Did you bring your God?

“And when the troops came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord see from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies”  (1 Samuel 4:3).

John Calvin wrote that “man’s nature is a perpetual factory of idols.”  That may seem a little harsh, but I think we prove it just about every day.  Certainly, we’re not out carving little wooden idols that we place on our mantel at home for worship, but the time and energy we’ve devoted to our smartphones alone ought to make us stop and wonder if they haven’t become our idols today.

The worst part is, we tend to turn the good things that God has given us into objects of worship, where we value the gift more than the giver.  If God grants us health, become obsessed with staying fit and looking young.  If God grants us wealth, how easy is it for that wealth to become a trap, where all we can think about is earning more money!  If God promises His presence will always be with us, we tend to idolize our own security, and we treat God as a cosmic genie who is there to do our bidding.

Consider, for example, the passage above.  The people of Israel had just been soundly defeated by the Philistines in battle at Ebenezer.  Losing over 4,000 men, the troops returned to the camp and the elders asked, “Why has the Lord defeated us today?”

Now any healthy amount of self-examination probably could have led to the right answer here.  The book of Judges offers plenty of help.  The people all did what was right in their own eyes (Judg 21:25).  They repeatedly turned their backs on God and worshiped the false gods of the surrounding nations. They ignored their heritage as the chosen people of God, a holy nation called out of slavery in Egypt and set apart for God’s glory. Any one of these might have been the reason the Lord handed them over to the Philistines in battle that day.

Instead of confessing the truth of their sinfulness, the Israelites in effect blamed God.  They reasoned that the reason they lost was because God must not have been with them in battle.  On the surface, that makes sense; when God fought on Israel’s behalf, their victories were overwhelming.  However, their solution demonstrated the heart of their problem.

Realizing they had lost the battle because God had not fought for them, did the people repent of their sins and seek the intercession of the Lord?  No.  Instead of turning to the Lord, the elders decided to find the Ark of the Covenant, the golden chest that represented the meeting place between God and man, and let that lead them into battle.  “Bring us the ark!” they cried. “Then those Philistines will get what’s coming to them.”

The ark had become for the Israelites and idol, or at least a good luck charm. Without giving any thought to their standing before God, the Israelites simply thought if they had the ark, that would be enough.

Sadly, they were wrong.  The Israelites were defeated, again, in battle.  The ark was taken by the Philistines, and Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phones were killed.  The glory of the Lord departed from Israel, until a time when the people would learn to once again reverence the name of the Lord.

What has become an idol for you?  What occupies your thoughts, your energy, your time?  Where do you spend most of your money? What one thing can you not live without? The answer to these questions reveals that which our hearts have created as idols.

Often, the biggest idol we have to deal with is our own misconception of God.  We take God’s promise of forgiveness as a license for indulgence – “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission…”  We hoard God’s blessings as though they were ours to cling to, rather than pass them along to those for whom they were intended.  Without listening to God’s voice, without obeying the teaching of Christ, we run headlong into temptation and sin, and then we wonder why God lets us fall on our faces in defeat in sin.

Israel learned the hard and slow way to cast down their idols.  And each of us must learn that too.  So fix your eyes on Christ, listen to his voice, and leave behind the idols of your heart that you might run after him.

SDG

Burning the Word

“As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot. Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words were afraid, nor did they tear their garments.”
Jeremiah 36:23-24

In Jeremiah 36 there is an amazing account of Jehoiakim, the wicked king of Judah, actually burning the Word of the Lord. Without getting into too much of the back story, Jehoiakim, the son of Josiah, did evil in the sight of the Lord (2 Kings 23:36), he “filled Jerusalem with innocent blood (2 Kings 24:5), and he even rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, leading to his capture and imprisonment.  Throughout the writings of Jeremiah, we also see that Jehoiakim had a strong dislike for the prophet of God.

Jeremiah had been threatened with death, banned from the house of the Lord, he had been ordered not to prophecy, all under Jehoiakim’s authority.  It is surprising then, that in chapter 36, the Lord tells Jeremiah to write down all the words that the Lord had spoken against Israel and Judah, so that the house of Judah would hear, “so that everyone may turn from his evil way, and that I may forgive their iniquity and sin” (Jer. 36:3).  After all the rebellion, after all the idolatry, after all the wickedness, God is still merciful and sends His word that they may turn from their sins and be healed.

We are told then that Baruch, Jeremiah’s scribe, writes down all of the Lord’s words that Jeremiah had spoken, and takes the scroll to the house of the Lord.  When the scroll is read before the people, I believe the kings officials are grieved for their sins.  They are overcome with fear (Jer. 36:15), and they make plans to read the word to the king, after ensuring that Baruch and Jeremiah are safely hidden away.

However, as the scroll was read to Jehoiakim, “the king would cut (the columns) off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire… Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words were afraid, nor did they tear their garments” (Jer 36:23-24). In an ultimate act of defiance and rebellion, Jehoiakim destroyed the very word that was meant to give him life. Though the word of the Lord convicted him of his sin, it was only so that he and all the nation could turn from sin and be forgiven.

As the chapter concludes, Jeremiah has Baruch write another scroll with all of the words of the Lord. This time, however, there is no promise of forgiveness given to Jehoiakim, only one of judgment and doom.

I highly doubt that anyone reading this would ever be so defiant as to cut passages out of the Bible and burn them. But there are more subtle acts of defiance that are still as damning.

  • We bury our Bibles – not in the ground – but under layers of dust, under piles of other books.  Which is worse, to hear the word and throw it into the fire, or to simply stop listening to the word at all?  An old adage that I heard long ago says, “The Bible will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from the Bible.”  We know that when we read it, the Bible will convict us of our sin, and call us to the righteousness of Christ, and so we don’t even pick it up to read it.
  • We edit the word – In order to justify ourselves, we often find ways to change the meaning of words or to relegate whole arguments to “cultural context.”  We’ve come to point where whole denominations can read “therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh…” (Gen 2:24), and, with a straight face, say that marriage can be between two people of any gender. Is this not a greater sin? Jehoiakim didn’t try to twist the words of God, he just threw them in the fire.  Selectively reading or editing God’s word is the practice of the Devil, who first asked, “Did God really say…?”

The word of God comes to us to show us our sin, not that we would be overcome with guilt, but that we would be saved through our redeemer Jesus Christ.  Do not neglect His word, but daily read it, hear it, and let Him put to death in you the sin that separates you from God.  Do not try to justify yourself in the light of Scripture by twisting or overlooking God’s word, but allow His word to cut to the very core of your being (Heb 4:12), revealing your sin, but also cleansing you by His grace in Jesus Christ.  Come to the living Word, Jesus Christ, and know the forgiveness He freely gives to all who receive Him by faith.

SDG