idols

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

Turn and Be Saved

14 Thus says the Lord:
“The wealth of Egypt and the merchandise of Cush,
    and the Sabeans, men of stature,
shall come over to you and be yours;
    they shall follow you;
    they shall come over in chains and bow down to you.
They will plead with you, saying:
    ‘Surely God is in you, and there is no other,
    no god besides him.’”

15 Truly, you are a God who hides himself,
    O God of Israel, the Savior.
16 All of them are put to shame and confounded;
    the makers of idols go in confusion together.
17 But Israel is saved by the Lord
    with everlasting salvation;
you shall not be put to shame or confounded
    to all eternity.

18 For thus says the Lord,
who created the heavens
    (he is God!),
who formed the earth and made it
    (he established it;
he did not create it empty,
    he formed it to be inhabited!):
“I am the Lord, and there is no other.
19 I did not speak in secret,
    in a land of darkness;
I did not say to the offspring of Jacob,
    ‘Seek me in vain.’
I the Lord speak the truth;
    I declare what is right.

20 “Assemble yourselves and come;
    draw near together,
    you survivors of the nations!
They have no knowledge
    who carry about their wooden idols,
and keep on praying to a god
    that cannot save.
21 Declare and present your case;
    let them take counsel together!
Who told this long ago?
    Who declared it of old?
Was it not I, the Lord?
    And there is no other god besides me,
a righteous God and a Savior;
    there is none besides me.

22 “Turn to me and be saved,
    all the ends of the earth!
    For I am God, and there is no other.
23 By myself I have sworn;
    from my mouth has gone out in righteousness
    a word that shall not return:
‘To me every knee shall bow,
    every tongue shall swear allegiance.’

24 “Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me,
    are righteousness and strength;
to him shall come and be ashamed
    all who were incensed against him.
25 In the Lord all the offspring of Israel
    shall be justified and shall glory.” – Isaiah 45:14-25 ESV

In verse 13, God makes it clear that Cyrus was going to obey His command to allow the people of Judah to return to their land, and without any incentive attached to his actions.

“…he shall build my city
    and set my exiles free,
not for price or reward,”
    says the Lord of hosts.” – Isaiah 45:13 ESV

He would do it simply because God had ordained it. There was nothing in it for him. He would receive nothing for his efforts. In fact, Cyrus would end up giving more than he would get. The book of Ezra tells us that he “brought out the vessels of the house of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods” (Ezra 1:7 ESV). He returned these items of plunder to the Jews. And the Jews would walk away with great wealth because of the decree of Cyrus.

“And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.” – Ezra 1:4 ESV

The returning remnant would walk out of Babylon carrying greta quantities of gold, silver, goods, and livestock. But Cyrus would receive nothing for his actions.

And yet, God tells the people of Judah, living in the days of Isaiah, that things will be quite different for their ancestors who are part of the remnant that returns.

“The wealth of Egypt and the merchandise of Cush,
    and the Sabeans, men of stature,
shall come over to you and be yours;
    they shall follow you;
    they shall come over in chains and bow down to you.” – Isaiah 45:14 ESV

What a stark difference. Cyrus, who would obey the will of God, will receive nothing. But the rebellious people of Judah, who were sent into exile because of their disobedience, will receive the wealth of Egypt and the merchandise of Cush. It makes no sense. It even seems a bit unfair. Which brings up the point God made in verse 9.

“Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying,
    ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’” – Isaiah 45:9 NLT

This is why it makes no sense to argue with God and to dispute His ways. He does what He deems best. He acts in ways that make no sense. The people of Judah to whom Isaiah was prophesying could not understand why God was going to allow the Babylonians to defeat them and take them captive. And they were prone to dispute and disagree with His methods. But God was letting them know that His ways, while difficult to understand, were always for the best. He was providing them with a glimpse into the future and showing them that this nightmare had a happy ending to it. And if they would only trust Him, they would learn that they had no reason to doubt Him.

The people of Judah deserved no reward. They didn’t even merit their restoration to the land of promise. In the 70 years they would be exiled in Babylon, they would do nothing to earn God’s favor or merit their return to Jerusalem. And yet, God was revealing that they would return and with great wealth. And the Gentile nations that witnessed this God-ordained event would recognize the hand of God in it and respond, “Surely God is in you, and there is no other, no god besides him” (Isaiah 45:14 ESV).

At this point, we have to determine whether the details described in this prophecy have already been fulfilled. We know from the biblical record that the Babylonians eventually defeated Jerusalem and took the people of Judah captive. We also know that 70 years later, King Cyrus issued the decree that make possible their return to the land of promise. And it is a proven fact that the city of Jerusalem and the temple were rebuilt. But when those things happened, did the Egyptians, Ethiopian, and Sabeans follow the people of Judah in chains and bow down before them? Did the Jews find their return to the land accompanied by Gentile subjection and the worship of Yahweh? The book of Nehemiah provides us with an answer to that question:

When Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the people of Ashdod heard that the restoration of the walls of Jerusalem had moved ahead and that the breaches had begun to be closed, they were very angry. All of them conspired together to move with armed forces against Jerusalem and to create a disturbance in it. – Nehemiah 4:7-8 NLT

The Jews were opposed in their efforts to rebuild the city. They were surrounded by enemies who did everything in their power to derail their efforts. And to this day, Israel finds itself facing intense opposition to its presence in the land. So, it would seem that the content of this prophecy remains as yet, unfulfilled.

But the point of this passage is the sovereign work of God and His ongoing role as the Savior of Israel. And the emphasis is on His eternal relationship with His covenant people.

Israel is saved by the Lord
    with everlasting salvation;
you shall not be put to shame or confounded
    to all eternity. – Isaiah 45:17 ESV

While the people of Judah were having a hard time seeing past the news that they were going to fall to the Babylonians, God was focusing on the larger, long-term plan for their well-being. When God created the world, He did so with an eternal strategy in mind. It was never intended to be devoid of human life and filled with confusion.

For the Lord is God,
    and he created the heavens and earth
    and put everything in place.
He made the world to be lived in,
    not to be a place of empty chaos. – Isaiah 45:18 NLT

God did not make an empty world, but one that was meant to be occupied. And He did not tell the people of Israel to seek Him and then hide Himself from them. He had a reason behind His calling of them and it is eternal in scope. And God speaks of a time when He will call all the nations of the earth to come to Him.

“Assemble yourselves and come;
    draw near together,
    you survivors of the nations!” – Isaiah 45:20 ESV

There is a day coming when the nations of the earth will recognize that their false gods cannot save them. They will finally realize that their idols are lifeless and useless. And God will tell them, “there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me” (Isaiah 45:21 ESV). What will cause the nations of the earth to come to this recognition? What will finally make them recognize the futility of their false gods and the reality of God’s status as the one true God.? It will be the unprecedented judgment of God that will come upon the earth during the days of the Great Tribulation. Jesus described those coming days in very stark terms:

“For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” – Matthew 24:21 ESV

In those days, God will bring unparalleled suffering, destruction, and death upon sinful mankind. But they will refuse to repent. They will remain obstinate and stubbornly resistant to the obvious judgment of God taking place all around them. The apostle John was given a vision of the Tribulation and recorded the amazingly obdurate nature of sinful mankind.

Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom was plunged into darkness. His subjects ground their teeth in anguish, and they cursed the God of heaven for their pains and sores. But they did not repent of their evil deeds and turn to God. – Revelation 16:10-11 NLT

And yet, then as now, God’s will is that all men repent and return to Him. Which is why he calls out, “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:22 ESV). And all that God does is intended to convince sinful mankind that He is the one true God. There are no other gods. And while, during the Tribulation, the world will choose to worship the Antichrist and Satan, God will be persistently proving their weakness and His own power. And by the time the seven years of the Tribulation are over, all the world will find itself bowing down before God, just as He has predicted.

‘To me every knee shall bow,
    every tongue shall swear allegiance.” – Isaiah 45:23 ESV

Man can choose to humble himself and worship God, or he will find himself humbled by God and bowing down before Him in fear and subjugation. Isaiah records God’s decree concerning that day.

