false gods

Faithful to the End

18 And of Zebulun he said,

“Rejoice, Zebulun, in your going out,
    and Issachar, in your tents.
19 They shall call peoples to their mountain;
    there they offer right sacrifices;
for they draw from the abundance of the seas
    and the hidden treasures of the sand.”

20 And of Gad he said,

“Blessed be he who enlarges Gad!
    Gad crouches like a lion;
    he tears off arm and scalp.
21 He chose the best of the land for himself,
    for there a commander’s portion was reserved;
and he came with the heads of the people,
    with Israel he executed the justice of the Lord,
    and his judgments for Israel.”

22 And of Dan he said,

“Dan is a lion’s cub
    that leaps from Bashan.” – Deuteronomy 33:18-22 ESV

Zebulun and Issachar were sons of Jacob by Leah, and their allotments of land in Canaan shared a common border. So, Moses addresses these two tribes with a combined blessing.

Moses refers to Zebulun “going out” and Issachar “in your tents.” It seems that one tribe would become traders, going out in ships and returning with foreign goods and profits from their journeys. Yet the tribe of Issachar would remain in their tents, living a more agrarian and settled life.

But with their location between the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Galilee, they would “draw from the abundance of the seas.” And Zebulun, in particular, would benefit greatly from its access to Sidon. They would eventually establish commercial links to the Phoenicians, and become profitable traders all along the Mediterranean coastline.

In his blessing of Zebulun, Jacob had prophesied of the tribe’s close association with the sea.

“Zebulun shall dwell at the shore of the sea;
    he shall become a haven for ships,
    and his border shall be at Sidon.” – Genesis 49:13 ESV

It is important to note that the land the tribe of Zebulun occupied would become part of region known as Galilee. And the book of Isaiah predicts that the day would come when Zebulun and its neighboring tribe, Naphtali, would experience days of darkness and despair. They, along with the other tribes of the northern kingdom, would be conquered by the Assyrians and taken into captivity. But God had good news for them.

Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory.

The people who walk in darkness
    will see a great light.
For those who live in a land of deep darkness,
    a light will shine. – Isaiah 9:1-2 NLT

Out of the land of Galilee would come the long-awaited Messiah. God would send His Son as the light of the world, piercing the darkness of sin and offering a means by which fallen mankind could be restored to a right relationship with Himself.

Concerning Issachar, Jacob had seen his son’s occupation as a laborer, working the land and, as Moses later put it, benefiting from “the hidden treasures of the sand.” But Jacob also predicted the future Issachar and his brothers would experience as slaves of the Assyrians.

“Issachar is a strong donkey,
    crouching between the sheepfolds.
He saw that a resting place was good,
    and that the land was pleasant,
so he bowed his shoulder to bear,
    and became a servant at forced labor.” – Genesis 49:14-15 ESV

When it came to his son, Gad, Jacob had little to say.

“Raiders shall raid Gad,
    but he shall raid at their heels.” – Genesis 49:19 ESV

It seems that Gad, a relatively small tribe, would find itself under constant attack by marauding bands of brigands and opportunists. We know from Judges 1, that none of the tribes were successful in removing the Canaanites from the land. So, there were always remnants of these enemies wandering throughout the land, wreaking havoc on unsuspecting villages and towns belonging to the Israelites. And because Gad as relatively small, they were an easy target. But Jacob predicted that the descendants of Gad would give as well as they took.

Moses adds another element to his blessing of the tribe of Gad, by recognizing God’s blessing of them. They were awarded “the best of the land” – a reference to the land of Gilead on the eastern side of the Jordan. Long before the people of Israel crossed the border into Canaan, the tribes of Gad, Manassah, and Reuben had requested to settle the rich pasture land lying outside the land of promise. And Moses gave them permission to do so as long as they agreed to help the remaining tribes conquer and settle the land of Canaan. They did so and were awarded the land of Gilead as their inheritance. Moses honors them for the commitment to keep their word.

“…he came with the heads of the people,
    with Israel he executed the justice of the Lord,
    and his judgments for Israel.” – Deuteronomy 33:21 ESV

When Jacob blessed his son, Dan, he paints a rather disconcerting image of his future. He describes him as a judge of his people, but also as a serpent or poisonous snake.

“Dan shall judge his people
    as one of the tribes of Israel.
Dan shall be a serpent in the way,
    a viper by the path,
that bites the horse’s heels
    so that his rider falls backward.
I wait for your salvation, O Lord.” – Genesis 49:16-18 ESV

The book of Judges clarifies this rather conflicting image by telling us, “Now in those days Israel had no king. And the tribe of Dan was trying to find a place where they could settle, for they had not yet moved into the land assigned to them when the land was divided among the tribes of Israel” (Judges 18:1 NLT).

They had been allotted land in Canaan and, while it was small in size, it was very fertile. But, like all the other tribes, Dan had failed to drive out the Canaanites and so they never fully occupied the land given to them by God.

The Amorites pressed the people of Dan back into the hill country, for they did not allow them to come down to the plain. – Judges 1:34 ESV

So, rather than obeying the command of God, they decided to search for other lands in which to settle. They set out five spies who came back with a report of a possible spot for resettlement.

So the five men went on to the town of Laish, where they noticed the people living carefree lives, like the Sidonians; they were peaceful and secure. The people were also wealthy because their land was very fertile. And they lived a great distance from Sidon and had no allies nearby. – Judges 18:7 NLT

This news prompted the Danites to send 600 men to attack Laish and take the land as their own. But on the way, they decided to steal a Levite who was serving in the household of an Israelite named Micah. We know from the text, that Micah had employed this Levite to serve as his personal priest and that Micah and his neighbors were idolatrous. When the Danites stole the young Levite, they also took the false gods Micah worshiped, which cause he and his neighbors to chase down the Danites and beg for their return.

Then, with Micah’s idols and his priest, the men of Dan came to the town of Laish, whose people were peaceful and secure. They attacked with swords and burned the town to the ground. There was no one to rescue the people, for they lived a great distance from Sidon and had no allies nearby. This happened in the valley near Beth-rehob.

Then the people of the tribe of Dan rebuilt the town and lived there. They renamed the town Dan after their ancestor, Israel’s son, but it had originally been called Laish. – Judges 18:27-29 NLT

Years later, God would divide the kingdom of Israel in two, creating Judah in the south and Israel in the north. The Danites would play a huge part in the eventual fall of the northern kingdom of Israel. In 1 Kings 12:25-33, we have the account of King Jeroboam who, fearing that the citizens of the northern kingdom would travel to Jerusalem in the south in order to worship God, decided to erect two altars in the north of Dan. Not only that, he erected a golden calf at each location, creating his own false gods and an entire religious system of his own design.

Interestingly enough, all Moses had to say about Dan was “Dan is a lion’s whelp, That leaps forth from Bashan” (Deuteronomy 33:22 NLT). Bashan was located near Laish, the town that the Danites conquered and occupied. The description of Dan as a lion’s whelp or cub is intended to portray that tribe as impetuous and undisciplined. It lacks wisdom and the skills acquired by age and experience. The Danites would steal land not given to them by God. They would steal a Levite and make him their personal priest, something God never commanded. And, on top of all that, they would steal idols and set them up as their gods. Eventually, under the poor leadership of Jeroboam, they would create their own religion and erect their own altars to false gods, leading to their eventual judgment by God.

Each of these tribes, Zebulun, Issachar, Gad, and Dan, had been set apart by God as His own. But they had all failed to live up to God’s standards. They had proven to be unfaithful, disbelieving, and disobedient. But even their wickedness would not keep God from displaying His faithfulness. Out of the darkness of Zebulun a great light would shine. The book of John records the arrival of this great light in the form of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Savior of the world.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:9-13 ESV

Even though darkness reigned, the light penetrated the darkness. Even though the tribes of Israel proved unfaithful, God proved Himself to be faithful to keep His word.

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

Don't Do As They Do

29 “When the Lord, your God, cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, 30 take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ 31 You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.

32  “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.” – Deuteronomy 12:29-31 ESV

Cultural assimilation was always going to be a threat to the Israelites, and Moses knew it. That’s why he spent so much time warning them to completely destroy the nations who occupied the land God was giving them. He was fully aware that the very presence of the Canaanites would cause a problem for the Israelites, tempting them to adapt and adopt their ways.

Even if the Israelites obeyed God’s commands and completely destroyed every last Canaanite living in the land, Moses knew that the vestiges of their culture would remain. The Israelites would find themselves living in cities and homes that had once belonged to the Canaanites, and the vestiges of their culture would be ubiquitous. That’s why Moses had warned the Israelites: “When you drive out the nations that live there, you must destroy all the places where they worship their gods—high on the mountains, up on the hills, and under every green tree. Break down their altars and smash their sacred pillars. Burn their Asherah poles and cut down their carved idols. Completely erase the names of their gods!” (Deuteronomy 12:2-3 NLT).

Any pagan altars that were left standing would act as magnets to the people of God, tempting them to see these former worship sites as somehow possessing divine power and sacred significance. And that would lead the Israelites to adopt these locations as their own and result in unacceptable worship of the one true God. And, once again, Moses went out of his way to ensure that the Israelites did nothing of the kind.

“Do not worship the Lord your God in the way these pagan peoples worship their gods.” – Deuteronomy 12:4 NLT

While Moses would not have been familiar with the old saying, “curiosity killed the cat,” he would have certainly understood the gist of its meaning. There is pervasive propensity within humanity to take the easy road or, to put it another way, to go with the flow. The path God had prescribed for the Israelites was a radically different one and it required that they live according to a distinctive set of standards. Their God was not like any of the man-made gods worshiped by the Canaanites. He was holy, all-powerful, fully righteous, and sovereign over all. And, unlike an idol, God actually existed. He was not the figment of man’s imagination or the product of his creative abilities. God had made man, not the other way around.

But Moses had a firm grasp on human nature and understood just how susceptible his fellow Israelites would be to following the ways of the Canaanites. Which is why he warned them:

“Do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How do these nations worship their gods? I want to follow their example.’” – Deuteronomy 12:30 NLT

God was not going to tolerate any form of compromise when it came to their worship of Him. There would be no borrowing of pagan customs or worship styles. God was not going to allow the blending of pagan practices or the bending of His rules. There was nothing worth adapting or adopting from the Canaanite religions because they were marked by immorality and stood opposed to the very will of God.

“You must not worship the Lord your God the way the other nations worship their gods, for they perform for their gods every detestable act that the Lord hates.” – Deuteronomy 12:31 NLT

This wasn’t a matter of style. It was all about holiness. Moses made it very plain that the Canaanites were ungodly and unholy, having used their worship of their false gods to commit reprehensible and detestable acts that included offering their own children as human sacrifices to their god, Molech.

And, in spite of the warnings of Moses, the people of Israel would ignore his warnings and, rather than separating themselves from the pagan practices of the Canaanites, they would adopt and adapt their rituals as their own. In fact, hundreds of years later, Josiah, the king of Israel, would attempt to revive the worship of Yahweh by cleansing the land of its pagan shrines and reforming the immoral worship practices of the people.

The priests who had served at the pagan shrines were not allowed to serve at the Lord’s altar in Jerusalem, but they were allowed to eat unleavened bread with the other priests.

Then the king defiled the altar of Topheth in the valley of Ben-Hinnom, so no one could ever again use it to sacrifice a son or daughter in the fire as an offering to Molech. He removed from the entrance of the Lord’s Temple the horse statues that the former kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun. – 2 Kings 23:9-11 NLT

Long after the reigns of King David and his son, Solomon, the kingdom of Israel would be split into the northern and southern kingdoms, a result of the unfaithfulness of Solomon. He would end his reign as Israel’s king by setting up shrines to the false gods of his many wives and concubines. And, as punishment for his infidelity, God would divide his kingdom in half, creating the two nations of Israel and Judah. And a succession of kings would rule over each, most of whom continued to display an open disregard for God’s sovereignty and holiness.

The very thing Moses feared and had tried to prevent would end up taking place. Rather than eradicate the presence of the false gods of the Canaanites, the people of God would assimilate their pagan worship and ways. And the results would be devastating. Eventually, God would punish the unfaithfulness of the northern kingdom of Israel by sending the Assyrians to destroy their cities and take them back to their land as slaves. And the fall of Israel would be followed by the devastating destruction of Jerusalem and the southern kingdom of Judah. This time, it would be King Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian forces who would serve as God’s instruments of judgment. The city of Jerusalem would be ransacked, the temple of God would be destroyed, and the people would be cast from the land of promise and become slaves in the land of Babylon.

This would all be a result of their refusal to heed the warnings of Moses. He had plainly told them, “So be careful to obey all the commands I give you. You must not add anything to them or subtract anything from them” (Deuteronomy 12:32 NLT), but they would fail to take him seriously. Each succeeding generation would follow a path of religious compromise and cultural assimilation. Rather than remaining set apart and distinct from the nations around them, the Israelites would choose to blend in and borrow from the Canaanites. They would adapt and adopt and, in so doing, would seal their future fate.

Moses had said, “Don’t do as they do,” but the Israelites believed they knew better. Adapting and adopting made sense to them. There was no need to reinvent the wheel if they could simply borrow from the cultures around them. Accommodation would make assimilation that much easier – or so they thought. But their assumptions would be proven wrong. God demanded a people who were dedicated to standing out, not blending in. He had set them apart as His own, and He required that their lives reflect their status as His chosen people.

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

 

 

 

Whatever Is Right In Your Own Eyes

1 “These are the statutes and rules that you shall be careful to do in the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess, all the days that you live on the earth. 2 You shall surely destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. 3 You shall tear down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and burn their Asherim with fire. You shall chop down the carved images of their gods and destroy their name out of that place. 4 You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way. 5 But you shall seek the place that the Lord your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation there. There you shall go, 6 and there you shall bring your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, your vow offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock. 7 And there you shall eat before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your households, in all that you undertake, in which the Lord your God has blessed you.

8 “You shall not do according to all that we are doing here today, everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes, 9 for you have not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance that the Lord your God is giving you. 10 But when you go over the Jordan and live in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to inherit, and when he gives you rest from all your enemies around, so that you live in safety, 11 then to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell there, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, and all your finest vow offerings that you vow to the Lord. 12 And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your sons and your daughters, your male servants and your female servants, and the Levite that is within your towns, since he has no portion or inheritance with you. 13 Take care that you do not offer your burnt offerings at any place that you see, 14 but at the place that the Lord will choose in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I am commanding you.” – Deuteronomy 12:1-14 ESV

Obedience is a form of worship. It is an act of submission and surrender to the expressed will of God. But Moses wanted the people of Israel to understand that there were more formal and ritualistic aspects to their worship of God that must be carefully followed. They were not free to worship God in any way they deemed acceptable. He was not just another god, but He was the one true God. All others were fakes and frauds, the creations of the minds and hands of men.

The first commandment had made it perfectly clear that the Israelites were to worship no other gods. They were to refrain from making idols of any kind. And when it came to worship, they were to do so according to a divinely prescribed blueprint. Like everything else in their lives, God was providing them with a clear and carefully crafted dictum concerning their worship of Him.

