabah.” – Amos 6:14 ESV

Amos challenges these fat and happy people to consider what happened in Calneh, Hamath, and Gath. These were three “great” cities that had all experienced defeat and destruction. If they could fall, so could Samaria and Jerusalem. The capital cities of Israel and Judah were not exempt or immune from defeat. Amos warns them, “You are no better than they were, and look at how they were destroyed” (Amos 6:2 NLT).

Reveling in their superior social status and relying on their seemingly endless source of financial wealth, these people refused to acknowledge that danger was headed their way. Amos accuses them of living in a state of denial that was only making matters worse.

You push away every thought of coming disaster,
    but your actions only bring the day of judgment closer. – Amos 6:3 NLT 

And he delivers a sobering and somber message from God to these self-made celebrities and social glitterati.

“I despise the arrogance of Israel,
    and I hate their fortresses.
I will give this city
    and everything in it to their enemies.” – Amos 6:8 NLT

Rather than seek God, these people will seek refuge in their well-fortified homes. But when the judgment of God comes, their wealth and walled enclosures will be of no help. Amos describes a scene of utter destruction and widespread death.

If there are ten men left in one house, they will all die.  And when a relative who is responsible to dispose of the dead goes into the house to carry out the bodies, he will ask the last survivor, “Is anyone else with you?” When the person begins to swear, “No, by . . . ,” he will interrupt and say, “Stop! Don’t even mention the name of the Lord.” – Amos 6:9-10 NLT

When the time comes, they will fully recognize that their fall has been the sovereign will of God Almighty, but they will refuse to give Him the credit. And in their pride and stubbornness, they will continue to refuse to seek Yahweh. Despite God’s repeated calls to “Seek me and live” ( Amos 5:6 ESV), they will seek refuge in anything and everything but Him. And, as a result, “When the Lord gives the command, homes both great and small will be smashed to pieces” ( Amos 6:11 NLT). Those inside, regardless of their wealth, influence, or social standing, will all suffer the same fate. Possessions and position will save no one. All their land-holdings, stock increases, and financial gains made through illegal and unjust means will be lost. They will go from celebrating their self-achieved successes to mourning their God-ordained losses. Their pride will be humbled. Their false gods will be exposed. Their possessions will be plundered. And for many, their lives will be forfeited. All because they refused to seek God and live.

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 the Blessings Become a Curse

14 Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was 666 talents of gold, 15 besides that which came from the explorers and from the business of the merchants, and from all the kings of the west and from the governors of the land. 16 King Solomon made 200 large shields of beaten gold; 600 shekels of gold went into each shield. 17 And he made 300 shields of beaten gold; three minas of gold went into each shield. And the king put them in the House of the Forest of Lebanon. 18 The king also made a great ivory throne and overlaid it with the finest gold. 19 The throne had six steps, and the throne had a round top, and on each side of the seat were armrests and two lions standing beside the armrests, 20 while twelve lions stood there, one on each end of a step on the six steps. The like of it was never made in any kingdom. 21 All King Solomon’s drinking vessels were of gold, and all the vessels of the House of the Forest of Lebanon were of pure gold. None were of silver; silver was not considered as anything in the days of Solomon. 22 For the king had a fleet of ships of Tarshish at sea with the fleet of Hiram. Once every three years the fleet of ships of Tarshish used to come bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks.

23 Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. 24 And the whole earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind. 25 Every one of them brought his present, articles of silver and gold, garments, myrrh, spices, horses, and mules, so much year by year.

26 And Solomon gathered together chariots and horsemen. He had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horsemen, whom he stationed in the chariot cities and with the king in Jerusalem. 27 And the king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stone, and he made cedar as plentiful as the sycamore of the Shephelah. 28 And Solomon’s import of horses was from Egypt and Kue, and the king’s traders received them from Kue at a price. 29 A chariot could be imported from Egypt for 600 shekels of silver and a horse for 150, and so through the king’s traders they were exported to all the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Syria. 1 Kings 10:14-29 ESV

Up to this point in his narrative of Solomon’s reign, the author of 1 Kings seems to have spent far more time describing Solomon’s vast wealth than providing evidence of his great wisdom. He has only provided one concrete example where Solomon utilized his God-given gift of wisdom to settle a dispute between two prostitutes who were fighting over legal custody of a newborn baby (1 Kings 3:16-28). There have been several allusions to Solomon’s wisdom, such as the statement made by the Queen of Sheba.

“Everything I heard in my country about your achievements and wisdom is true! I didn’t believe what was said until I arrived here and saw it with my own eyes. In fact, I had not heard the half of it! Your wisdom and prosperity are far beyond what I was told. – 1 Kings 10:6-7 NLT

But it would appear that the author has purposefully placed more emphasis on Solomon’s rapidly expanding financial portfolio. God had promised to bless Solomon with riches and honor (1 Kings 3:13), and it is quite evident that God had kept that promise. In just a single year, nearly 25 tons of gold was added to Solomon’s treasury. That’s a staggering figure. But it represents only a fraction of the revenue that flowed into the kingdom each year. Income for his many business ventures, tributes paid by vassal states, and gifts from various kings and dignitaries further enhanced his annual revenue. His proverbial cup was running over.

People from every nation came to consult him and to hear the wisdom God had given him. Year after year everyone who visited brought him gifts of silver and gold, clothing, weapons, spices, horses, and mules. – 1 Kings 10:24-25 NLT

As a result, “King Solomon became richer and wiser than any other king on earth” (1 Kings 10:23 NLT). It seems that his wisdom and wealth shared a symbiotic relationship. Both were gifts that had been made possible by God. And yet, like all gifts given by God to men, the real test lies in how they are put to use. Both wisdom and wealth can be misused and abused. Any God-given gift can be exploited for ungodly purposes. And it would appear that Solomon had allowed his wisdom and wealth to become a distraction. Somewhere along the way, Solomon had lost sight of the divine purpose for his gifts – that he might govern the people of Israel with justice (1 Kings 3:11). He began to repurpose his wisdom and riches in a vain search for meaning in life. He would later write of his

I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. 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. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere. – Ecclesiastes 2:9-11 NLT

Notice how many times Solomon uses the personal pronoun, “I.” He had become totally self-consumed, focusing all his attention on what he could gain from what he had been given. Even his God-given wisdom became little more than a tool for trying to decipher the mysteries of life. And while he understood wisdom’s inherent value, it wasn’t long before he came to despise this valuable gift from God.

Yet I saw that the wise and the foolish share the same fate. Both will die. So I said to myself, “Since I will end up the same as the fool, what’s the value of all my wisdom? This is all so meaningless!” For the wise and the foolish both die. The wise will not be remembered any longer than the fool. In the days to come, both will be forgotten.