“The descendants of your tormentors will come and bow before you. Those who despised you will kiss your feet. They will call you the City of the LORD, and Zion of the Holy One of Israel.” – Isaiah 60:14 NLT

And in his letter to the Romans, Paul quotes from Isaiah 45, when he writes:

For the Scriptures say, "'As surely as I live,' says the LORD, every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.'" – Romans 14:11 NLT

God calls on sinful mankind to turn and be saved. He pleads with them to repent of their sinful ways. But if they refuse, the day will come when they bow before Him anyway.

…to him shall come and be ashamed
    all who were incensed against him. – Isaiah 45:24 ESV

All will one day bow before Him – some in humility and worship, others in humiliation and fear. But there will be no one who remains ignorant of His place as the one true 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

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

I, the Lord…I Am He

1 Listen to me in silence, O coastlands;
    let the peoples renew their strength;
let them approach, then let them speak;
    let us together draw near for judgment.

2 Who stirred up one from the east
    whom victory meets at every step?
He gives up nations before him,
    so that he tramples kings underfoot;
he makes them like dust with his sword,
    like driven stubble with his bow.
3 He pursues them and passes on safely,
    by paths his feet have not trod.
4 Who has performed and done this,
    calling the generations from the beginning?
I, the Lord, the first,
    and with the last; I am he.

5 The coastlands have seen and are afraid;
    the ends of the earth tremble;
    they have drawn near and come.
6 Everyone helps his neighbor
    and says to his brother, “Be strong!”
7 The craftsman strengthens the goldsmith,
    and he who smooths with the hammer him who strikes the anvil,
saying of the soldering, “It is good”;
    and they strengthen it with nails so that it cannot be moved.

8 But you, Israel, my servant,
    Jacob, whom I have chosen,
    the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
9 you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
    and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, “You are my servant,
    I have chosen you and not cast you off”;
10 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.

11 Behold, all who are incensed against you
    shall be put to shame and confounded;
those who strive against you
    shall be as nothing and shall perish.
12 You shall seek those who contend with you,
    but you shall not find them;
those who war against you
    shall be as nothing at all.
13 For I, the Lord your God,
    hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, “Fear not,
    I am the one who helps you.”

14 Fear not, you worm Jacob,
    you men of Israel!
I am the one who helps you, declares the Lord;
    your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
15 Behold, I make of you a threshing sledge,
    new, sharp, and having teeth;
you shall thresh the mountains and crush them,
    and you shall make the hills like chaff;
16 you shall winnow them, and the wind shall carry them away,
    and the tempest shall scatter them.
And you shall rejoice in the Lord;
    in the Holy One of Israel you shall glory.

17 When the poor and needy seek water,
    and there is none,
    and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the Lord will answer them;
    I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
18 I will open rivers on the bare heights,
    and fountains in the midst of the valleys.
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
    and the dry land springs of water.
19 I will put in the wilderness the cedar,
    the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive.
I will set in the desert the cypress,
    the plane and the pine together,
20 that they may see and know,
    may consider and understand together,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
    the Holy One of Israel has created it. – Isaiah 41:1-20 ESV

Judah was in an unenviable position, in both a physical and spiritual sense. It seems that they were located in the very epicenter of a region that attracted conquering nations like honey draws bees.

If you look at any maps that reveal the extent of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires, you find Judah positioned precariously in the middle of all the action. The threat of defeat at the hands of more powerful nations was a constant reality. If it weren’t the Assyrians, it would be the Babylonians.

And God has already warned Hezekiah that Jerusalem would eventually fall to the Babylonians, who weren’t even a major player on the scene at the time. 

But even more unenviable than Judah’s geographic location was its position in respect to Yahweh. They had been unfaithful to the Faithful One. They had repeatedly disobeyed Him and dishonored His name by worshiping false gods. And God, by virtue of His holiness and righteousness, was obligated to punish His people for their serial spiritual adultery. 

And yet, God has provided His rebellious people with a somewhat surprising message of assurance, saying, “Comfort, comfort my people” (Isaiah 40:1 ESV). In spite of all that the people of Judah had done to offend a holy God, they would find Him to be compassionate and gracious. He promised to one day restore them.

But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:31 NLT

It would have been easy for the people of Judah to look at their circumstances and lose heart. They were a seemingly insignificant nation surrounded by more powerful enemies who were intent on their destruction. What was Judah when compared to the world-dominating power of Assyria? What hope did they have when the ten tribes of Israel to the north had fallen to Sennacherib and his forces? But in chapter 41, God assures His people that they have nothing to fear from these other nations. They were mere pawns in His hands, and their power was insignificant when compared with His.

God summons as witnesses all the Gentile nations of the world. Like a prosecuting attorney in a court of law, He addresses them, delivering in no uncertain terms a defense of His sovereignty.

“Who has stirred up this king from the east,
    rightly calling him to God’s service?
Who gives this man victory over many nations
    and permits him to trample their kings underfoot?
With his sword, he reduces armies to dust.
    With his bow, he scatters them like chaff before the wind.
He chases them away and goes on safely,
    though he is walking over unfamiliar ground.”– Isaiah 41:2-3 NLT

In response to these questions from God, the Gentile nations would have most likely stated that the pagan gods of the Assyrians and Babylonians were responsible for their victories. But God’s questions are intended to be rhetorical, and He provides the only correct answer: “I, the Lord, the first, and with the last; I am he” (Isaiah 41:4 ESV).

And yet, the pagan nations continue to place all their hopes in their false gods. They attempt to manufacture some semblance of security just as they manufacture the idols they worship.

The idol makers encourage one another,
    saying to each other, “Be strong!”
The carver encourages the goldsmith,
    and the molder helps at the anvil.
    “Good,” they say. “It’s coming along fine.”
Carefully they join the parts together,
    then fasten the thing in place so it won’t fall over. – Isaiah 41:6-7 NLT

But these man-made totems will prove no match for the Lord of Hosts. They have no power. And any power that the kings of these pagan nations wield has been given to them by God. As God revealed to Daniel in a dream:

“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

So, God turns His attention to the people of Judah, reminding them of their unique position as His chosen people. Of all people on the earth, they were to be envied, despite all that was happening around them. The nations beyond the seas had no god to save them. Their idols would prove powerless in the face of the Assyrian and Babylonian armies. But Judah had no reason to fear because they belonged to God.

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
    Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
    I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10 NLT 

If they looked at their circumstances, they were bound to experience fear and discouragement. But, as God’s people, they were to look to Him. They were to trust in Him. Because He had promised to do what no other god could do: To strengthen them, help them and hold them up. They had nothing to fear, even though they were surrounded by more powerful enemies because God was in control and was on their side.

Those who attack you
    will come to nothing.
For I hold you by your right hand—
    I, the Lord your God.
And I say to you,
    ‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.” – Isaiah 41:12-13 NLT

Notice what God tells them. They would be attacked. Their enemies were real, and the prospect of warfare was as well. God didn’t promise them freedom from warfare, but the assurance of His help. And the apostle Paul reminds us that we can expect warfare in our lives as well.

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. – Ephesians 6:10-13 NLT

God promises the people of Judah that a day is coming when the tables will be turned. They will become the victor rather than the victim. The lowly “worm” will become the aggressor, wreaking havoc on its enemies and gladly glorying in the greatness of God.

Then you will rejoice in the Lord.
    You will glory in the Holy One of Israel. – Isaiah 41:16 NLT

God tells them that, just when things are looking like they couldn’t get any worse, He will show up.

“When the poor and needy search for water and there is none,
    and their tongues are parched from thirst,
then I, the Lord, will answer them.
    I, the God of Israel, will never abandon them.” – Isaiah 41:17 NLT

At their greatest moment of need, their great God will show up. And He will provide for them in ways that are beyond their imaginations. He will work a miracle that leaves no doubt that their salvation was divinely ordained and orchestrated. And God tells them why He is going to act on their behalf.

“I am doing this so all who see this miracle
    will understand what it means—
that it is the Lord who has done this,
    the Holy One of Israel who created it.” – Isiah 41:20 NLT

God’s greatest works always appear at our greatest moments of need. It is in our periods of most intense crisis that God reveals His power and proves His faithfulness to us. It is when we need Him most that God tends to show up best. It is in those times that He intervenes and says, “I, the Lord…I am He.”

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

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

Inquiring Minds Want to Know.

1 I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. 2 I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” 3 I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. 4 I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. 5 I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. 6 I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. 7 I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. 8 I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the sons of man.