The first decree concerned the cleansing of the land of any and all vestiges of idol worship. Moses gave them clear instructions concerning the eradication of all shrines and sacred sites associated with the false gods of the Canaanites.

“When you drive out the nations that live there, you must destroy all the places where they worship their gods.” – Deuteronomy 12:2 NLT 

The Canaanites had designated places of worship where they gathered to offer sacrifices to their gods. These were typically situated on elevated sites or in groves of trees. The high places were intended to provide closer access to their gods, who they believed existed above them. The groves were represented fertility and illustrated the Canaanites’ desire to be blessed with abundance and fruitfulness by their gods.

Once God had given the Israelites victories over their enemies and they had successfully routed the Canaanites from their homes and cities, they were required to destroy any and all shrines dedicated to the worship of false gods. These sites were to be completely destroyed, removing any memory of these pagan deities from the land.

“Break down their altars and smash their sacred pillars. Burn their Asherah poles and cut down their carved idols. Completely erase the names of their gods!” – Deuteronomy 12:3 NLT

One of the things Moses was trying to prevent was the practice of syncretism. According to dictionary.com, syncretism is “the attempted reconciliation or union of different or opposing principles, practices, or parties, as in philosophy or religion” (Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper). It is the attempted reconciliation or harmonizing of opposing beliefs that ultimately requires one to compromise their convictions. And this is what Moses feared because he knew his fellow Israelites well. 

Moses wanted the Israelites to understand that their God was one of a kind. And He was to be worshiped according to His acceptable standards, not those of men. Adopting and adapting the pagan practices of the Canaanites would not be acceptable to Yahweh. So, Moses commanded them:  “Do not worship the Lord your God in the way these pagan peoples worship their gods” (Deuteronomy 12:4 NLT). The Canaanites worshiped their man-made gods according to man-made rules. The sites at which they worshiped were not sacred. The gods to which they bowed down were not divine. The religious rituals the Canaanites practiced, regardless of their fervor and fanatical faith were vain and fruitless.

I am reminded of the clash between the prophet Elijah and the prophets of Baal recorded in the book of 1 Kings. Ahab, the king of Israel, under the influence of his wicked wife Jezebel, had promoted idolatry in the land of Israel. So, Elijah challenged the prophets of the false god, Baal, to a contest to prove whose god was greater. And he issued a call to the people of Israel to return their allegiance to Yahweh.

“How much longer will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!” – 1 Kings 18:21 NLT

The contest was a simple one. Each side was provided with a bull, which they were to cut up and place on an altar covered in wood. Then they were to call on their respective god and ask him to consume the sacrifice with fire. And Elijah stated the rules by which the contest would be decided: “The god who answers by setting fire to the wood is the true God!” (1 Kings 18:24 NLT).

The best part of the story is the description of the prophets of Baal as they begged their false god to hear their cries.

Then they called on the name of Baal from morning until noontime, shouting, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no reply of any kind. Then they danced, hobbling around the altar they had made.

About noontime Elijah began mocking them. “You’ll have to shout louder,” he scoffed, “for surely he is a god! Perhaps he is daydreaming, or is relieving himself. Or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!”

So they shouted louder, and following their normal custom, they cut themselves with knives and swords until the blood gushed out. They raved all afternoon until the time of the evening sacrifice, but still there was no sound, no reply, no response. – 1 Kings 18:26-29 NLT

Nothing. No response. No fire. No sacrifice consumed. All their shouting, dancing, and self-mutilating were in vain. Their god didn’t hear because their god didn’t exist.

And Moses wanted the Israelites to know that Yahweh was not to be worshiped like the false gods of the Canaanites. They were not to repurpose the pagan shrines dedicated to lifeless idols and attempt to call on the God of the universe. He had other plans.

“Rather, you must seek the Lord your God at the place of worship he himself will choose from among all the tribes—the place where his name will be honored.” – Deuteronomy 12:5 NLT

Things were going to be different for the people of Israel. They had been set apart by God and everything about their lives was going to be dramatically distinctive, including the manner in which they worshiped their God. And Moses pointed out the change that was coming.

“Your pattern of worship will change. Today all of you are doing as you please…” – Deuteronomy 12:8 NLT

In other words, God had not yet given them His divine requirements for worship. But that was about to change. Once they arrived in the land, there would be only one acceptable place where they could offer their sacrifices to Him. During their lifetimes, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had erected shrines to God in various locations, such as the Oaks of Moreh. But with their conquest of the land, God would designate a single location where He would accept their offerings and worship – “the place the Lord your God chooses for his name to be honored” (Deuteronomy 12:11 NLT.

God was not the figment of man’s imagination. He had created man, not the other way around. And He would not tolerate a form of worship that was man-made or a poor rip-off of some pagan practice dedicated to a non-existent god.

God would be worshiped according to His own standards. The Israelites were not going to be able to do what was right in their own eyes. This was not a democracy where the will of the majority won out. They were going to worship the one true God according to His standards and at “the place the Lord your God chooses for his name to be honored” (Deuteronomy 12:11 NLT).

Whether they realized it or not, this command was going to protect the tribes of Israel from petty feuds and pride-filled attempts to set up competing shrines to God in their various land allotments. God would choose the place and the form of acceptable worship. No questions asked. No opinions accepted.

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

 

 

 

Forgetfulness Leads to Pridefulness

11 “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, 12 lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, 15 who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, 16 who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. 17 Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ 18 You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. 19 And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. 20 Like the nations that the Lord makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 8:11-20 ESV

For Moses, there was no debate over whether the Israelites would eventually take ownership of the land of Canaan. In his mind, it was never a question of if, only when. He considered it as good as done because it had been promised by God. And he had communicated his firm assurance in God’s faithfulness to the people of Israel.

“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land of flowing streams and pools of water, with fountains and springs that gush out in the valleys and hills. It is a land of wheat and barley; of grapevines, fig trees, and pomegranates; of olive oil and honey. It is a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking. It is a land where iron is as common as stone, and copper is abundant in the hills.” – Deuteronomy 8:7-9 NLT

But Moses foresaw a potential problem associated with God’s gracious provision of the land, and he presented the Israelites with two possible scenarios.  The first one entailed them responding in gratitude.

“…be sure to praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.” - Deuteronomy 8:10 NLT

Once they were in the land and began to experience all the blessings that it had to offer, they were to focus their attention on the One who had made it all possible: God.

But there was a second scenario that Moses knew was a strong possibility. Which is why he warned the people:

“Take care lest you forget the Lord your God…” – Deuteronomy 8:11 NLT

And both of these potential reactions are tied to blessings of God. Verse 10 opens up with the phrase, “When you have eaten your fill…” and verse 12 begins with “when you have become full and prosperous….” The blessings of God were assured. They were a given because God is a good and gracious God. The only question was how the people of Israel were going to respond to the goodness and graciousness of God.

Would they praise Him or forget Him? Would they lift Him up, glorifying Him for all He had done for them, or would they arrogantly take credit for His accomplishments? It seems that Moses feared they would take the second path, which is why he warned them, “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God.” And the proof that they had forgotten God would show up in their disobedience of God. In the midst of enjoying all His blessings, they would feel the freedom to jettison His commandments. They would begin to believe that they were living a charmed life and could do no wrong. Their ease, comfort, material wealth, and unprecedented success would go to their heads and, ultimately to their hearts.

Again, Moses has assured them that God is going to do what He has promised to do. He is going to give them the land as their inheritance. And Moses communicates his strong belief in God’s faithfulness by repeatedly assuring them…

when you have eaten and are full – vs 12

[when you] have built good houses and live in them – vs 12

when your herds and flocks multiply – vs 13

[when] your silver and gold is multiplied – vs 13

[when] all that you have is multiplied – vs 13

Remember, as far as Moses was concerned, this was all a matter of when, not if. There was no question as to the outcome. But he had some serious concerns about their potential reaction and he described it in blunt terms.

“…then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God…” – Deuteronomy 8:14 ESV

The New Living Translation puts it this way: “Do not become proud at that time and forget the Lord your God.” The NET Bible provides a similar translation: “do not feel self-important and forget the Lord your God.”

The actual Hebrew word that is translated as “lifted up” is ruwm and it can mean to exalt or magnify oneself. Interestingly enough, it is the same word used throughout the book of Leviticus when describing the lifting up of an offering to the Lord as part of the sacrificial system.

Then the priest must take up from the grain offering its memorial portion and offer it up in smoke on the altar—it is a gift of a soothing aroma to the Lord. – Leviticus 2:0 NET

And when Moses had delivered the law to the people, it had contained a special provision covering their arrival in the land of promise.

…and when you eat of the bread of the land, you shall present [ruwm] a contribution to the Lord. – Numbers 15:19 ESV

They were to lift up an offering to the Lord as an expression of the gratitude for all He had done. But Moses knew that it was much more likely that it would be their hearts that got lifted up. They would exalt themselves rather than God.

They ran the risk of responding to God’ graciousness with forgetfulness. Rather than recalling the many ways in which God had delivered them, led them, and provided for them in the past, they would view their present circumstances as having been self-produced. Which is why Moses sternly warned them:

“Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’” – Deuteronomy 8:17 ESV

A false sense of self-reliance always leads to self-exaltation. We see it on display in the pride-filled words of King Nebuchadnezzar as he stood on the roof of his palace looking out over the splendor of his royal capital.

“Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor.” – Daniel 4:30 NLT

And because of his arrogance, pride, and unwarranted self-exaltation, God drove him from the palace and into the wilderness, where he would like a wild animal, until he recognized “the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses” (Daniel 4:32 NLT).

Even Nebuchadnezzar, the king of a pagan nation, was not a self-made man. He had no right to bask in his own glory or take credit for his accomplishments. Daniel himself recognized that it was God alone who deserved glory.

“Praise the name of God forever and ever, for he has all wisdom and power. He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings.” – Daniel 2:20-21 NLT

And Moses wanted the people of Israel to enter the land of Canaan with their eyes wide open or, like Nebuchadnezzar, their hearts would become lifted up. They would end up seeing their success as self-produced and rob God of the glory only He deserves. And Moses was brutally honest as to what would happen if they became forgetful and prideful.

“If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods, worshiping and bowing down to them, you will certainly be destroyed.” – Deuteronomy 8:19 NLT

The tendency to forget God always results in the temptation to replace God. When we fail to remember all that He has done, we can easily find ourselves blind to all that He is doing. Forgetfulness of His past blessings leads to misappropriation of His glory. We risk assigning the cause of our good fortune to something or someone else. And that list of self-manufactured idols is a long one and includes our own wisdom and wherewithal. How easy it is to take credit for what God has done. But when we do, we rob God of glory. We violate the very first commandment by exalting ourselves as the source of our own success and significance. We make ourselves god. And it all begins when we allow forgetfulness to produce pridefulness.

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

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

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

 

 

 

The Lord Your God

17 “If you say in your heart, ‘These nations are greater than I. How can I dispossess them?’ 18 you shall not be afraid of them but you shall remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt, 19 the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, the wonders, the mighty hand, and the outstretched arm, by which the Lord your God brought you out. So will the Lord your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid. 20 Moreover, the Lord your God will send hornets among them, until those who are left and hide themselves from you are destroyed. 21 You shall not be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is in your midst, a great and awesome God. 22 The Lord your God will clear away these nations before you little by little. You may not make an end of them at once, lest the wild beasts grow too numerous for you. 23 But the Lord your God will give them over to you and throw them into great confusion, until they are destroyed. 24 And he will give their kings into your hand, and you shall make their name perish from under heaven. No one shall be able to stand against you until you have destroyed them. 25 The carved images of their gods you shall burn with fire. You shall not covet the silver or the gold that is on them or take it for yourselves, lest you be ensnared by it, for it is an abomination to the Lord your God. 26 And you shall not bring an abominable thing into your house and become devoted to destruction like it. You shall utterly detest and abhor it, for it is devoted to destruction.” – Deuteronomy 7:7-16 ESV

Eight times in ten verses, Moses uses the phrase, “the Lord your God” when referring to Yahweh, the God of the Israelites. In Hebrew, it is Yĕhovah 'elohiym. Moses’ repetitive use of this particular name for God is intended to provide weight to what he has to say to the Israelites. He is well aware that the people are fearful as they prepare to enter the land of Canaan. Moses has been here before and, most likely, still has painful memories associated with the day, 40-years earlier, when the Israelites let their fear get the best of them and they refused to enter the land. 

So, in his attempt to motivate the next generation, he goes out of his way to emphasize the presence and power of God. In fact, his use of the name Elohim was intentional because it conveys the infinite, all-powerful nature of God. Elohim is the name used in Genesis 1:1 to describe God’s creation of the world.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. – Genesis 1:1 ESV

God’s invisible power was put on display through His creation of the world. The very existence of the universe with the planets and stars; along with the earth and all it contains, is evidence of God’s power. And the apostle Paul reminds us that God’s power remains on display for all mankind to see.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. – Romans 1:19-20 ESV

God chose to make His power known. And Moses encouraged the Israelites to remember how their invisible, all-powerful God had revealed Himself to them in the past. God’s power, while invisible to the naked eye, was from unknowable or imperceptible. They had been given ample proof of God’s power.

“Just remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all the land of Egypt. Remember the great terrors the Lord your God sent against them. You saw it all with your own eyes! And remember the miraculous signs and wonders, and the strong hand and powerful arm with which he brought you out of Egypt” – Deuteronomy 7:18-19 NLT

And Moses assured them that God would use that very same power to assist them in their conquering of the Canaanites. They would not be entering the land alone. They would have Jehovah Elohim on their side. So, their fear was unfounded.

“The Lord your God will use this same power against all the people you fear.” – Deuteronomy 7:19 NLT

They were going to have to face their fears with faith in their all-powerful God. Their enemies were real. They could see them with their eyes. But their God, while invisible, had proven His existence through miraculous signs and wonders. And He would do so again. But there were going to have to trust Him.

Moses assured the Israelites that God was in their midst. They may not be able to see Him, but He was there. And they could trust Him. Moses described God as “great and awesome” (Deuteronomy 7:21 ESV).  He is gadowl – great in magnitude and extent. There is no one or nothing like God. He is supreme and without equal. And He is yare' – a fear-producing, awe-inspiring God who deserves all honor and glory.

This great God was going to go before the people of Israel and assure their victory over the land’s inhabitants. And while God was fully capable of eliminating each and every Canaanite from the land in one mighty act, Moses revealed that God’s plan was going to entail a slow and methodical transfer of ownership. No doubt, the Israelites would have preferred that God give them the land in one major victory, but that was not God’s plan. God, in His infinite wisdom, knew that the instantaneous elimination of all the land’s inhabitants would have left the cities and villages unoccupied and, the fields and vineyards uncultivated. If all the Canaanites were to suddenly disappear, the land would suffer. There were not yet enough Israelites to occupy and care for the countless towns and villages that dotted the landscape. So, God’s plan would involve a more strategic and systematic approach.

