Religious Dysfuntion in Canaan | part 2

Judges 17:1-6

In part one of this short study we took a look at some history in order to be able to better take these two chapters in context. After Joshua and the elders of His generation passed away, there arose a new generation which practiced evil, they worshiped the gods of the very people God had commanded Israel to drive out (remember due to the wickedness of the land before God). Due to Israel’s disobedience God allowed the pagan nations that were left to remain in order to test or prove Israel (Judges 3:1-4). When God allows us to be tested the true nature of our hearts, our motivations, are revealed. Do we truly want to follow God and cling to Him with all of our hearts and minds like Joshua 23:8 reminds us or do the things and circumstances of this world draw us away? When Israel failed to obey God they opened themselves up to a myriad of temptations.

“I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land I swore to give to your ancestors. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? So now I say, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you. Judges 2:2-3

Between the beginning of Judges and chapter 17 many years of history are recorded, God raised up many judges (Othneil, Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon and Samson) and the people had pretty much continued on a cycle of playing the harlot by worshiping false gods, suffering the consequences and then crying out to God which is when He would deliver them with a judge, they would continue serving Him until the judge died then again they’d be ensnared by the idol worship and suffer the consequences. We could shake our head and think to ourselves “wow, those Israelites sure didn’t know how to learn a lesson”. However, if we were honest with ourselves, the bad cycle on repeat sounds a lot like human behavior void of true repentance. How many times have you witnessed or caught yourself leaving God as the emergency solution, when things have gotten so bad largely due to your own sin that the only way out is to call to Him and “really commit” this time. True repentance is marked by the steady worship of and obedience towards God through not only the rough spots but the smooth ones too.

The book of Judges does not end with the account of a judge; instead the lawlessness, idolatry and sin are highlighted in the next few chapters. It is here that we take a look into a family living in the hill country of Ephraim – in particular a man named Micah. His mother had 1,100 shekels of silver that went missing. Of course she was frantic – cursing as she realized that 28 lbs of silver was gone-stolen. 28 pounds is a lot, not something that can be casually stolen either! She must have felt violated and deeply wronged. She of course was going on about it and she cursed in Micah’s presence. Her reaction stirred Micah’s heart, you see – he had stolen it! He had taken that money from his own mother….he felt bad enough to fess up though and confessed. She was so happy that he was telling the truth returning it to her. She even blesses Him in the name of the Lord and dedicates a portion of it in her thanksgiving to God. Her dedication to the Lord may seem awesome…but then things turn weird. In her joy to the “Lord” she dedicates the silver to the Him…by making an idol!! This should blow your mind. It was so backwards…so weird! God hates idolatry! It is the first commandment, “Thou shalt not have no other gods beside Me”….there are so many verses throughout God’s word supporting this but Deuteronomy 32:16-17 gives us some insight as to how serious idol worship is:

They provoked Him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations they provoked Him to anger. They sacrificed to demons, not to God–to gods whom they knew not, to new gods lately come up, whom your fathers never knew or feared.

Idolatry is terrible not only because it is us worshiping anything other than God (taking our focus and priorities off of Him and seeking something else to satisfy which is the greatest tragedy among mankind) but also because it is sacrificing time, resources and life to a lie brandished and upheld by the powers of darkness. Cling to God! (Joshua 23:8) He is the light (John 1:4-5,9), He is our hope! When we turn our backs on God we are essentially shutting the door on the light and without the illumination of the light we are blind and deceived, held captive by our sin, by our idolatry.

Given the fact that worshiping and sacrificing to an idol was the same thing as worshiping the powers and forces of darkness – is the weight of the shock sinking in? Micah’s mother “worshiped God” by worshiping idols – which means she wasn’t really worshiping God at all. Her understanding of God was way out of whack and so was Micah’s. The dysfunction didn’t stop with the idols. His house was a described as follows:

“And the man Micah had a house of gods…” Judges 17:5 [AMP]
“And the man Micah had a shrine…” Judges 17:5 [ESV]

A “house of gods” or I guess we could say it was a house held in the noose of demonic power under the guise of religious zeal…For you see he crafted multiple household gods, made an ephod and he even went as far as dedicating one of his sons to be his own personal priest….Religious zeal – yes, missing the mark – you betcha.