9 So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. 10 And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. 11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 ESV

Solomon was on a quest. He was a man on a desperate search for the meaning to life. Blessed by God with remarkable wisdom and abundant wealth, he found himself in the seemingly enviable position of having all that his heart could desire. But that was the problem. He was discontent, lacking any sense of fulfillment or satisfaction. So, he used his wisdom to investigate all the options available to him, and because of his great wealth and influence as king, there was little he could not acquire. And in this chapter, Solomon provides us with a glimpse into the somewhat hedonistic experiment that became his life.

One of the things that likely led to Solomon’s dilemma, was the peace that marked his reign. Unlike his father, David, Solomon ruled during a period in Israel’s history when they enjoyed unprecedented peace and prosperity. The book of First Kings describes the situation.

20 The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They were very contented, with plenty to eat and drink. 21 Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River in the north to the land of the Philistines and the border of Egypt in the south. The conquered peoples of those lands sent tribute money to Solomon and continued to serve him throughout his lifetime. – 1 Kings 4:20-21 NLT

24 Solomon’s dominion extended over all the kingdoms west of the Euphrates River, from Tiphsah to Gaza. And there was peace on all his borders. 25 During the lifetime of Solomon, all of Judah and Israel lived in peace and safety. And from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south, each family had its own home and garden. – 1 Kings 4:24-25 NLT

David had spent the entirety of his reign fighting the enemies of Israel and extending the borders of the nation. And his son inherited the kingdom he had established. That left Solomon with little to do, other than maintain what he had been given. So, he built. He constructed an opulent palace for himself that took 13 years to complete. He also built the temple, in fulfillment of a dream his father’s. But Solomon was not done.

1 It took Solomon twenty years to build the Lord’s Temple and his own royal palace. At the end of that time, 2 Solomon turned his attention to rebuilding the towns that King Hiram had given him, and he settled Israelites in them.

3 Solomon also fought against the town of Hamath-zobah and conquered it. 4 He rebuilt Tadmor in the wilderness and built towns in the region of Hamath as supply centers. 5 He fortified the towns of Upper Beth-horon and Lower Beth-horon, rebuilding their walls and installing barred gates. 6 He also rebuilt Baalath and other supply centers and constructed towns where his chariots and horses could be stationed. He built everything he desired in Jerusalem and Lebanon and throughout his entire realm. – 2 Chronicles 8:1-6 NLT

Solomon built. But none of these massive construction projects satisfied him. So, he pursued pleasure.

I said to myself, “Come on, let’s try pleasure. Let’s look for the ‘good things’ in life.” But I found that this, too, was meaningless. – Ecclesiastes 2:1 NLT

This wasn’t a case of Solomon running headlong into a life of unbridled hedonism, but the well-thought-out efforts of an inquiring mind. He wanted to know the source of man’s satisfaction and significance. Being king was not enough. Having great wealth and unparalleled wisdom didn’t do it. So, he sought out all the ways he might bring pleasure to his life. He tried wine, architecture, horticulture, and ranching. He purchased countless slaves to serve him and meet his every desire. He surrounded himself with concubines, literally hundreds of them, whose sole purpose in life was to meet his sensual desires. He filled his vaults with gold and silver and his palace with the sounds of singers. Solomon was on a never-ending quest for meaning in life. And he lived with a motto that said, “Enough is never enough.” In fact, he stated, “Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors” (Ecclesiastes 2:10 NLT).

But none of it satisfied him. He describes it as vanity, as profitable as chasing the wind. All his efforts were getting him nowhere. His accumulation of material goods had left him surrounded by all the trappings of success, but he still had a huge void in his life. He had hundreds of wives and concubines, thousands of slaves and servants, and countless admirers and courtiers, but he was still lonely.

It would be a mistake to assert that Solomon received no pleasure or satisfaction from the many things listed in this passage. He most certainly did. The sex was satisfying, for the moment. But it didn’t last. The gold and silver made his lifestyle possible, and brought him short periods of happiness, but it couldn’t buy him joy. The palace in which he lived provided all the comforts he could ever desire, but it couldn’t make him content. Solomon was learning the difficult life lesson that acquisition and accumulation were lousy substitutes for a vital relationship with God. Only He can satisfy our deepest longings and desires. The blessings of God are never intended to be a substitute for God. Somewhere along the way, Solomon had lost sight of his father’s warnings. Nearing the end of his life, David had given his son some final words of wisdom, encouraging him to remain faithful to God.

2 “I am going where everyone on earth must someday go. Take courage and be a man. 3 Observe the requirements of the Lord your God, and follow all his ways. Keep the decrees, commands, regulations, and laws written in the Law of Moses so that you will be successful in all you do and wherever you go. 4 If you do this, then the Lord will keep the promise he made to me. He told me, ‘If your descendants live as they should and follow me faithfully with all their heart and soul, one of them will always sit on the throne of Israel.’” – 1 Kings 2:2-4 NLT

And while the early years of Solomon’s would be marked by faithfulness, it didn’t take long before he began to allow his wealth and power to turn him away from God. He became self-sufficient and self-reliant. He had all he needed and he filled his life with everything but God. He even worshiped other gods, the sad result of his marriages to hundreds of women from other cultures who brought their pagan idols with them. Solomon forgot God. He lost sight of the fact that his wisdom and wealth had been gifts to him from God. And the minute he began to think that he was a self-made man, he began his descent toward self-destruction. Yes, he maintained all the outward signs of success, portraying to all those around him the visible manifestations of extreme affluence. To everyone else, he looked like the man who had it all. He was handsome, wealthy and powerful. He was admired and envied by all. Kings and queens found themselves jealous of his kingdom, looking on in awe-struck wonder at his many accomplishments and extensive political influence.

But it was all a facade, a house of cards. It all added up to nothing and provided Solomon with no lasting satisfaction. This great king, like everyone else who has ever lived, was learning the painful lesson that our possessions always end up possessing us. What we hope will deliver us, almost always ends up enslaving us. And thousands of years later, Jesus would speak these powerful words of warning:

19 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. – Matthew 6:19-21 NLT

And the apostle Paul would echo the words of Jesus when he wrote to his young protege, Timothy.

17 Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. 18 Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. 19 By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life. – 1 Timothy 6:17-19 NLT

Solomon had taken his eyes off of God. He had placed his hope in anything and everything but God. And he found himself mired in a never-ending cycle of accumulation and acquisition that always ended in dissatisfaction. In his quest to know the meaning of life, Solomon forgot what it meant to know God, the author of life.

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

Take Courage.

21 Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. 22 Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ 25 So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. 26 But we must run aground on some island.”

27 When the fourteenth night had come, as we were being driven across the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors suspected that they were nearing land. 28 So they took a sounding and found twenty fathoms. A little farther on they took a sounding again and found fifteen fathoms. 29 And fearing that we might run on the rocks, they let down four anchors from the stern and prayed for day to come. 30 And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, and had lowered the ship’s boat into the sea under pretense of laying out anchors from the bow, 31 Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship’s boat and let it go.

33 As day was about to dawn, Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have continued in suspense and without food, having taken nothing. 34 Therefore I urge you to take some food. For it will give you strength, for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you.” 35 And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat. 36 Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves. 37 (We were in all 276 persons in the ship.) 38 And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, throwing out the wheat into the sea. Acts 27:21-38 ESV

Earlier in the voyage. Paul had warned the ship’s officers of a bad premonition he had regarding the outcome of their voyage if they proceeded. And Paul had minced no words, saying, “I believe there is trouble ahead if we go on—shipwreck, loss of cargo, and danger to our lives as well” (Acts 27:10 NLT). But the soldier in charge of Paul and the rest of the prisoners on board had listened to the advice of the ship’s captain and crew, who had all agreed to keep sailing, in search of a safer port. Now, they found themselves in a predicament. They had sailed for days in violent seas, their ship battered by the waves and wind. The storm was so intense that it blocked out the sun during the day, thrusting Paul and his 275 shipmates into a perpetual state of darkness. For days on end, the sailors had battled the storm, unable to eat or sleep, at Luke indicates that they finally abandoned all hope. 