But Moses knew this was going to pose a potential problem for the people of Israel. It ensured that there would be a constant presence of their enemies in the land. And, as long as there were Canaanites in the land, there would be false gods that could tempt the people of Israel to turn away from God. Which is why Moses warned them:

“You must burn their idols in fire, and you must not covet the silver or gold that covers them. You must not take it or it will become a trap to you, for it is detestable to the Lord your God. Do not bring any detestable objects into your home, for then you will be destroyed, just like them. You must utterly detest such things, for they are set apart for destruction.” – Deuteronomy 7:25-26 NLT

Unfaithfulness was going to be a constant temptation to the people of God. Even as God gave them victories over their enemies, proving Himself to be “the Lord your God,” they would find themselves tempted to disobey Him. And Moses knew that the countless idols of their enemies, made of gold and silver, would prove a stumbling block to the people of Israel. They would covet them for their financial value. But Moses warned them to have nothing to do with these false gods. They were an abomination to God. They represented man’s worship of something other than God. So, they were to loathe these idols just as much as God did. And they were to destroy them, eliminating any risk that these pseudo-gods might lure them into unfaithfulness.

It is interesting how Moses juxtaposes “the Lord your God” with the false gods of the Canaanites. Jehovah Elohim was invisible, yet all-powerful. The false gods of the Canaanites were visible and tangible, yet lacking in any power because they were non-existent. But these false and lifeless gods still had the power to lure the people of Israel into committing acts of unfaithfulness. Even the precious metals from which they were made possessed the power to lure the people of God into taking their eyes off of Him as their sole source of provision and power.

God was going to be in their midst. He was going to go before them, preparing the way, and providing them with incremental victories over their enemies. But they would have to follow His lead and see the Canaanites, their false gods, and their inherent wickedness as a people, as constant threats to their own spiritual well-being as a nation.

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

 

 

 

Bearing God’s Image

15 “Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, 16 beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, 17 the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, 18 the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth. 19 And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven. 20 But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day. 21 Furthermore, the Lord was angry with me because of you, and he swore that I should not cross the Jordan, and that I should not enter the good land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance. 22 For I must die in this land; I must not go over the Jordan. But you shall go over and take possession of that good land. 23 Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the Lord your God has forbidden you. 24 For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

25 “When you father children and children’s children, and have grown old in the land, if you act corruptly by making a carved image in the form of anything, and by doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, so as to provoke him to anger, 26 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess. You will not live long in it, but will be utterly destroyed. 27 And the Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the Lord will drive you. 28 And there you will serve gods of wood and stone, the work of human hands, that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. 29 But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. 30 When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the Lord your God and obey his voice. 31 For the Lord your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.” – Deuteronomy 4:15-31 ESV

As the day drew near when the people would make their long-delayed entry into the land of promise, it meant that Moses was fast-approaching the day of his own death. This section of his address contains his reminder to the people of his permanent ban from entering the land, placed on him by God for his striking of the rock at Meribah. 

“But the Lord was angry with me because of you. He vowed that I would not cross the Jordan River into the good land the Lord your God is giving you as your special possession. You will cross the Jordan to occupy the land, but I will not. Instead, I will die here on the east side of the river.” – Deuteronomy 4:21-22 NLT

With his death imminent and his time as the leader of Israel coming to a close, Moses increases the intensity of his instructions to them, in a final effort to prepare them for this next phase in their journey as God’s people. He knew his people well and was fully aware that they were going to face a myriad of temptations as they crossed over the Jordan. And one of the greatest temptations would be that of idolatry.

In recounting that momentous occasion when God gave the Law at Mount Sinai, Moses pointed out that the people had “heard the sound of his [God’s] words but didn’t see his form; there was only a voice” (Deuteronomy 4:12 NLT). Yes, there had been smoke, thunder, and lightning, and the people had clearly felt the presence of God, but He had remained invisible to them.

And Moses warned the next generation of Israelites who were preparing to enter the land to “be very careful! You did not see the Lord’s form on the day he spoke to you from the heart of the fire at Mount Sinai. So do not corrupt yourselves by making an idol in any form” (Deuteronomy 4:5 NLT). This was a repetition of the first of the Ten Commandments that God had given to Moses on Mount Sinai.

“I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.

“You must not have any other god but me.

“You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods.” – Exodus 19:2-5 NLT

But why was Moses placing so much emphasis on this particular commandment? What was his point in stressing God’s ban on idolatry? It would appear that Moses knew that the people were going to struggle with the invisible nature of God. Their inability to see God with their eyes was going to cause them to doubt God in their hearts. He would become out-of-sight, out-of-mind. Their natural tendency would be to replace the invisible God with something more tangible and palpable. And Moses had seen first-hand just how quickly the people of Israel could turn their backs on the one true God.

All the way back at Sinai, when the people had seen the display of God’s glory and power on the mountain, they had trembled in fear. But while Moses was on top of the mountain receiving the Law from God, the people had decided that they needed a god they could see. Their leader was gone and their God, while powerful, was intangible and indiscernible. And the book of Exodus records what they did next.

When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.”

So Aaron said, “Take the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters, and bring them to me.”

All the people took the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. Then Aaron took the gold, melted it down, and molded it into the shape of a calf. When the people saw it, they exclaimed, “O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt!” – Exodus 32:1-4 NLT

While Moses was on top of the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments from God, the first of which was a prohibition against idol worship, the people were busy making and worshiping an idol. And 40 years later, Moses was well aware that the people of Israel had not outgrown their infatuation with false gods.

This tendency to worship that which we can see is hardwired into mankind. Paul addresses it in his letter to the Romans.

For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image resembling mortal human beings or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. – Romans 1:21-23 NLT

And Moses warned the Israelites about making replacement gods out “of a man or a woman, an animal on the ground, a bird in the sky, a small animal that scurries along the ground, or a fish in the deepest sea,” and he added, “when you look up into the sky and see the sun, moon, and stars—all the forces of heaven—don’t be seduced into worshiping them” (Deuteronomy 4:16-19 NLT). Because God is unseen, man’s natural tendency is to focus his attention on that which he can see. Man’s finiteness makes it difficult for him to grasp the infinite nature of God.

But God’s ban on idol worship seems to have a much more important aspect to it than first meets the eye. Moses warns the Israelites, “The Lord your God is a devouring fire; he is a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24 NLT). But there is more to this statement than God being jealous of other gods. God knows there are no such thing as “other gods.” They don’t exist. But the Israelites do. And they belong to Him. They were to be His chosen possession, and He had given them His Law as a written code of conduct. Their behavior as His chosen people was not up to their discretion, but carefully articulated in His Law. 

Which is why Moses warned them, “So do not corrupt yourselves by making an idol in any form” (Deuteronomy 4:16 NLT). The Hebrew word for “corrupt” is shachath, and it means to mar or spoil. By making and worshiping false gods, the people of Israel would be damaging their ability to mirror the image of God. Not only would the be violating His Law, they would be acting just like all the other nations. Their distinctiveness as His people would be destroyed. Their uniqueness as His possession would be lost.

God had warned the Israelites, “if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6 NLT).

But idol worship would mar the image of God in the lives of His people. They would no longer reflect His distinctiveness and display His glory among the nations. Rather than displaying their one-of-a-kind status as God’s chosen people, they would profane His reputation as the great and glorious God by behaving just like all the other nations around them. And hundreds of years later, when God’s people were languishing in captivity in Babylon, the prophet Ezekiel would declare the words of God:

“I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations. I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations.” – Ezekiel 36:22-23 NLT

God had chosen the nation of Israel and had set them apart for His glory. They were to have been His image-bearers on earth, living according to His Law and displaying His glory as they faithfully trusted in Him – the invisible, yet invincible God.

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

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

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

 

 

 

The Choice Is Yours

3 But you, draw near,
    sons of the sorceress,
    offspring of the adulterer and the loose woman.
4 Whom are you mocking?
    Against whom do you open your mouth wide
    and stick out your tongue?
Are you not children of transgression,
    the offspring of deceit,
5 you who burn with lust among the oaks,
    under every green tree,
who slaughter your children in the valleys,
    under the clefts of the rocks?
6 Among the smooth stones of the valley is your portion;
    they, they, are your lot;
to them you have poured out a drink offering,
    you have brought a grain offering.
    Shall I relent for these things?
7 On a high and lofty mountain
    you have set your bed,
    and there you went up to offer sacrifice.
8 Behind the door and the doorpost
    you have set up your memorial;
for, deserting me, you have uncovered your bed,
    you have gone up to it,
    you have made it wide;
and you have made a covenant for yourself with them,
    you have loved their bed,
    you have looked on nakedness.
9 You journeyed to the king with oil
    and multiplied your perfumes;
you sent your envoys far off,
    and sent down even to Sheol.
10 You were wearied with the length of your way,
    but you did not say, “It is hopeless”;
you found new life for your strength,
    and so you were not faint.

11 Whom did you dread and fear,
    so that you lied,
and did not remember me,
    did not lay it to heart?
Have I not held my peace, even for a long time,
    and you do not fear me?
12 I will declare your righteousness and your deeds,
    but they will not profit you.
13 When you cry out, let your collection of idols deliver you!
    The wind will carry them all off,
    a breath will take them away.
But he who takes refuge in me shall possess the land
    and shall inherit my holy mountain. – Isaiah 57:3-13 ESV

After castigating and condemning the watchmen, the self-proclaimed spiritual leaders of Judah, God turns His attention to the people. While they had been misinformed and mislead by the false prophets, they were not without a measure of guilt. And God makes it painfully clear what He thought about their behavior towards Him. He addresses them in not-so-flattering terms, calling them “sons of sorcerors, offspring of the adulterer and the loose woman” (Isaiah 57:3 ESV). The New Living Translation makes it even more unpleasant, translating verse3 as “you witches’ children, you offspring of adulterers and prostitutes!” And God is not done. he goes on to describe them as “children of transgression, the offspring of deceit” (Isaiah 57:4 ESV).

God is not happy with them. And all these unflattering appellations are tied directly to their practice of idolatry. God is unsparing in His accusations against them. Like a criminal prosecutor in a court of law, God lays out His evidence, providing more than enough proof to convict the people of Judah of their crime and justify their well-deserved punishment.

God accuses them of worshiping their false gods under every oak and green tree they can find, and doing so with passion. The Hebrew word translated as “passion” is chamam and it carries a sexual connotation. It can be translated as “inflamed” or “aroused.” To put it in rather graphic terms, the people of Judah “got off” on practicing idolatry. They set up shrines and high places all over the land of Canaan, where they worshiped their false deities and even practiced child sacrifice as part of their passionate adoration of their gods. And God had been very clear in His commands regarding child sacrifice.

"Do not permit any of your children to be offered as a sacrifice to Molech, for you must not bring shame on the name of your God. I am the LORD.”  – Leviticus 18:21 NLT

"Give the people of Israel these instructions, which apply both to native Israelites and to the foreigners living in Israel. If any of them offer their children as a sacrifice to Molech, they must be put to death.” – Leviticus 20:2 NLT

“I myself will turn against them and cut them off from the community, because they have defiled my sanctuary and brought shame on my holy name by offering their children to Molech.” – Leviticus 20:3 NLT

Yet, here was God, generations later, accusing His people of doing exactly what He had told them not to do. They had idols under the trees, in the valleys, on top of the mountains, and just about every other place you could imagine. False gods were ubiquitous in Judah. And in the very act of worship their many false gods, they were proving themselves unfaithful and spiritually adulterous to the one true God. Like a faithful husband speaking to his promiscuous wife, God tells them, “You have left me and climbed into bed with these detestable gods. You have committed yourselves to them. You love to look at their naked bodies” (Isaiah 57:8 NLT).

Their passion for their false gods was relentless. Many of their gods were the result of political or military alliances with pagan nations. Envoys from Judah would travel long distances to worship the false gods of their potential allies, carrying olive oil and perfume to use as tributes to these idols. God describes them as constantly in search of some god who could provide them what they were seeking. And just when they would start to lose hope, they would discover yet another potential savior in the form of a statue made of stone, wood or precious metal.

“You grew weary in your search,
    but you never gave up.
Desire gave you renewed strength,
    and you did not grow weary.” – Isaiah 57:10 NLT

In the face of God’s withering charges against them, He poses a question:

“Whom did you dread and fear,
    so that you lied,
and did not remember me,
    did not lay it to heart?” – Isaiah 57:11 ESV

Obviously, they had not feared God, or they wouldn’t have disobeyed His commands like they had. So, was their unfaithfulness driven by fear of their enemies? Or was it due to fear of the their enemies’ gods? Whatever the case, they had not exhited any fear of God, even though He had displayed tremendous patience with them. Now, God was done showing them patience. And, knowing that they would argue with Him and try to present themselves as faithful servants who had done acts of righteousness deserving of His grace and mercy, God breaks the not-so-good news to them.

“Now I will expose your so-called good deeds.
    None of them will help you.” – Isaiah 57:12 NLT

Later on in this very same book, Isaiah will deliver some seriously bad news to the people of Judah, that will blow their concept of self-righteousness out of the water.

You welcome those who gladly do good,
    who follow godly ways.
But you have been very angry with us,
    for we are not godly.
We are constant sinners;
    how can people like us be saved?
We are all infected and impure with sin.
    When we display our righteous deeds,
    they are nothing but filthy rags. – Isaiah 64:5-6 NLT

They had no righteous deeds. Their best deeds done on their best day with the best of intentions were worthless in the eyes of God. He could see into their hearts. And as God stated earlier in the book of Isaiah, “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote” (Isaiah29:13 NLT). 

So, God offers His disobedient and idolatrous people a challenge. The next time they faced trouble, He suggests that they call on their false gods to save them. And, because God has already made it clear that the next thing that was going to happen to them would be His judgment of them, He was basically taunting them to use their gods to stop Him. But God let’s them know the outcome ahead of time.

“The wind will carry them all off,
    a breath will take them away.” – Isaiah 57:13 ESV

They will prove laughingly impotent. But God says that “whoever trusts in me will inherit the land and possess my holy mountain” (Isaiah 57:13 NLT). They could continue to trust in their false gods. They could passionately pursue deliverance from lifeless idols or put their hope in the God of the universe. The choice was theirs, but the outcome of that choice was completely up to God and not up for debate.

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

He Has Made and Will Bear, Carry and Save

1 Bel bows down; Nebo stoops;
    their idols are on beasts and livestock;
these things you carry are borne
    as burdens on weary beasts.
2 They stoop; they bow down together;
    they cannot save the burden,
    but themselves go into captivity.

3 “Listen to me, O house of Jacob,
    all the remnant of the house of Israel,
who have been borne by me from before your birth,
    carried from the womb;
4 even to your old age I am he,
    and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear;
    I will carry and will save.

5 “To whom will you liken me and make me equal,
    and compare me, that we may be alike?
6 Those who lavish gold from the purse,
    and weigh out silver in the scales,
hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god;
    then they fall down and worship!
7 They lift it to their shoulders, they carry it,
    they set it in its place, and it stands there;
    it cannot move from its place.
If one cries to it, it does not answer
    or save him from his trouble.

8 “Remember this and stand firm,
    recall it to mind, you transgressors,
9     remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
    I am God, and there is none like me,
10 declaring the end from the beginning
    and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
    and I will accomplish all my purpose,’
11 calling a bird of prey from the east,
    the man of my counsel from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
    I have purposed, and I will do it.

