worship

Tempted Like Us

1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,

“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’

and

“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
    lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
    and him only shall you serve.’”

11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. – Matthew 4:1-11 ESV

Matthew’s account of the temptation of Jesus is not just a retelling of the details surrounding the event. He has an ulterior motive, and it is the same one he has had from the moment he began His Gospel. Matthew intends to support Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God, the long-awaited Messiah, and the rightful King of Israel.

Immediately after His baptism by John, Jesus heard the following words from His Father in heaven: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 ESV). God Himself acknowledges the deity of Jesus, presenting Him as His own Son and expressing His pleasure or satisfaction with Him. The descent of the Holy Spirit onto Jesus, in the visible form of a dove, was a sign of God’s approval of Him. And it was the Spirit who led Jesus “into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1 ESV). And Luke adds that Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4:1 ESV). The Son of God was filled with the Spirit of God. And this indwelling by the Spirit would allow Jesus to model the very lifestyle His death and resurrection would make it possible for all those who would eventually place their faith in Him. The same helper, comforter, and advocate who assisted Him in His earthly ministry would be available to all who became His followers.

And we should not overlook the fact that the Spirit of God led the Son of God from the banks of the Jordan into the Judean wilderness. This one who had allowed Himself to be baptized by John to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15), and who had received the approval of God, was now being led into the desolate wilderness. Why? Matthew provides us with the answer: “…to be tempted by the devil.” (Matthew 4:1 ESV).

It is easy to miss the weight of those words. But it is essential that we understand what is happening in this scene. Jesus, the Son of God, who had just received the full approval of God, was led by the Spirit of God into the wilderness and for one solitary purpose: To be tempted by Satan. This is the one of whom John said: “he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie” (Luke 3:16 ESV). This is the one to whom God declared, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22 ESV). And yet, He is being led by the Holy Spirit into an encounter with Satan, whose very name means “adversary.”

This entire scene appears incongruous to us. It seems strange that God would send His own Son, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, into the wilderness to endure starvation and temptation at the hands of the enemy. Why would God willingly put His Son through such an ordeal? But that begs the question, why would God send His Son to die in the place of undeserving sinners? The temptation of Jesus was just one part of the divine agenda that God the Father had put in place before the foundation of the world. Peter reminds us that “God chose him [Jesus] as your ransom long before the world began, but now in these last days he has been revealed for your sake” (1 Peter 1:20 NLT).

Jesus came to this earth in the form of a man, and in that form, He would suffer and endure many trials and temptations, just as we do. The author of Hebrews describes Jesus as our High Priest, who “understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15 NLT). Jesus took on human flesh, so that He might be the second and final Adam, the one who would live in perfect obedience to God, through the power of the indwelling Spirit of God. And the apostle Paul reminds us of the ramifications of Adam’s disobedience and Jesus’ obedience.

For just as through the disobedience of the one man [Adam] many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one man [Jesus] many will be made righteous. – Romans 5:19 NLT

Jesus had to be tempted and tested. He had to suffer and endure deprivations of all kinds. In order for Him to understand our weaknesses, He had to experience them for Himself. And the very first days of His earthly ministry were going to test whether He would continue to bring pleasure to His heavenly Father. Would He continue to fulfill all righteousness?

And you can sense that Satan had a strategy in mind. The temptations he threw at Jesus were well-planned and designed with Him in mind. And notice that Satan began his attacks by raising questions regarding Jesus’ identity.

“If you are the Son of God…” – Matthew 4:3 ESV

He had used a similar strategy with Eve in the Garden of Eden. He had begun his temptation of her with the words, “Did God actually say…?” He raised doubts concerning the word of God. He wanted Eve to doubt the fairness and faithfulness of God.

In his temptation of Jesus, Satan wasn’t trying to get Him to doubt His identity as the Son of God. He wanted Jesus to doubt God’s plans concerning His role as the Son of God. It had been God's plans from the beginning that Jesus would suffer and die. Don’t forget what Peter said: “God chose him [Jesus] as your ransom long before the world began.” Suffering was part of God’s plan for His Son, and Jesus knew it. He would later state, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 28:20 NLT). Jesus knew who He was, but He also knew why He had come. But Satan tried to get Jesus to consider a different way. He was offering Jesus an alternative plan.

And he began by appealing to Jesus’ physical needs. Matthew makes it clear that “after fasting forty days and forty nights, he [Jesus] was hungry” (Matthew 4:2 ESV). So, as Satan is so prone to do, he aimed his first salvo at this apparent point of weakness.

“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” – Matthew 4:3 ESV

Satan was not questioning the identity of Jesus. He was attempting to get Jesus to operate outside of His God-ordained identity. In a sense, Satan wanted Jesus to prove who He was, but in a way that was not in keeping with God’s will. Satan’s appeal was aimed at what he knew was the human propensity for selfishness and self-centeredness. He wanted Jesus to use His divine power to meet His own needs. But that is not God’s plan for His Son. Jesus had been sent to serve others. He had been sent to offer His life as a ransom for many, not to use His divine powers and prerogatives to meet His own needs. And Jesus responded to the temptation by reminding Satan that obedience to the word of God was far more fulfilling than bread could ever be. 

Years later, the disciples would offer Jesus food to eat, and He would respond, “I have a kind of food you know nothing about” (John 4:32 NLT). And He would clarify His statement with the words: ““My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work” (John 4:34 NLT). Jesus was committed to doing the will of His Father, and He found obedience to be far more fulfilling than anything this world has to offer.

The second temptation was a poorly designed attempt to fast-track God’s plan for Jesus’ future glorification. Jesus had been sent by God to die on behalf of sinful mankind. And it would not be until after He had suffered and died, that Jesus would be raised to new life and experience the glorification God had planned for Him. But, once again, Satan offered an alternative plan.

“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’” – Matthew 4:6 ESV

Satan wanted Jesus to skip the part of God’s plan that involved dying and instead to focus on self-preservation and premature glorification.

“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
    lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” – Matthew 4:7 ESV

But Jesus saw through Satan’s ploy and knew this was less a test of Himself, than it would be a test of God. For Jesus to do as Satan said would have been a blatant testing of God’s will. Would He alter His plan by sending His angels to save His Son from an unplanned threat to His life that was outside of His will? Jesus was not about to test His heavenly Father. He knew the plan, and He was not going to deviate from it.

Finally, Satan offered Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” (Matthew 4:8 ESV). What is going on here? First of all, Satan had the right to offer these things to Jesus because of his position as the prince or ruler of this world (John 14:30 ESV). The apostle John states: “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19 ESV). So, in a sense, Satan had to authority to offer Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, but he failed to understand that any authority he possessed had been given to him by God. He ruled and reigned by divine fiat. And, whether he realized it or not, Satan was offering Jesus what was already rightfully His.