But in the heat of the storm, Paul addressed the crew, reminding them that they should have heeded his initial advice. All that he had predicted had come true. And now they were on the brink of disaster. Things were out of their control. They had done all they could do, but the storm had proven too great and their attempts to save themselves, too small. Yet, this wasn’t a case of Paul telling them, “I told you so.” He wasn’t rubbing their noses in their failure to heed his advice. He was letting them know that His God was greater than the storm.

22 “But take courage! None of you will lose your lives, even though the ship will go down. 23 For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me, 24 and he said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar! What’s more, God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you.’ 25 So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as he said. 26 But we will be shipwrecked on an island.” – Acts 27:22-26 NLT

Right in the middle of what was probably the worst storm any of these sea-hardened sailors had ever experienced, Paul stood up and told them to take courage. He encouraged them not to fear. Can you imagine how ludicrous his words must have sounded to those men? Here was some Jewish prisoner and landlubber, attempting to calm their fears and assure them that none of them would die. All would turn out well. And, even more incredibly, this man was basing his words on a dream he had received from his God.

Paul had faith, and his faith would prove contagious. He had heard from God and he believed what he had been told. So, he told the men, “euthymeō” – take courage. They were to be of good cheer. Now think about what Paul was saying. The storm was still raging. The waves were still crashing against the side of the boat. The rain was still pouring down. The noise must have been deafening. But Paul was telling them to take courage and he clearly stated why they should. “For I believe God. It will be just as he said” (Acts 27:25 NLT). Paul trusted God. Even in the midst of the storm. Nothing had changed. Their circumstances had not improved. Paul was telling them to trust a God they didn’t know and couldn’t see, while everything was crashing down around them. Paul had learned not to focus his attention on immediate circumstances. What was happening around them was not proof of what was going to happen to them. While they had abandoned all hope, they had not been abandoned by God, and Paul told them as much. “God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you” (Acts 27:24 NLT).

This story reminds me of a poem written in 1774 by William Cowper.  

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sov’reign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

All the sailors could see was the storm raging around them. They were drenched from the incessant rain and weakened from going for days without food. They had lost all hope. They had probably called out to their various gods, begging for salvation. They had thought about their wives and children at home and the thought of never seeing them again. They had exhausted all their mental and physical resources trying to save themselves. And now, Paul was telling them that his God had everything under control. They would be safe. There would be a shipwreck, but not a single man would be lost.

As the storm progressed, the sailors determined that their best hope of salvation was to abandon ship. Under the pretext of setting out additional anchors to keep the ship from running aground on the rocks, these men attempted to lower the ship’s skiff or lifeboat. But Paul warned the guards who were watching he and the other prisoners, that if the sailors did not stay on board, everyone would die. So, the soldiers cut the ropes to the lifeboat, allowing it to drift away in the storm. Now, they had to trust God. There were no other options. For the sailors, the lifeboat had become an idol, a false hope of salvation. But Paul knew that it would have failed them. They would not have survived the storm in a boat so small. Their best hope for salvation was to remain in the ship and under the watchful care of God Almighty. But their actions reflect those of every human being who, when caught in the storms of life, attempts to find a way out. They seek a way of salvation and escape. Rather than place their trust in a God they can’t see, they rely on something more tangible in nature. When the Israelites had been set free from slavery in Egypt and found themselves in the wilderness, they began to wonder about this God of Moses. While Moses was up on the mountain talking to God, the people determined to make their own god, an idol made of precious metal. They sought to create a god of their own making, something they could see. Their leader had disappeared. He had gone to the top of the mountain and they had assumed he was not returning. And the God that had rescued them seemed to have bailed on them. So, they took matters into their own hands and fabricated their own source of salvation.

Paul wanted everyone to know that best course of action was to remain right where they were. They were to stay on the boat, not to abandon ship. What they believed was going to be the source of their death, would actually result in their salvation. They were going to trust Paul, who had placed his trust in God. And Paul was so confident, that he encouraged them men to eat so that they could regain their strength, assuring them, “For not a hair of your heads will perish” (Acts 27:34 NLT). Then, Luke tells us, “everyone was encouraged and began to eat—all 276 of us who were on board” (Acts 27:36-37 NLT). The faith of Paul had infected the entire ship. When everyone else on board had abandoned hope and the sailors had tried to abandon ship, Paul had remained confident in the faithfulness of God. Instead of fear, he had exhibited faith. When everyone else was panicking, he was trusting. While the crowd grew weak and lost all hope, Paul had remained strong. He was exhibiting the very characteristics he had encouraged the Corinthians to have. “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13 ESV). And his courage had made an impact on all those around him.

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

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

An All New Low.

“For the sons of Judah have done evil in my sight, declares the Lord. They have set their detestable things in the house that is called by my name, to defile it. And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind. Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when it will no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter; for they will bury in Topheth, because there is no room elsewhere. And the dead bodies of this people will be food for the birds of the air, and for the beasts of the earth, and none will frighten them away. And I will silence in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, for the land shall become a waste.” – Jeremiah 7:30-34 ESV

This particular passage should have a painful familiarity to it. Not because we have read it before, but because it sounds eerily like our own day. In these closing verses of chapter seven, God points out a specific sin committed by the people of Judah that should leave us shocked and appalled. They were offering their own sons and daughters as human sacrifices to Molech, the god of fire. Both Ahaz and Manasseh, kings of Judah during Jeremiah’s long term as prophet, we guilty of practicing child sacrifice.

Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. And he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God, as his father David had done, but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. He even burned his son as an offering, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. – 2 Kings 16:2-3 ESV

Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Hephzibah. And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. For he rebuilt the high places that Hezekiah his father had destroyed, and he erected altars for Baal and made an Asherah, as Ahab king of Israel had done, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them. And he built altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, “In Jerusalem will I put my name.” And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. And he burned his son as an offering and used fortune-telling and omens and dealt with mediums and with necromancers. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger. – 2 Kings 21:1-6 ESV

When we think of the kind of idolatry practiced in those ancient days, we tend to picture little statues or figurines to which the people offered their sacrifices and before whom they would worship. It all sounds fairly innocuous and silly to us. The very thought of bowing down before an inanimate object and treating it like a god sounds ridiculous to us. But there was far more to the idolatry practiced by the people of Judah than simply offering sacrifices to a wooden figurine or saying prayers to a motionless stone statue. The inherent problem with idol worship is that these false gods never seemed to be satisfied. They require increasingly more intense and costly sacrifices. Because they are not real and cannot answer the requests made to them, the natural conclusion by those who worship them is to up the ante. They assume that their sacrifices are not enough. The gods require more. To get the attention of the gods, the cost of the sacrifice must be increased. The life of an animal must not be enough. Perhaps the god would answer if we sacrificed something hear and dear to us – like a son or daughter. And there were those pagan religions that practiced this kind of sacrifice. And before long, the people of Judah, just like their northern neighbors in Israel, began to escalate their worship of false gods by practicing child sacrifice. All in spite of the warning God had given them long before they entered the land of Canaan.

“You shall not give any of your children to offer them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 18:21 ESV

“Any one of the people of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel who gives any of his children to Molech shall surely be put to death. The people of the land shall stone him with stones.” – Leviticus 20:2 ESV

And yet, here was God accusing the people of Judah of doing the very thing He had forbidden them to do. How had they gotten to this point? What would have caused them to sink so low that they would take the lives of their own children and offer them up as sacrifices to false gods? It all began with their forsaking of God. Slowly, but steadily, the people had begun to seek and serve other gods. They had turned their backs on Yahweh and sought help from other sources. It had all begun innocently enough. In fact, it had all made perfect sense to them. Why not hedge their bets and take advantage of the many gods of their foreign neighbors. After all, what did they have to lose? What if these gods really could deliver what they promised? And by worshiping the gods of their foreign neighbors, it made the people of Judah seem far more accommodating and tolerant. It allowed them to fit in to the world around them. And step by step, slowly but surely, the number of idols in Judah grew, and the intensity of their worship and the cost of their sacrifices increased. Before long, they had actually placed false gods in the temple Solomon had dedicated to Yahweh. And not only that, they had created a specific place in which to offer their own children as sacrifices to Molech: Topheth in the valley of Hinnom. The name “Topheth” is likely from the Aramaic tephath, which refers to a fireplace, oven, or hearth. It was in this place that the people of Judah would burn their children as offerings to the fire god, Molech.