12 “Listen to me, you stubborn of heart,
    you who are far from righteousness:
13 I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off,
    and my salvation will not delay;
I will put salvation in Zion,
    for Israel my glory.” – Isaiah 46:1-13 ESV

Incorporating humor tinged with sarcasm, Isaiah describes two of the primary Babylonian gods as bowing and stooping, as if they actually had life in them. Bel was considered the father of all the gods worshiped by the Babylonians, and Nebo was his son. These gods were worshiped in the form of idols made of stone and precious metals. In some cases, the idols made to represent these false gods were massive in size and required many men to transport them, utilizing carts hauled by cattle or oxen. And Isaiah describes these two lifeless deities as nothing more than heavy burdens borne along by dumb beasts of burden. Not only are Bel and Nebo powerless to lift the burden, they are the burden. And they are stooped and bowed, lying lifeless and defenseless on carts, as they are hauled away as plunder. These false gods will end up in captivity just like all those who worship them.

Suddenly, God speaks and He paints a strikingly different picture. He juxtaposes Himself with these impotent and lifeless gods. While they will end up being borne away on carts, God reminds the people of Judah that He has borne them from the very beginning. It is He who has carried them over the centuries, from the very moment He called Abram out of Ur. Unlike Bel and Nebo, God didn’t require a cart to get from one place to another. He didn’t require human craftsmen to bring Him into existence. He is the eternal and everlasting one. He is the uncreated Creator of all things. And He warned Moses not to allow the people to attempt to portray Him in any form whatsoever.

“But be very careful! You did not see the Lord’s form on the day he spoke to you from the heart of the fire at Mount Sinai. So do not corrupt yourselves by making an idol in any form—whether of a man or a woman, an animal on the ground, a bird in the sky, a small animal that scurries along the ground, or a fish in the deepest sea.” – Deuteronomy 4:15-18 NLT

Yet, before this command could make it from the top of Mount Sinai down to people below, something foreboding and foreshadowing happened. Tired of waiting for Moses, the people decided to make their own gods, demanding of Aaron, “Get up, make us gods that will go before us. As for this fellow Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him!” (Exodus 32:1 NLT). And sadly, Aaron gave into their wishes and commanded them to donate the gold necessary to make an idol.

So all the people broke off the gold earrings that were on their ears and brought them to Aaron. He accepted the gold from them, fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molten calf. Then they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” – Exodus 32:3-4 NLT

This scene would be repeated in one form or another throughout the generations of the Israelites. Even though God had rescued them out of their slavery in Egypt and eventually bore them all the way to the promised land, they would continually turn to gods of their own making. And God had patiently carried the burden of their sin and rebellion for centuries. Amazingly, God reassures His rebellious people of His commitment to continue to bear with them.

“I will be your God throughout your lifetime—
    until your hair is white with age.
I made you, and I will care for you.
    I will carry you along and save you.” – Isaiah 46:4 NLT

Unlike Bel and Nebo, God would not abandon His people. He wasn’t a false god who had to be manufactured by men and carried on carts pulled by livestock. He was God Almighty, and there were no other gods like Him. And He poses a rhetorical question, designed to expose the lunacy behind their infatuation with false gods.

“To whom will you liken me and make me equal,
    and compare me, that we may be alike?” – Isaiah 46:5 ESV

In an effort to get them to understand the sheer stupidity of their actions, God exposes the illogical nature of idol worship.

“Some people pour out their silver and gold
    and hire a craftsman to make a god from it.
    Then they bow down and worship it!
They carry it around on their shoulders,
    and when they set it down, it stays there.
    It can’t even move!
And when someone prays to it, there is no answer.
    It can’t rescue anyone from trouble.” – Isaiah 46:6-7 NLT

It all makes no sense, and yet, the people of Israel and Judah had made a habit of doing this very thing. From that fateful moment at the base of Mount Sinai to the days of Isaiah, the people of God had repeatedly made their own gods with their own hands. And God addresses them as what the were: Transgressors. They had violated His law – not once, but repeatedly. And just in case they might have forgotten, God reminds them of just who He is.

“I am God, and there is no other;
    I am God, and there is none like me.” – Isaiah 46:9 ESV

God has told the people of Judah that they will be invaded by the Babylonians and be taken into captivity. But He has also told them that the gods of the Babylonians will one day be taken into captivity as well, along with all those who worship them. This will happen when the Persians defeat the Babylonians and become the big dog on the block in their place. And God has revealed that Cyrus, the king of the Persians, will one day allow the people of Judah to return to the land of Canaan. These predictions and God’s capacity to bring them to fulfillment are what set Him apart. No false god could do what He does.

“Only I can tell you the future
    before it even happens.
Everything I plan will come to pass,
    for I do whatever I wish.” – Isaiah 46:10 NLT

And God’s unspoken question seems to be: “Why don’t you worship Me?” With all He has done for them over the centuries, it made no sense that they continued to forsake Him for other gods. And yet, they had, time and time again. So, He calls to them one more time, demanding that they pay attention to what He is trying to tell them.

“Listen to me, you stubborn of heart,
    you who are far from righteousness:
I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off,
    and my salvation will not delay;
I will put salvation in Zion,
    for Israel my glory.”
– Isaiah 46:12-13 NLT

Why would they not trust God? He had proven Himself faithful. He had put up with their idolatry for generations. He had continued to care for and love them even in the face of their persistent spiritual infidelity. And now He was telling them that His salvation of them was guaranteed. It was as good as done. And as the one true God, He alone is able to say:

“I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
    I have purposed, and I will do it.” – Isaiah 46:11 ESV

God boldly and emphatically tells them,  “I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (Isaiah 46:4 ESV). He’s not some stooping, bowing, lifeless idol on a cart. He is the sovereign, all-powerful God of the universe whose plan of redemption for His people is unstoppable. And all He asks in return is that they worship Him for who He is: The incomparable, all-powerful God. 

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

Too Ignorant to Know It

9 All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame. 10 Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing? 11 Behold, all his companions shall be put to shame, and the craftsmen are only human. Let them all assemble, let them stand forth. They shall be terrified; they shall be put to shame together.

12 The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. 13 The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. 14 He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. 15 Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. 16 Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” 17 And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”

18 They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. 19 No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, “Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?” 20 He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?” – Isaiah 44:9-20 ESV

God has made Himself perfectly clear by boldly declaring, “besides me there is no god” (Isaiah 44:6 ESV). Then, as if to see if His audience has gotten the message, He asks, “Is there a God besides me?” (Isaiah 44:8 ESV). And, just in case they failed to nnow the answer to the question, He gave His divine opinion: “I know not any” (Isaiah 44:8 ESV).

He has established Himself as the Creator-God, the one who made Israel. He is Jehovah, the King of Israel. He is their Redeemer, the Lord of Hosts, the first and the last. And He alone is able to “declare what is to come, and what will happen” (Isaiah 44:7 ESV).

And yet, the people of Judah continued to worship false gods – idols they had made with their own hands. They had substituted worship of and reverence for the one true God with the adoration of lifeless and powerless statues made of wood and stone. And God systematically and somewhat sarcastically exposes the absurdity of their actions.

Over time, the people of Israel had adopted an assortment of pagan gods, from Baal and Molech to Ashtoreth and Chemosh. The Israelites seemed to be equal-opportunity idolaters. They were not picky. And, they never really replaced the worship of Yahweh, they simply added the other gods to the mix, creating a confusing syncretistic amalgamation of for virtually every occasion. But God Almighty had warned them about this very thing. All the way back when Moses was leading them to the Promised Land, God had provided them with the Ten Commandments, and the very first command on the list had been: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3 ESV). And He would later expand on that command, providing them with clear and irrefutable details regarding His expectations.

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” – Deuteronomy 5:8-10 ESV

And yet, the people of Israel had proven themselves incapable of obeying this very command. All that God had told them not to do, they had done – repeatedly and knowingly. They were operating out of obstinance, not ignorance. They knew exactly what they were doing and they knew it was wrong. So, God decides to show them the sheer lunacy behind their actions.

“How foolish are those who manufacture idols.
    These prized objects are really worthless.
The people who worship idols don’t know this,
    so they are all put to shame.”
– Isaiah 44:9 NLT

Notice that God uses the third person. It is as if He is asking the people of Judah to consider how idiotic it is for those other nations to worship false gods. He wants them to step back and take a long and close look at just how ridiculous idolatry really is.

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

That had to have hurt. God was not pulling any punches, but wanted them to see the sheer stupidity of what they were doing. Not only were they disobeying His commands, they doing so in order to worship gods they had made with their own hands. And God goes out of His way to ridicule the “mere humans—who claim they can make a god” (Isaiah 44:11 NLT).

God paints the image of a craftsman working diligently to manufacture the tool he will use to manufacture the god he is going to worship. His efforts leave him worn out before he has even begun to make his god. The effort required to make the god he is going worship leave him hungry and faint.

God describes a wood carver going through the process of selecting just the right tree from which to make his god. Then he proceeds to cut it down, carefully delineating which part of the log will become his god and which part he can use build a fire to keep himself warm.

“He cuts down cedars;
    he selects the cypress and the oak;
he plants the pine in the forest
    to be nourished by the rain.
Then he uses part of the wood to make a fire.
    With it he warms himself and bakes his bread.
Then—yes, it’s true—he takes the rest of it
    and makes himself a god to worship!
He makes an idol
    and bows down in front of it!”
– Isaiah 44:14-15 NLT

When you step back and examine idolatry from an objective viewpoint, it is not difficult to see just how ridiculous it appears. But God says, “The people who worship idols don’t know this” (Isaiah 44:9 NLT). They are blind to the reality of their actions. They are incapable of seeing just how bizarre and nonsensical their actions appear. Which is why God goes out of His way to expose the sheer stupidity of what is going on in Judah. They enjoyed the privilege of being created by the one true God, and being chosen as His prized possession. And yet, they were busy creating their own gods out of wood and stone, and expected these man-made deities to provide for and protect them.

“He burns part of the tree to roast his meat
    and to keep himself warm.
    He says, “Ah, that fire feels good.”
Then he takes what’s left
    and makes his god: a carved idol!
He falls down in front of it,
    worshiping and praying to it.
“Rescue me!” he says.
    “You are my god!”
– Isaiah 44:16-17 NLT

And while it may be easy for us to judge the people of Judah and question their sanity, we would be wise to examine our own lives to see if we might be guilty of the very same thing. Their sin seems blatant to us. But God reveals that they were blind to it.

“Such stupidity and ignorance!
    Their eyes are closed, and they cannot see.
    Their minds are shut, and they cannot think.” –
Isaiah 44:18 NLT

They couldn’t see what they were doing. And, if we are wise, we will recognize that we have the same capacity to blindly and ignorantly worship gods made with human hands. While our idols may appear more sophisticated and less religious in nature, they are false gods nonetheless. Tim Keller, in his book, Counterfeit Gods, describes an idol in terms that may make you a bit uncomfortable.

What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give…

An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I ‘ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.” There are many ways to describe that kind of relationship to something, but perhaps the best one is worship.

When put in those terms, it becomes a bit more easy to see how we can have idols, in spite of our more enlightened and sophisticated mindset. And, like the people of Judah, we can find ourselves deluded and unaware of the fact that we have created substitutes for God. We have turned to other things in the hopes that they might deliver what only God is capable of providing: Peace, hope, security, joy, contentment, satisfaction, and salvation. And God warns that we all run the same risk the people of Judah did. If we are not careful, we will find ourselves putting our hope in the wrong god, and failing to recognize the futility of our actions.

“He trusts something that can’t help him at all.
Yet he cannot bring himself to ask,
    “Is this idol that I’m holding in my hand a lie?”
– Isaiah 44:20 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. Peterson9 All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame. 10 Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing? 11 Behold, all his companions shall be put to shame, and the craftsmen are only human. Let them all assemble, let them stand forth. They shall be terrified; they shall be put to shame together.

12 The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. 13 The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. 14 He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. 15 Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. 16 Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” 17 And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”

18 They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. 19 No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, “Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?” 20 He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?” – Isaiah 44:9-20 ESV

God has made Himself perfectly clear by boldly declaring, “besides me there is no god” (Isaiah 44:6 ESV). Then, as if to see if His audience has gotten the message, He asks, “Is there a God besides me?” (Isaiah 44:8 ESV). And, just in case they failed to nnow the answer to the question, He gave His divine opinion: “I know not any” (Isaiah 44:8 ESV).

He has established Himself as the Creator-God, the one who made Israel. He is Jehovah, the King of Israel. He is their Redeemer, the Lord of Hosts, the first and the last. And He alone is able to “declare what is to come, and what will happen” (Isaiah 44:7 ESV).

And yet, the people of Judah continued to worship false gods – idols they had made with their own hands. They had substituted worship of and reverence for the one true God with the adoration of lifeless and powerless statues made of wood and stone. And God systematically and somewhat sarcastically exposes the absurdity of their actions.

Over time, the people of Israel had adopted an assortment of pagan gods, from Baal and Molech to Ashtoreth and Chemosh. The Israelites seemed to be equal-opportunity idolaters. They were not picky. And, they never really replaced the worship of Yahweh, they simply added the other gods to the mix, creating a confusing syncretistic amalgamation of for virtually every occasion. But God Almighty had warned them about this very thing. All the way back when Moses was leading them to the Promised Land, God had provided them with the Ten Commandments, and the very first command on the list had been: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3 ESV). And He would later expand on that command, providing them with clear and irrefutable details regarding His expectations.

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” – Deuteronomy 5:8-10 ESV

And yet, the people of Israel had proven themselves incapable of obeying this very command. All that God had told them not to do, they had done – repeatedly and knowingly. They were operating out of obstinance, not ignorance. They knew exactly what they were doing and they knew it was wrong. So, God decides to show them the sheer lunacy behind their actions.

“How foolish are those who manufacture idols.
    These prized objects are really worthless.
The people who worship idols don’t know this,
    so they are all put to shame.”
– Isaiah 44:9 NLT

Notice that God uses the third person. It is as if He is asking the people of Judah to consider how idiotic it is for those other nations to worship false gods. He wants them to step back and take a long and close look at just how ridiculous idolatry really is.

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

That had to have hurt. God was not pulling any punches, but wanted them to see the sheer stupidity of what they were doing. Not only were they disobeying His commands, they doing so in order to worship gods they had made with their own hands. And God goes out of His way to ridicule the “mere humans—who claim they can make a god” (Isaiah 44:11 NLT).

God paints the image of a craftsman working diligently to manufacture the tool he will use to manufacture the god he is going to worship. His efforts leave him worn out before he has even begun to make his god. The effort required to make the god he is going worship leave him hungry and faint.

God describes a wood carver going through the process of selecting just the right tree from which to make his god. Then he proceeds to cut it down, carefully delineating which part of the log will become his god and which part he can use build a fire to keep himself warm.