So I came to hate life because everything done here under the sun is so troubling. Everything is meaningless—like chasing the wind. – Ecclesiastes 3:14-17 NLT

Twenty years after ascending to the throne of his father David, Solomon was experiencing unparalleled success. He had the Midas touch. It seems that everything he touched turned to literal gold. In fact, gold was so prevalent in his kingdom that “silver was considered worthless in Solomon’s day” (1 Kings 10:21 NLT).

Solomon had built his own fleet of ships that returned every three years with their holds full of additional treasures of “gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks” (1 Kings 10:22 NLT). He had amassed “a huge force of chariots and horses. He had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horses” ( 1 Kings 10:26 NLT). And many of those horses had been imported from as far away as Egypt.

All of these descriptions of Solomon’s incredible wealth must be placed within the context of the commands God had given concerning all those who would serve as kings over His people.

“The king must not build up a large stable of horses for himself or send his people to Egypt to buy horses, for the Lord has told you, ‘You must never return to Egypt.’ The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the Lord. And he must not accumulate large amounts of wealth in silver and gold for himself.” – Deuteronomy 17:16-17 NLT

God had blessed Solomon with unparalleled resources, but Solomon was using them in ways that were contradictory to God’s will. His use of God’s gracious gift was in clear violation of God’s command. Solomon’s wealth had never been intended to feed his ego or fulfill his wildest dreams. It was meant to enable him to provide the people of Israel with proper care and protection. And while accumulating chariots and horses may have sounded like a good strategy for ensuring Israel’s national security, it was against the will of God. Solomon’s own father had written about the futility of placing one’s hope in such things.

Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed;
he will answer him from his holy heaven
with the saving might of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They collapse and fall,
but we rise and stand upright. – Psalm 20:6-8 NLT

Solomon seems to have been obsessed with all the outward trappings of royalty. He had built for himself an opulent palace, where exquisite meals were served on golden plates and the finest wine was served in golden goblets. And when it came to the throne upon which he sat, Solomon spared no expense.

Then the king made a huge throne, decorated with ivory and overlaid with fine gold. The throne had six steps and a rounded back. There were armrests on both sides of the seat, and the figure of a lion stood on each side of the throne. There were also twelve other lions, one standing on each end of the six steps. No other throne in all the world could be compared with it! – 1 Kings 10:18-20 NLT

Solomon looked like a king and lived like one. He had all the trappings of success and, from the outsider’s perspective, was living the dream. Yet, the day would come when Solomon finally recognized that he had confused the gift with the Giver.

Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness! The more you have, the more people come to help you spend it. So what good is wealth—except perhaps to watch it slip through your fingers! – Ecclesiastes 10-11 NLT

The wisdom and wealth given to him by God had never been intended to fulfill his every self-centered desire or provide him with some form of personal satisfaction. Solomon had been anointed and blessed by God so that he might lead the nation of Israel into a period of peace, prosperity, and faithful service to God. Solomon had started out well, even asking God for the capacity to lead the people of Israel with wisdom and discernment.

“Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?” – 1 Kings 3:9 NLT

But somewhere along the way, Solomon had let the blessings of God go to his head. He had allowed the gifts to take precedence over the Giver and, in doing so, turned the blessings into a curse.

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

Power, Possessions and Prestige

1 At that time Merodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent envoys with letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he heard that he had been sick and had recovered. And Hezekiah welcomed them gladly. And he showed them his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his whole armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them. Then Isaiah the prophet came to King Hezekiah, and said to him, “What did these men say? And from where did they come to you?” Hezekiah said, “They have come to me from a far country, from Babylon.” He said, “What have they seen in your house?” Hezekiah answered, “They have seen all that is in my house. There is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.”

Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord of hosts: Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my days.” – Isaiah 39:1-8 ESV

There is little doubt that Hezekiah had a love for Yahweh. And he had a deep appreciation for the miraculous healing from his terminal illness and for Yahweh’s gracious pronouncement that his life would be extended an additional 15 years. Hezekiah had even ended his poem with the declaration:

“The Lord will save me,
    and we will play my music on stringed instruments
all the days of our lives,
    at the house of the Lord.” – Isaiah 38:20 ESV

But in the days that followed his healing, a darker side of Hezekiah’s personality becomes apparent. He struggled with pride, and this was not a new characteristic in his life. It had been a problem all along. In fact, the book of 2 Chronicles informs us that, even shortly after his healing, Hezekiah’s pride problem reared its ugly head.

But Hezekiah did not respond appropriately to the kindness shown him, and he became proud. So the Lord’s anger came against him and against Judah and Jerusalem. Then Hezekiah humbled himself and repented of his pride, as did the people of Jerusalem. So the Lord’s anger did not fall on them during Hezekiah’s lifetime. – 2 Chronicles 32:25-26 ESV

While this rendering makes it appear as if Hezekiah’s pride suddenly appeared, the truth is, it was already there. The phrase, “he became proud” is actually one word in Hebrew, and it means “exalted” or “arrogant.” The passage literally reads, “his heart was haughty.” We aren’t told how Hezekiah’s pride manifested itself, but it could have been that he saw his healing by God as a sign of his value to God. There is a good chance that Hezekiah saw himself as somehow indispensable to God. The book of 2 Chronicles goes on to describe Hezekiah as very wealthy and successful. In the Jewish culture, material wealth was often viewed as a sign of God’s favor.

Hezekiah was very wealthy and highly honored. He built special treasury buildings for his silver, gold, precious stones, and spices, and for his shields and other valuable items. He also constructed many storehouses for his grain, new wine, and olive oil; and he made many stalls for his cattle and pens for his flocks of sheep and goats. He built many towns and acquired vast flocks and herds, for God had given him great wealth. He blocked up the upper spring of Gihon and brought the water down through a tunnel to the west side of the City of David. And so he succeeded in everything he did. – 2 Chronicles 32:27-30 NLT

Now, with his health restored and a divine guarantee of an additional 15 years of life, Hezekiah must have considered himself a truly blessed man. He had it all: Health, wealth, power and prosperity. But he also had a problem: Pride. And God, knowing exactly what was in Hezekiah’s heart, determined to put the king to a test, in order to expose the true nature of his condition.

However, when ambassadors arrived from Babylon to ask about the remarkable events that had taken place in the land, God withdrew from Hezekiah in order to test him and to see what was really in his heart. – 2 Chronicles 32:31 NLT

And this is where Isaiah picks up the story. It seems that news of Hezekiah’s miraculous recovery had spread, and enjoys from Babylon showed up with a message of congratulations from Merodach-baladan, the son of the king. But this little expedition was probably far more than a goodwill gesture. Babylon was an up-and-coming force in the Middle East and shared a mutual dislike for the Assyrians with Judah. It is likely that Merodach-baladan was simply attempting to build an alliance with Hezekiah, presenting the king with gifts and convincing him of Babylon’s good intentions toward Judah.