But Jesus wasn’t fooled by or remotely interested in the offer made by Satan. He saw it nothing more than a thinly veiled ploy by Satan to get Him to commit spiritual adultery. Satan wanted Jesus to worship him rather than God. And in exchange for His betrayal of God the Father, Satan was offering Jesus that which already belonged to Him: the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He had nothing to give Jesus that was not already His. And Jesus let Satan know that worship of God and obedience to the will of God was His highest priority. He needed nothing else.

And with that, the temptations came to an abrupt halt. But Satan was far from finished. He had not given up. Luke tells us, “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13 ESV). The battle had just begun. The Son of God had arrived on the scene, and the spiritual war was about to go to a whole new level.

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

King of the Jews

1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. – Matthew 2:1-12 ESV

If you compare Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth with that of Luke, you quickly see that Matthew only provides those details that support his attempt to prove that Jesus was the Messiah of the Jews. So, unlike Luke, Matthew does not include background information such as the census that required Joseph to take his pregnant wife to Bethlehem. There is no mention of the visit of the shepherds or the presentation of Jesus at the temple. 

In fact, Matthew fast-forwards the narrative and picks up the story when Jesus was probably about one-year-old. Joseph and Mary had remained in Bethlehem, most likely to provide time for Mary to fully heal and to give the baby time to mature before they made the long and arduous trip back to their hometown of Nazareth.

But their delay in returning to Nazareth was obviously God-ordained. He had plans for them, of which they were not yet aware. And there were storm clouds forming in the distance that were going to presage the kind reception their son could expect to experience.

While Mary and Joseph had been adjusting to their new life as parents, a group of wise men or magi from a distant land had been making their way to Israel, in search of the newborn king of the Jews. These men were most likely astrologers who, while studying the stars and the planets, had seen a sign.

“Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” – Matthew 2:2 ESV

Matthew provides us with no details regarding how these magi received or interpreted the sign they had seen. We do not know where they were from or how they made the connection between the cosmic sign and the coming of the Jewish king. Perhaps they came from Babylon, where there was still a fairly large contingent of Jews who had chosen to remain there rather than return to Judah under the leadership of Nehemiah. It would seem that these magi had access to the Hebrew scriptures and had been able to connect the dots between what they saw in the sky and what God had predicted in His Word. One of the passages to which they could have referred was Numbers 24:17, which the Jews of Jesus’ day believed to have Messianic implications.

I see him, but not now;
    I behold him, but not near:
a star shall come out of Jacob,
    and a scepter shall rise out of Israel…

Regardless of how these men made their assessment of the star and its connection to the new king of the Jews, they were sufficiently convinced to make the long journey to Jerusalem. And when they arrived, they expressed little doubt as to the validity of the sign or their interpretation of it. They asked, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” According to their understanding of the sign, this baby was born as the official and lawful king of the Jews. Which is what led them to Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel, where David and Solomon had once reigned.

But the magi found another king sitting on the throne of David. His name was Herod, and he was actually an Edomite. He had been placed on the throne by the Romans and was seen by the Jews as a usurper and as nothing more than a puppet to the occupying forces of Rome. Herod was an ambitious and highly suspicious ruler who was relentless and ruthless in his efforts to protect his power. He had a well-deserved reputation for eliminating any and all potential threats to his throne. He had his own wife’s brother drowned in a pool on the palace grounds. He ordered the murder of 46 members of the Sanhedrin. His wife, two sons, and mother-in-law also fell victim to his unbridled fear and suspicion. Potential rivals to his crown were dealt with quickly and effectively.

So, when the magi showed up in Jerusalem asking about the whereabouts of the new king of the Jews, Herod took notice and instigated steps to locate and eliminate this potential threat to his throne.

Matthew’s primary focus in this section is to further promote and prove the kingship of Jesus. In doing so, he established a conflict between Herod, the Roman-appointed king of the Jews, and Jesus, Israel’s God-anointed and rightful king. And it seems clear that Herod was under the impression that this new king was also to be the Christ, the Messiah of Israel. He assembled all the chief priests and scribes of the Jews, asking them, “where the Christ was to be born” (Matthew 2:4 ESV). These learned men revealed to Herod what the Old Testament Scriptures had to say about such matters, and they quoted to him from the prophecy recorded by Micah.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
    from ancient days. – Micah 5:2 ESV

Herod, always devious and deceptive in his efforts, sent the magi on a mission to discover the whereabouts of the new king, falsely claiming a desire to worship him.

“Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” – Matthew 2:8 ESV

Worship is a key theme in this passage. The word itself is mentioned three different times, and the magi are described as falling down and worshiping the young child, Jesus, offering Him priceless gifts of tribute. Kingship and rule are also repeated themes, appearing six different times in 12 verses. Matthew juxtaposes the earthly and undeserving reign of Herod with that of the true king of Israel, Jesus, the Christ. One was not even a Jew by birth, while the other was the son of Abraham and the son of David. One was a tool of the Romans, while the other was the anointed-one of God, who was sent to do His Father’s will.

It is hard to miss that these men from a foreign land were used by God to confirm the identity of His Son. He had used a sign in heaven to direct them to Jerusalem, where they were given further details and divine guidance to find Jesus in the little town of Bethlehem.

…the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. – Matthew 2:9 ESV

And Matthew uses these men to establish a theme that will appear throughout his Gospel account. They were Gentiles, non-Jews, and yet they had gone out of their way to seek and find the King of the Jews. And when they found Him, they bowed down and worshiped Him, showering Him with gifts to illustrate their recognition of His sovereignty and glory. And yet the Jews, represented by Herod, their false king, would repeatedly reject Jesus as their Messiah and King. The Gentile magi recognized Jesus as the King of the Jews, but as the apostle John pointed out, the Jews did not.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:11 ESV

It’s interesting to note that, at the end of his Gospel account, Matthew records the reaction of a group of Roman soldiers who had witnessed the death of Jesus. They had most likely participated in the mocking and abuse that preceded His crucifixion. One of them may have nailed up the sign that hung above His head, which read, “The King of the Jews.” They most likely took part in the nailing of Jesus to the cross on which He died. But when Jesus had breathed His last, Matthew records that their perception of Jesus was radically altered. 

When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” – Matthew 27:54 ESV

Jesus was born the King of the Jews. And He died the King of the Jews. When He came into this world, He was worshiped by Gentiles from a foreign land, bearing gifts worthy of a king. When He died, He was surrounded by Gentiles of Roman birth, holding swords and spears, but offering Him the greatest tribute they could bring: They acknowledge that Jesus was the Son of God. And Matthew will spend the rest of his Gospel, defending and proving that Jesus was indeed the King of the Jews and the Son of God.

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

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

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

The Worthiness of Worship

1 “No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.