“He cuts down cedars;
    he selects the cypress and the oak;
he plants the pine in the forest
    to be nourished by the rain.
Then he uses part of the wood to make a fire.
    With it he warms himself and bakes his bread.
Then—yes, it’s true—he takes the rest of it
    and makes himself a god to worship!
He makes an idol
    and bows down in front of it!”
– Isaiah 44:14-15 NLT

When you step back and examine idolatry from an objective viewpoint, it is not difficult to see just how ridiculous it appears. But God says, “The people who worship idols don’t know this” (Isaiah 44:9 NLT). They are blind to the reality of their actions. They are incapable of seeing just how bizarre and nonsensical their actions appear. Which is why God goes out of His way to expose the sheer stupidity of what is going on in Judah. They enjoyed the privilege of being created by the one true God, and being chosen as His prized possession. And yet, they were busy creating their own gods out of wood and stone, and expected these man-made deities to provide for and protect them.

“He burns part of the tree to roast his meat
    and to keep himself warm.
    He says, “Ah, that fire feels good.”
Then he takes what’s left
    and makes his god: a carved idol!
He falls down in front of it,
    worshiping and praying to it.
“Rescue me!” he says.
    “You are my god!”
– Isaiah 44:16-17 NLT

And while it may be easy for us to judge the people of Judah and question their sanity, we would be wise to examine our own lives to see if we might be guilty of the very same thing. Their sin seems blatant to us. But God reveals that they were blind to it.

“Such stupidity and ignorance!
    Their eyes are closed, and they cannot see.
    Their minds are shut, and they cannot think.” –
Isaiah 44:18 NLT

They couldn’t see what they were doing. And, if we are wise, we will recognize that we have the same capacity to blindly and ignorantly worship gods made with human hands. While our idols may appear more sophisticated and less religious in nature, they are false gods nonetheless. Tim Keller, in his book, Counterfeit Gods, describes an idol in terms that may make you a bit uncomfortable.

What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give…

An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I ‘ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.” There are many ways to describe that kind of relationship to something, but perhaps the best one is worship.

When put in those terms, it becomes a bit more easy to see how we can have idols, in spite of our more enlightened and sophisticated mindset. And, like the people of Judah, we can find ourselves deluded and unaware of the fact that we have created substitutes for God. We have turned to other things in the hopes that they might deliver what only God is capable of providing: Peace, hope, security, joy, contentment, satisfaction, and salvation. And God warns that we all run the same risk the people of Judah did. If we are not careful, we will find ourselves putting our hope in the wrong god, and failing to recognize the futility of our actions.

“He trusts something that can’t help him at all.
Yet he cannot bring himself to ask,
    “Is this idol that I’m holding in my hand a lie?”
– Isaiah 44:20 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

Their Works Are Nothing

21 Set forth your case, says the Lord;
    bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob.
22 Let them bring them, and tell us
    what is to happen.
Tell us the former things, what they are,
    that we may consider them,
that we may know their outcome;
    or declare to us the things to come.
23 Tell us what is to come hereafter,
    that we may know that you are gods;
do good, or do harm,
    that we may be dismayed and terrified.

24 Behold, you are nothing,
    and your work is less than nothing;
    an abomination is he who chooses you.

25 I stirred up one from the north, and he has come,
    from the rising of the sun, and he shall call upon my name;
he shall trample on rulers as on mortar,
    as the potter treads clay.
26 Who declared it from the beginning, that we might know,
    and beforehand, that we might say, “He is right”?
There was none who declared it, none who proclaimed,
    none who heard your words.
27 I was the first to say to Zion, “Behold, here they are!”
    and I give to Jerusalem a herald of good news.
28 But when I look, there is no one;
    among these there is no counselor
    who, when I ask, gives an answer.
29 Behold, they are all a delusion;
    their works are nothing;
    their metal images are empty wind. – Isaiah 41:21-29 ESV

This chapter opened with God calling all the nations of the earth to appear in court in order to bring their case against Him.

“Listen in silence before me, you lands beyond the sea.
    Bring your strongest arguments.
Come now and speak.
    The court is ready for your case.” – Isaiah 41:1 NLT

That courtroom scene is picked up again in verses 21-29, with God standing in judgment against the false gods of the pagan nations. With a hint of sarcasm, God calls on all the idolaters to bring their so-called gods into the courtroom. Incapable of physical movement on their own, these false gods must rely upon human assistance just to appear before God Almighty. And to make matters worse, God demands that they speak up, defending themselves by providing proof for their own existence.

“Present the case for your idols,”
    says the Lord.
“Let them show what they can do,”
    says the King of Israel.
“Let them try to tell us what happened long ago
    so that we may consider the evidence.
Or let them tell us what the future holds,
    so we can know what’s going to happen.”
– Isaiah 41:21-22 NLT

God wants these non-existent gods to explain all that has happened in the world since the beginning of time. This should have been easy – except that false gods can’t actually speak. Anyone can provide a plausible explanation of the past, as long as they have the faculty of speech. But idols are speechless because they are lifeless. And if they are incapable of explaining the past, they have no hope of predicting the future. They have no idea of what is to come because they are mindless.

God demands that they predict the future as proof of their divinity. In essence, God is simply challenging them to do as He does. He demands that they measure up to His standard of divinity. But they can’t because they don’t exist. And, with ever-increasing sarcasm, God calls on them to do anything that might give evidence of their existence.

In fact, do anything—good or bad!
    Do something that will amaze and frighten us. – Isaiah 41:23 NLT

God is throwing down the gauntlet. But He expects no reply because the gods of the nations are nothing more than the figment of man’s imagination and the work of man’s hands. All of this is intended to remind the people of Judah that their God, Yahweh, is the only true God. They have nothing to fear from the gods of the Assyrians or Babylonians. And they have no reason to prostitute themselves in worship of these false gods. And God makes His point painfully clear, addressing the non-existent gods and all those who worship them.

But no! You are less than nothing and can do nothing at all.
    Those who choose you pollute themselves. – Isaiah 41:24 NLT

Later on, in this very same book, Isaiah provides an in-your-face assessment of the stupidity of idols.

How foolish are those who manufacture idols.
    These prized objects are really worthless.
The people who worship idols don’t know this,
    so they are all put to shame.
Who but a fool would make his own god—
    an idol that cannot help him one bit?
All who worship idols will be disgraced
    along with all these craftsmen—mere humans—
    who claim they can make a god.
They may all stand together,
    but they will stand in terror and shame. – Isaiah 44:9-11 NLT

Yet God, who is all-knowing and all-powerful, reveals that He will do what the false gods are incapable of doing. He will predict the future and then fulfill it.

“But I have stirred up a leader who will approach from the north.
    From the east he will call on my name.
I will give him victory over kings and princes.
    He will trample them as a potter treads on clay.” – Isaiah 41:25 NLT

God boldly claims that He will raise up a powerful leader from the north who will act as His divine instrument, accomplishing God’s will on earth. As will be revealed later in the book of Isaiah, this leader will prove to be King Cyrus of the Persians.

“When I say of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd,’
    he will certainly do as I say.
He will command, ‘Rebuild Jerusalem’;
    he will say, ‘Restore the Temple.’” – Isaiah 44:28 NLT

God was going to use Cyrus, an idolatrous, pagan king, to bring about the future restoration of Jerusalem and the temple. God has already decreed that Jerusalem would fall at the hands of the Babylonians and the people of Judah would end up as captives in Babylon. But He would one day restore them, and Cyrus would be His chosen instrument.

This is what the Lord says to Cyrus, his anointed one,
    whose right hand he will empower.
Before him, mighty kings will be paralyzed with fear.
    Their fortress gates will be opened,
    never to shut again.
This is what the Lord says:

“I will go before you, Cyrus,
    and level the mountains.
I will smash down gates of bronze
    and cut through bars of iron.
And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness—
    secret riches.
I will do this so you may know that I am the Lord,
    the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name.” – Isaiah 45:1-3 NLT

Unlike the false gods of the nations, Yahweh could predict the future because He is the one who sovereignly controls the future. Everything happens under His watchful eye and according to His divine will. And God challenges anyone to speak up who could claim to have known about any of these things.

“Who told you from the beginning
    that this would happen?
Who predicted this,
    making you admit that he was right?” – Isaiah 41:26 NLT

No one speaks up, because no one knew that any of these things were going to happen. There was not a single human being or false god who was aware of God’s future plans. And yet, all along, God had been telling His people what He was going to do.

“I was the first to tell Zion,
    ‘Look! Help is on the way!’
    I will send Jerusalem a messenger with good news.
Not one of your idols told you this.” – Isaiah 41:27-28 NLT

The idols are speechless because they are lifeless. These false gods are defenseless because they are powerless. They can’t explain the past. They can’t predict the future. They can’t provide wisdom. They can’t offer help or hope. But God can, and He does. Because He is sovereign over all.

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

Where Do You Turn?

1 “Ah, stubborn children,” declares the Lord,
“who carry out a plan, but not mine,
and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit,
    that they may add sin to sin;
2 who set out to go down to Egypt,
    without asking for my direction,
to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh
    and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!
3 Therefore shall the protection of Pharaoh turn to your shame,
    and the shelter in the shadow of Egypt to your humiliation.
4 For though his officials are at Zoan
    and his envoys reach Hanes,
5 everyone comes to shame
    through a people that cannot profit them,
that brings neither help nor profit,
    but shame and disgrace.”

6 An oracle on the beasts of the Negeb.

Through a land of trouble and anguish,
    from where come the lioness and the lion,
    the adder and the flying fiery serpent,
they carry their riches on the backs of donkeys,
    and their treasures on the humps of camels,
    to a people that cannot profit them.
7 Egypt’s help is worthless and empty;
    therefore I have called her
    “Rahab who sits still.” – Isaiah 30:1-7 ESV

As God’s chosen people, the nation of Judah was to have one source of protection and provision: God. He had promised to meet all their needs and to protect them from all their enemies. Long before they ever arrived in the land of Canaan, God had told them:

“If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully keep all his commands that I am giving you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the world. You will experience all these blessings if you obey the Lord your God:

Your towns and your fields
    will be blessed.
Your children and your crops
    will be blessed.
The offspring of your herds and flocks
    will be blessed.
Your fruit baskets and breadboards
    will be blessed.
Wherever you go and whatever you do,
    you will be blessed.

“The Lord will conquer your enemies when they attack you. They will attack you from one direction, but they will scatter from you in seven!

“The Lord will guarantee a blessing on everything you do and will fill your storehouses with grain. The Lord your God will bless you in the land he is giving you.” – Deuteronomy 28:1-8 NLT

But this promise was conditional. It required that the people of God obey His commands and worship Him alone. And years later, when Solomon dedicated the temple in Jerusalem, God had reminded them what would happen if they failed to remain faithful to Him.

“But if you or your descendants abandon me and disobey the commands and decrees I have given you, and if you serve and worship other gods, then I will uproot Israel from this land that I have given them. I will reject this Temple that I have made holy to honor my name. I will make Israel an object of mockery and ridicule among the nations.” – 1 Kings 9:6-7 NLT

And God made it perfectly clear to Solomon and the people of Israel that the fall of Jerusalem would be their own fault – for having abandoned Yahweh as their God, and their sole source of provision and protection.

“And though this Temple is impressive now, all who pass by will be appalled and will gasp in horror. They will ask, ‘Why did the Lord do such terrible things to this land and to this Temple?’

“And the answer will be, ‘Because his people abandoned the Lord their God, who brought their ancestors out of Egypt, and they worshiped other gods instead and bowed down to them. That is why the Lord has brought all these disasters on them.’” – 1 Kings 9:8-9 NLT

So, at this point in the book of Isaiah, we are looking at a time, long after Solomon had dedicated the temple, when the nation of Israel had been divided in two because of Solomon’s failure to remain faithful to God. The southern kingdom of Judah was under intense pressure from foreign enemies, and was turning its gaze to Egypt as a potential source of help and hope. They were making peace overtures to the very nation from which God had freed them from slavery generations earlier.

But God calls them exactly what they were: Stubborn children, and He used a word typically referring to dumb, untrainable oxen. It carries with it the idea of rebellion. Like an ox that refused to get into the yoke and plow, the people of Judah were refusing to do what God had called them to do. They consistently resisted His efforts to teach and train them. So, God warns them:

“What sorrow awaits my rebellious children,”
    says the Lord.
“You make plans that are contrary to mine.
    You make alliances not directed by my Spirit,
    thus piling up your sins.” – Isaiah 30:1 NLT

God had not told them to turn to Egypt. He had not given them permission to make an alliance with Pharaoh. And their efforts to do so would prove to be more fuel on the fire of His judgment against them.

“For without consulting me,
    you have gone down to Egypt for help.
You have put your trust in Pharaoh’s protection.
    You have tried to hide in his shade.” – Isaiah 30:2 NLT

This is the crux of the matter. They were refusing to seek God’s counsel and they were rejecting God’s promise of provision and protection. Rather than trust God, they were putting all their hope in Pharaoh. But they were going to find him to be a lousy replacement for God.

“But by trusting Pharaoh, you will be humiliated,
    and by depending on him, you will be disgraced.” – Isaiah 30:3 NLT

Their plans were not going to produce the results for which they were hoping. Rather than help, they would experience humiliation. In the place of deliverance, they would find disgrace. The nation of Egypt was powerful and its borders stretched from Zoan in the north to Hanes in the south. But Pharaoh and his mighty army would prove no match for the Lord of Hosts. And God destroys any lingering hopes the people of Judah might have that their plans will succeed.

“all who trust in him will be ashamed.
    He will not help you.
    Instead, he will disgrace you.” – Isaiah 30:5 NLT

With their failure well established, Isaiah now provides the people of Judah with a visual description of the Judean emmissaries’ trip to Egypt in order to deliver payment for their assistance. The route described is remarkably similar to the one that the people of Israel took when they left Egypt under Moses’ leadership centuries earlier. In order to escape detection by the Assyrians, the caravan would wind its way south, through the Negeb, “a land of trouble and anguish” (Isaiah 30:6 ESV).

But this time, they would not be accompanied by God or enjoy His protection. They would encounter an unforgiving desert, occupied by lions and venemous snakes. Their donkeys and camels would be weighed down with riches and treasures intended as payment for Pharaoh’s help. They would be paying dearly for their stubborn refusal to obey God. Their rebellion against Him would end up costing them. And the worst part was, the cost to benefit ratio was going to be minimal.

“All this, and Egypt will give you nothing in return.
   Egypt’s promises are worthless!” – Isaiah 30:6-7 NLT

The imagery here is powerful. The people of Judah were going backwards. They are pictured as returning to the very place from which God had delivered them. They were regressing rather than progressing. Their former deliverance from Egypt was not taking the form of a vain hope of deliverance by Egypt.

And God sarcastically refers to Egypt, using a fairly cryptic monicker: “Rahab who sits still” (Isaiah 30:7 ESV). There is much debate as to what this phrase actually means and how it should be translated. The name “Rahab” is used elsewhere in Scripture to refer to Egypt (Psalm 87:4). But the Hebrew word rahav is also used in the Old Testament to refer to a mythical sea monster, the symbol of chaos. That’s why the New Living Translation reads “the Harmless Dragon.” Egypt is described as being shebeth, idle or innactive. Rather than stepping into the situation and providing Judah with assistance, the nation of Egypt is shown to be completely still, providing no help whatsoever. This entire transaction between Judah and Egypt will prove to be an expensive boondoggle that produces none of their hoped-for results.