To confirm what an ephod was I looked it up using Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. An ephod is first mentioned in Exodus 25 and described in 28. It was a piece of the High Priest’s uniform that had shoulder straps, rings and bands which attached to the breastplate. Now when I read Micah 17 I was on my journey through the book of judges and the word “ephod” stuck out to me. Backtracking to Judges chapter 8:24-27:

24And he said, “I do have one request, that each of you give me an earring from your share of the plunder.” (It was the custom of the Ishmaelites to wear gold earrings.) 25 They answered, “We’ll be glad to give them.” So they spread out a garment, and each of them threw a ring from his plunder onto it. 26 The weight of the gold rings he asked for came to seventeen hundred shekels, not counting the ornaments, the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian or the chains that were on their camels’ necks. 27 Gideon made the gold into an ephod, which he placed in Ophrah, his town. All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.

Doesn’t this break your heart? My heart is saddened. God does great exploits through Gideon, leading the Israelites to victory against Midian and Gideon had seen the Angel of the Lord, spoke with him and  torn down idols. Yet in spit of all of this a snare, an ephod that became an object, of worship distracted him, his family and the Israelites from worshiping God. I’m not sure if the tradition of worshiping an ephod was passed down to Micah’s neck of the woods from the one Gideon had or not -perhaps though since Manessah and Ephriam were both of the house or tribe of Joseph (Genesis 46:20). Nonetheless the ephod, again, became a snare along with all of Micah’s other objects of worship.

Verse 6 drives the point home – that this was an example of when “…there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes” Judges 17:6. In I Samuel 8:6-8 we learn that God’s desire was for the Israelites to live and operate with God as their King:

6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.

I’m trying to picture this today – in the 21st century. Sadly we don’t really have to look too far. I checked, the latest poll on religion was in 2010 and a total of 75% of Americans identified themselves as Christian (counting the protestant, catholic or Christian unspecified). Yet if you look around you 75% of Americans aren’t obeying the first commandment. They aren’t humbly obeying God as their King, submitting to His authority in all their ways, idolatry is as prevalent today as it was in ancient Israel. There are many “houses of gods” whether it is of money, ambition, shiny gadgets, relationships or even food and slumber. We all worship something – but even if we claim it is God we could be way out of whack like Micah and his mom. Additionally there are “religious” or “spiritual” people who believe in the “many paths to heaven” concept and who may say they believe in God but have a house containing relics and objects from many faiths like good luck charms – which sounds a lot like Micah too.

Even honest Christians struggle with not putting idols before God since they are still dwelling in their fleshly body. There is a key difference between the two lifestyles however that makes all the difference. Is your heart troubled at and repentant of the idolatry when God opens your eyes to recognize it? Is there is an awareness, a desire and the action of tearing down those altars? Is there is the sacrifice of time and self to earnestly seek the Lord?

The Lord promises if you will seek Him you will find Him, if  you knock He will answer (Matthew 7:7-8). That is a guarantee, but are you willing to be corrected, are you willing to recognize your sin and humbly repent…or do you want to fit God into a religious box that fits into your lifestyle, your culture? God is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8, Malachi 3:6). His word is unchanging (Matthew 5:18, John 1:1, I Peter1:25). The standards, morals and commandments of God do not change even if they become unpopular with the culture that surrounds us. What it comes down to is what is more important, you or God? Who is your object of worship, who is your king?

4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 *Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says,
“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”
James 4:4-10

16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,
“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
II Corinthians 6:16

 *Cross comparison of James 4:5 [AMP]:
5Or do you suppose that the Scripture is speaking to no purpose that says, The Spirit Whom He has caused to dwell in us yearns over us and He yearns for the Spirit [to be welcome] with a jealous love?

Religious Dysfunction in Canaan | part 1

Judges 17-18

I have to confess…I got caught up reading through the book of judges. I didn’t want to put it down and I read through it in three days. Not like that is a big accomplishment it can easily be done in less time-just that it was keeping me on the edge of my seat sort to speak. Drama, shocking turns of events, men of valor like Ehud, Gilead and Samson and heart wrenching action…it is all there! Even though I’ve read through before (quite awhile back) I’d forgotten a lot of it completely. For instance, Judges 17-18. These two chapters (to me at least) seemed to stick out a bit like a sore thumb. Here I was on a fast paced ride as described and then this. A weird account of a man named Micah, a Levite from Bethlehem and the Danites. I couldn’t help but wonder – why did God include this? Why do we get such a detailed look into this small piece of history? Part of the answer is that the book of judges really boils down to one theme:

“In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes” Judges 17:6

These words are repeated several times throughout the book. The account of Micah gives us look into an actual person’s life, showcasing how dysfunctional even a “religious/spiritual” Israelite could be.

To get a better understanding of Judges 17-18 let’s first look at a little bit of the history. At the beginning of the book of judges, several of the tribes of Israel decided not to fully take possession of the land God had promised for them since the time of Abraham. Whatever their motivation, they were ignoring God’s will for their nation, and they made this decision in spite of the many prior warnings and commandments from God (just read Deuteronomy 5-9 & Joshua 23-24 as examples).

I think it is important to note that Deuteronomy 9:4-5 points out that it was not due to Israel’s righteousness that God was dispossessing the land before them, but it was because of the wickedness of the pagan nations that lived in the promised land.

When Israel tarried and turned away from completely possessing their inheritances the angel of the Lord visited them saying:

“I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land I swore to give to your ancestors. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? So now I say, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you. Judges 2:2-3

God loves His people, he doesn’t want us to disobey Him because He wants to bless us. Unfortunately our disobedience hinders that blessing…the book of judges showcases what happens as a result of disobedience towards God. The first generation (Joshua and the elders of Israel who had seen God’s mighty works in the wilderness) served the Lord and kept the law…however when they died:

there arose another generation after them who did now know the Lord, or even the work which He had done for Israel. And the people of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. And they forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, Who brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods of the peoples round about them and bowed down to them, and they provoked the Lord to anger. Judges 2:10-12

Their sin of not conquering those in the land was not worth it (no sin ever is) because they compromised and they lived as well as reared their children around and amongst evil. They tolerated evil instead of obeying God and fighting for what is right, what is good. The result – it didn’t take long for the next generation to turn their backs on God.

All it takes is a tiny foothold for sin to grow like yeast as Jesus put it in the new testament. As I read about the disobedience of the Israelite I was reminded of Joshua’s reminder to the Israelites in Joshua 23, especially verse 8:

“But cling to the Lord your God as you have done to this day.”

Joshua was about to die and he was telling the Israelite to CLING to God. It is a slippery slope into sin and that word cling perfectly illustrates what we are to do. There is no such thing as “getting by” with God, we must cling to Him with all of our hearts and souls, He is our only hope of everlasting safety and refuge. Even our own hearts our deceitful but He is the truth, He is our everything!

Pray for God to convict your heart today, and to help you carefully and truly obey God through and through instead of trying to “get by”. We have a responsibility to our children, family members, friends and really everyone to take a stand for what is right and not to compromise our morals. We might figure we can “get by” and be able to lax a bit while still serving the Lord…but compromise leads to compromise and sin is sin – it is never ever worth it.  Our children and their children will inherit either an upbringing of righteousness or it will become easier and easier for them to turn their backs on God and worship the gods and practice the lifestyles of those round about them. Even in our own lives, the sin is not worth it. It really does affect our personal walk with God – every time.