An All-Pervasive Problem

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

15 Though you play the whore, O Israel,
    let not Judah become guilty.
Enter not into Gilgal,
    nor go up to Beth-aven,
    and swear not, “As the Lord lives.”
16 Like a stubborn heifer,
    Israel is stubborn;
can the Lord now feed them
    like a lamb in a broad pasture?

17 Ephraim is joined to idols;
    leave him alone.
18 When their drink is gone, they give themselves to whoring;
    their rulers dearly love shame.
19 A wind has wrapped them in its wings,
    and they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices. Hosea 4:12-19 ESV

This passage is both satirical and sardonic. Having established the guilt of the people of Israel, God now exposes the absurdity of their decision to forsake Him, the one true God, for idols made of wood and stone. The God who created the universe and had graciously chosen to create them through an old man with an elderly, barren wife, was not good enough for them. They preferred the false gods that they had fashioned with their own hands and turned to these non-existent, lifeless objects for help, wisdom, protection, and provision. None of it made sense. Idolatry was a waste of time and produced nothing of lasting value. Even the psalmist pointed out the ludicrous nature of idolatry and all those who practice it.

Their idols are silver and gold,
    the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
    eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear;
    noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
    feet, but do not walk;
    and they do not make a sound in their throat.
Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them. – Psalm 115:4-8 NLT

They would chisel a block of stone and then pray to it for assistance. They would cut a limb from a tree and declare it to have special properties to divine the future. And as crazy as that may sound, it was nothing compared to the immoral behavior that accompanied their idolatry and superstition.

God accuses them of being led away by “a spirit of whoredom” (Hosea 4:12 ESV). In other words, they were driven by a deep-seated desire to practice spiritual adultery. The prophet Jeremiah provides a rather graphic description of Israel’s seemingly uncontrollable urge to pursue anything and everything other than God. They were like an animal in heat, completely incapable of controlling their basest urges.

“You are like a restless female camel
    desperately searching for a mate.
You are like a wild donkey,
    sniffing the wind at mating time.
Who can restrain her lust?
    Those who desire her don’t need to search,
    for she goes running to them!” – Jeremiah 2:23-24 NLT

Just a few verses later, Jeremiah records God’s backhanded complement that was meant to expose the egregious nature of their infidelity. They had become so adept at their immoral behavior that they could be considered experts at the art of unfaithfulness.

“How you plot and scheme to win your lovers.
    Even an experienced prostitute could learn from you! – Jeremiah 2:33 NLT

Everywhere God looked, He could see evidence of their shocking behavior. From the mountaintops to the hills and in the shade of every available tree, they had erected sacred shrines to their various false gods. Idolatry was ubiquitous in Israel.

They set up sacred pillars and Asherah poles at the top of every hill and under every green tree. They offered sacrifices on all the hilltops, just like the nations the Lord had driven from the land ahead of them. So the people of Israel had done many evil things, arousing the Lord’s anger. Yes, they worshiped idols, despite the Lord’s specific and repeated warnings. – 2 Kings 17:10-12 NLT

They virtually flaunted their faithlessness in God’s face. They evidenced no shame. They showed no remorse. They uttered no confessions. They refused to repent. And it aroused the Lord’s anger.

One of the things God makes painfully clear is that their idolatry had led to far more sinful behavior than simply false worship. By failing to acknowledge Yahweh as the one true God, they had allowed themselves to be deeply influenced by the enemies lies. He had convinced them that they were fully autonomous and the masters of their own fates. They would do as they pleased, without fear of retaliation from God. But the end result was that the next generation had become dissatisfied with the mere worship of false gods. They had taken their idolatry to a whole new level, supplementing their devotion to their of false gods with sexual pleasure in the form of worship. Young men and women were guilty of engaging in sexual sin as part of their pagan religious practices.

God flatly states, “your daughters turn to prostitution, and your daughters-in-law commit adultery” (Hosea 4:13 NLT). But how could He indict them when the men of the community were just as complicit and deserving of condemnation.