What a sad and sobering lesson. And yet, as 21st-Century Christians, we can fail to learn anything from this dark moment in the life of the nation of Judah. It is so easy to miss the similarities between our lives and theirs. While we may not face invasion from a foreign power, we are under spiritual attack each and every day of our lives. The apostle Paul would have us remember:

We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. – 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 NLT

Notice what Paul says. We are to use God’s weapons, not worldly ones. And our battle is against human reasoning and false arguments. Because we are under the constant temptation to use human wisdom to solve spiritual problems. We too easily find ourselves listening to false arguments that prompt us to turn to something or someone other than God. But we are to take those thoughts captive and teach them to obey what Christ would have us do. Turning to Egypt rather than God will never produce the desired results. Placing our faith in something other than God will always prove empty and futile. But God is always faithful. He is there when we call. He responds when we cry out. He not only wants to rescue us, He has the power to do so.

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

Help and Hope.

1 In the year that the commander in chief, who was sent by Sargon the king of Assyria, came to Ashdod and fought against it and captured it— 2 at that time the Lord spoke by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, “Go, and loose the sackcloth from your waist and take off your sandals from your feet,” and he did so, walking naked and barefoot.

3 Then the Lord said, “As my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Cush, 4 so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptian captives and the Cushite exiles, both the young and the old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, the nakedness of Egypt. 5 Then they shall be dismayed and ashamed because of Cush their hope and of Egypt their boast. 6 And the inhabitants of this coastland will say in that day, ‘Behold, this is what has happened to those in whom we hoped and to whom we fled for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria! And we, how shall we escape?’” – Isaiah 20:1-6 ESV

As has already been stated, this whole section of the book of Isaiah is designed to expose the futility of Judah placing their hope in other nations. Faced with formidable foes threatening to destroy them, the people of Judah were quick to turn to other nations for assistance. Their first line of defense was to make an alliance with a pagan nation like Egypt or Cush.  They had even considered aligning themselves with the Assyrians. But God wanted them to know that He alone was to be their source of safety and security. They had long ago abandoned Him, turning to the false gods of the nations around them and even when faced with His divine judgment in the form of foreign invaders, they remained obstinate, refusing to repent and turn to Him. They thought they could evade and escape His punishment by placing their fate in the hands of a foreign king.

And yet, they watched as, one by one, other nations and cities fell before the unrelenting power of the Assyrian army, including the city of Ashdod. Ashdod was the northern-most Philistine city, located only 35 miles to the west of Jerusalem and, in 713 BC, its king, Ahimiti, had decided to rebel against the the Assyrians, prompted by the promise of aid from the Egyptians. As a result of his rebellion, Ahimiti was replaced by the Assyrians. When the people of Ashdod continued to rebel, the King Sargon II turned the city into an Assyrian province. And the Egyptians never lifted a finger to help them. In fact, the people of Ashdod had pleaded for help from Judah, Moab and Edom, but none ever materialized.

At the time of the fall of Ashdod, God gave Isaiah a strange assignment. He told him to “Go, and loose the sackcloth from your waist and take off your sandals from your feet” (Isaiah 20:2 ESV). He was to remove his outer garment as well as his shoes and the text says, “he did so, walking naked and barefoot.” But before we jump to conclusions and assume that Isaiah was being forced by God to expose himself to all those around them, it is important to know that the Hebrews word translated as “naked” is`arowm and can refer to complete or partial nudity. In many cases it was used to refer to someone who had taken off their outer garment, only to reveal their tunic or undergarment. It seems unlikely that God would have required Isaiah to expose himself completely. But, in demanding that Isaiah strip down to his undergarments and walk the streets of Jerusalem, God would have been demonstrating the shame that Judah would soon experience. Isaiah’s condition would provide a visual demonstration of the humiliation and shame coming to all the nations on Judah’s list of potential allies. Like someone stripped of his possessions by thieves, Isaiah would be a walking reminder of the fate of Judah’s false saviors. And he would do this for three long years.

But Isaiah’s three-year-long dramatic display was intended to send a message to the people of Judah. God wanted them to know that their refusal to place their trust in Him would prove to be a poor decision.

“As my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Cush, so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptian captives and the Cushite exiles, both the young and the old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, the nakedness of Egypt.” –  Isaiah 20:3-4 ESV

They Egyptians and Cushites would fall, just as the city of Ashdod did. Their people would be led away, their fine garments and sandals removed, looking more like slaves than the citizens of a once-powerful nation. While Isaiah’s dramatic performance was nothing more than theater in the round, what God describes as happening to the people of Egypt and Cush will be real and not an act.

And God reveals that it will be only then, as their two allies are led away as captives, that people of Judah “shall be dismayed and ashamed because of Cush their hope and of Egypt their boast” (Isaiah 20:5 ESV). It is going to take the fall of these two nations to bring the people of Judah to the point of brokenness. The two Hebrew words used to describe their emotional state at that time are chathath and buwsh, and they paint a picture of confusion, fear and loss of hope. They will have placed all their hope and trust in these two nations, believing that they would be the ones to protect them from their enemies. But their hopes will be dashed when their allies fall.

Isaiah is told to warn the people that when this prophecy takes place, it will leave them wondering what happened. It will leave them in a state of hopelessness and helplessness.

“Behold, this is what has happened to those in whom we hoped and to whom we fled for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria! And we, how shall we escape?” – Isaiah 20:6 ESV

And in 701 BC, God’s warning came to fruition. The Assyrians defeated Egypt at Eltekeh, leaving the people of Judah were left without help or hope. Or so they thought. But God was there. He always had been. And God was ready to help them, to provide them with hope in the midst of the darkness and despair surrounding them. But they would have to turn to Him. They would have to place their trust in Him. And later on in this same book, Isaiah describes the goodness and greatness of the God who stood ready to assist those who will call out to Him in their time of need.

He gives power to the faint,
    and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
    and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:29-31 ESV

God possesses power greater than that of any nation. And He offers that power to those who find themselves suffering from physical, emotional and spiritual weakness. But He requires that we wait on Him. That means we must allow Him to operate on His time schedule, not ours. We must not allow our impatience with His seeming delays to tempt us to turn to other forms of help. The key to enjoying the benefits of God’s strength is learning to trust His timing. Notice that those described in this passage are faint, lacking in strength, weary, and exhausted. They can’t take another step. They are on their last legs. In other words, they have come to an end of their own strength. And it is at that very moment, that we tend to start looking for outside sources of strength. But will we turn to God? Will we wait on Him? Will we place all our hope in His ability to provide the very help we need? God calls out to us as He did to the people of Judah.

“…fear not, for I am with you;
    be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10 ESV

He is our help and our hope.

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

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

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

The Discipline of God.

1 An oracle concerning Egypt.

Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud
    and comes to Egypt;
and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence,
    and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them.
2 And I will stir up Egyptians against Egyptians,
    and they will fight, each against another
    and each against his neighbor,
    city against city, kingdom against kingdom;
3 and the spirit of the Egyptians within them will be emptied out,
    and I will confound their counsel;
and they will inquire of the idols and the sorcerers,
    and the mediums and the necromancers;
4 and I will give over the Egyptians
    into the hand of a hard master,
and a fierce king will rule over them,
    declares the Lord God of hosts.

5 And the waters of the sea will be dried up,
    and the river will be dry and parched,
6 and its canals will become foul,
    and the branches of Egypt’s Nile will diminish and dry up,
    reeds and rushes will rot away.
7 There will be bare places by the Nile,
    on the brink of the Nile,
and all that is sown by the Nile will be parched,
    will be driven away, and will be no more.
8 The fishermen will mourn and lament,
    all who cast a hook in the Nile;
and they will languish
    who spread nets on the water.
9 The workers in combed flax will be in despair,
    and the weavers of white cotton.
10 Those who are the pillars of the land will be crushed,
    and all who work for pay will be grieved.

11 The princes of Zoan are utterly foolish;
    the wisest counselors of Pharaoh give stupid counsel.
How can you say to Pharaoh,
    “I am a son of the wise,
    a son of ancient kings”?
12 Where then are your wise men?
    Let them tell you
    that they might know what the Lord of hosts has purposed against Egypt.
13 The princes of Zoan have become fools,
    and the princes of Memphis are deluded;
those who are the cornerstones of her tribes
    have made Egypt stagger.
14 The Lord has mingled within her a spirit of confusion,
and they will make Egypt stagger in all its deeds,
    as a drunken man staggers in his vomit.
15 And there will be nothing for Egypt
    that head or tail, palm branch or reed, may do. – Isaiah 19:1-15 ESV

Now, God turns His attention to the land of Egypt. Located in close proximity to the land of Cush, Egypt was another potential ally for Judah in their efforts to forestall God’s judgment at the hands of the Assyrians. But, as before, God makes it quite clear that neither Cush or Egypt could prevent what God had planned for Judah. The only thing that could prevent their destruction was repentance, and they showed no interest in changing their ways.

So, God lets the people of Judah know just how helpful Egypt will prove to be as an ally. This powerful nation will find itself experiencing devastating destruction on all fronts. Their economy will suffer. Their ancient way of life will be radically altered. And their once-powerful political structure will collapse.

And the first 15 verses of this oracle are bracketed by statements describing the source of their fall.

Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud
    and comes to Egypt;
and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence,
    and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them. – Isaiah 19:1 ESV

The Lord has mingled within her a spirit of confusion,
and they will make Egypt stagger in all its deeds,
    as a drunken man staggers in his vomit. – Isaiah 19:14 ESV

All that Isaiah describes in this oracle will be the direct result of God’s actions. This is a not-so-subtle reminder to Judah that they need not fear the Assyrians. They needed to fear God. He was calling them to repentance. He was demanding that they return to Him and honor Him as the one and only God. What the people of Judah needed to realize was that the Assyrians were nothing more than instruments in God’s hands. He was using them as His rod of discipline against His wayward children. But rather than accept the loving discipline of God, the people of Judah were looking for a way of escape. They were attempting to find a savior to rescue them from all that God had planned for them.

God knew their hearts, and He was well aware that they would seek a way of escape. They would turn to one of the surrounding nations to rescue them from the very discipline of God. But God wanted them to know that their efforts would prove futile and pointless. Judah’s real adversary was the Lord. And there was nothing they could do to stop His coming judgment, short of repentance. There was no nation strong enough to stay His hand.

What the people of Judah needed to know was that their seeking of salvation in someone or something other than God would prove pointless. Their only source of help and hope was God Himself. Their plans to turn to other nations for assistance was nothing less than turning away from God. They would be refusing His will as manifested in the form of His loving discipline. And yet, that is exactly what they were planning to do. And when the Assyrians eventually arrived at the gates of Jerusalem, even King Sennacherib knew their intentions.

Then the Assyrian king’s chief of staff told them to give this message to Hezekiah:

“This is what the great king of Assyria says: What are you trusting in that makes you so confident? Do you think that mere words can substitute for military skill and strength? Who are you counting on, that you have rebelled against me? On Egypt? If you lean on Egypt, it will be like a reed that splinters beneath your weight and pierces your hand. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, is completely unreliable!” – 2 Kings 18:19-21 NLT

Even this pagan king knew that Egypt would be no match for the forces of Assyria. But what King Sennacherib didn’t know was that he would prove no match for God. All of these prideful, powerful and self-inflated nations were nothing more than tools in the hands of God. He could and would do with them as He wished.

And God describes the Egyptians as devolving into a nation marred by civil war and inner turmoil. Their circumstances will leave them confused and in search of answers. So, they will “inquire of the idols and the sorcerers, and the mediums and the necromancers” (Isaiah 19:3 ESV). They will seek help from their litany of false gods, but find themselves short on answers and void of solutions. Instead, they will fall to a stronger, more powerful nation. The economy of Egypt will suffer greatly.

And in the midst of it all, the Pharaoh and his counselors will be at a loss as to why any of this is happening. God even mocks Pharaoh, telling him to ask his wise men as to the source of their misery.

Where then are your wise men?
    Let them tell you
    that they might know what the Lord of hosts has purposed against Egypt. – Isaiah 19:12 ESV

All that is described in these verses is the handiwork of God. And He wants His people to understand that their propensity to turn to a nation like Egypt for help and hope will prove futile. God is going to do what He has planned to do, and there is nothing anyone can do about it, including Egypt. Judah can make all the alliances it wants, but there is no nation strong enough to thwart the will of God. And He makes that point painfully clear.

And there will be nothing for Egypt
    that head or tail, palm branch or reed, may do. – Isaiah 19:15 ESV

Whenever the people of God reject Him and place their hope and trust in the things of this world, they will find themselves highly disappointed with the outcome of their strategy. In the case of Judah, they were considering Egypt as a source of rescue. But what they were failing to understand was that the very thing they were trying to escape was the sovereign will of God for them. God’s coming judgment was not intended to be merely punitive, but restorative in nature. He was going to break them so that He might heal them. He was going to chastise them, but only because He loved them.

For the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child. – Hebrews 12:6 NLT

Long before the author of Hebrews penned those words, Moses shared a similar sentiment with the people of Israel as they prepared to enter the promised land.

Think about it: Just as a parent disciplines a child, the LORD your God disciplines you for your own good. – Deuteronomy 8:5 NLT

No one likes discipline, even when done in love. In fact, we do everything we can to avoid or escape it. But, as followers of God, we must understand that His discipline is always intended for our good and fully backed by His love. The people of Judah needed to open their eyes and see that their rejection of God was the source of all their problems. Their failure to honor God had brought upon them the loving discipline of God. And, while not enjoyable in the moment, God’s discipline always proves profitable, resulting in our holiness. And the author of Hebrews puts the benefits of God’s loving discipline in terms we can understand and must wholeheartedly believe.   

“My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.”

As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at allSince we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever?

For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. – Hebrews 12:5-11 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

No Match For God.

1 An oracle concerning Moab.

Because Ar of Moab is laid waste in a night,
    Moab is undone;
because Kir of Moab is laid waste in a night,
    Moab is undone.
2 He has gone up to the temple, and to Dibon,
    to the high places to weep;
over Nebo and over Medeba
    Moab wails.
On every head is baldness;
    every beard is shorn;
3 in the streets they wear sackcloth;
    on the housetops and in the squares
    everyone wails and melts in tears.
4 Heshbon and Elealeh cry out;
    their voice is heard as far as Jahaz;
therefore the armed men of Moab cry aloud;
    his soul trembles.
5 My heart cries out for Moab;
    her fugitives flee to Zoar,
    to Eglath-shelishiyah.
For at the ascent of Luhith
    they go up weeping;
on the road to Horonaim
    they raise a cry of destruction;
6 the waters of Nimrim
    are a desolation;
the grass is withered, the vegetation fails,
    the greenery is no more.
7 Therefore the abundance they have gained
    and what they have laid up
they carry away
    over the Brook of the Willows.
8 For a cry has gone
    around the land of Moab;
her wailing reaches to Eglaim;
    her wailing reaches to Beer-elim.
9 For the waters of Dibon are full of blood;
    for I will bring upon Dibon even more,
a lion for those of Moab who escape,
    for the remnant of the land. – Isaiah 15:1-9 ESV

Now, God turns His attention to the land of Moab. Slowly and systematically, God is addressing all the people groups that have had anything to do with Israel and Judah. In the first two oracles, He dealt with Assyrian and Philistia, two nations located outside the borders of Canaan, that would both pose a threat to the people of God. The Moabites, while a relatively small nation, and one that had proven to be particularly hostile to the people of God, would hear from God as well. Located to the east of the Dead Sea, the Moabites were the descendants of Moab, the son born to Lot and his oldest daughter. This incestuous relationship is recorded in the book of Genesis and took place immediately after Lot and his family had been rescued from Sodom just before the city’s destruction by God.