The very idea of this appalls us. We find their actions despicable and inexplicable. How could they do such a thing? What would possess anyone to consider killing their own children and calling it worship? But before we pick up stones to throw at the people of Judah, we might want to consider our own modern context. Even we, as modern Christians, are guilty of offering up our children on the altars of our modern-day gods. We sacrifice our children to the god of sports and academics, vicariously living our lives through theirs as they spend countless hours practicing, performing, and pursuing fame and fortune through these man-made activities. I am not suggesting that playing sports or pursuing an education are wrong, but we must admit that far too often we allow these things to become like gods in our lives; driving our schedules, consuming our time and resources, and promising us outcomes that they can’t deliver.

Consider how much time we allow our children to sit in the innocuous glow of a TV, smart phone or tablet, wasting hour after hour of their day consuming entertainment and information that has no lasting value and actually sucks the spiritual life right out of them. These modern-day technologies, while not evil in and of themselves, have become not-so-subtle tools of the enemy, drawing our children away from God and distancing them from their own families. While they spend countless hours “connected” they are actually disconnecting from the very One who made them. Despite their growing number of online “friends” and increasing community within the wireless world, our children are growing more lonely, despondent and, as research has proven, more suicidal. A 2013 study by the University of Oxford concluded:

Moderate or severe addiction to the internet is also connected to an increased risk of self-harm, as well as increased levels of depression or thoughts about suicide, according to the Oxford review.

But perhaps the most striking parallel between the people of Judah and our modern-day context is the growing number of abortions taking place around us. Ever since the passing of Roe V. Wade in 1973, there have been an estimated 59 million babies murdered through abortion in the United States alone. Worldwide, the number is rapidly nearing the 1.5 billion level. Those staggering numbers represent countless innocent lives that have been sacrificed to the gods of pleasure, promiscuity and personal rights. Worshiping at the altar of self-satisfaction and self-gratification, we offer up our own children as sacrifices to the gods who promise us a life of happiness and uncluttered contentment. The children become expendable, explained away as nothing more than discarded human tissue. They are considered no more valuable than an unwanted growth or dangerous tumor. So, they are removed. Their lives are sacrificed at the altar of self.

And we would do well to remember what God told the people of Judah:

“But I will be merciful only if you stop your evil thoughts and deeds and start treating each other with justice; only if you stop exploiting foreigners, orphans, and widows; only if you stop your murdering; and only if you stop harming yourselves by worshiping idols.” – Jeremiah 7:5-6 NLT

We have more than our fair share of false gods. And our unfaithfulness has manifested itself in the willing sacrifice of our own sons and daughters. God would have us wake up and recognize the error of our ways. He would have us be appalled at how low we have sunk in our pursuit of the gods if pleasure, prominence, popularity and power. We have adapted to the ways of the world. We have adopted the gods of this world. And we have done evil in His sight.

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

Prone to Wander.

“How can you say, ‘I am not unclean,
    I have not gone after the Baals’?
Look at your way in the valley;
    know what you have done—
a restless young camel running here and there,
    a wild donkey used to the wilderness,
in her heat sniffing the wind!
    Who can restrain her lust?
None who seek her need weary themselves;
    in her month they will find her.
Keep your feet from going unshod
    and your throat from thirst.
But you said, ‘It is hopeless,
    for I have loved foreigners,
    and after them I will go.’

“As a thief is shamed when caught,
    so the house of Israel shall be shamed:
they, their kings, their officials,
    their priests, and their prophets,
who say to a tree, ‘You are my father,’
    and to a stone, ‘You gave me birth.’
For they have turned their back to me,
    and not their face.
But in the time of their trouble they say,
    ‘Arise and save us!’
But where are your gods
    that you made for yourself?
Let them arise, if they can save you,
    in your time of trouble;
for as many as your cities
    are your gods, O Judah.” – Jeremiah 2:23-28 ESV

God knew that the people of Judah would deny His accusations. When confronted by the prophet of God bearing the indictment of God against them, they would simply resort to a pitiful attempt at denial. They cry, “Not guilty!” But God says that there is plenty of proof to convict them. He tells them to take a look at the valley – probably a reference to the Hinnon Valley just south of Jerusalem. It was at this place they worshiped Baal and Molech, even sacrificing their children to these false gods.

And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind. – Jeremiah 7:31 ESV

When Jeremiah started his ministry, he did so under the reign of King Josiah. And we read in 2 Kings where he made many reforms, trying to correct the many misdeeds of the people of Judah. One of them involved the Hinnom Valley.

“he defiled Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, that no one might burn his son or his daughter as an offering to Molech.” – 2 Kings 23:10 ESV

This chapter in 2 Kings validates God’s accusation, providing additional evidence of just how corrupt and immoral the people of God had become. Josiah found himself quite busy trying to remedy the spiritual problem that permeated every area of life in Judah.

…the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second order and the keepers of the threshold to bring out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven – 2 Kings 23:4 ESV

And he deposed the priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to make offerings in the high places at the cities of Judah and around Jerusalem; those also who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and the moon and the constellations and all the host of the heavens. – 2 Kings 23:5 ESV

And he brought out the Asherah from the house of the Lord… – 2 Kings 23:5 ESV

And he broke down the houses of the male cult prostitutes who were in the house of the Lord… – 2 Kings 23:7 ESV

And he removed the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun, at the entrance to the house of the Lord… – 2 Kings 23:11 ESV

And the king defiled the high places that were east of Jerusalem, to the south of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites… – 2 Kings 23:13 ESV

And the list goes on. And while Josiah was busy trying to clean up the mess left by ages of disobedience and disregard for God, the people never really changed. Their hearts remained stubborn and totally opposed to returning to God. In spite of his best efforts at reform, Josiah would not be able to reform the hearts of the people. That is why God was sending Jeremiah and why the author of 2 Kings went on to write:

Still the Lord did not turn from the burning of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him. And the Lord said, “I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and I will cast off this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there.” – 2 Kings 23:26-27 ESV

They could deny their guilt, but the evidence was stacked against them. God even compares them to a wild donkey or camel in heat. They couldn’t resist their inner urges. They were driven by their own desires, like a female donkey that runs away from its master in order to satisfy its base desires. God had repeatedly called the people of Judah to repentance, begging them to return to Him. He loved them and would have accepted them and restored them to a right relationship with Him, but they responded, “Save your breath. I’m in love with these foreign gods, and I can’t stop loving them now!” (Jeremiah 2:25 NLT). They weren’t going to stop. They couldn’t. Their sin natures wouldn’t allow them to do so. What a great picture of man’s inability to seek and serve God faithfully. If left to ourselves, we will always choose sin over righteousness. We may mean well, but our natural predisposition is toward sin. We can’t help ourselves. That is why Paul wrote, “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10 ESV). The people of Judah were doing what came naturally. They were sinners in need of a Savior. They had been chosen by God and set apart by Him, but they still had hearts that were predisposed to sin. It was in their DNA, inherited from their ancestor, Adam. Paul reminds us of the terrible consequences of Adam’s original sin:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned… – Romans 5:12 ESV

…by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners – Romans 5:19 ESV

And the people of Judah were living proof of this theological reality. They were sinners. In spite of all that God had done for them, they continued to follow their natural inclination to seek and serve other gods. But their passion for other gods was really based on a need for self-determination and autonomy. They wanted to be the arbiters of their own fate. They wanted to determine the kind of god they served. And this desire went all the way back to the garden of Eden. God had warned Adam:

“You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” – Genesis 2:16-17 ESV

It was Satan who came to them and subtly seduced them to disobey the command of God. He misconstrued the words of God and made it sound like God was denying Adam and Eve something they would really enjoy. He was attempting to keep them from being like Himself.

“You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Genesis 3:4-5 ESV

Satan was right. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, their eyes were opened. They not only knew what evil was, they had an irrepressible desire for it. And driving their urges from that day forward would be their desire to be like God. They would want to be in control. They would want to determine their own future and live according to their own will. Man’s ongoing attempt to create his own gods is nothing more than his need to find value and meaning in something outside of himself. Our innate need for God gets satisfied by our own attempt to create our own gods, whether in the form of an idol or an ideology. Today, we worship science and politics, education and enlightenment. Our gods are more sophisticated, but are no less idols than a Buddha statue sitting on a table.

God points out the absurdity of man’s incurable desire to create his own god.