2 “No one born of a forbidden union may enter the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of his descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord.

3 “No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the Lord forever, 4 because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. 5 But the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam; instead the Lord your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loved you. 6 You shall not seek their peace or their prosperity all your days forever.

7 “You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother. You shall not abhor an Egyptian, because you were a sojourner in his land. 8 Children born to them in the third generation may enter the assembly of the Lord.” – Deuteronomy 23:1-8 ESV

Moses now shifts his focus from marriage to the wider corporate context of Israel. More specifically, he addresses the topic of worship or the corporate assembly of the covenant community. Six times in eight verses, he will discuss those who are forbidden to “enter into the assembly of the Lord.” This is a reference to the gathering of the people of Israel for all God-ordained feasts and festivals, or other prescribed occasions where the people were to gather for public worship.

Those times at which the corporate community gathered together before the Lord were to be seen as sacred. Those events were to be attended only by those who could be deemed legitimate members of the covenant community of Israel. God had made His covenant with Abraham and his descendants. They were considered by God to be holy because He had set them apart from all the other nations. So, there were restrictions concerning who could take part in these sacred assemblies.

First of all, Moses prohibits the inclusion of any males who suffered from any form of emasculation. This would include those suffering from any form of birth defect concerning the male genitals or those who had accidentally or deliberately been emasculated. This regulation, while seemingly unfair and exclusionary, had a purpose behind it. Any emasculated man would have been considered physically incomplete or lacking in wholeness. Wholeness and holiness were closely linked in the Hebrew way of thinking. And emasculation would have left the individual incapable of procreation because of their inability to produce the seed necessary for conception. These people were not to be treated as second-class citizens, but they were restricted from joining in the corporate worship of God. Again, this had to do with wholeness and holiness.

The second restriction has to do with anyone born of a “forbidden union” or illegitimate birth. This most likely included anyone whose parents were of mixed ethnic backgrounds, particularly referring to a Hebrew and a pagan. But it is thought to have included children born out of incest, rape, or some other unholy union between a man and a woman. Once again, it is not that these people were to be considered as non-members of the Jewish community, but that their participation in the corporate worship of the nation was restricted. The issue was that of holiness or wholeness.

Anyone of Moabite and Ammonite descent was also restricted from participation in the corporate worship of Israel. The mention of these two people groups indicated that Moabites and Ammonites could convert to Judaism, but they could not join in the national assemblies reserved for the worship of Yahweh. There are several factors behind this prohibition. The first is that these two people groups were the descendants of the two sons born to Lot as a result of his incestuous relationships with his own daughters (Genesis 19:30-38). But they were also guilty of having treated the Israelites harshly during their journey to the land of Canaan. The king of Moab had attempted to use a prophet to curse the people of Israel, but his efforts were derailed by God. This snub of God’s chosen people had long-term ramifications, restricting any Ammonites and Moabites who converted to Judaism from participating in corporate worship with the nation of Israel.

But any Edomites who had converted to Judaism were not to be restricted from the corporate assemblies of Israel. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob. And the Israelites were commanded to treat them as brothers.

Finally, anyone of Egyptian descent who had become part of the Hebrew nation was also to be treated fairly and allowed to participate in the worship of Yahweh. This inclusion of the Egyptians seems odd when you consider that the people of Israel spent more than 400 years as their slaves. But the nation of Egypt had been used by God to foster the growth of the nation of Israel. When Jacob and his family had first arrived in Egypt, they number just over 70 people, but by the time they left four centuries later, they numbered in the millions. And it had been the people of Egypt who had blessed the Israelites by providing them with gifts and treasures when they departed.

The people of Israel had also done as Moses told them, for they had asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. And the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus they plundered the Egyptians. – Exodus 12:35-36 ESV

So, God commanded that the Israelites treat any Egyptians in their midst who worshiped Him to be treated as equals, allowing them to join in their corporate assemblies.

The coming together of the people of God for times of corporate worship was meant to reflect their status as His chosen people. We have seen how God commanded the purging of evil from their midst. This was particularly important when it came to times of worship. The presence of the wicked or evil would pollute their corporate holiness. God was to be treated with reverence, and as worthy of the greatest honor they could bring. These assemblies of the Lord were not to be taken lightly or flippantly. God was to be honored as holy and deserving of the greatest respect. So, these prohibitions have much more to say about the perfection of God than they do about the imperfections or unworthiness of the individuals mentioned. The worship of God was to be taken seriously, and by providing clear directions and restrictions regarding proper worship, Moses was reminding the people of Israel just how worthy of worship their God was.

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

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

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

Whatever Is Right In Your Own Eyes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

Too Ignorant to Know It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson9 All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame. 10 Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing? 11 Behold, all his companions shall be put to shame, and the craftsmen are only human. Let them all assemble, let them stand forth. They shall be terrified; they shall be put to shame together.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their Works Are Nothing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God Has Purposed.

1 The oracle concerning Tyre.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God of Peace.

What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. – 1 Corinthians 14:26-33 ESV

The very fact that Paul is going into this great amount of detail regarding the gifts reveals that this was a real problem for the church in Corinth. This was not a case of the gifts being in short supply. They seemed to have them in abundance. But they were confused as to their purpose and were neglecting to practice them in a spirit of love. So now, Paul gives more specific comments regarding their use in corporate worship. “When you come together,” Paul says, “each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.” The gifts were designed primarily for use within the community and Paul makes clear their intended purpose: “Let all things be done for building up.” They were not designed to get attention or to make the one with the gift look good. And they most certainly were not to be used in a competitive or chaotic way. It seems that the Corinthians were in the habit of practicing their gifts almost like it was a competition. There was no order to their services. Everyone was prophesying, singing, teaching, and speaking in tongues at the same time. Which is what let Paul to say, “God is not a God of confusion, but of peace.”

The gift of tongues was not to dominate the corporate gathering. As Paul made clear earlier, tongues were intended for the lost, not believers. But if someone was going to practice the gift of tongues within the worship service, there must be someone there to interpret what was said. Otherwise, they were to remain silent. And Paul restricted the use of tongues to no more than three individuals per worship service. He did the same thing with the gift of prophecy. “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said” (1 Corinthians 14:29 ESV). The worship service was not to be a circus or free-for-all, with everyone speaking at the same time or saying whatever they felt led to say. Even those with a prophetic word were to be evaluated by others with the same gift. There had to be a confirmation of what was being said. Just because someone prophesied did not mean that what they said was true. There was a need for the congregation and others with the gift of prophecy to ascertain whether what was being said was of God. This is an important distinction. Not all tongues is of God. Not all prophecy is of God. Not all revelation is of God. The gifts can be easily replicated and done apart from the power of the Holy Spirit. There are many who claim to prophesy in the name of God, but their words are not from God. There are those who claim to have the gift of tongues, but they do not practice them according to Scripture. There is no interpretation. There is no message. And no one, except the one speaking in tongues, is built up. To Paul, this was all unacceptable. It was more evident of the former pagan background of the Corinthians than than it was of God’s intended form of worship for the church.  