When the people of Israel had begun their conquest of the land promised to them by God, the Moabites had become concerned over their sheer numbers and their relatively easy defeat of the neighboring Ammorites.

And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. And Moab was in great dread of the people, because they were many. Moab was overcome with fear of the people of Israel. – Numbers 22:2-3 ESV

King Balak ended up sending for a well-known diviner named Balaam, whom he offered a fee if he would curse the Israelites.

“Behold, a people has come out of Egypt. They cover the face of the earth, and they are dwelling opposite me. Come now, curse this people for me, since they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land, for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.” – Numbers 22:5-6 ESV

But God would not allow Balaam to do as the king had requested. He was prevented from cursing Israel. So, instead, he came up with an alternative and ingenuous plan to defeat the people of God. He recommended to King Balak that the Moabite women entice the Israelite men into having immoral relationships with them. And his plan worked.

While the Israelites were camped at Acacia Grove, some of the men defiled themselves by having sexual relations with local Moabite women. These women invited them to attend sacrifices to their gods, so the Israelites feasted with them and worshiped the gods of Moab. In this way, Israel joined in the worship of Baal of Peor, causing the Lord’s anger to blaze against his people. – Numbers 25:1-3 NLT

God ended up sending a plague on the people of Israel, resulting in 24,000 deaths. But this oracle makes it clear that God would deal with the Moabites as well. Their role in Israel’s moral and spiritual adultery would be avenged. And the prophet, Zephaniah, reiterates God’s plans for the people of Moab.

“Now, as surely as I live,”
    says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel,
“Moab and Ammon will be destroyed—
    destroyed as completely as Sodom and Gomorrah.
Their land will become a place of stinging nettles,
    salt pits, and eternal desolation.
The remnant of my people will plunder them
    and take their land.” – Zephaniah 2:9 NLT

Isaiah warns of Moab’s pending fall. Its two main cities, Ar and Kir, would end up destroyed, “laid waste in a night.” In other words, their destruction would be quick and complete. Isaiah pictures the people weeping in Dibon, where the temple to Chemosh, the Moabite god was located. But rather than praying to their false god for aid, they are shown crying over the fall of their cities. Chemosh has proven ineffectual and impotent against God Almighty.

As a sign of mourning, everyone has shaved their heads and beards. They are wearing sackcloth and crying out in sorrow over their great loss. Even the soldiers join in the dirge over the loss of their cities, lands, and people. It is a scene of abject destruction and unrelenting sorrow.

It is impossible to know exactly when this prophecy was fulfilled. Some believe it took place in 718 BC when Sargon and the Assyrians moved across the land. Others have speculated that the fall of Moab happened under Tiglath-pilesar 732 BC or even Sennacherib in 701 BC. But the important point is that Moab did fall, just as God said that it would. 

One of the important things to remember is that this oracle, like all the others, was aimed at the people of Judah. It was intended to remind them that their God was in complete control. The nations of the earth were under His divine authority, including Assyrian, Philistia, and Moab. They had no reason to fear these nations unless they failed to fear God – which they had. They had no business putting their trust in these nations, rather than trusting God – but they had. The sins of Judah were many. They were guilty of idolatry and immorality. They had placed their hope and trust in false gods and pagan nations. When warned of God’s pending judgment, rather than repent, they had sought aid from others. Faced with news of the coming wrath of God, they always seemed to have one more trick up their sleeve, an alternative source of rescue. 

But God wanted them to know that everyone, from the powerful Assyrians and Babylonians to the relatively helpless Moabites, would prove to be no match for Him. And God makes it clear that, even after all the mourning and weeping in Moab, He will not yet be done.

“I will bring upon Dibon even more…” – Isaiah 15:9 ESV

Dibon, the home of the Moabite’s false god, Chemosh, would experience additional destruction. The gods of the nations would prove no match for God Almighty. The armies of the pagan nations would be powerless in the face of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. And all of this was meant to remind the people of Judah of the greatness of their God.

The following proverb reminds us that the fear of man is dangerous because it illustrates our lack of faith in God.

Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but trusting the LORD means safety. – Proverbs 29:25 NLT

And Jesus Himself provided a much-needed reminder of our need to trust God rather than fearing man

“Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” – Matthew 10:28 NLT

Judah had lost its fear of God. In the face of all the turmoil surrounding them, the people of God had taken their eyes off of Him and had started trusting in human kings and man-made gods to protect them. But as God has made perfectly clear, there is no one or nothing that can provide protection from His judgment. Human kings fail. Mighty nations fall. And man-made idols prove to be false forms of salvation.

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

A Stone of Witness.

14 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, 17 for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. 18 And the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

19 But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.” 21 And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the Lord.” 22 Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” 23 He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel.” 24 And the people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.” 25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and put in place statutes and rules for them at Shechem. 26 And Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone and set it up there under the terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the Lord. 27 And Joshua said to all the people, “Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the Lord that he spoke to us. Therefore it shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God.” 28 So Joshua sent the people away, every man to his inheritance. Joshua 24:14-28 ESV

Joshua was nearing the end of his life and, therefore, the end of his tenure as Israel’s spiritual leader. He had enjoyed a long and successful career after having assumed the mantel of leadership from Moses. During his rule, the people had finally crossed over the Jordan River and entered the land of promise. He had led them in their very first victory over the inhabitants of the land as they destroyed the city of Jericho. And he had followed God’s lead and dealt with the sin of Achan that had prevented the people from defeating the much-smaller city of Ai. In battle after battle, Joshua had been there, leading the way and fighting alongside the people of God. He had overseen the apportioning of the land between the 12 tribes, ensuring that each of the tribes received their fair share of the inheritance promised by God to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And all along the way, he had repeatedly reminded the people of their need to remain faithful to God. God demanded obedience and had forbidden them to intermarry with the inhabitants of the land. Why? Because He knew that they would end up worshiping their false gods. And there were plenty of false gods in abundance among the nations living in the land of promise.

So, as Joshua neared the end of his life, he felt compelled to provide his people with one last challenge. He calls them to “fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness” (Joshua 24:14 ESV). He used two very important Hebrew words to describe the character of their service to God: tamiym and 'emeth. The first word has to do with the idea of wholeness or entirety. It is translated as “integrity” in this passage, but might be better understood as “wholeheartedness.” It carries the idea of bringing the entirety of your being to the matter – no compartmentalization. In other words, Joshua was calling the people to serve God with a “whole” heart. No hidden affections for other gods. No undisclosed love affairs with the things of this world. Jesus would one day put this concept into words that we can readily and easily understand.

37 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment.” – Matthew 22:37-38 NLT

The prophet Jeremiah would later record the words of God, calling His people to this idea of tamiym.

13 “When you seek me in prayer and worship, you will find me available to you. If you seek me with all your heart and soul, 14 I will make myself available to you,’ says the Lord.” – Jeremiah 29:13-14 NLT

But along with wholeheartedness, Joshua emphasized their need for 'emeth. This Hebrew word has to do with “truth” or, better yet, “faithfulness.” It carries the idea of stability or continuity of character. It is faithfulness displayed over the long-haul. Joshua was calling the people to a long-term, unending commitment of their entire lives to God. This was to include every area of their lives for the entire length of their lives – both as individuals and as the corporate community of God.

And we should not miss the significance of Joshua’s next challenge to the people of Israel:

“Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.” – Joshua 24:14 ESV

Their life-long commitment to wholeness of heart and holiness of character was going to have to start with a turning away from the false gods of Egypt to which they were still clinging. Even after all that God had done for them, there were those within the community of Israel who were holding on to their false gods. And Joshua was demanding that they let them go – once and for all. It is impossible to be wholehearted in your love for God if you have a heart that is divided in its affections. Joshua knew that the divided allegiance produced by the presence of false gods would ultimately lead the people away from the one true God. They would become half-hearted in their love and short-term in their commitment to Him.

And Joshua placed himself as a model of spiritual integrity and truth, claiming his allegiance to God.

“…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” – Joshua 24:15 ESV

He was verbally committing himself and his family to serve God alone. He was placing a stake in the ground and declaring his unwavering, undivided allegiance to God. And the people responded with enthusiastic agreement, shouting, “we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God” (Joshua 24:18 ESV). Good answer. Right answer. But was it a truthful answer? Did they really mean what they were saying or were they simply responding based on the excitement of the moment? Only time would tell.

And Joshua seems to have had his doubts about not only the sincerity of their answer, but also the potentiality of their follow-through. He boldly predicted, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins” (Joshua 24:19 ESV). Joshua seemed to have realized that the people were making their commitment to serve God with their whole hearts throughout their whole lives, in ignorance. They failed to recognize their own insufficiency to pull this off. Joshua was simply reminding them that what God was calling them to do was impossible – on their own. They would not be able to pull it off on their own strength, any more than they could have conquered the land of Canaan without God’s help. They were completely dependent upon God for everything, including the capacity to remain faithful and true to Him.

Joshua warned them that if they failed to keep their commitment to God, they would find themselves on the receiving end of His wrath and judgment. The God who had done so much to bless and prosper them would turn against them. But, once again, the people responded unanimously and enthusiastically, “No, but we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:21 ESV).

Then Joshua makes an interesting and highly revealing statement to the people of Israel:

“Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel.” – Joshua 24:23 ESV

It’s as if Joshua was challenging their commitment. He was demanding that they prove their enthusiastic verbal commitment with a realistic display of action. Words would not be enough. God would not tolerate lip-service. He wanted wholehearted devotion. God would later accuse the people of Israel of the very thing Joshua feared.

"These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

And it’s interesting to note that the response of the people was another verbal expression of commitment, but without any form of visible action. They simply stated, “The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey” (Joshua 24:24 ESV). Again, the right answer was given, but it was lacking any tangible evidence of sincerity. So, Joshua took their verbal commitment and gave it a visual expression. He set up a stone, a witness stone, that would be a constant, timeless reminder of the commitment they had made to God that day. The stone would serve several purposes. First, it would act as a memorial commemorating the day they had renewed their covenant commitment to God. On the very same spot where Abraham had first built an altar to God after having arrived in the land of Canaan, they were setting up a stone to remind them of their expressed faith to God. But the stone would also serve as a witness against them, silently testifying of their unanimous commitment to serve God alone. Joshua made this point perfectly clear.

“Therefore it shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God.” – Joshua 24:27 ESV

And the chapter ends with each of the tribes returning to their respective inheritance. They had made a verbal commitment to God. They had solemnly sworn to rid themselves of their false gods and to serve the Lord alone. They had made it to the land of promise. They had conquered many of the inhabitants of the land and were enjoying the fruit of their labors and the results of God’s blessings. God had been faithful to them. He had kept His covenant commitments to them. But would they remain true to their word? Would they serve Him alone? Would their lives be marked by wholehearted love and devotion over the whole length of their days? Only time would tell. 

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

Time & Eternity.

1 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

9 What gain has the worker from his toil? 10 I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man.

14 I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. 15 That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away. Ecclesiastes 3:1-156 ESV

In just eight short verses, Solomon uses a single word 29 times, and that word is “time.” He uses the Hebrew word, ’eth. In 257 out of the nearly 300 instances that Hebrew word is found in the King James Bible, it is translated as “time.” And it seems that Solomon is using this particular word to drive home a contrast between life as we know it on this temporal plane as we know it, and the timeless dimension of eternity. Solomon’s dilemma, like every other human being who has ever lived, is that he is restricted in his ability to discern anything beyond what he can see. He makes the very astute observation that God “has put eternity into man’s heart.” In other words, we have an innate awareness that there is something beyond this life, but we can’t perceive it. In other words, as Solomon puts it, man “cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” The New Living Translation puts it this way: “people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” We are temporal creatures, living our temporary lives on this earth, hamstrung by our limited human senses and incapable of seeing what lies beyond the day of our last breath.

It is important that we keep in mind that Solomon, writing this book sometime near the end of his life, has veered from the course established for him by God. He has surrounded himself with wealth, women, possessions, and pleasures of all kinds. He has set up idols to false gods all over the kingdom, and allowed himself to be distracted from his faithfulness to the one true God. His ability to see things from a godly perspective have been harmed and hindered by his love affair with material things, worldly pleasures, and man-made replacements for God. His world view has become influenced by the secular rather than the sacred. So, 29 times he speaks of life in terms of time. And he does so by providing 14 stark contrasts that portray life as seen from his limited human perspective. Life lived on this earthly plane and viewed from a human perspective is nothing more than a series of polar extremes. The hope joy of birth is contrasted with the sadness and seeming finality of death. Planting culminates with harvesting, and you begin the cycle again. Killing is an inevitable reality in life, and starkly at odds with the need for healing. There are times when tearing down follows a season of building up. Why? Because nothing in this life truly lasts. Weeping and laughter, as disparate and dissimilar as they are, share this strange coexistence, equally impacting the lives of men for good or bad. These various actions are relegated to time. They are aspects of human existence that, without a God-focused perspective, create a dissonance in the heart of man that can’t be understand or explained. They present, in just another form, the cyclical, repetitive and meaningless nature of life lived devoid of an eternal perspective. 

Solomon acknowledges that God “has made everything beautiful in its time.” There are those moments in life when we can enjoy the birth of a baby, the joy of laughter and dancing, the blessings of the harvest, the experience of loving and being loved, and the presence of peace in our lives and world. But that doesn’t keep him from asking the question: “What gain has the worker from his toil?” In other words, what benefit does a man enjoy from all the effort and energy he puts into his life? Whether he likes it or not, there will come a time when he has to replace the harvest he reaped by sowing again. He may one day be forced to watch the death of the child whose birth he witnessed. He will experience the pain that comes when love turns to hate and gain turns to loss. And Solomon describes it as “the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with” (Ecclesiastes 3:10 ESV). So, according to Solomon and based on his secular-influenced viewpoint, the best outcome human beings can hope for is “to be joyful and to do good as long as they live” (Ecclesiastes 3:12 ESV). As far as Solomon can tell, the most logical response, in light of the inevitability and futility of life, is that “everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil.” Why? Because “this is God's gift to man.” What Solomon really seems to be saying is that if anyone can experience any semblance of joy and pleasure in the midst of all the meaninglessness of life, they should consider it a gift from God, and enjoy it while they can.