“To an image carved from a piece of wood they say,
    ‘You are my father.’
To an idol chiseled from a block of stone they say,
    ‘You are my mother.’
They turn their backs on me,
    but in times of trouble they cry out to me,
    ‘Come and save us!’” – Jeremiah 2:27 NLT

We have this innate desire to worship anything and everything but God. Then, when things go south, we find ourselves turning back and crying out to God for help. Like the millions of people who flocked to and filled churches all across America after 9/11, we find ourselves falling back on God when our world falls in on us. But God would say to us as He did to Judah:

“But why not call on these gods you have made?
    When trouble comes, let them save you if they can!
For you have as many gods
    as there are towns in Judah.” – Jeremiah 2:28 NLT

Why not let science save you? Why not ask your politicians to come to your rescue? You’ve spent your life putting your trust in money, why not put your hope in it now? You’ve made pleasure your god, so why not let pleasure get you out of the fix you’re in? But false gods have no power to save. They are totally incapable of providing rescue from the effects of sin. Science can prolong life, but it can’t prevent death. Politicians can pass laws and legislate till their blue in the face, but they can’t prevent sin or promise eternal life. In fact, the gods we worship in place of the one true God, can only cause sin. They tempt us to turn from God. They cause us to misplace our trust and misdirect our affections. They produce sin, rather than prevent it.

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

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

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

Two Evils.

“Therefore I still contend with you,
declares the Lord,
    and with your children’s children I will contend.
For cross to the coasts of Cyprus and see,
    or send to Kedar and examine with care;
    see if there has been such a thing.
Has a nation changed its gods,
    even though they are no gods?
But my people have changed their glory
    for that which does not profit.
Be appalled, O heavens, at this;
    be shocked, be utterly desolate,
declares the Lord,
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
    the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
    broken cisterns that can hold no water.” – Jeremiah 2:9-13 ESV

God wasted no time in prosecuting Judah’s guilt. And He challenged them to try and find another nation that had done anything as blatantly evil as they had done. Thy would find that there was no precedent for their behavior. Even the pagan nations were not guilty of the crime Israel and Judah had committed. God’s people, the ones He had chosen to bless, had forsaken Him. And God points out the ridiculousness of it all by asking, “Has any nation ever traded its gods for new ones, even though they are not gods at all?” (Jeremiah 2:11 NLT). Even the pagan nations were more faithful to their non-existent, imaginary, man-made gods than the Israelites had been to the one true God. And God warns that their actions would have serious consequences. Their decision to forsake Him would have long-lasting, generation-spanning consequences. Even their grandchildren would feel the effects of God’s wrath and suffer His judgment.

God points out the incredible absurdity of Israel’s decision by demanding that the heavens act as witness against them. He describes the heavens as being shocked and appalled at the scene. The stars, sun, moon and planets, part of God’s created order, are dumbfounded that one of their own, man, would refuse to worship the One who had made him. It was King David who wrote: “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship” (Psalm 19:1 NLT). Ethan, the Ezrahite, made a similar statement in his psalm: “All heaven will praise your great wonders, Lord; myriads of angels will praise you for your faithfulness. For who in all of heaven can compare with the Lord? What mightiest angel is anything like the Lord? The highest angelic powers stand in awe of God. He is far more awesome than all who surround his throne. O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies! Where is there anyone as mighty as you, O Lord? You are entirely faithful.” (Psalm 85:5-8 NLT).

And the heavens are to be shocked at the two evils that the people of God have committed. First, they were guilty of forsaking God. The Hebrew word is`azab and it means “to depart from, leave behind, leave, let alone” (“H5800 - `azab - Strong's Hebrew Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). In essence, they had deserted God. Like a husband or wife walking out on their spouse, the people of God had abandoned God. After all He had done for them, they had decided to turn their back on Him. He had chosen them, rescued them out of slavery in Egypt, led them through the wilderness and delivered them into the land, just as He had promised. He gave them victories over their enemies. He provided them with cities they had not constructed, fields and vineyards they had not planted, and homes they had not built. He had given them His law to clearly reveal for them how they were to live as His chosen people. And then He had provided them with the sacrificial system so that they could receive His forgiveness when they failed to live up to His law. He had graciously allowed them to demand a king and had given them Saul. When they discovered just how bad things could be with a king “just like all the other nations” had, He had given them David. And while David had his faults, he was a man after God’s own heart and “he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, And guided them with his skillful hands” (Psalm 78:72 NASB).

Over and over again, God had proven His faithfulness to Israel and Judah. But they had returned His favor with faithlessness. They had forsaken Him. But as if that was not enough, God levels the second charge against them. They had chosen replacements for Him. God puts their sin in very descriptive terms: “…they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!” (Jeremiah 2:13 NLT). By forsaking God, they had turned their back on “the fountain of living water.” God had been their sole source of refreshment and nourishment. He had been their means of life support. The term, “living water” refers to fresh, flowing water, as in a stream or a brook. It is pure and free from stagnation or pollution. But it also provides life. It keeps those who drink from it alive and well. But the people of God had chosen to refuse the living water and, instead, had decided to dig cisterns to catch their own water. The picture here is one of stubborn self-sufficiency. Rather than rely on the living water, the free-flowing, life-giving water of God; they had decided to make their own source of water. Cisterns were a common feature in those days. They were simply depressions or holes dug into rock that were designed to collect rain water. In an arid environment, they were a necessity. But the contrast God provides is that of having a free-flowing stream within easy access and choosing to build a cistern instead. One of the natural problems with a cistern is that the water collected in it was prone to stagnation. It was easily contaminated by outside influences such as dust, dirt or even animals. It was less than fresh. That is what makes the comparison sound so absurd. And to make matters worse, God describes the cistern as cracked and, as a result, it leaked. It wasn’t even a good cistern. It failed to do what it was designed to do. What a great description of false gods. They are man-made, designed to deliver life, but incapable of delivering on their intended purpose. The Scriptures are replete with stinging accusations against the absurdity of idols.

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

Their gods are like helpless scarecrows in a cucumber field! They cannot speak, and they need to be carried because they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of such gods, for they can neither harm you nor do you any good. – Jeremiah 10:5 NLT

The idol makers encourage one another,
    saying to each other, “Be strong!”
The carver encourages the goldsmith,
    and the molder helps at the anvil.
    “Good,” they say. “It’s coming along fine.”
Carefully they join the parts together,
    then fasten the thing in place so it won’t fall over. – Isaiah 41:6-7 NLT

Idols are like a cistern with a crack in it. Crafted by men, but deaf, dumb and blind, and incapable of providing life. The people of God had turned their back on God Almighty, the one who had defeated the forces of Pharaoh and conquered the nations of Canaan. And in His place, they had set up idols that they had made with their own hands. They had offered sacrifices to blocks of wood and pieces of metal. They had put their hope and trust in those things that had no power to deliver help or provide protection. They had staked their lives on lifeless, inanimate objects. Absurd? No doubt. Ridiculous? Absolutely. But we still do it today. In fact, Tim Keller provides us with a great definition of idolatry that brings it into our modern, 21st-Century context.

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. (Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters).

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

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

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

Live by Faith.

I will take my stand at my watchpost
    and station myself on the tower,
and look out to see what he will say to me,
    and what I will answer concerning my complaint. 

And the Lord answered me:

“Write the vision;
    make it plain on tablets,
    so he may run who reads it.
For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
    it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
    it will surely come; it will not delay.

“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
    but the righteous shall live by his faith.

“Moreover, wine is a traitor,
    an arrogant man who is never at rest.
His greed is as wide as Sheol;
    like death he has never enough.
He gathers for himself all nations
    and collects as his own all peoples.” Habakkuk 2:1-5 ESV

Habakkuk has asked God two primary questions so far: “When?” and “Why?” In responding to Habakkuk’s first question, God simply told the prophet how He was going to deal with the violence and iniquity taking place in Judah: He would send the Babylonians. That news led Habakkuk to question why God would ever consider using a pagan nation to do His bidding, especially to punish His own people. And now, the indignant prophet tells God that he is going to sit and wait for God’s answer, like a guard standing in the watchtower on the battlements of a city wall. And Habakkuk is fully prepared to continue his dialogue with God if the answer if the answer he received is not to his liking. He seems to warn God that his response will be dictated by what God has to say to him.