“But why should I punish them
    for their prostitution and adultery?
For your men are doing the same thing,
    sinning with whores and shrine prostitutes.” – Hosea 4:14 NLT

But God is not saying He will allow them to go unpunished. He is simply stating that everyone was worthy of His divine discipline. The problem was widespread and there was no one who didn’t deserve and wouldn’t experience God’s wrath.

“O foolish people! You refuse to understand,
    so you will be destroyed.” – Hosea 4:14 NLT

In verse 15, God expresses His desire that the southern kingdom of Judah not follow the example of their northern neighbors. He begs Judah to not emulate Israel’s pattern of idolatrous behavior. With a simple play on words, God accuses Israel of having turned the city of Bethel into a city of wickedness. In Hebrew, Bethel means “house of God,” but God refers to it as Beth-haven, which means “house of wickedness.” These people had polluted everything in the land with their immoral and idolatrous behavior.

They were undeserving of His goodness and grace because they were more like a stubborn and headstrong heifer than a compliant and docile lamb. Their ongoing resistance to God’s leading was going to leave them in a state of spiritual hunger and thirst. And this spirit of rebellion and resistance pervaded every aspect of society, from the bottom all the way to the top.

“When the rulers of Israel finish their drinking,
    off they go to find some prostitutes.
    They love shame more than honor.” – Hosea 4:18 NLT

A steady diet of idolatry had led to a litany of other problems, each contributing to the moral decline of the nation. And it even permeated the upper echelons of the governmental and religious hierarchy. But God was about to deal a devastating blow to their pride-filled and promiscuity fueled way of life. He had reached the limits of His patience.

“So a mighty wind will sweep them away.
    Their sacrifices to idols will bring them shame.” – Hosea 4:19 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

Proverbs 7d

Prone To Wander.

“Don’t let your hearts stray away toward her. Don’t wander down her wayward path.” – Proverbs 7:25 NET

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

Those are the lyrics from one of my favorite old hymns and they go well with today’s topic. Prone to wander. That’s a big problem for all of us as Christians today. We have happy feet. We just can’t stand still. Constantly on the move, because we grow quickly dissatisfied and discontent, we find ourselves prone to leave the God we say we love. We stray off the path and start to pursue other temptations, other delights that promise us more and offer to satisfy our passion for pleasure. This proverb is a warning from a father to his son regarding the danger of sexual promiscuity and immorality. It was a problem then, and it remains a problem today. And the enemy knows that we still can’t seem to control our most basic urges and animal instincts. We are far too often driven by the desires of the flesh. If not for sex, then for some other sensual pleasure, whether for food, a good buzz, a momentary thrill, sleep, entertainment, or our insatiable need for acceptance.

It’s interesting that the young men in this proverb are described as naive. They are lacking in common sense and good judgment. They are in the wrong spot at the wrong time. They have put themselves at risk by being where they had no business being. They’re in the wrong neighborhood and after dark. Not a good combination. Spotting her prey, the immoral woman approaches one of them and begins to ply her craft. She is “seductively dressed and sly or heart.” She’s a pro. In her day, before she went professional, she was “the brash, rebellious type, never content to stay at home” (Proverbs 7:11 NLT). On other words, she was a wanderer as well. Now she plies the young man with all kinds of tempting tools of the trade, appealing to his sensual side. She applies false flattery and butters him up with offers of sensual pleasures and forbidden fruit. And before he knows it, he’s hooked, like a striped bass to a lure.

And it all began with a simple step off the path. He wandered away from the truth. He took a dangerous detour and it led to a dead end. But isn’t that always the way sin works. The problem is that it almost always begins with a wandering heart. We find ourselves somehow dissatisfied with life as it is. Unhappy or discontented with our lot in life, we begin to look around. We get off the path. It could be as simple as surfing the Internet while in a state of boredom or mild depression. Or what about channel surfing late at night while everyone else is in bed. Your guard is down. Your sensual side is on high alert. Your body tells you it needs more. It is unhappy and dissatisfied. Pretty soon, you find yourself somewhere you don’t need to be – off the path and in for an attack from the enemy. And he will use all the subtle, seductive and yet sinister resources at his disposal to lure you in and trap you.

So what are we to do? Simple. Don’t wander. Recognize the fact that you are prone to wander and ask God to bind your heart to Him. You see, it’s always a heart issue. It’s about love and misplaced affections. When we begin to fall out of love for God or doubt His love for us, we wander. We start to look for love in other places and from other people. And we all do it. We turn on the TV to anesthetize and numb us, or simply take our mind off our problems by distracting us for a few minutes. Some feel unloved or unwanted, so they turn to the false allure of pornography or sex outside of marriage. Some attempt to shop their way to satisfaction and happiness, or they work themselves to death in an effort to feel a sense of worth and accomplishment. But in the end, all these things turn out to be wrong turns that lead to dead ends and disappointment. Don’t let your hearts stray. Don’t wander. Let the goodness of God bind your wandering heart to Him.

Father, I am prone to wander. I tend to forget all that You have done and are doing in my life and begin to think that something is missing. Then I begin to look elsewhere for something or someone to provide what I think I need to have. But You are all I need. You are sufficient. Bind my heart to You, Father. Continually remind me of just how much You love me. Keep me from wandering off the path and away from Your love. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Proverbs 5c

High Fidelity.

“Drink water from your own well – share your love only with your wife. Why spill the water of your springs in the streets, having sex with just anyone?” – Proverbs 5:15-16 NLT

fidelity: strict observance of promises, conjugal faithfulness

We live in a world where little is certain or sure any more, including moral absolutes. Everyone does what’s right in his own eyes. Tolerance is in, conviction is out. There seem to be no standards of right or wrong, and the idea of putting any kind of expectations on behavior is old-fashioned and intolerant. We are constantly reminded not to try and legislate morality or force our standards on others. So what we end up with is a society drowning in sea of uncertainty.

But God has standards. He has rules and expectations for keeping them. Yes, He is a God of grace, mercy and forgiveness, but none of that diminishes the fact that God is holy and requires His people to be the same. Over in 1 Thessalonians 4:3, Paul reminds us, “God’s will is for you to be holy…” And he goes on to say, “…so stay away from all sexual sin.” A big part of our holiness or separateness, the thing that should make us stand out from the crowd, is the way we behave. Paul continues, “Then each of you will control his own body and live in holiness and honor – not in lustful passion like the pagans who do not know God and his ways. Never harm or cheat a Christian brother in this matter by violating his wife, for the Lord avenges all such sins…God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives” (1 Thessalonians 4:4-7 NLT). Paul is making the same point that Solomon makes in Proverbs 5. We are to live lives of fidelity and faithfulness that shows up in our behavior, both sexually and socially. Men are to be faithful to their wives. Wives are to remain faithful to their husbands. But in our society, that is seen as an antiquated, out-dated virtue that no longer has a place. So adultery is common place and a normal part of everyday life. Infidelity is in. You see it in movies, on TV, in the lives of celebrities, and even in the homes of godly Christian couples. Solomon describes those who embrace this lifestyle as evil, and he says they “will die for lack of self-control” (Proverbs 5:23 NLT). Those who turn their back on fidelity are held captive by their own sins. Their passions control them, causing them to abandon their commitments and default on their faithfulness – to one another and, ultimately, to God.

We have been called to a higher standard – to lives of high fidelity. We are to model what it means to live in holiness, separateness, uniqueness, and distinctiveness. Our lives are to be different, because we have been changed by the life-transforming power of God. We have been given the capacity to live according to a higher calling, and it should show up in our behavior. God’s will for us is holiness. God’s desire for us is fidelity.

Father, give me a growing desire to remain faithful. Not just to You, but in all my relationship. Especially with the wife you have given me. Don’t let me get sucked into believing the lie of the enemy or allow myself to be driven by my passions. May my love for You motivate my desire to obey You and live in fidelity, each and every day of my life, in both my actions and attitudes. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men