And Solomon reveals the pessimistic nature of his worldview by stating, “whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him” (Ecclesiastes 3:14 ESV). While this speaks of God’s sovereignty and providential control over all things, Solomon seems to be saying it with less than a positive point of view. He doesn’t exude an spirit of peace and solace with this statement, but a sort of hopeless resignation. He further qualifies his view by saying, “That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away” (Ecclesiastes 3:15 ESV). There’s yet another reference to to the cyclical, repetitive, and futile essence of life lived under the sun. No sense of eternity. No expression of hope in what is to come. It is almost as if Solomon is painting God as some kind of cosmic puppet master in the sky who toys with man, determining his destiny, and relegating him to a hopeless existence featuring equal parts of toil and trouble mixed with joy and pleasure.

But Solomon had a warped perspective. He had lost his ability to see life through the lens of God’s love and faithfulness. His abandonment of the eternal God had left him with nothing but a temporal view of life. He had become blinded to the sovereign will of God that is always accompanied by the loving mercy of God. His sense of purposelessness was the direct byproduct of his lack of faithfulness. God was not the one who had changed. God was not the one who had moved. Solomon’s loss of hope was due to his loss of trust in God.

 

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

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

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

Worthless Things.

8 Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, 10 said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking. 11 And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. 14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, 15 “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” 18 Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them. Acts 14:8-18 ESV

After having to leave Iconium due to the Jews stirring up a mob against them, Paul and Barnabas made their way to Lystra, another Roman colony about 20 miles or a day’s journey away. Upon their arrival in Lystra, Paul and Barnabas have another one of those “chance” encounters that were becoming an everyday part of their lives. They were speaking somewhere in Lystra to a crowd that had gathered. There is no mention of them attending the synagogue, as had become their custom. So, it may be that there were not enough Jews in Lystra to warrant a synagogue. But, as usual, Paul and Barnabas had no problem attracting attention to themselves. They simply began to speak to any who would listen. And, in the crowd that day, there happened to be a man who had been lame since birth.

Luke makes note of the fact that the man was listening to what Paul was saying, and that Paul, spotting the man in the crowd, could tell that the man “had faith to be made well” (Acts 14:9 ESV). Luke provides no insight into how Paul knew this. Most likely, Paul was given a kind of spiritual intuition from the Holy Spirit. He was somehow able to see into the man’s heart and perceive in his eyes that this man had faith that God could heal him. He believed. We are not told what Paul said to the crowd, but whatever it was, it produced in this man a believing faith that the God of whom Paul spoke was powerful enough to restore the use of his limbs. Now, it is important that we consider not only this event is included by Luke, but why this man was in the crowd. By this time in the story, we should be recognizing that nothing that is taking place is happenstance or the result of fate. This man’s presence in the crowd was according to the sovereign will of God. The very fact that Paul made eye-contact with this man had not left to chance. God had been the one to orchestrate the entire situation. Either God had directed Paul and Barnabas to the very spot where this man was sitting, or this man was able to find help in being carried to where the two men were speaking. God had preordained that this encounter would take place. But why? Because Paul and Barnabas were now entering the frontier, the furthest edges of the world as they knew it. They were in uncharted territory, speaking to people who were primarily Gentiles and who had no knowledge of Jesus at all. They most likely had heard nothing about the events that had taken place in Jerusalem back during the Feast of Pentecost. These two men, Paul and Barnabas, were strangers to them and, their message about Jesus as the Messiah and Savior, would have been alien and foreign to them. So, God arranged for a way to validate the message of His two messengers. They had been given sign gifts, just as Peter and the other apostles had received. These gifts allowed them to perform signs and miracles, providing their message with credibility and their claim to be speaking for God with visible, tangible proof. This man’s presence was going to prove critical. You can almost sense the building sense of anticipation that precede Luke’s description of what happened next. Luke records that Paul, speaking in a very loud voice, cried out, “Stand upright on your feet.” The crowd had no idea what was about to happen, but we do. We have seen this kind of thing happen before. All the way back in chapter three, we have the story of Peter saying to the blind beggar, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” (Acts 3:6 ESV). And the man did, leaving the crowds looking on in wonder and amazement. That had happened all the way back in Jerusalem. Now, we find Paul and Barnabas hundreds of miles away, ministering in a far-flung Roman colony, filled with pagans who knew nothing of Yahweh, had no idea who Jesus or any reason to believe that what these two men had to say was true. And that was where the lame man came in.

His healing by God will validate Paul and Barnabas’ claims to be speaking for God. And not only that, it will go a long way in establishing Paul as a co-equal with Peter, the recognized spiritual leader of the church at that time. Paul had been a late-comer to the party. He had not been one of the original 12 disciples, but had come to faith in Jesus long after Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, having had a one-on-one encounter with the risen Christ along the road to Damascus. For the rest of his life, Paul would battle with those who would try to question the validity of his apostleship. They would continually attempt to paint him as a charlatan, questioning his authority and raising doubts regarding his teaching. But here on this occasion, God sovereignly reveals Paul’s impeccable credentials as one of His messengers by providing Paul with the very same powers Peter possessed.

And to say that Paul’s actions got the attention of the crowd would be an understatement. Luke writes that the people cried out, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” (Acts 14:11 ESV). They knew no better than to attribute what they had just seen to the work of gods – the gods with which they were familiar. They called Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes. The Greeks had a pantheon of gods they worshiped, so we can only speculate why they happened to choose these two particular gods as being the ones standing before them. But whatever their reasoning, these people were strong enough in their convictions that they were dealing with deities, that the priest of the local temple, dedicated to Zeus, showed up with oxen and garlands to make a sacrifice. We are left to imagine what this seen must have looked like. Try and picture the confusion and chaos going on as these people shouted out their praises to Paul and Barnabas, bowing in reverence before them. And just imagine what was going through the minds of these two men as they found themselves the mistaken, but unmistakable focus of the crowd’s worship.

We do know that Paul and Barnabas were appalled at what they witnessed, because Luke tells us they tore their clothes in a outward display of grief and remorse. They wanted no part of what was going on. And Paul spoke up, saying, “Friends, why are you doing this? We are merely human beings—just like you! We have come to bring you the Good News that you should turn from these worthless things and turn to the living God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them” (Acts 14:15 NLT). What Paul said here was dangerous and risky. He was blatantly denying any claim to deity. But more than that, he was attacking their worship of false gods. When he mentions “worthless things”, he was speaking of Zeus and Hermes. He compared them to the living God, the one true Creator of heaven and earth. Paul was treading on very thin ice here. He was surrounded by a crowd of very passionate devotees to the Greek gods. They were excited and convinced that their deities had come to visit them. And Paul was not only shattering any notion that Zeus and Hermes had come to earth, he was describing two of their most revered gods as nothing more than worthless things.

And Paul made it perfectly clear that it was Yahweh, the God of the Jews, who was the source of any and all things they enjoyed in life, not the Greek gods. It was He who  provided them with food, crops, rain and joyful hearts. This would have been unexpected and unwanted news to the people of Lystra. It would have been seen as a case of slander and blasphemy, treating their gods with disdain and disrespect. But, surprisingly, instead of infuriating the crowd, the words of Paul and Barnabas seemed to have the opposite effect. The people tried to worship them all the more.

What we seem to have here is a clear example of the spiritual hunger of lost mankind. These people were spiritually starving to death. They had plenty of gods, but no real proof that their gods actually existed. Like all false gods, theirs were distant and disconnected from everyday life. They never really knew if their gods were engaged with or even interested in their daily lives. Which might explain why they were so excited when they thought that Paul and Barnabas were gods come to earth. They greatly desired an intimate relationship with their gods, but to date, their experience had been the same as every other people group who has set its desires and affections on “worthless things.” Years later, Paul would write to believers living in nearby Galatia, reminding them of their former love affair with false gods: “you were slaves to so-called gods that do not even exist” (Galatians 4:8 NLT). The people in the crowd that day had no idea that their gods were false. They were blind to the fact that their gods were helpless and hopeless to assist them. Their gods could not save or protect them. In fact, the psalmist eloquently and unapologetically described the true nature of false gods when he wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Incomparable God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How foolish are those who manufacture idols.
    These prized objects are really worthless.
The people who worship idols don’t know this,
    so they are all put to shame.
Who but a fool would make his own god—
    an idol that cannot help him one bit? – Isaiah 44:9-10 NLT

And he’s not done.

The blacksmith stands at his forge to make a sharp tool,
    pounding and shaping it with all his might.
His work makes him hungry and weak.
    It makes him thirsty and faint.
Then the wood-carver measures a block of wood
    and draws a pattern on it.
He works with chisel and plane
    and carves it into a human figure.
He gives it human beauty
    and puts it in a little shrine.
He cuts down cedars;
    he selects the cypress and the oak;
he plants the pine in the forest
    to be nourished by the rain.
Then he uses part of the wood to make a fire.
    With it he warms himself and bakes his bread.
Then—yes, it’s true—he takes the rest of it
    and makes himself a god to worship! – Isaiah 44:12-15 NLT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Message (MSG)

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

When God Is Not Enough.

The word of the Lord came to me: “You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place. For thus says the Lord concerning the sons and daughters who are born in this place, and concerning the mothers who bore them and the fathers who fathered them in this land: They shall die of deadly diseases. They shall not be lamented, nor shall they be buried. They shall be as dung on the surface of the ground. They shall perish by the sword and by famine, and their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and for the beasts of the earth.

“For thus says the Lord: Do not enter the house of mourning, or go to lament or grieve for them, for I have taken away my peace from this people, my steadfast love and mercy, declares the Lord. Both great and small shall die in this land. They shall not be buried, and no one shall lament for them or cut himself or make himself bald for them. No one shall break bread for the mourner, to comfort him for the dead, nor shall anyone give him the cup of consolation to drink for his father or his mother. You shall not go into the house of feasting to sit with them, to eat and drink. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will silence in this place, before your eyes and in your days, the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride.

“And when you tell this people all these words, and they say to you, ‘Why has the Lord pronounced all this great evil against us? What is our iniquity? What is the sin that we have committed against the Lord our God?’ then you shall say to them: ‘Because your fathers have forsaken me, declares the Lord, and have gone after other gods and have served and worshiped them, and have forsaken me and have not kept my law, and because you have done worse than your fathers, for behold, every one of you follows his stubborn, evil will, refusing to listen to me. Therefore I will hurl you out of this land into a land that neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor.’” – Jeremiah 16:1-13 ESV

Perhaps God was only sparing Jeremiah the potential pain of watching his family suffer and die before his eyes. Or it could be that God’s prohibiting of Jeremiah from getting married and having children had a more symbolic meaning behind it. As a bachelor living in Judah, Jeremiah would be an oddity. In that culture it was seen as a shame and a curse to be an able-bodied man of marrying age and still be unattached. Jeremiah would have stood out like a sore thumb and his singleness would have given the people of Judah one more reason to ridicule him. But it could be that God, who was the one who came up with the idea of marriage in the first place, was going to use Jeremiah as a living example of the end of His relationship with Judah. They would be as good as divorced from Yahweh, having to learn to live without Him. And as a single man, Jeremiah would never know the joy of having and raising children – as God would be giving up His own children to devastation and destruction. There is no doubt that marrying and raising a family with the coming invasion by the Babylonians looming over their heads would have been difficult. It was a less-than-ideal environment. And God makes it painfully clear that all those with families would suffer terribly as a result of the nation’s sin.

“They will die from terrible diseases. No one will mourn for them or bury them, and they will lie scattered on the ground like manure. They will die from war and famine, and their bodies will be food for the vultures and wild animals.” – Jeremiah 16:4 NLT

So, God was graciously sparing Jeremiah from having to endure the pain and suffering that the rest of the nation would have to experience. But he would have to stand by and watch his fellow Judahites die, and God refused to allow him to attend their funerals or mourn on their behalf. Once again, this would make Jeremiah a pariah among his own people. To refuse to mourn over the death of someone was unacceptable behavior. But as God’s representative and spokesperson, Jeremiah’s actions were to be a reminder to the people of Judah that God was removing His compassion from them.

“I have removed my protection and peace from them. I have taken away my unfailing love and my mercy.” – Jeremiah 16:5 NLT

And in a real way, God was simply giving the people of Judah what they wanted: Distance from Him. Their unfaithfulness to Him illustrated by their pursuit of false gods was evidence of their lack of love for Him. They had put their hope and trust in other gods. Yahweh was not enough for them. So, God was going to let them experience life without Him. He even warns them:

“Therefore I will hurl you out of this land into a land that neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor.” – Jeremiah 16:13 NLT

There were going to get their fill of false gods. And they would no longer have Yahweh as a backup. These people who had made a habit of idolatry were going to be immersed in the worship of false gods. It would be all they had turn to. The temple would be gone. Their sacrificial system would be non-existent, leaving them with no means by which to receive atonement for their sins. And they would find themselves enslaved to the very gods they worshiped instead of Yahweh.

And God reveals a significant insight into just how idolatrous the people of Judah had become. When He refuses to allow Jeremiah to mourn on their behalf, He states, “Both the great and the lowly will die in this land. No one will bury them or mourn for them. Their friends will not cut themselves in sorrow or shave their heads in sadness” (Jeremiah 16:6 NLT). That last line is a reference to the pagan practices associated with their false gods. Idolatry had permeated every aspect of their lives, even their mourning over the death of a loved one. God had been pushed to the margins and treated as unnecessary. So, God was going to let them see what life was like without Him altogether.

And God knew the people of Judah well. He was well aware that when they heard what He was going to do to them, they would respond with incredulity and disbelief, asking, “Why has the Lord decreed such terrible things against us? What have we done to deserve such treatment? What is our sin against the Lord our God?” (Jeremiah 16:10 NLT). It is amazing to think that they would be so disconnected from reality that they would not know the cause of their suffering, but sometimes our sin blinds us. When we choose to live in darkness, we lose the ability to see the true nature of our condition. Jesus spoke of this very problem when He said, “God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants” (John 3:19-21 NLT). The people of Judah had become accustomed to the dark and could no longer see that their sins against God were the cause of their punishment by God. But He would make it perfectly clear why they were going to undergo such devastating destruction.

“It is because your ancestors were unfaithful to me. They worshiped other gods and served them. They abandoned me and did not obey my word. And you are even worse than your ancestors! You stubbornly follow your own evil desires and refuse to listen to me.” – Jeremiah 16:11-12 NLT

This was not something new. The sins of Judah went back generations. Since the day God had rescued them from captivity in Egypt, the people of Israel had shown their propensity to worship other gods. In fact, when they were living in Egypt, they had forsaken Yahweh for the gods of Egypt. That is why God spent so much time revealing His power to them. Over and over again in the Exodus story, God told the people of Israel that He was going to rescue them and prove to them that He was their one and only God.

“I am the Lord. I will free you from your oppression and will rescue you from your slavery in Egypt. I will redeem you with a powerful arm and great acts of judgment. I will claim you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God who has freed you from your oppression in Egypt. I will bring you into the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I will give it to you as your very own possession. I am the Lord!” – Exodus 6:6-8 NLT

And while God had proven time and time again, that He was the one true God, the people of Israel had continued to seek after false gods. In spite of His love, mercy, grace, provision and protection, they had made a habit of turning their backs on God. So, now He would turn them over to their own desires. As Paul so aptly describes in his letter to the Romans:

So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! – Romans 1:24-25 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

Breathless and Worthless.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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