And, as before, God answered Habakkuk. He tells the prophet that he will receive a vision and that he is to put it in writing on tablets. He is to write it clearly and legibly so that whoever reads it can run and tell others what he has seen. The vision will involve future events. In other words, it will be prophetic in nature, but it will all take place. Knowing Habakkuk’s tendency toward impatience, God tells him, “This vision is for a future time. It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled. If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed” (Habakkuk 2:3 NLT). It’s as good as done. And by having Habakkuk write the details concerning the vision in stone or clay tablets, God emphasizes the permanence and inescapable nature of what is to come.

The author of the book of Hebrews quotes from this verse in an attempt to encourage the believers in his day to remain faithful to the end and trust God for what He has promised to do.

Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay” – Hebrews 10:35-37 ESV

God is always faithful to keep His word. What He says He will do, He will do. He keeps His promises. And the author of Hebrews goes on to say, quoting from verses four of Habakkuk chapter two: “but my righteous one shall live by faith” (Hebrews 10:38 ESV).

God now gives the prophet His vision of what is to come. He speaks of the unrighteous and the righteous, the faithful and the unfaithful – those who trust in themselves and those who place their trust in God.

“Look at the proud! They trust in themselves, and their lives are crooked. But the righteous will live by their faithfulness to God.” – Habakkuk 3:4 NLT

The apostle Paul will also quote this verse on two different occasions, emphasizing the “righteous”.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” – Romans 1:16-17 ESV

Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” – Galatians 3:11-12 ESV

Paul used the words of God given to Habakkuk the prophet to emphasize and promote the key to righteousness before God. It is based on faith in God and faithfulness to God. In Habakkuk’s day, the people of Judah had not been faithful to God. They had turned from Him time and time again. They, like their northern neighbors in Israel, had worshiped false gods and proven themselves to be unfaithful to the God who had chosen them and redeemed them out of slavery in Egypt. They had turned their back on the one who had given them the great king, David. The land in which they lived had been the result of God’s gracious provision for them. And yet, they had filled it with idols.

And, to provide Habakkuk with a symbol of unrighteousness run rampant, God tells him to look at Babylon. They are the epitome of arrogance and pride. They are puffed up by their military success and their many conquests. They trust more in themselves than they do in God. In fact, they don’t trust in Yahweh at all. They have their own gods whom they worship and give credit for their many victories in battle. And they use their growing wealth as proof of their gods’ divine blessings. The word in verse five should probably be “wealth” and not ”wine”. Most of the more reliable manuscripts contain “wealth” and it would make more sense given the context. The New Living Translation renders verse five this way:

Wealth is treacherous,
    and the arrogant are never at rest.
They open their mouths as wide as the grave,
    and like death, they are never satisfied.
In their greed they have gathered up many nations
    and swallowed many peoples.

The greed of the Babylonians was insatiable. They couldn’t get enough. They were never satisfied with their conquests or the plunder they provided. They were the ultimate consumers, swallowing up everyone and everything in their path. They lived by what they could see, take, and enjoy. They lived by sight and immediate gratification. But God tells Habakkuk that the righteous are to live by faith. Faith in what? In God. The people of Judah were to put their hope and confidence in the God of their ancestors. He had proven Himself faithful time and time again, and He would do so again. The righteous are those who place their faith in God, not money, military might, false gods, other nations, or any other earthly resource. God tells Habakkuk that “the righteous shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4 ESV). The people of Judah would live through what was coming, but they would have to trust God with the results. They would survive the coming of the Babylonians and their deportment as slaves. The righteous would be those who kept trusting in the faithfulness of God – in spite of the circumstances that surrounded them.

Too often, our faith and our faithfulness is based on our circumstances, not on God and His faithfulness. We take a look at what is happening around us and to us, and begin to doubt our God. We question His faithfulness because we don’t like what is happening to us. We doubt His love because we can’t fathom how a loving God would allow us to experience what we are going through. But God would have us remember that the righteous live by faith. And Paul would have us remember that the righteous are those who endure because they know their God can be trusted.

God is trying to remind Habakkuk that his hope is to be in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is to trust in the God of David – the covenant keeping God who never fails to keep His promises and fulfill His commitment to His people. Just because the Babylonians were coming did not mean that God was done with Judah or turning His back on them. The book of Numbers gives us some powerful words of reminder concerning our God.

God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through? – Numbers 23:19 NLT

God can be trusted. So, as His people, we are to put our trust in Him. The righteous belong to Him and rely upon Him. They do not circumstances dictate or determine their trust. They don’t let the presence of bad times diminish the goodness of their God. They accept the good and the bad as having come from the hand of a loving, faithful God who knows what He is doing and whose plan for them can always be trusted. Like Job, we need to be able to say, “Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” (Job 2:10 NLT). God was going to do something great for the people of Judah. But first, they would have to experience something painful and inexplicable. Yet, they were to keep their faith in God. He was not done yet.

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

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

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

Driven By Desire and Distraction.

When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Blessed be the Lord who has avenged the insult I received at the hand of Nabal, and has kept back his servant from wrongdoing. The Lord has returned the evil of Nabal on his own head.” Then David sent and spoke to Abigail, to take her as his wife. When the servants of David came to Abigail at Carmel, they said to her, “David has sent us to you to take you to him as his wife.” And she rose and bowed with her face to the ground and said, “Behold, your handmaid is a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord.” And Abigail hurried and rose and mounted a donkey, and her five young women attended her. She followed the messengers of David and became his wife.

David also took Ahinoam of Jezreel, and both of them became his wives. Saul had given Michal his daughter, David’s wife, to Palti the son of Laish, who was of Gallim. – 1 Samuel 25:39-44 ESV

In these closing verses of chapter 25, we are given a glimpse into an area of David’s life that was going to prove an ongoing problem for him throughout his life. He loved women. And this attraction to the opposite sex would be a constant thorn in his side even after becoming king. He would even pass on this propensity to his son, Solomon, who took David’s obsession with women to a whole new level.

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women. Besides Pharaoh’s daughter, he married women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and from among the Hittites. The Lord had clearly instructed the people of Israel, “You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.” Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway. He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines. And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the Lord. – 1 Kings 11:1-3 NLT

And all of this, as the passage reflects, was in direct violation of God’s commands.

The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the LORD. – Deuteronomy 17:17 NLT

Yet, after David finally became king, he would continue his practice of accumulating wives, in direct violation of God’s command.

After moving from Hebron to Jerusalem, David married more concubines and wives, and they had more sons and daughters. – 2 Samuel 5:13 NLT

David was a man after God’s own heart, but he was far from perfect. Women were his Achilles heel. And he found Abigail highly attractive. On top of that, she was godly, wise, assertive, brave, insightful, and a take-charge kind of woman. And it didn’t hurt that she was recently widowed. In fact, David didn’t seem to give Nabal’s body time to cool off before he made the move on Abigail, asking her to marry him.

The text ends with the statement that “David also took Ahinoam of Jezreel, and both of them became his wives” (1 Samuel 25:43 ESV). It also references Michal, David’s first wife, whom he had to leave behind when he fled from Saul. She was eventually given to another man, but David most likely didn’t know that at the time. So effectively, he had three wives at one time. Again, in direct disobedience to the will of God.

Why is this important? It provides us with an insight into the life of this man who would prove to be Israel’s greatest king and who, as has already been pointed out, was declared by God to be a man after His own heart. David loved God. He wanted to serve God. He had a deep desire to honor and obey God. But he also had a sin nature, just like the rest of us. And one of David’s weak spots would be his attraction to women. Satan would repeatedly use this weakness to his own advantage, tempting David to give in to his overactive libido. David would learn to justify his actions, excusing his sexual obsession as natural and normal. And yet, this sinful proclivity was a spiritual weakness, a chink in his armor that would make him an easy target for the enemy.

There are some less-than-flattering similarities between David and the Old Testament judge, Samson, when it comes to this issue. During a time when the Jews were being tormented by the Philistines because of their disobedience, God raised up Samson to be their judge and deliverer. He was a powerful man, but he had a particular weakness.

One day when Samson was in Timnah, one of the Philistine women caught his eye. When he returned home, he told his father and mother, “A young Philistine woman in Timnah caught my eye. I want to marry her. Get her for me.” – Judges 14:1-2 NLT

Like David, Samson couldn’t keep his eyes or his hands off of women. His mother and father tried to reason with Samson and talk him out of choosing a wife who was a pagan, but he would not listen.