And this is where Hezekiah’s pride goes on full display. Isaiah provides us with a not-so-flattering picture of Hezekiah’s giddy delight at showing off his great wealth to these visiting dignitaries.

Hezekiah was delighted with the Babylonian envoys and showed them everything in his treasure-houses—the silver, the gold, the spices, and the aromatic oils. He also took them to see his armory and showed them everything in his royal treasuries! There was nothing in his palace or kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them. – Isaiah 39:2 NLT

Hezekiah was out to impress, and his pride took precedence over his prudence. He gave these Babylonian envoys a private viewing of every state secret concerning Judah’s wealth and military capabilities. It’s unclear whether these men had shown up with the intention of spying out Jerusalem’s power and prosperity. But it really didn’t matter, because Hezekiah showed them everything they would want to see.

And, when Isaiah approached Hezekiah and asked him who the men were and what they had seen, the king was blatantly honest.

“They saw everything,” Hezekiah replied. “I showed them everything I own—all my royal treasuries.” – Isaiah 39:4 NLT

You can almost sense Hezekiah’s giddy pride at having been able to impress his guests with his vast wealth. He was like a kid on Christmas day showing off all his presents to his friends in the hopes that they would be impressed and just a tad jealous at his good fortune. But God was not impressed. In fact, God was angry with Hezekiah’s blatant display of worldly affection, and He had Isaiah deliver a sobering message to the king.

Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Listen to this message from the Lord of Heaven’s Armies: ‘The time is coming when everything in your palace—all the treasures stored up by your ancestors until now—will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left,’ says the Lord. ‘Some of your very own sons will be taken away into exile. They will become eunuchs who will serve in the palace of Babylon’s king.’” – Isaiah 39:5-7 NLT

Hezekiah was going to learn the brutal reality of the truth found in the Proverbs.

When pride comes, then comes disgrace… – Proverbs 11:2 ESV

Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall. – Proverbs 16:18 NLT

Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor. – Proverbs 18:12 ESV

Pride ends in humiliation, while humility brings honor. – Proverbs 29:23 NLT

The condition of Hezekiah’s heart had been exposed. He loved the things of this world more than he loved God. He took more pride in his material wealth and physical health than he did in his relationship with God Almighty. And Hezekiah was more concerned with impressing men than honoring God. The apostle John provides a powerful warning to avoid the mistake that Hezekiah made.

Don’t love the world or anything that belongs to the world. If you love the world, you cannot love the Father. – 1 John 2:15 CEV

Even Jesus warned of the danger of falling in love with material wealth.

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” – Matthew 6:24 NLT

And the apostle James adds another stern warning that strongly discourages friendship with the world and all that it offers.

You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. – James 4:4 NLT

There was nothing inherently wrong with Hezekiah’s possession of wealth. It had been given to him by God. But his wealth should have never become a substitute for God. His material possessions were never intended to replace his trust in and love for God. Hezekiah’s problem was that he saw himself as a self-made man. His identity was wrapped up in what he owned and how others viewed him. He had completely forgotten that his very life was a gift from God. He had been at the brink of death, and God had spared him. Had God allowed him to die, all his treasures and trinkets would have been left behind. God was not impressed with Hezekiah’s affluence. What God wanted from Hezekiah were his undivided attention and unwavering devotion. But Hezekiah worshiped wealth. He bowed down at the altar of worldly pleasure and temporal prosperity.

And the truly amazing thing is that Hezekiah took the report from Isaiah as good news.

“This message you have given me from the Lord is good.” For the king was thinking, “At least there will be peace and security during my lifetime.” – Isaiah 39:8 NLT

While Judah may one day fall to the Babylonians and his own sons be taken captive, he was pleased to know that he would enjoy peace and security as long as he was alive. What a short-sighted and selfish outlook. He showed no concern for the future well-being of his own sons, let alone the nation for which he was responsible. Hezekiah was in it for himself. His love of things was directly tied to his love of self. Even the admiration of the Babylonian envoys fed his already swollen ego. Their delight in his vast wealth added fuel to the fire of Hezekiah’s raging pride.

One of the most telling proofs of Hezekiah’s pride problem was his refusal to repent of his actions. Rather than hear the word of God and turn to Him in prayer and repentance, Hezekiah simply rejoiced in the news that God’s judgment would be delayed. He would continue to enjoy his power, possessions, and prestige. And that was all that seemed to matter to him. And the book of 2 Chronicles provides the epitaph to Hezekiah’s life.

When Hezekiah died, he was buried in the upper area of the royal cemetery, and all Judah and Jerusalem honored him at his death. And his son Manasseh became the next king. – 2 Chronicles 32:33 NLT

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

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

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

 

 

Until the Spirit is Poured Upon Us

Rise up, you women who are at ease, hear my voice;
    you complacent daughters, give ear to my speech.
10 In little more than a year
    you will shudder, you complacent women;
for the grape harvest fails,
    the fruit harvest will not come.
11 Tremble, you women who are at ease,
    shudder, you complacent ones;
strip, and make yourselves bare,
    and tie sackcloth around your waist.
12 Beat your breasts for the pleasant fields,
    for the fruitful vine,
13 for the soil of my people
    growing up in thorns and briers,
yes, for all the joyous houses
    in the exultant city.
14 For the palace is forsaken,
    the populous city deserted;
the hill and the watchtower
    will become dens forever,
a joy of wild donkeys,
    a pasture of flocks;
15 until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high,
    and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field,
    and the fruitful field is deemed a forest.
16 Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
    and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.
17 And the effect of righteousness will be peace,
    and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.
18 My people will abide in a peaceful habitation,
    in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.
19 And it will hail when the forest falls down,
    and the city will be utterly laid low.
20 Happy are you who sow beside all waters,
    who let the feet of the ox and the donkey range free. – Isaiah 32:9-20 ESV

Isaiah has announced the coming of a righteous king and has called the people of Judah to “Return to the one against whom you have so blatantly rebelled!” (Isaiah 31:5 NET). He has delivered God’s stinging indictment against the leaders of the nation, labeling them as “stubborn children…who carry out a plan, but not mine, and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit” (Isaiah 30:1 ESV).  Now, the prophet directs his message to the women of Judah. This is intended to reveal that Judah’s problem is pervasive, and not relegated to a particular class or gender of people. Even the women of Judah are guilty of rebellion against God. So, Isaiah calls them out.

You complacent women,
get up and listen to me!
You carefree daughters,
pay attention to what I say! – Isaiah 32:1 NET

He uses two words to describe these women. The first is sha’anan, which portrays them as being a bit haughty and aloof, living with a false sense of ease and confidence. The second word he uses is batach, and it paints them as having a false sense of security. To put it in more modern terms, Isaiah is saying they are “fat and happy.” Which is somewhat similar to the words the prophet Amos used when he called out the women of the northern kingdom of Israel.

Listen to me, you fat cows
    living in Samaria,
you women who oppress the poor
    and crush the needy,
and who are always calling to your husbands,
    “Bring us another drink!” – Amos 4:1 NLT

Isaiah attempts to light a fire under these carefree and complacent women, pleading with them to listen to what he has to say. Time is running out. Judgment is coming. In fact, Isaiah warns that “In a short time—just a little more than a year—you careless ones will suddenly begin to care” (Isaiah 32:10 NLT). God will get their attention. Their false sense of security will be suddenly shattered. Their smug demeanor will be replaced with fear.

Tremble, you women of ease;
    throw off your complacency.
Strip off your pretty clothes,
    and put on burlap to show your grief.
Beat your breasts in sorrow for your bountiful farms
    and your fruitful grapevines. – Isaiah 32:11 NLT

Isaiah calls on these women to repent. He warns them to change their attitude now before the judgment of God falls on them. They need to replace their false sense of security with a fear of God. They need to remove their fine clothing and put on the garments of mourning, as a sign of their sorrow for having offended a holy God. They need to repent over their misplaced trust, as illustrated by their over-confidence in their bountiful farms and fruitful grapevines. These women, like everyone else in the nation, had come to believe that they were somehow invincible and their material prosperity was a sign of God’s favor.

Yet, Isaiah lets them know that everything in which they have trusted will suddenly be taken from them. He depicts a dramatic reversal of fortunes for these women and the nation.

For your land will be overgrown with thorns and briers.
    Your joyful homes and happy towns will be gone.
The palace and the city will be deserted,
    and busy towns will be empty.
Wild donkeys will frolic and flocks will graze
    in the empty forts and watchtowers – Isaiah 32:13-14 NLT

Their material world was going to be rocked. Nothing will be left untouched. Houses, towns, palaces, and pastures, will all bear the brunt of God’s righteous wrath. Because these things represent the source of their security. Their material possessions had become substitutes for God. They found peace in the shelter of their houses, not the arms of God. They felt safe because of the fortifications of their cities, not because of their God. They relied on the fruitfulness of their fields and orchards for sustenance, rather than God. In short, they worshiped the gifts rather than the Giver.

But God was about to change all that. In the relatively short-term, God would bring destruction upon the nation of Judah. In 701 BC, Sennacherib besieged the city of Jerusalem, creating extremely difficult conditions within its walls. Even before the siege began, the emissary for the king had warned the people in the city:

“Do you think my master sent this message only to you and your master? He wants all the people to hear it, for when we put this city under siege, they will suffer along with you. They will be so hungry and thirsty that they will eat their own dung and drink their own urine.” – 2 Kings 18:27 NLT

As we have seen, God eventually spared the city of Jerusalem, miraculously defeating the Assyrian army. In the middle of the night, an angel of the Lord killed 185,000 of the enemy’s troops, forcing Sennacherib to call off the siege and return to Assyria. But 115 years later, the destruction of Jerusalem would finally come. In 586 BC, after another lengthy and devastating siege, the Babylonians, under the leadership of King Nebuchadnezzar, breached the walls the city and completely destroyed it.

At this point, as Isaiah addresses the women of Judah, all of these events had not yet happened. They lie somewhere in the future; as yet unfulfilled, but unavoidable. Because they did happen. God’s judgment did come. Homes were destroyed, palaces demolished, the temple burned and razed, and the people taken captive. And Isaiah warns that the desolation of Judah would continue until another, as yet unfulfilled event took place. He describes the desolation of Jerusalem continuing “until at last the Spirit is poured out on us from heaven” (Isaiah 32:15 NLT).

With the coming of this future day, another incredible reversal of fortunes will take place. Isaiah describes the wilderness becoming a fertile field yielding bountiful crops. And the most abundant fruit to be found will be justice and righteousness. It will be a time marked by peace. And in place of the cocky confidence of the women of Judah, will be a quiet and confidence that comes from God.

And this righteousness will bring peace. Yes, it will bring quietness and confidence forever. My people will live in safety, quietly at home. They will be at rest. – Isaiah 32:17-18 NLT

Rather than trusting in material things and finding their hope and security in the gifts, the people of Judah will turn to the Giver of all good things. And He will bless them.

the Lord will greatly bless his people.
    Wherever they plant seed, bountiful crops will spring up.
Their cattle and donkeys will graze freely. – Isaiah 32:20 NLT

This day has not yet come. This prophecy has not yet been fulfilled. But it will be. Just as the Assyrians besieged the city and the Babylonians destroyed it, the day will come when the Lord pours out His blessings upon Jerusalem and the people of Israel.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” – Jeremiah 29:11 NLT

And that plan includes the future restoration of His people. He will pour out His Spirit upon them and they will become all that He has intended for them to be all along.

And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations. – Ezekiel 36:26-27 NLT

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

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

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

God Has Purposed.

1 The oracle concerning Tyre.

Wail, O ships of Tarshish,
    for Tyre is laid waste, without house or harbor!
From the land of Cyprus
    it is revealed to them.
Be still, O inhabitants of the coast;
    the merchants of Sidon, who cross the sea, have filled you.
And on many waters
your revenue was the grain of Shihor,
    the harvest of the Nile;
    you were the merchant of the nations.
Be ashamed, O Sidon, for the sea has spoken,
    the stronghold of the sea, saying:
“I have neither labored nor given birth,
    I have neither reared young men
    nor brought up young women.”
When the report comes to Egypt,
    they will be in anguish over the report about Tyre.
Cross over to Tarshish;
    wail, O inhabitants of the coast!
Is this your exultant city
    whose origin is from days of old,
whose feet carried her
    to settle far away?
Who has purposed this
    against Tyre, the bestower of crowns,
whose merchants were princes,
    whose traders were the honored of the earth?
The Lord of hosts has purposed it,
    to defile the pompous pride of all glory,
    to dishonor all the honored of the earth.
10 Cross over your land like the Nile,
    O daughter of Tarshish;
    there is no restraint anymore.
11 He has stretched out his hand over the sea;
    he has shaken the kingdoms;
the Lord has given command concerning Canaan
    to destroy its strongholds.
12 And he said:
“You will no more exult,
    O oppressed virgin daughter of Sidon;
arise, cross over to Cyprus,
    even there you will have no rest.”

13 Behold the land of the Chaldeans! This is the people that was not; Assyria destined it for wild beasts. They erected their siege towers, they stripped her palaces bare, they made her a ruin.

14 Wail, O ships of Tarshish,
    for your stronghold is laid waste.

15 In that day Tyre will be forgotten for seventy years, like the days of one king. At the end of seventy years, it will happen to Tyre as in the song of the prostitute:

16 “Take a harp;
    go about the city,
    O forgotten prostitute!
Make sweet melody;
    sing many songs,
    that you may be remembered.”

17 At the end of seventy years, the Lord will visit Tyre, and she will return to her wages and will prostitute herself with all the kingdoms of the world on the face of the earth. 18 Her merchandise and her wages will be holy to the Lord. It will not be stored or hoarded, but her merchandise will supply abundant food and fine clothing for those who dwell before the Lord. – Isaiah 23:1-18 ESV

cea1c-tyre-1800x1516x300While Babylon and Assyria represent large nations whose powerful military forces allowed them to dominate that region of the world and expand their respective kingdoms through conquest, Tyre represents the much small Phoenician state that had amassed great wealth through commerce. Located along the Mediterranean Sea, Tyre was a bustling commercial port whose ships plied the Mediterranean, carrying goods to and from foreign ports, transforming the city and region into a major economic force.

In this oracle, God pronounces a judgment against Tyre, that will impact the entire Phoenician region. Tyre is singled out and made the focal point of God’s pronouncement because it was the most renowned of all the Phoenician cities. What God predicts will happen to it will take place throughout the region.

God describes Tyre as being laid waste, its homes and harbor being completely destroyed. And the news of Tyre’s fall will spread fast, reaching the shores of the island of Cypress, where sailors on large ships hailing from as far away as Tarshish in Spain, will hear the devastating report and mourn the loss of this great seaport. Sidon, located just to the north of Tyre will also mourn the loss of its neighbor. In fact, God gives Sidon and the rest of the coast of Phoenicia two words of warning: damam and buwsh. The first warns that they will be made silent, dumbfounded at the news. The second warns that they will grow pale with astonishment and terror upon hearing what has happened to Tyre.

Even the sea gives voice to its concern over the loss of Tyre. Like a childless woman, unable to give birth, the sea will be unable to replace the loss of its child, Tyre. And while Sidon had enjoyed the same economic success as its sister city, trading with Egypt and other lands, it too would be negatively impacted by Tyre’s loss.

We know that, in 585-572 BC, Nebuchadnezzar besieged Tyre. Then, in 322 TC, Alexander the Great completely destroyed the city. Sidon would later fall to the Persian king Artaxerxes. Everything God predicted in this oracle eventually happened just as He said. And in verse 9, God provides the reason for Tyre’s eventual demise.

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies has done it
    to destroy your pride
    and bring low all earth’s nobility. – Isaiah 23:9 NLT

Tyre, while not a military power, was an economic power broker, wielding tremendous influence in the world of Isaiah’s day. In a sense, the sea had made Tyre what it had become. Its entire economy was based on its location on the sea. It was known for its ships and had used its vantage point along the coast to amass great wealth and influence over the world. It stands as a symbol of man’s obsession with financial success and the power that comes with it. But Tyre had become proud and puffed up by its seemingly boundless prosperity. The merchants of Tyre lived like princes, and its traders were treated like dignitaries around the world. Yet, God would bring them low.

While Tyre had been the master of the sea, plying its waters and using it as a highway to bring back great wealth to its port, God warns that it is He who rules the waves.

The Lord held out his hand over the sea
    and shook the kingdoms of the earth.
He has spoken out against Phoenicia,
    ordering that her fortresses be destroyed. – Isaiah 23:11 NLT

Once again, God is revealing that He is the one who is in control of all things. He controls that wind, the waves, the armies of the world, and the fates of the nations. And all of this was meant to remind the people of Judah that no one stood outside of God’s will and immune from His judgment. Tyre was a symbol of mankind’s love affair with material wealth and financial success. They saw themselves as invincible because their resources were seemingly immeasurable. Even with all the instability in the land caused by the actions of Assyria, the Phoenicians probably thought they were safe because they were critical to continued trade with the nations of the world.  But God would prove them wrong.

And when the destruction began, the people of Tyre could attempt to escape, sailing for Cypress or other distant ports, but they would soon discover that God’s judgment is relentless and His reach, limitless.

Yet, in the midst of all the news of doom and gloom, God reveals that Tyre will experience a rebound in their fortunes. After 70 years of suffering, God will allow Tyre to regain some of its former splendor.

At the end of seventy years, the Lord will visit Tyre, and she will return to her wages and will prostitute herself with all the kingdoms of the world on the face of the earth. – Isaiah 23:17 ESV

Notice the indictment contained in this snippet of good news. Tyre will be allowed to enjoy some of its former glory, but they will do so using the same strategy they used before. They will prostitute themselves to all the kingdoms of the world, selling their services and their wares for financial gain. But there will be one glaring difference.

Her merchandise and her wages will be holy to the Lord. It will not be stored or hoarded, but her merchandise will supply abundant food and fine clothing for those who dwell before the Lord. – Isaiah 23:18 ESV

This is speaking of a day that has not yet occurred. It is a prophecy concerning the last days when the nations of the earth will join in the worship of God. The apostle John was given a vision of this future day and recorded it in his Revelation.

I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there. And all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city. – Revelation 21:22-26 NLT

And Isaiah will go on to record a similar description of this scene, addressing the joy of Israel over its future restoration by God.

…for merchants from around the world will come to you.
    They will bring you the wealth of many lands.
Vast caravans of camels will converge on you,
    the camels of Midian and Ephah.
The people of Sheba will bring gold and frankincense
    and will come worshiping the Lord.
The flocks of Kedar will be given to you,
    and the rams of Nebaioth will be brought for my altars.
I will accept their offerings,
    and I will make my Temple glorious.

“And what do I see flying like clouds to Israel,
    like doves to their nests?
They are ships from the ends of the earth,
    from lands that trust in me,
    led by the great ships of Tarshish.
They are bringing the people of Israel home from far away,
    carrying their silver and gold.
They will honor the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has filled you with splendor. – Isaiah 60:5-9 NLT

God’s immediate plans for Tyre will involve its destruction. But God’s future plans for Tyre and the nations of the earth will be much different. He is not done. He has plans to redeem and restore His people, Israel, and create a new era on earth when His Son will rule and reign, and the kingdoms of the world will worship God alone.

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

Simply Better.

1 A good name is better than precious ointment,
    and the day of death than the day of birth.
It is better to go to the house of mourning
    than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind,
    and the living will lay it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
    for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
    but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise
    than to hear the song of fools.
For as the crackling of thorns under a pot,
    so is the laughter of the fools;
    this also is vanity.
Surely oppression drives the wise into madness,
    and a bribe corrupts the heart.
Better is the end of a thing than its beginning,
    and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
Be not quick in your spirit to become angry,
    for anger lodges in the heart of fools.
10 Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?”
    For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.
11 Wisdom is good with an inheritance,
    an advantage to those who see the sun.
12 For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money,
    and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.
13 Consider the work of God:
    who can make straight what he has made crooked?

14 In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him. Ecclesiastes 7:1-14 ESV

Once again, using a steady, staccato stream of parables as his tool, Solomon provides us with yet more proof of the futility of life lived under the sun. Still maintaining his somewhat pessimistic outlook, he utilizes a series of stark contrasts in order to support his central theme that all is vanity: He juxtaposes birth and death, sorrow and laughter, wisdom and foolishness, the beginning and the end, the patient and the proud. In each case, Solomon draws a conclusion, deeming one better than the other, and what he decides is meant to shock and surprise us. He starts out comparing birth with death, and while we might logically conclude that the beginning of a life is preferable to its end, Solomon would disagree. And he uses a somewhat odd comparison to make his point. In verse one, Solomon utilizes a word play, using two similar sounding Hebrew words: shem and shemen, to make his point. Shem means “name” and refers to someone’s reputation. Shemen is the Hebrew word for “oil” and it typically refers to an oil used for anointing that had a strong fragrance associated with it. Solomon states that a good name or reputation is better than precious ointment. To put it another way, he seems to be saying that being good is better than smelling good. A man who hasn’t bathed may douse himself with cologne, but he only masks the stench. His life is a sham, marked by hypocrisy. And Solomon uses shem and shemen to make a point about birth and death. While the beginning of life is associated with feasting and celebration, it masks the reality that much hurt and heartache lie ahead. A baby is born without a reputation. It has had no time to establish a name for itself. And no one knows how that child’s life will turn out. Yet, we celebrate and rejoice the day of his birth. Solomon is not suggesting we cease from celebrating new birth, but that we recognize that it is the end of one’s life that truly matters. We all face the same fate. Death is inevitable and inescapable. And when it comes time to mourn the life of someone we knew and loved, those who have managed to achieve and maintain a good reputation will be missed most. When it comes time to mourn the loss of someone of good character, the sorrow will prove better than laughter, because the reflections on that individual’s life will bring sweet and lasting memories. It will remind the living of what is truly important, and the wise will glean invaluable lessons from a life lived well.

When a child is born, words of encouragement may be spoken, but they are all hypothetical in nature. No one knows the future, so no one can presume to know how that child’s life will turn out. We can and should be hopeful, but we cannot be certain that our hope will be fulfilled. Yet, at the time of one’s death, there is irrefutable evidence that proves the true outcome of that person’s life. A life lived well will be well documented and greatly celebrated. Even in the sorrow of the moment, there will be joy. Solomon puts it this way: “by sadness of face the heart is made glad” (Ecclesiastes 7:3 ESV). The memories of the one we have lost bring joy to our heart and put a smile on our face, and we experience the seeming dichotomy of sadness and gladness.

Solomon’s use of shem and shemen has ongoing application. He seems to be advocating a life that is lived beneath the surface – well beyond the shallow and pretentious trappings of materialism and hedonism. He refers to “the house of mirth,” the place where fools tend to gather. It is the place of joy and gladness, rejoicing and pleasure. The fool makes it his primary destination, believing that it is there his heart will find satisfaction and fulfillment. But Solomon recommends the house of mourning, where sadness and sorrow are found. Again, it is at the end of a life that the true character of that life is revealed in detail. The tears of sorrow may be for one who lived his life well and whose departure will leave a hole in the lives of those left behind. But, in far too many cases, the tears flow out of sadness over a life marked by sweet-smelling oil on the surface, but nothing of value on the inside. The “perfumes” of life are the things we acquire and accumulate, none of which we can take with us. They represent the oil of achievement and visible success. Our homes, cars, clothes, portfolios, resumes, and 401ks may leave the impression that we had it all but, at death, we will leave it all behind. As Job so aptly put it, “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave” (Job 1:21 NLT).

Solomon has learned that life should be accompanied by a certain thoughtfulness and soberness. It requires serious reflection and careful examination in order to learn all that life has to offer. But we are prone to live life with our hearts and eyes set on those things that bring us the greatest amount of pleasure and satisfaction, temporary though they may be. We prefer the sweet-smelling, short-lived perfume of a self-indulgent lifestyle. We want it all now. We prefer joy to sorrow, pleasure to pain, happiness to heartache, and a good time to a good name.

But Solomon knew from experience that living in the house of mirth never brought true happiness. He had learned the hard way that a life lived with pleasure as its primary focus rarely resulted in lasting satisfaction or true joy. Like perfume, its aroma faded with time. Which is why Solomon always reverted to wisdom.

11 Wisdom is even better when you have money.
    Both are a benefit as you go through life.
12 Wisdom and money can get you almost anything,
    but only wisdom can save your life. – Ecclesiastes 7:11-12 NLT

Money might improve your life, over the short-term, but only wisdom can save your life. And wisdom can’t be bought or acquired. It comes through observation and application of life lessons, and that requires a willingness to look beneath the surface, beyond the pleasant-looking lies of the enemy. The apostle John gives us some sober-sounding, wisdom producing words to consider.

15 Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. 16 For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. 17 And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT

And Solomon reminds us to look at life more soberly and seriously, judging it not from our limited human vantage point, but through the eyes of God. “Accept the way God does things, for who can straighten what he has made crooked?” (Ecclesiastes 7:13 NLT). We see death as negative, the end of life. But God sees things differently. We view pleasure as preferable to pain, but God works in ways we can’t comprehend, using the seeming incongruities of life to teach us the greatest lessons. And as Solomon has done before, he boils his thoughts down to one simple suggestion: “Enjoy prosperity while you can, but when hard times strike, realize that both come from God” (Ecclesiastes 7:14 NLT). There is nothing wrong with enjoying the pleasures of life and the blessings that God bestows on us in this life. But we must recognize that God is found in the extremes of life. He is sovereign over all that we experience in this life: the good, the bad, the pleasant, the painful, death and life, wealth and poverty, joy and sorrow. A wise man will look for God in everything, and find Him. The fool will set his sights on finding joy, pleasure, satisfaction, significance and pleasure, but miss God in the process.

 

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

When God Is Not Enough.

1 There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil. If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life’s good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. For it comes in vanity and goes in darkness, and in darkness its name is covered. Moreover, it has not seen the sun or known anything, yet it finds rest rather than he. Even though he should live a thousand years twice over, yet enjoy no good—do not all go to the one place?

All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied. For what advantage has the wise man over the fool? And what does the poor man have who knows how to conduct himself before the living? Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind.

10 Whatever has come to be has already been named, and it is known what man is, and that he is not able to dispute with one stronger than he. 11 The more words, the more vanity, and what is the advantage to man? 12 For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? For who can tell man what will be after him under the sun? Ecclesiastes 6:1-12 ESV

From Solomon’s unique vantage point as king, he has been able to see and experience a great deal of what life has to offer. Some of his observations are more objective in nature, providing the perspective of an impartial outsider, viewing the lives of the people in his kingdom. He has been able to witness first-hand, the oppression of the poor. As a judge over his people, he has had to preside over countless cases involving injustice and abuse. He has had to listen to the cries of the destitute and needy, as they have begged for someone to help them in their time of need. But some of Solomon’s most powerful insights come from his willingness to look at his own life and share his more subjective and personal observations. In this chapter, he seems to be speaking from personal experience, revealing his own frustrations over what he sees and what he fears. First of all, he starts with what he describes as an evil or wickedness that he has observed “under the sun” or in this life. He writes from a human perspective, presenting his earth-bound opinion regarding what he sees as a prevalent problem among mankind. There are those whom God has obviously blessed with great wealth, but He has also denied them the power or capacity to enjoy all that they have been given. These people have all that their hearts desire, except contentment and joy. And to make matters even worse, when they die, their God-given blessings are enjoyed by someone else. It’s all a grievous evil. Or is it? First of all, Solomon’s viewpoint reflects the commonly held perspective of his day. Anyone who enjoyed great wealth had obviously been blessed by God. And if they had been blessed by God, their lives must have been pleasing to God. Which is why it made no sense for God to withhold the one thing these people needed: The ability to enjoy what He had given them. Solomon was right when he concluded that all good things come from God. In fact, he would have based his view of the Scriptures themselves.

11 Truth springs up from the earth,
    and righteousness smiles down from heaven.
12 Yes, the Lord pours down his blessings.
    Our land will yield its bountiful harvest. – Psalm 85:11-12 ESV

Even the New Testament author, James, echoes this view.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights… – James 1:17 ESV

But where Solomon missed the point was in his assumption that wealth and material goods were to be the sole source of his enjoyment. In other words, he wrongly assumed that it was the blessings of God that brought joy, contentment, satisfaction and significance. He misunderstood the true nature of the source of those things. God was to have been his focus. Not just as the giver of good things, but as the only good thing anyone could ever need. God was to be enough. The apostle Paul expressed this viewpoint when he said:

11 Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:11-13 NLT

It didn’t really matter to Paul whether he had a little or a lot. As long as he had his relationship with Christ, that was all that mattered. Solomon placed his emphasis on the tangible and temporal. For him, the proof of God’s love was in the presence of material goods and the ability to enjoy them. And yet, what Solomon was experiencing was the very painful lesson that nothing can ever satisfy our inner longings like God Himself.

For Solomon, the measurement of a successful life was based on both quantity and quality. He pessimistically observed that if a man ended up fathering hundreds of children (and he had), and lived a long life (which he did), but his soul was not satisfied with life’s good things (and his wasn’t), then his life was a waste. In fact, he would have been better off if he had died at birth. Notice what he is saying. He is measuring the significance of life using a quantitative matrix. He operated on the commonly held assumption: The more, the merrier. It was long life and lots of kids that brought joy. But having hundreds of children, none of whose names you know, will never bring satisfaction. Living a long life, but without a relationship with the One who gave you life, will never satisfy. Acquiring much wealth and accomplishing great deeds will never make anyone truly happy or content, if they fail to seek the giver of all good things.

For Solomon, nothing was more futile and frustrating than the thought of living a long life devoid of contentment. He states that a man “might live a thousand years twice over but still not find contentment. And since he must die like everyone else—well, what’s the use?” (Ecclesiastes 6:6 NLT). And, sadly, this is a description of Solomon’s life. This describes where he finds himself. He is at the end of life looking back, and while he can claim to have fathered hundreds of children and lived many years, he cannot say as Paul did, “I have learned to be content.” More was not merrier.

In his mind, it was all about satisfaction. Even the poor, who spend their days trying to scratch out a living and provide food for their next meal, only discover that they’re hungry again. The wise, the wealthy, the foolish and the poor are all faced with the same grievous problem: Enough is never enough. Satisfaction and contentment are illusive. And the only advice Solomon can come up with is “Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have” (Ecclesiastes 6:9 NLT). But again, his emphasis is on the wrong thing. He is not recommending that we find our satisfaction in God, but that we simply resign ourselves to enjoying what little we have been given by God. He has missed the point.

And because he has missed the point, he misses out on the real meaning and purpose of life. It is not about gaining and getting. It is not about acquiring and accumulating. It is about learning to seek satisfaction, significance, joy and contentment from a relationship with the God of the universe. But Solomon had a warped perspective about God. He refers to God as “one stronger than he.” He doesn’t see God as Father, but as enforcer. He doesn’t approach God as the gracious giver of good things, but as a capricious tyrant who withholds the ability to enjoy what has been given. And while he rightly understands that God knows all and sees all, Solomon seems to resent the fact that God keeps the future fate of man a mystery. Which leaves man stuck in the here-and-now, trying to make the most out of what he has before his life comes to an abrupt end.

What Solomon describes in this chapter is the sad state of all men and women who refuse to see God as the central source of all good in their lives. He does bless. He does give good things. He is the author of life and the source of all that we can see. But God is not to be viewed as some disembodied purveyor of presents, like a cosmic Genie in a bottle. He is the gift. He is the good. He is the satisfaction and significance for which man so desperately seeks. The apostle Paul summarized it well when he spoke to the people of Athens, describing the nature of the “unknown god” to whom they offered sacrifices, but of whom they knew nothing.

24 “He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, 25 and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. 26 From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.

27 “His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. 28 For in him we live and move and exist. – Acts 17:24-28 NLT

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

Who Is Your God?

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take with you words and return to the Lord; say to him, “Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips. Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride on horses; and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands. In you the orphan finds mercy.” – Hosea 14:1-3 ESV

In verse 16 of chapter 13, God warned of the gruesome manner in which many of the Israelites would die at the hands of the Assyrians:

Samaria shall bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God; they shall fall by the sword; their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open. – Hosea 13:16 ESV

Many would die in battle against the Assyrians, but their deaths would be in vain. Pregnant women and innocent children would suffer tragic and hideous deaths as the Assyrians attempted to wipe out the next generation of Israelites in order to prevent future rebellion.  The judgment that was coming would be devastating and impossible to escape. So Hosea pleaded with his fellow Israelites to return to the Lord.

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. – Hosea 14:1 ESV

The Hebrew word he used is שׁוּב (shuwb) and it means “to turn back (to God), repent” (“H7725 – shuwb – Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). It carries the idea of restoration and point to a future day in which God would reestablish His covenant relationship with His people. It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word can also mean “to bring back, refresh, restore.”  There is a sense in which God is calling His people back to a right relationship with Himself, but its ultimate fulfillment will be His responsibility, not theirs. At the same time, God was calling them to acknowledge their sin. He wanted to hear them say, “Forgive all our sins and graciously receive us, so that we may offer you our praises” (Hosea 14:2b NLT). The acknowledgement of their sins against Him was an essential part of their return to Him. They would also have to recognize and repent of their misplaced trust in things other than God. “Assyria cannot save us, nor can our warhorses. Never again will we say to the idols we have made, ‘You are our gods’” (Hosea 14:3a NLT).

One of the hardest things for us to do as God’s people is to admit our unfaithfulness to God. It is not that we lack faith. It is that our faith is misplaced. Our trust is misappropriated. Rather than relying solely on God, we turn to other sources for assurance, comfort, security and salvation. For some, their own intellect becomes the go-to source of their rescue. They learn to think their way out of any troubles or trials. For others, financial resources become the means of their salvation. They learn to buy their way out of moments of distress, discomfort and dissatisfaction. Money and materialism become their gods of choice. And yet, God would have us acknowledge our false gods. He desires that we admit our wandering hearts and prodigal faith. But that will not happen until we learn the sometimes painful lesson that our bank accounts, portfolios, talents, resources, careers, or friends cannot save us. They make lousy gods and even worse saviors. But as long as we think they can provide us with any sliver of hope and help, we will never fully return to and place our faith in God.

The whole point behind God’s coming judgment against Israel was to get them to realize that their salvation was in Him alone. He wanted them to come to the conclusion that He was the soul source of salvation. He desired to hear them say, “No, in you alone do the orphans find mercy” (Hosea 14:3b NLT). That statement carries with it a recognition of need. Orphans are inherently needy. They have no resources, no means of self-reliance. And that is exactly the attitude that God desires in us. But like the church in Laodicea, we can arrogantly claim, “I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!” (Revelation 3:17a NLT). But the reality is, “you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17b NLT). We can wrongly assume we are spiritually healthy and in no need of a healing. But Jesus would remind us, “I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners” (Matthew 9:13b NLT). If you don’t think you need God, you will not return to Him. And why would you? As long as you think you have another trick up your sleeve, another option available to you, you will not seek God’s help. In fact, for most of us, God can become an option of last resort. We turn to Him only when all else has failed. We call on Him only when our other sources of salvation have run out or proven unreliable.

But God longs for us to see Him as David did. “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety” (Psalm 18:2 NLT). God longs that we see Him in those same terms. That we would be able to say, “He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is!” (Deuteronomy 32:4 NLT). But instead, we can become like Israel, who “became fat and unruly; the people grew heavy, plump, and stuffed! Then they abandoned the God who had made them; they made light of the Rock of their salvation” (Deuteronomy 32:15 NLT). And sadly, the same can be said of us that was said of them: “You neglected the Rock who had fathered you; you forgot the God who had given you birth” (Deuteronomy 32:18 NLT).

But God’s desire is that we return to Him. He wants us to abandon our other sources of salvation and to rely solely on Him. He wants to be our rock, shield, and tower. But if we don’t think we need Him, we will never fully return to Him. As long as our faith is focused on anything other than Him, we will never fully recognize our need for Him.

 

False Gods. False Hope.

They do not cry to me from the heart, but they wail upon their beds; for grain and wine they gash themselves; they rebel against me. Although I trained and strengthened their arms, yet they devise evil against me. They return, but not upward; they are like a treacherous bow; their princes shall fall by the sword because of the insolence of their tongue. This shall be their derision in the land of Egypt. – Hosea 7:14-16 ESV

These three verses paint a very pitiful picture of the state of the people of Israel. They had become so addicted to their worship of Baal and other false gods, that even in their times of greatest need, they continued to turn to the very gods that were the cause of their problem. Like a addict who takes more drugs to stem off the tremors caused by withdrawal from those drugs, the Israelites couldn’t bring themselves to turn away from their false gods. God describes them as wailing upon their beds in agony and discomfort, but refusing to call on Him. And in order to convince the god, Baal, to give them abundant harvests of wine and grain, they gashed themselves as part of their worship. This should remind us of the encounter between the prophet, Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Elijah had challenged the 450 prophets of Baal to a contest to prove whose god was the one true God.

Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.” – 1 Kings 18:23-24 ESV

Elijah allowed the prophets of Baal to go first, reminding them, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it” (1 Kings 18:25 ESV). And we read, “they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, ‘O Baal, answer us!’ But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made” (1 Kings 18:26 ESV). As Elijah mocked their efforts and the seeming indifference of their god, they amped up their efforts.

And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention. – 1 Kings 18:28-29 ESV

As part of their religious ritual, they cut themselves, mutilating their bodies in an attempt to get the attention of their god. But no one answered. No one paid attention. There was no voice and no response, because there was no god. And God accused the Israelites of calling on Baal in the same pitiful way, cutting and gashing their bodies in an effort to get the attention of a non-existent god. And the sad reality was – all they had to do was call on God in repentance and He would have answered them. He was the one who had “trained and strengthened their arms” (Hosea 7:15 ESV) and yet they refused to turn to Him. In fact, they were guilty of turning to anyone but God in their moments of need. They appealed to their false gods and they sought the aid of pagan nations, in the hopes that these unhealthy alliances would protect them from the threat posed by Assyria.

It would be easy to roll our eyes in disbelief at the stubbornness and stupidity of the Israelites. We could wonder how they could be so hardheaded as to refuse to turn to God when He was the one disciplining them for their rebellion against them. But before we shake our fingers in judgment, we need to take stock of our own lives and see if we are not guilty of the same thing. How many times have we turned to our own “gods” of comfort, and convenience when we have faced difficulty? How often have we looked to something other than God when confronted when confronted with a need of some kind? We find it so easy to turn to our own capabilities and rely on our own intelligence. If we’re sad or despondent, we turn on the TV in the hopes of finding relief, even if just for a moment. If we face a financial need, we find it easier to go into debt to get what we need rather than to ask God for help. And in doing so, we end up worse off than when we started. Our false “saviors” never alleviate or eliminate the problem, they only enhance it. Our sophisticated “gods” give us the same response as the prophets of Baal received: No voice. No answer.

One of the saddest outcomes of all of this is that the lost world laughs at those who call themselves followers of Christ, because our beliefs seem to make no difference in our lives. We claim to believe in God, but we tend to turn to anything and anyone other than God for our help and hope. We go to church on Sunday, but the rest of the week we put our faith in the gods of this world: government, money, materialism, entertainment, health, wealth, work, pleasure, and human reasoning. We chase these false gods, spiritually mutilating and harming ourselves in an effort to make them respond to our calls for help. But God wants us to call on Him. He wants us to trust Him and rely on Him for all our needs. God will not tolerate our affections for other gods. He will not compete for our love. He has proven Himself faithful and loving. He will allow us to chase after our false gods until we realize that they provide neither help or hope, and we return to Him in humble repentance.