The theological point is crucial: the character of one’s deity is reflected in the character of one’s worship. The Corinthians must therefore cease worship that reflects the pagan deities more than the God whom they have come to know through the Lord Jesus Christ. God is neither characterized by disorder nor the cause of it in the assembly. – Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians

Order. Edification. Peace. Godliness. Love. All of these things were to characterize the corporate worship of the body of Christ. God had given the gifts to assist in the building up of the saints. When the Spirit of God was at work within the congregation, it would be evident. There would be a spirit of love present. Orderliness, not confusion, would characterize the assembly. The gifts would be complimentary, not competitive. The use of the gifts would be dictated by the Spirit of God, not the selfish desires of men. And the result would be the edification of all, not the elevation of one.

 

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).

None Like Him.

Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven, and said, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart; you have kept with your servant David my father what you declared to him. You spoke with your mouth, and with your hand have fulfilled it this day.” – 1 Kings 8:22-24 ESV

1 Kings 8:22-53

Solomon had just finished the construction of the temple, a long-term building project, and the fulfillment of a dream of his father, David. But while the temple was complete, Solomon knew it would not be truly ready for use until it had been dedicated or set apart for God. The prayer Solomon prayed at this occasion is the longest recorded in the Bible. It was a public prayer of dedication that honored God for who He was and all that He had done in the lives of the people of Israel, including allowing them to finish this massive building project. Solomon stood before the people as their king and addressed God on their behalf. One of the first things he did was to acknowledge God's incomparable nature. He said, “There is no God like you.” God was one of a kind. He was unequaled and in a class by Himself. It is important to remember that the Israelites lived in a context and time when false gods were a dime a dozen. Every nation that surrounded Israel had its own god or gods. The Israelites themselves had long struggled with a propensity to worship other gods. While they had been exiled in Egypt, they had developed a habit of worshiping idols, and that temptation was always alive and well for them. False gods were an everyday reality for the people of Israel, but Solomon knew and acknowledged that there was no god that could ever compare to the one true God.

And one of the things that set God apart was His character. Solomon described Him as the covenant-keeping God. Unlike the false gods of the other nations, Yahweh was one who kept His word. He wasn't fickle or untrustworthy. What He promised, He would do. He could be counted on to be consistent in His interactions with those who worshiped Him. While God's moods could change, He was always consistent in His behavior. He would not tolerate sin. He hated pride. He blessed those who were obedient. He punished the disobedient. With the God of Israel, you always knew what to expect. His ways were always righteous and His character was immutable or unchanging. Solomon knew from personal experience that God had been faithful, because He had seen God fulfill His promise to David that his son would build the temple. Solomon was that son. He had personally experienced the blessings of God and knew that his success as king was God-ordained so that he might build the temple. He knew that his wisdom and wealth were both provided by God – all so he could accomplish God's will and complete the construction of the temple. Even though Solomon knew that he and others had done the actual planning and construction, he acknowledged God's non-debatable role: “You spoke with your mouth, and with your hand have fulfilled it this day.” God had said it and He had accomplished it.

There is a certain sense in which we, as Christians, fail to appreciate the uniqueness of God. We tend to take for granted who He is and all that He has done for us. While we would never think to compare God with other gods, because we don't believe in them, it might help us appreciate Him more if we better understood just how unique and incomparable He really is. Our God is faithful, just, always righteous in all that He does, and never fails to keep His word. What was true in Solomon's day is just as true today. We worship the same God. We benefit from the same unchanging characteristics that He displayed in those days. Moses wrote in the book of Numbers, “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Numbers 23:19 ESV). He is faithful, true and constantly consistent in His character. He can always be trusted. There is no god like our God. The character of God is what defines the nature of God. We don't get to add to or alter His character. We don't get to create a God of our own making. While we might prefer an all-loving, never-angry version of God, that is not up to us. We don't get to recreate Him or reimagine Him as what we would like Him to be. But the more we understand just exactly who He is, the greater our appreciation for Him will be. He deserves our praise, appreciation, worship, and faithful obedience, because there is no god like our God.

American Idols.

Little children keep yourselves from idols. – 1 John 5:21 1 John 5:13-21

What an interesting way to end a letter. After spending all of his time defending the deity of Jesus, ensuring his readers of Jesus' Sonship and role as Savior, encouraging them to love one another and warning them of false teaching, John closes with a warning about idols. It seems a bit abrupt and unnecessary. After all, he is writing to believers. These were people who loved Jesus and worshiped God. Why would he need to warn them about worshiping idols? Because that is the natural tendency of all men – both saved and unsaved. We are wired for worship. But John has made it clear that our worship is to be directed toward God and His Son Jesus Christ. We are to worship no one or nothing else. An idol is nothing more than a false representation for God. It is something we turn to other than God for hope, help, assurance, acceptance, joy, and ultimately, salvation. It can be whatever we give our time and attention to, including money, our career, our marriage, children, material things, recognition, power, prestige, or a host of other good and not-so-good things that we place our trust in other than God.

So John begins his letter with a personal testimony regarding the deity of Jesus. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:1-3 ESV). Then he ends it with a warning to avoid idols. He knew that there was a constant capacity within his readers to turn their worship of God and His Son into the worship of something or someone else. They could even falsely worship God. That is what the former members of their fellowship had done. They rejected Jesus as their Messiah. They claimed to have fellowship with God, but refused to accept the idea that Jesus was the key to that relationship. Rather than worship Him as the Son of God and Savior of the world, they had manufactured their own version of Jesus, making Him into a mere man whose life was worthy of emulation. They redefined Jesus. But John exposed the fallacy of their thinking. “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:23 ESV). You can't have a relationship with God without the Son. To attempt to do is to turn God into an idol. He becomes a false God. You make Him a liar, John says, because it was He who testified to the very fact that Jesus was His Son and the long-awaited Messiah or Savior.

Idol worship is a constant temptation for believers. We can make a god out of doctrine. We can worship our knowledge of the Bible. We can place our trust in a pastor or teacher, which is not necessarily wrong, unless we place them on a pedestal, making them our sole source of strength, comfort, direction, and encouragement. As believers, we are never free from the temptation to make money and materialism our gods. We still have a powerful propensity to worship self – seeking comfort in our own significance. We can seek satisfaction in a host of worldly things, from sexual pleasure to material gain. Which is why John warned, “Do not love the world or the things in the world” (1 John 2:15 ESV). He said, “the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world” (1 John 2:16 NLT). When they take on more importance than God, they have become our idols. When we think about these things more than we do God and His Son, we have allowed them to become false gods.

Man is born with a God-shaped vacuum in his life. He will inevitably fill it with something or someone. No one worships nothing. But John would have us remember that we are God's children. We belong to Him. As believers, we are not only His creation, we are His spiritual children. We are born of God, both physically and spiritually. And He has given us His Son in order that we might have a right relationship with Him. So that we might worship Him. The Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it this way: “Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Man was created to glorify God. But sin separated man from God. It replaced the worship of God with the worship of self. Sin is rebellion to and rejection of God's rightful place at the center of our affections. It is a desire for something other than God. It is a desire to make ourselves god. But Jesus was sent by God to remedy not only our sin problem, but our worship disorder. He came to provide us atonement for and forgiveness from the penalty of sin. But He also came to restore us to a right worship of God. Some of us have gladly accepted God's gift of salvation, but have never fully recognized that we were saved to worship. God restored us so that we might recover our love for and worship of Him. We are not to worship salvation. We are to worship the one who provided it. We are not to worship heaven, but the one provided us access into His presence and with whom we will spend eternity in a loving Father-child relationship.

Worthy Is The Lamb!

Isaiah 43-44, Revelation 5

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing! Revelation 5:12 ESV

God's relationship with Israel was complicated. He had chosen them. He had made them His prized possession among all the nations of the world. He had determined to dwell among them, give them His law as a standard for righteous living, and then provided the sacrificial system as a means of forgiveness when they failed to live up to His law. They were to worship Him as their God. They were to both love and fear Him. They were expected to obey Him. They were to acknowledge Him as their Creator and King. He was to be their Lord of Hosts, their rescuer and protector in times of conflict. But more than anything, God was to be their Savior and Redeemer. There were times when He was forced to be their Judge, pronouncing His sentence of guilt upon them and executing the punishment they so justly deserved. Yet, in spite of their sin, God always stood ready to be their Savior. He repeatedly restored and redeemed them.  

What does this passage reveal about God?

God is worthy to be worshiped. He is deserving of man's praise and adoration – especially those who have been called by His name. He is the one who created all that exists. And as if that was not enough, He determined to have a special, one-of-a-kind relationship with the nation of Israel. He chose to allow them to experience the power of His presence. He revealed Himself to them. He dwelt among them. He gave them His law. He led them. He fed them. He protected and provided for them. He told them, “I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:3 ESV). He reminded them, “you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you” (Isaiah 43:4 ESV). He went out of His way to teach them, “I am the Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King” (Isaiah 43:15 ESV). And yet, they responded to Him with indifference, apathy, and a stubborn refusal to acknowledge who He was and all that He had done. “Yet you did not call upon me, O Jacob; but you have been weary of me, O Israel!” (Isaiah 43:22 ESV). Rather than worship Him, they burdened Him with their sins and wore Him out with their iniquities (Isaiah 43:24). But amazingly, God responded with grace, mercy, love and forgiveness. “I, I am he, who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

When the people of Israel were given the unique opportunity to have a relationship with the God of the universe, they proved to be unfaithful. Their affections for Him proved fickle and fleeting. Rather than honor Him as the one true God, they constantly found themselves turning to false gods. When faced with difficulties or in the midst of trying circumstances, they consistently put their hopes, expectations and affections in something other than God. His repeated acts of kindness, deliverance, protection, provision, mercy, grace, and love were met with indifference, doubt, ingratitude, and unfaithfulness. God had proven Himself over and over again. He had shown that He alone was God. There were no other gods before Him. He had defeated the gods of Egypt. He had overcome the gods of the nations that occupied the land of Canaan. He ridiculed the very idea of idols, saying, “All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit” (Isaiah 44:9 ESV). He exposed the idiocy of those who bowed down to the very things they had created, rather than worship the One who had created them.  

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

For those of us who call ourselves children of God, He has proven Himself worthy of our allegiance. He has redeemed us through the blood of His own Son. He has provided us a means by which we can escape judgment and enjoy a restored relationship with Him. He has rescued and redeemed us. He has shown Himself to be worthy of our praise, adoration, obedience, love and worship. And we are reminded that that worth is unmatched and without end. There is no one else like Him. There is nothing on this earth that even remotely comes close to Him in value and worth. There is nothing in heaven that rivals His majesty, power, and holiness, or merits our worship, attention or affections. In the book of Revelation, John is given a glimpse into heaven and shown a scene that takes place some time in the distant future. He sees God sitting on His throne in heaven, holding in his hand a scroll. John hears the voice of an angel crying out, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break the seals?” (Revelation 5:2 ESV). And much to John's dismay, he realizes that “no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or look into it” (Revelation 5:3 ESV), and he began to weep. The scroll contained the details concerning the future of mankind and the earth. It would reveal how the story ends, but no one was worthy to open it and reveal what was going to happen. Except for one – the Lamb who was slain. “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10 ESV). The one who was slain is the one who will make possible the final fulfillment of God's plan of redemption and restoration of creation. He alone is worthy. It is He who provided for our salvation and who will make possible the consummation of all things. He is our Savior, Holy One, Creator, King, Lord of Hosts, and Redeemer. No one and nothing else deserves our praise, attention, affections, hope, trust, worship, and love. “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13 ESV).

Father, it is so amazing that I can find myself worshiping anything or anyone other than You. Nothing compares to You. Nothing can hold a candle to You. Your power is unmatched. Your holiness is unexcelled. And yet I can so easily end up worshiping the creation rather than the Creator. I can so quickly place my affections and expectations in those things that cannot deliver. You alone are God. You alone are worthy. You have proven that to be true time and time again, and when it comes time for You to bring Your plan to an end, it will be Your Son who proves worthy to finish what You began. Amen

Serving God.

1 Chronicles 23-24, 1 Thessalonians 1

For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God… – 1 Thessalonians 1:9 ESV

Serving and worshiping God should be our primary objectives as His people. The Westminster Shorter Catechism states that the chief end of man, or his primary purpose in life is “to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” As David's grew older, he began to prepare his son to carry out his dream of building a temple for God. David had a desire to provide a place of worship for his God, in which sacrifices could be made. David divided up the Levites and gave them specific responsibilities, one of which was to “stand every morning, thanking and praising the Lord, and likewise at evening” (1 Chronicles 23:30 ESV). Their praise and thanksgivings were also to be regularly offered to the Lord on “Sabbaths, new moons, and feast days” (1 Chronicles 23:31 ESV). A big part of what was to go on in the temple was the worship of God, expressed in praise and thanksgiving to Him for all that He had done for His people. David desired to build a temple in which His God would dwell and in which the people of Israel would honor their God through obedient sacrifice and ongoing praise.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Over in Psalm 145, we have the words of David written concerning his God: “I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever. Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable” (Psalm 145:1-3 ESV). David went on to write of God's graciousness, mercy, patience, kindness, and steadfast love. He declared that “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts” (Psalm 145:4 ESV). They were to talk about God's majesty. They were to meditate on His wondrous works performed on their behalf. They were to speak of His might and declare His greatness. They were to sing of His righteousness. For David, serving God was not just about doing things for God. It was recognition of His glory, majesty, holiness and greatness; and a outward expression of that recognition in praise and worship. David said, “My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever” (Psalm 145:21 ESV).

In the old hymn, When We All Get To Heaven, Eliza Hewitt wrote the following lyrics: “Sing the wondrous love of Jesus, Sing His mercy and His grace; In the mansions bright and blessed He’ll prepare for us a place. When we all get to heaven, What a day of rejoicing that will be! When we all see Jesus, We’ll sing and shout the victory!” Even in heaven, we will find ourselves praising, singing, rejoicing, and worshiping God for His greatness, goodness, and glory. But David knew that the praise of God was not something to be reserved for heaven, but was to be the regular lifestyle of those who understood and had experienced God's amazing grace and mercy in this lifetime.

What does this passage reveal about man?

In his letter to the Thessalonian believers, Paul spoke of their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:3 ESV). He said that their “faith in God has gone forth everywhere” (1 Thessalonians 1:8 ESV) and how they had “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 ESV). Their lives had become living expressions of their belief in and worship of God. They were serving God, not just through doing good things and living right kind of live, but by expressing unfailing hope in Jesus and faithfully waiting for His return from heaven. Rather than put all their stock in this world, they were counting on the promise of God for eternal life made possible through Jesus, “who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10 ESV).

We see in the Thessalonians an example of what it looks like to serve God faithfully. They had “received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:6 ESV). Their faith in God had become visible and well-known to all those around them. It was not secret, hidden, or some kind of personal, internal thing, but an outward manifestation of their faith in God that was easily seen and acknowledged by all those around them. Their lives were different than they had been before. Others could see that they had turned away from idols and were now worshiping the one true God. They were serving Him and it showed in how they lived their lives. It was evident in how they talked about God and placed their hope and trust in God. They were waiting on the return of Jesus and living with an eternal mindset. But in the meantime, like David, they were singing of the wondrous love of Jesus. They were telling of His mercy and grace. In the midst of all their troubles on this earth, they were counting on the reality of heaven and the promised return of Jesus Christ.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

My service for God needs to be more than just outward acts of goodness and righteousness. It must stem from a desire to praise and worship Him for who He is and for all He has done. Too often I can become just like the Pharisees, of whom Jesus said, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8 ESV). Like David, I want to be able to say, “My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord” (Psalm 145:121 ESV), and I want to mean it. It begins with a recognition of just how great He is. Then it shows up in verbal expressions of praise and thanksgiving. I must learn to tell of His greatness, goodness, graciousness and ongoing love. I must place my hope in His Son's eminent return. I must live my live in faithful obedience to His will and in loving submission to His Word. That is true service to God.

Father, I want to serve You with all my heart. I want all my devotion to be focused on You, but so often I find myself in love with the things of this world. I find it so easy to praise temporal things and find satisfaction in objects that have no lasting value. Teach me to sing of Your wonder and grace, to talk of Your glory and majesty, and to praise You for all Your incredible activity in and around my life. Amen

To the Lord.

Leviticus 23-24, Luke 13

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. And now, look, your house is abandoned. And you will never see me again until you say, "Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!" – Luke 13:34 NLT

As the people of God, the Israelites existed for the glory of God. Everything about their lives was to be focused on Him – every aspect of their lives throughout the year was to revolve around Him. Everything about the Tabernacle, the feasts, and the Law was designed to remind them of God's holiness and to bring Him glory. God filled the year with festivals and feasts, each intended to commemorate His divine action on and influence over their lives. From the weekly Sabbath observance to the yearly Passover celebration, they could not escape the fact that their very existence was a result of God's grace, mercy and unfailing love. Throughout chapter 23 of Leviticus, we see the phrase "to the Lord" used repeatedly. The various feasts are referred to as "holy convocations," or sacred assemblies. These were to be days that were set apart on the calendar each year to remember what God had done in their lives – from His miraculous redemption of their lives from captivity in Egypt to His gracious provision of crops during the last year. These days were to be dedicated to the Lord and held as sacred. Their lives were to be a testament to God's glory and grace, power and provision.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God wanted the people to understand that everything He had given them to do was to be done with Him as the focal point. The Sabbath was to be dedicated to the Lord. The Passover was "the Lord's Passover" (Leviticus 23:5 ESV). The Feast of Firstfruits was intended to honor the Lord as the people presented to Him the very best of all that they had. Pentecost was a one-day celebration where they were to present a thank offering for God's provision for their physical and spiritual needs. The Feast of Trumpets served as their New Year celebration. The sound of the trumpets signaled the beginning of another new year and called the congregation to once again dedicate the year ahead to God. It was to be a reminder that God was in their midst and working on their behalf. The Day of Atonement was a day of fasting and self-denial as the people gave up their normal activities and dedicated themselves to the task of sacrifice for their sins. This was a once-a-year occasion that provided for the people atonement for the sins committed over the previous year. Apart from their fasting, this was all the work of God. Their atonement was His doing, not theirs. This was a day of humbling before and complete dependence upon God. The Feast of Tabernacles was a yearly celebration and commemoration of God's provision of their needs during their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. He had provided them with shelter, food, water, and even clothes that did not wear out. It was a reminder of God's faithfulness and provision.

God designed all these things to point to Him. The people were never to take Him for granted or fail to remember that their very existence was dependent upon His love, mercy, grace and presence among them. Without Him they were nothing. But they were not only to observe the feasts and festivals as reminders of God, they were to treat Him with dignity, honor and respect – even honoring His name and never using it in a disrespectful or inappropriate manner. To do so was called blasphemy and the penalty was death by stoning. God's name was to be treated with the same reverence as one would show Him. God was holy and was to be treated as such.

What does this passage reveal about man?

We have a tendency to make everything about us. It would be easy to think of a day of sabbath rest as a day for us to kick back and relax, to cease from working and simply chill out. But the Sabbath was intended to be a day dedicate to God. The cessation from work was intended to provide the people time to concentrate their attention on God. It was also to be a reminder of their trust in and dependence upon God. If they didn't work, they would have to rely on Him. The festivals and feasts were not intended to be civil holidays that provided the people a day off from work. They were to remind the people of God's faithful activity in their lives. Throughout the year, the Jews were given constant reminders that God was to be the focus of their lives and the focal point of their nation. The very presence of the Tabernacle in the midst of their camp was to reinforce that God was to be at the center of all that they did as a people. To this day, the people of God are to live their lives totally dependent upon and focused on Him. We are not the stars of the show, He is. We are not to make ourselves the center of attention. We must make all that we do all about God.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

In the book of Luke, we have recorded for us Jesus' lament over the city of Jerusalem. Jesus knew that His days were numbered. He had been slowly making His way to Jerusalem where He would face His arrest, trials, and crucifixion. He knew exactly what awaited Him because it had been part of God's plan from the very beginning of time. He knew the Jews would eventually reject Him and demand His death. But their rejection of God's offer of salvation was not new. They had stoned and killed many of the prophets of God who begged them to repent and return to Him. They had a track record of refusing God's offers. Since the days of Moses, the people of Israel had repeatedly refused to keep God at the center of their lives. Yes, they had a Tabernacle and, eventually, a Temple. They had continued to maintain the sacrificial requirements. But they had simply been going through the motions. Their hearts were not in it. And by the time Jesus showed up on the scene, their worship of God had become little more than half-hearted attempt at keeping a set of ritualistic rules and religious requirements. He had long since ceased to be the focus of their lives and the focal point of the nation's attention.

The same thing can happen to me. I can easily make myself the central focus of all that I do, even making my faith in Christ a convenient resource for living a better life. I can live my life as thought God exists for my glory, instead of the other way around. I can make the costly mistake of thinking that God is somehow obligated to meet my needs and grant my wishes – like some kind of divine cosmic genie. But I am to live my life focused on God. I am to constantly remind myself that my entire existence is based on His faithfulness, grace, love, and mercy. I am nothing without Him. Paul would remind me, "And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Colossians 3:17 ESV). Elsewhere he writes, "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV). My entire life is to be lived with a Christ-centered, God-focused mentality. All that I do, say, and am should be centered on my Savior and God. Without them, I am nothing. But because of them, I have been redeemed, forgiven, and restored to a right relationship with God the Father.

Father, help me stay focused on You. Forgive me for tending to make it all about me too much of the time. I am nothing without You. You are evident in every area of my life. Your love, mercy and grace permeates the entirety of my life. I can see Your hand at work in and around me constantly. Thank You for providing Your Word as a reminder of who You are and all that You have done. Thank You for Your Spirit who dwells in me and is a constant reminder of Your unfailing love for me. Amen

Here We Go Again.

Matthew 14:22-33; Mark 6:45-52

“They were totally amazed, for they still didn't understand the significance of the miracle of the loaves. Their hearts were too hard to take it in.” – Mark 6:51-52 NLT

After all the leftovers had been picked up after the feeding of the 5000 and the crowds had been sent home, Jesus told the disciples to head back across the Sea of Galilee to the town of Bethsaida. After spending some time alone in prayer, He would meet them there. This out to bring to mind another recent trip across this same lake. That time Jesus was with them and a storm blew in unexpectedly, catching them in the middle of the lake. The disciples thought they were going to drown, but Jesus was asleep in the boat. They woke Him up and He calmed the storm. They were blown away at what they had seen. And it was all about to happen again. But this time, they were alone. Jesus was not with them. They had seen a lot happen between these two events. They had witnessed the healings of the demoniac and the woman with the issue of blood, Jairus' daughter being brought back to life, and they had been given power and authority to perform the very same kind of miracles themselves. And just a few hours before, they had witnessed Jesus feed thousands of people with just a few loaves and fishes.

Now they were in a boat in the middle of the lake in the middle of the night. I'm sure they were thinking, "This can't be happening again!" And even if their faith did kick in and they remembered how Jesus had saved them the first time, they had to worry about the fact that He wasn't asleep in the boat this time. He was nowhere to be found. Evidently, this storm was not as bad as the first., but they were having to work hard to row against the wind and waves. Jesus sees them from the shore. Mark tells us that He began to walk on the water, but had every intention of walking right past them on His way to the opposite side. He wasn't heading their way in order to save them. He must have known they were safe and would make it to the shore eventually.

It was dark, rain was coming down in sheets, and the wind was blowing hard. The sudden appearance of what appeared to be a man walking on top of the water unnerved them. They were terrified, thinking they were seeing a ghost. But Jesus calmed their fears. He spoke to them. He even invited Peter to step out of the boat and walk out to meet Him on the water. Which Peter did, until he took his eyes off of Jesus and focused on the waves and wind. Then he sank. But Jesus rescued him and they both make it safely to the boat. Much has been made about Peter's adventure of walking on the water. But it's interesting that neither Mark or John record that part of the story. Their main emphasis is on Jesus, words. "Don't be afraid. Take courage! I am here!" (Mark 6:50 NLT). And Mark makes note of a special point of interest. He tells that when Jesus climbed into the boat and the waves immediately stopped, that the disciples were totally amazed. Matthew records that "the disciples worshiped him" (Matthew 14:33 NLT) and said that He must really be the Son of God. But Mark simply says, "They were totally amazed, for they still didn't understand the significance of the miracles of the loaves. Their hearts were too hard to take it in" (Mark 6:51-52 NLT). Those two accounts seem to be in contradiction to one another. Did they worship or did they doubt?

The real point of this story seems to be their surprise. They were totally amazed at what they had seen. Mark makes mention of the miracle of the loaves. But this was just the most recent miracle they had witnessed. These men had seen Jesus heal the demoniac and the woman with the issue of blood. They had even personally done some of the same things when Jesus gave them power and authority to do so. They had watched as Jesus raised Jairus' daughter from the dead. And not too many days prior to this one, they had watched as Jesus calmed the storm on the very same lake with just a word from His mouth. And yet, they were shocked and surprised at seeing Jesus walk on water. I think they did worship Him. I think they did say, "You really are the Son of God!" (Matthew 14:33 NLT). But it was all after the fact. It was as a result of what He had just done. It seems that their hearts had not grasped the significance of all that had happened up until that point. They did not anticipate or eagerly expect Jesus to do the miraculous, but seemed to be surprised each time He did something out of the ordinary. Their worship was retroactive not anticipatory. It is interesting to note that Jairus came to Jesus expecting Him to heal his daughter. The woman with the issue of blood anticipated something miraculous happening if she could just touch the hem of Jesus' robe. The crowds flocked to Jesus expecting Him to heal the sick. Yet the disciples were blown away each and every time Jesus did something unexpected or extraordinary.

And we can be guilty of the same thing. Too often we fail to anticipate or expect the miraculous from Jesus. We call Him our Lord and Savior. We acknowledge Him as the Son of God. But we don't eagerly expect Him to do the unexpected in our lives. As a matter of fact, we are usually surprised when He does – pleasantly so. But a true understanding of who Jesus is anticipates the miraculous. Rather than being surprised by the power of Jesus, a person of faith expects and anticipates it. He looks for it. This was the problem with the disciples. They were still living with doubt and fear. When the storm came up, they didn't expect a miracle, even though they had already seen Jesus do something before. When Jesus came to them walking on the water, they were shocked. They had failed to learn the lesson of the loaves. Jesus is not limited by anything. As the Son of God, He had power over demons, disease, and nature. He even had power over the molecular structure of bread and fish. Nothing was impossible for Him. So expect Him to do the impossible.

Father, Your Son should not surprise us. His power should not catch us off guard or shock us. We should eagerly anticipate it and expect it as a normal part of a life lived with the Son of God. May our worship be anticipatory, not retroactive. May we live looking forward to what Your Son will do, not just worshiping what He has done. Help us to live expectantly. Amen.

Priority One.

Proverbs 2

Cry out for insight, and ask for understanding. Search for them as you would for silver; seek them like hidden treasures.” – Proverbs 2:3-4 NLT

Over and over again, the Book of Proverbs personifies the wisdom of God as calling out to men and women, offering them all that they need to survive and thrive in this world. Wisdom, understanding, insight, knowledge, common sense, discernment – they're all available and there for the taking, but there is effort involved. You have to want them. You have to seek them. You have to search for them like hidden treasures. In other words, they have to have some inherent value to you. Otherwise, you will never make them a priority in your life. And sadly, many of us never cry out for insight from God because we really don't believe we need it. We don't ask for understanding from God because we seem to think we already have a good grasp on life. They're not a priority because they're not a necessity.

Solomon makes it clear that the wisdom, knowledge and understanding he is talking about are only available from God, and that access to them begins with a fear of God. The fear of God is simply an understanding that He is God and I am not. He is all-knowing and I am not. He is all-powerful and I am not. He is in control of all things and I am not. The fear of the Lord involves humility and dependency. We recognize our need for Him and humbly turn to Him for help, hope, and healing. Solomon says that if we cry out for insight, ask for understanding, and seek for them like hidden treasures, THEN we will understand what it means to fear the Lord. In other words, our recognition of our need for these things and our humble crying out for them are key to comprehending what it means to fear the Lord. We will grow in our knowledge of God as we grow in our dependence upon Him. When we drop our self-righteous, I-can-do-it-all-myself attitude and humbly turn to Him, He "grants wisdom. From his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He grants a treasure of common sense to the honest" (Proverbs 2:6-7 NLT).

But it begins with making Him our highest priority. We have to realize and recognize our need for Him. We have to begin to pursue Him more than anything or anyone else in this world. We must make Him our objective. Wisdom, understanding, and knowledge are the benefits of knowing Him. Common sense is a byproduct of a growing knowledge of God. Discernment, direction, discipline and discretion are all outcomes of making God our highest priority.

Father, I want to make much of You. I want to learn to seek You for who You are, not just for what I get out of it. I benefit from a relationship with You, but that should not be my sole motivation. Help me make you my highest priority because You are worthy of my highest admiration, attention, and worship. Amen.

A Rare Breed.

1 Kings 15

Asa did what was pleasing in the LORD's sight, as his ancestor David had done. ­– 1 Kings 15:11 NLT

One of the saddest, yet most repeated phrases found in the Scriptures is "But he did what was evil in the LORD's sight and followed the example of his father" (1 Kings 15:26 NLT). You see it over and over again in the history of the kings of Israel and Judah. It seems that virtually every king these two nations ever had were unfaithful and worse than the one before them. And only occasionally was the long line of losers broken by someone like King Asa of Israel. And the writer of 1 Kings makes it clear that this was God's doing. "But for David's sake, the LORD his God allowed his dynasty to continue, and he gave Abijam a son to rule after him in Jerusalem. For David had done what was pleasing in the LORD's sight and had obeyed the LORD's commands throughout his life" (1 Kings 15:4-5 NLT). It was because of the faithfulness of David that God would allow an occasional king to rise up who would call the people back to a right relationship with Yahweh. Asa was that kind of a king. He breaks the pattern of apostasy and begins to do what was right in the eyes of God. Asa institutes a series of reforms, including the removal of the male cult prostitutes who "assisted" the men of Judah in their worship of false gods. He also removed the idols set up by his predecessors and took the bold step of removing his own grandmother as queen because she had assisted in the moral decline of Judah by erecting what was probably a highly obscene image or statue for the worship of Asherah.

Asa was swimming against the tide. He was battling a pattern of unfaithfulness and moral apathy that made his reforms especially hard to enact. The people would not have easily or eagerly embraced his reforms. Removing their idols and the myriad replacements for God they had grown used to turning to would have been met with skepticism and resistance. He probably was not popular in a lot of places within Judah. I doubt he had the best of relationships with his grandmother Maacah either. And while his reforms did not result in the complete iradication of idolatry from Judah, "Asa remained faithful to the LORD throughout his life" (1 Kings 15:14 NLT). He provided a 40-year respite from the pattern of moral and spiritual decay that plagued both Israel and Judah. During Asa's reign in Judah, Nadab would come to power in Israel and he "did what was evil in the LORD's sight and followed the example of his father, continuing the sins of idolatry that Jeroboam had led Israel to commit" (1 Kings 15:26 NLT). Nadab would be assassinated by Basha, who would take over the throne of Israel. "But he did what was evil in the LORD's sight and followed the example of Jeroboam, continuing the sins of idolatry that Jeroboam had led Israel to commit" (1 Kings 15:34 NLT). The pattern continues. Good and evil, faithful and unfaithful, righteous and unrighteous. But because God is in control and He has a plan for the people of Israel, He occasionally raises up a man after his own heart – a man who is willing to stand up for God and against the tide of moral and spiritual decay taking place all around him. God is still raising up individuals like that today – even with the church. Men and women who are willing to swim upstream and do the difficult job of calling the people of God back to faithfulness to God. The reality is, we can be just as prone to the erection of God-replacements in our lives as the people of Judah and Israel were. We can end up "worshiping" all kinds of things, turning to them instead of God for our comfort, encouragement, happiness, provision, protection, etc. Instead of trusting God, we can end up trusting a long list of other things that we expect to deliver what only God can. Like Asa, we need to do the hard task of removing the idols from our own lives and encouraging those around us to do the same thing. It won't be popular or pleasant. But the life of faithfulness seldom is. We are called to be salt and light – agents of influence and change in a dark and dying world. Will it be said of us, they did what was pleasing in the sight of God? I hope so.

Father, You are still raising up a faithful few who will stand in the gap and do what is right in Your eyes instead of their own. You are calling out a remnant of faithful followers who will do the right thing, even though it is the hard thing. May I be one of them. May I live my life in such a way that I challenge the status quo and model a life of faithfulness in the midst of the rampant unfaithfulness around me. May I be an Asa in my generation. Amen