Archives for posts with tag: idolatry

Thanks to Daniel 1.1, we have a very precise date for Daniel’s exile to Babylon: 605 BC.  Nebuchadnezzar besieges and takes Jerusalem that year, but he doesn’t destroy it, and he leaves King Jehoiakim in charge.  He does plunder Jerusalem and take a lot of her wealth and some of her smartest young men to Babylon, among whom is Daniel.

Nebuchadnezzar’s aim is to assimilate these young men into Babylonian culture, in essence to turn them into good Babylonians who support his policies and directives.  We discover immediately, that Daniel will not be assimilated.  “But Daniel was determined not to defile himself by eating the food and wine given to them by the king. He asked the chief of staff for permission not to eat these unacceptable foods.” (Daniel 1:8, NLT)

There is interesting irony here:  Nebuchadnezzar thinks that he is undermining Judah by turning her sons into good Babylonians, but what he gets underneath his very nose is God inserting faithful worshippers into the very highest ranks of the Babylonian empire, and as we find out, they will have a mighty impact.  Indeed by the second chapter we find Nebuchadnezzar, greatest king of the greatest empire in the world at the time, saying these words: The king said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is the greatest of gods, the Lord over kings, a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this secret.” (Daniel 2:47, NLT)

Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, Jeremiah is prophesying…and suffering.  Rather than repent when he hears Jeremiah’s prophecies, Pashur, the priest in charge of the temple in Jerusalem has him arrested.  On another occasion, the Lord warns Jeremiah of a plot to kill him.  We get the sense that things are past hope, that Judah is on a one way road of destruction and there is no chance for them to change.  Indeed, just reading through the various subheadings gives the reader an idea of how things are going in Judah:

  • Judah’s Persistent Idolatry
  • Weeping in Jerusalem
  • Idolatry Brings Destruction
  • Judah’s Broken Covenant
  • Judah’s Inevitable Doom

Two times in today’s reading God tells Jeremiah not to pray for Judah (Jer 11.14; Jer 14.11-12), and then these shocking words: “Then the Lord said to me, “Even if Moses and Samuel stood before me pleading for these people, I wouldn’t help them. Away with them! Get them out of my sight!” (Jeremiah 15:1, NLT) Moses and Samuel are perhaps the two greatest servants of God in Israel’s history, and their interceding on behalf of these people would do no good.  This is frightening to read.

When it comes to sin and idolatry, God will allow his people to go only so far down the road of sin before he acts to correct that sin and idolatry.  God calls we who follow him to faithfulness to prevent this very thing.  Holiness of life is not God forcing us to live according to a set of rules, but God acting to protect us from ourselves. This is love.

 

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I’m in Day 26 of my 90 day (or less) trip through the NLT Chronological Bible.  We are in the books of 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Isaiah, and Amos today, because chronologically they (or parts of them anyway) fit together.  It really is not a surprise that they fit together because as we see the Game of Thrones continuing (Jeroboam II…Zechariah (assassinated by Shallum)…Shallum (assassinated by Menahem)…Menahem…Pekaiah (assassinated by Pekah)…Pekah…and on it goes, we also see the people of Israel especially become more and more enmeshed in idolatry and less and less interested in remaining faithful to Yahweh, so Yahweh sends prophets. This is an act of grace.

The book of Amos is about 5% God’s Judgment on Israel’s neighbors and 95% God’s judgment on Israel. Again and again God speaks through Amos about Israel’s sins, about law courts that are partial to the wealthy, about how the poor are oppressed, about idolatry, and flagging love for Yahweh.

For I know the vast number of your sins and the depth of your rebellions. You oppress good people by taking bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.” (Amos 5:12, NLT)

How was Amos’ message received by those who ruled in Israel?

Then Amaziah sent orders to Amos: “Get out of here, you prophet! Go on back to the land of Judah, and earn your living by prophesying there! Don’t bother us with your prophecies here in Bethel. This is the king’s sanctuary and the national place of worship!” (Amos 7:12–13, NLT)

What we discover is that Israel is not interested in listening to God’s message.  The people prefer to worship pagan gods and pursue wealth, while oppressing the poor, the orphaned, and foreigners in the land. They are faithless, though God remains faithful.

The faith lesson here would appear to be that, there is something in us that wants to draw us away from faithfulness to God.  We are led astray by the pursuit of wealth and pleasure, by the idolatry of things.  God will take action to keep us faithful to himself, this is an act of love, though it is often painful.  It is much better to watch our hearts carefully  so that we remain faithful to Our Lord.

 

But with most of them God was not  pleased,  for their corpses were scattered over the desert. Now these things took place as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things, even as they did. (1 Cor 10.5-6, Mounce NT)

Paul uses a fairly shocking example when he encourages the church at Corinth not to crave evil things. He refers to the generation of the Exodus who disobeyed God time and time again and grumbled against God. They craved evil things and so, Paul writes, their corpses were scattered over the desert. This is a frightening picture, but a good example of the seriousness with which God takes sin. Paul goes on to allude to four areas in which the church at Corinth was in danger of craving evil things:

  1. Idolatry – This is putting anything or anyone in the place of God himself.
  2. Sexual immorality – Above the city of Corinth sat a temple to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and pleasure. From this temple every night hundreds of prostitutes would come down into Corinth to play their trade. Corinth was much like Las Vegas in our day, a city of wealth, a city of many different types of people, and a city dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure. Sexual immorality was not only a problem, by the people of Corinth it was celebrated as a positive good.
  3. Putting Christ to the test – It’s interesting that Paul equates putting Christ to the test with the incident in the Exodus in which serpents came and killed many people because of their complaint against Moses.
  4. Grumbling – This is not so much complaints about every day living conditions, but grumbling against God for the situation into which God himself had put them.

We are not far distant from the church at Corinth. We are susceptible to all of the same sins to which they were susceptible, mainly because time and culture certainly does change, but the human heart remains the same.

God is serious about sin because he understands that it is sin that draws us away from devotion to him. By punishing sin he is trying to keep our flagging love for him alive, and that is good and right, indeed it is compassionate.

Jeremiah 8:22 (HCSB)
Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
So why has the healing of my dear people
not come about?

There was, of course, balm in Gilead.  While biblical commentators don’t know exactly what this balm consisted of, it is clear that it was used for medicinal purposes.  The people of Judah complain that they are in desperate straits and that God has not saved them.  God’s answer is that the remedy has been there all along–faithfulness to him.  There is balm available; there is healing available.

Instead of faithfulness to the covenant, the people pursued God and other gods.  They were performing the rituals that God had commanded, all the while also offering sacrifices to false gods of the nations surrounding them.  Needless to say, this was not acceptable to our God.  This was idolatry.  God treats idolatry very harshly and if he is that concerned about it, we ought to be that concerned also.

The ESV Study Bible comments: “They prefer false prophets to God’s written and revealed word.”

We ought to be considering the lessons of Jeremiah’s Judah very carefully, because we live in a culture in which, as followers of Jesus, we are allowing ourselves to become ensnared by the cultural trends around us, many of which are diametrically opposed to faithfulness to God.  We believe it’s okay because we are also devoted to God.  This is not okay.  Not at all.

God will fight against our flagging devotion to him, even when we do not want him to.  This is an act of love.

 

But you who forsake the Lord, who forget my holy mountain, who set a table for Fortune and fill cups of mixed wine for Destiny,” (Isaiah 65:11, ESV)

We miss something in this verse if we do not understand the culture surrounding Israel.  The Hebrew word translated “Fortune” appears for the name of the god of Fortune in Canaanite literature [Faithlife Study Bible].  The word “Destiny” seems to be a reference to either a god, or the course of one’s life that was determined by the gods of the cultures around Israel.

The point being made here is that God’s people were so immersed in the surrounding culture that they were idolaters.  They should have been setting a table for the Lord and asking his blessing, instead, like the Canaanites who were pagans and opposed to the Lord, they were setting a table for “Fortune,” as if that false god could help them.  They giving their future over to Destiny or Fate, rather than trusting in Yahweh.

This is quite sobering, because the nature of idolatry is that it is often so subtle that we don’t even recognize it as it creeps into our lives and takes over, even while we appear to be faithful to the Lord.  We don’t often worship the god of “Fortune” in our own culture, but we give ourselves over to entertainment and amusement [which by the way comes from a word that means “to cause to stare stupidly”…just saying].  Our own false gods are often invisible and undetected which make us think we are faithful to God our Father when we are really idolaters just like the Israelites were.

We need our eyes opened to see where idolatry is creeping into our lives and then to root it out by radical faithfulness to Jesus.

“Listen to me, you stubborn of heart,
you who are far from righteousness:
I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off,
and my salvation will not delay;
I will put salvation in Zion,
for Israel my glory.” ”
https://ref.ly/Is46.12-13;esv

God’s message to his own people who were slowly straying away from Him in pursuit of other so-called gods.

Their primary problem was that they had stubborn hearts.  The Complete Word Study Bible says that the word “stubborn” means in part: “When used to describe a person or a person’s heart, it normally refers to a strength independent of or opposed to God.”  So they had a strength that was independent of God and this led them into idolatry and away from God.

We need to watch carefully that we ourselves do not follow this same pattern.  Our hearts are prone to try to take over and go our own way and have a strength that is not dependent upon God because we do not like to be dependent people, even though it is in our best interest.

The amazing thing here is that, despite their idolatry, God will bring his righteousness near and his salvation will not delay.  What is this if not grace in action? God’s people don’t draw near to salvation, God brings salvation near.  This is exactly what transpired at the cross.

 

 

“Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be befooled,—and ye turn aside、 and serve other gods, and bow down to them. So would the anger of Yahweh kindle upon you、 and he would shut up the heavens、 that there should be no rain, and ||the ground|| would not yield her increase,—so should ye perish speedily、 from off the good land, which Yahweh′ is giving unto you. ”
https://ref.ly/Dt11.16-17;emphbbl

Moses [speaking on behalf of God] lays out one requirement here for judgment to come down hard on God’s people: idolatry.

The people are encouraged to be careful because their heart might be deceived [befooled] and they be led astray.  The word that we translate “deceived” can mean “to entice, deceive, be gullible, be naive.”  Someone who is led away from the true God to worship a false god certainly qualifies as gullible and naive.  Yet God understands the human heart and the hearts ability to wander away from Him to the worship of any and everything else, be that the form of a god that people have made up, be that animals, or nature, or even Man himself.  John Calvin wrote somewhere that our hearts are idol factories cranking out one thing after another to pursue rather than God himself.

God understands full well that idolatry is an existential sin.  He warns them that they would “perish speedily,” if they fell into the trap of the pursuit of false gods.  This sheds light on how strong his punishment will come down if [when] the Israelites turned to idolatry.  The very harsh measures were designed to shock people out of their idolatry and back to the worship of God himself.  In those sense they were good and loving measures.  It is hardly loving to allow a child or friend to rush headlong down the pathway that ends in death without trying to intervene in the strongest way that we possible can.  Why should we expect God to do anything less?

We’d like to think that these days since we worship God, that we are not as prone to idolatry as the Israelites, but of course we are.  When we worship a god of our own imagination [“my god would never do X”], when we saturate ourselves with materialism, when we entertain ourselves endlessly with mindless popular media; these are all idolatrous, just as bad as what the Israelites pursued.

May we pursue the Creator himself over and above anything and everything that he has created.