“Get her for me! She looks good to me.” – Judges 14:3 NLT

Later on we read, “One day Samson went to the Philistine town of Gaza and spent the night with a prostitute” (Judges 16:1 NLT). And then, “Some time later Samson fell in love with a woman named Delilah, who lived in the valley of Sorek” (Judges 16:4 NLT). Each of these women would prove to be a thorn in Samson’s side. They would cause him much grief and sorrow. And his dalliance with Delilah would result in his own death.

David too, would struggle with a lustful, almost lascivious attraction to women. The most infamous story concerning David and his love affair with the opposite sex involves his affair with Bathsheba. David was the king. He was rich, powerful, and happily married to several women already. But one day, as he walked on the rooftop patio of his palace, he spied Bathsheba bathing alfresco. David was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The passage tells us “In the spring of the year, when kings normally go out to war, David sent Joab and the Israelite army to fight the Ammonites…However, David stayed behind in Jerusalem” (2 Samuel 11:1 NLT). David wasn’t where he was supposed to be. He was the warrior-king, but instead of doing battle with the Ammonites, David would end up battling his own lusts and losing. His lust for Bathsheba quickly turned to action and he had sex with her. When their affair resulted in her pregnancy, he began a cover-up campaign, that eventually led him to have her husband, a faithful soldier in his army, purposely exposed and killed on the front lines of battle. All so David could marry his wife and cover up his illicit affair.

James provides us with a stark explanation of how this whole process works.

Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. – James 1:14-15 NLT

David was a man after God’s own heart, but he had a problem. His heart was divided. He loved women. He saw them as a source of satisfaction, comfort, pleasure and self-worth. They made him feel good. They provided him with companionship. Perhaps they helped fulfill his need for conquest. Whatever drove his love affair with women, it would end up distracting him from what should have been his primary focus: His love for and dedication to God.

The chapter ends with the statement that “Saul had given Michal his daughter, David's wife, to Palti the son of Laish, who was of Gallim” (1 Samuel 25:44 ESV). This is important, because, while it might be easy to use this as an explanation why David took Abigail to be his wife, it falls short. Years later, when David became king and Saul was dead, he would send for Michal, demanding that Ish-bosheth, the sole remaining heir to the throne of Saul, hand her over.

So David sent messengers to Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, saying, “Give me my wife Michal, to whom I was betrothed for a hundred foreskins of the Philistines.”  Ish-bosheth sent and took her from her husband, from Paltiel the son of Laish. But her husband went with her, weeping as he went, and followed her as far as Bahurim. Then Abner said to him, “Go, return.” So he returned. – 2 Samuel 3:14-16 ESV

In spite of the fact that David had married multiple wives since his departure from Saul’s palace, he had not been able to stop thinking about Michal. He had to have her. So he had her forcibly removed from her husband. And like so many of David’s decisions regarding women, this one would prove to be less-than-ideal. Michal would end up despising David and his God. Their marriage would produce little in the way of love and no offspring.

David had a propensity to be driven by desire, and that desire would prove to be a distraction throughout his life. Even in his old age, near the point of death, an attractive woman would play a significant role in his life.

King David was now very old, and no matter how many blankets covered him, he could not keep warm. So his advisers told him, “Let us find a young virgin to wait on you and look after you, my lord. She will lie in your arms and keep you warm.”

So they searched throughout the land of Israel for a beautiful girl, and they found Abishag from Shunem and brought her to the king. The girl was very beautiful, and she looked after the king and took care of him. But the king had no sexual relations with her. – 1 Kings 1:1-4 NLT

We all have weaknesses. Each of us has our spiritual Achilles heel, which Satan, our enemy, knows about and takes full advantage of at every opportunity. He tempts, lures and entices us. He baits the hook with the very thing we find most attractive. It may be sex, popularity, material possessions, pleasure, a sense of accomplishment, power, or any of a number of things. In essence, our weakness is nothing more than an insight into what we have made an idol in our life – a god that serves as a stand-in or substitute for the one true God. For David, women because his go-to choice for satisfaction, self-worth, and a sense of joy. Sexual pleasure was his idol of choice. What is yours? What do you turn to other than God? What do you worship in place of God? Anything that we allow to rob God of worship is a weakness in our lives that must be confessed and removed. When God said, “You must not have any other god but me” (Exodus 20:3 NLT), He meant it. And David was going to have to learn to believe it.

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

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

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

When Love Trumps Liberty.

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

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

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

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

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

Protection For Our Affections.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Run, Don’t Walk!

Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. – 1 Corinthians 10:7-14 ESV

To Paul, the Corinthians had a far too casual approach to sin. He has already chastised them for their laissez faire approach to the sexual sin taking place in their midst. “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans” (1 Corinthians 5:1 ESV). They were overly tolerant and dangerously permissive when it came to sin. And they had developed an unhealthy arrogance regarding their own spirituality and standing before God. Which is what led to warn them, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12 ESV). Paul has resorted to using the Israelites as an object lesson. Their status as God’s chosen people had not prevented them from sinning or protected them from God’s punishment. They had enjoyed all the privileges and blessings of God’s favor, but had proven to be unfaithful in the end. And Paul warns the Corinthians, “Do not be idolaters as some of them were” (1 Corinthians 10:7a ESV). Like the Corinthians, the Israelites had been redeemed from a culture in which idol worship was commonplace. In Egypt, the Israelites had been surrounded by a plethora of false gods. It was toward many of these false gods that the ten plagues were directed. God had proven Himself superior to the false gods of Egypt, providing convincing evidence to the Israelites that He was the one true God. But in the end, they resorted back to the worship of idols. They went back to what they found familiar and comfortable. 

The Corinthians found themselves in similar circumstances. Most, if not all of them, had pagan backgrounds. They had been idol worshipers when Paul and others had brought the good news of Jesus Christ to their city. As a result of God’s grace, they had been redeemed from slavery to sin and delivered from their hopeless worship of false gods. And Paul wants them to have nothing to do with idolatry any more, which is why he tells them to “flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14b ESV). They were not to dabble with it, cozy up to it, or have anything to do with it. That included attending any feasts associated with it. Paul knew the Corinthians had a problem with compromise. They had already compromised their moral convictions and it was not impossible to consider that they might compromise their worship of God by associating with idol worship and justifying their actions as harmless.

Again, Paul uses the Israelites as an example. “The people celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry” (1 Corinthians 10:7 NLT). This refers to the time when Moses was up on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments from God and, while he was gone, the Israelites forced Aaron to make them a golden calf to worship. Moses records the events of that infamous day:

So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play. – Exodus 32:3-6 ESV

And God was angry. He told Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you” (Exodus 32:9-10 ESV). They were arrogant, prideful and lacking in fear of God. They didn’t honor and revere Him. Despite all He had done for them, they turned their backs on Him. And at the end of the day, that is what idolatry really is. It is turning to something other than God as our source of provision and power, significance and security. It doesn’t have to be a golden calf. We can end up worshiping our career, family, finances, talents, or even our status as God’s chosen people. In other words, we can easily resort to worshiping our salvation instead of our Savior. We can put our hope in out eternal security rather than in the one who secured our eternity for us. 

Paul is warning them and us against developing a casual attitude toward idolatry. Idol worship is nothing more than unfaithfulness to God. It is a form of spiritual adultery, making more of something or someone else other than God. Tim Keller gives a great definition of idolatry in his book, Counterfeit Gods.

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.

The Israelites were disciplined by God for their unfaithfulness. They put God to the test “and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day” (1 Corinthians 10:8 ESV). And Paul warns us, “We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer” (1 Corinthians 10:9-10 ESV). Just because we are in Christ, doesn’t mean we have the right to insult Christ by giving our affections and attentions to something or someone other than Him. We are to flee from idolatry in all its forms. The Corinthians were worshiping their right to eat meat sacrificed to idols. It wasn’t that they were worshiping the idols, but they were elevating their freedom to enjoy the pleasures of this life over their submission to the will of God for their life. We cannot afford to get cocky or comfortable. Which is why Paul warns us, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12 ESV). We each face the constant temptation to worship something other than God. But, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV).