Saturday, October 31, 2009

It's Not What You Know...

For many years I have wondered why the Hebrews chose a calf as the idol to worship during the Exodus. Where did they get such an idea? The root of this question lands in our laps, "How do we choose our idols?"

I found an excellent article on-line that I believe answers the question:

John N. Oswalt, “The Golden Calves and the Egyptian Concept of Deity,” Evangelical Quarterly 45.1, (January-March 1973): 13-20

As you can see the article is rather lengthy so if you wish you may go here to read it in its entirety. Otherwise, I paraphrase.

Around the time of the Exodus, Egypt was leading towards monotheism. Their one god was Amon-Re. Like Yahweh/Jehovah, Amon-Re was all powerful, creator, good, and merciful. But unlike our God, the Egyptian god had a likeness, that of a bull. This signified his all-powerful/creator status, that is, his sexual prowess.

This is the culture in which the Hebrews were born, raised, worked, lived, and died. By the time they left Egypt, most had forgotten the God of Abraham. In fact, until Moses, none had any encounters with Him at all. Therefore, Amon-Re was foremost in their minds.

When Aaron constructed the golden calf however, he did not construct an image of Amon-Re. No, the knowledge of what Yahweh/Jehovah God had just done was too fresh and too powerful. The Hebrews could not deny what their eyes beheld during the Egyptian plagues, the Passover, the Red Sea, and now the firey, smoking mountain where Moses was. The Hebrews had certainly come to know again the God of Abraham as their God.

But in the hardness of their hearts they fell back on what they knew, not who they knew, as their god to worship. They saw the great power, the miracles, the deliverance. So they reverted to what was so powerfully portrayed in their minds as the image of who was responsible for all this. They drew a parallel and concluded that this calf was not really Amon-Re, it was Yahweh/Jehovah God Himself!

And this is why Moses was so upset when he came down and saw them worshiping the idol. It was not just because of the fact that it was an idol of Amon-Re, not because of the lewd sexual acts performed in prostrate worship of the idol. No, what upset Moses the most was that the Hebrews called this idol God. The calf represented both the visible and invisible (g)Gods that they knew.

Fast forward a few more centuries to another meeting with Jesus and the Samaratin woman at the well in John 4:20-24.

(The woman said), "Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth."

Notice again the tendency towards the seen and familiar versus the unseen yet familiar.

We idolize what is known and seen and familiar. We derive these idols from our culture, our upbringing, our education.

God is not known because He is seen or familiar or culturally popular or part of our Christian homes or education. He is only known of those whom He knows and chooses and saves by the quickening of the spirit. Hence we can worship Him alone in spirit and in truth.

This is why God warned Moses and Joshua to rid the land of all the idols and the places of worship. Remove the pictures. Destroy the remnants of culture. Give no opportunity to the flesh. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Parallel Prostration

I asked the Lord, “How are the sins of man today like those of former times?” As I continue to read in Isaiah and Jeremiah, pictures of idol worship on top of hills, under trees, and in the temple prevail. What’s going on here and what is the parallel?

As I examined earlier in the Scriptures, to worship simply means to bow down or to prostrate oneself. There are no exceptions to this position. Also, worship is most often a singular act though at times associated with service. It is the highest commandment of God that Jesus testified to in Matthew 4:10 and Luke 4:8, referenced back to Exodus 20:1-6.

When worshiping idols, how does one prostrate oneself upon the hilltops, under the trees, or in the temple? The answer is in the service. These idolaters committed adultery and fornication there with prostitutes. This act is committed in the prostrate position. It is ultimately an act of self-service, that is, worship of oneself. For that is the root of all idolatry. This is today as it was in the beginning according to Genesis 3:4-6.

Think of any sin and you will find at its core a service, an activity, a motion, that ends up or suggests a bowed down or prostrate position of one or more people. Some are obvious. Some are not. For instance, Jesus points out many subtle sins of prostration in Matthew 5, the Sermon on the Mount. How is anger (v. 22) such a sin? Jesus likened anger to murder. You murder someone and what position do they end up in before you? Right! Prostrate. Before you. Do you see the picture of this person at your feet? What is in your heart besides anger and murder? Pride! You are over that other person. They are bowed down to you.

“But I am no murderer,” you say, “and I’m not angry with anyone. And no one has ever bowed down to me.” Seems silly doesn’t it? We don’t see this happening on the street let alone a hilltop, under a tree, or in a temple, do we? Look again. What does God say about pride?

Pride puts the poor under your feet – Psalm 10:2
Pride puts God beneath you – Psalm 10:4
Pride in its arrogance and forwardness puts others beneath your tongue – Proverbs 8:13
Pride brings contention (the prefix ‘con’ making one against or beneath) – Proverbs 13:10
Pride conquers and destroys everything flat before you – Proverbs 16:18
Pride takes the spoils so that nothing is left to hold another up – Isaiah 25:11
Pride makes one drunk and fallen down (passed out) – Isaiah 28:3
Pride makes one believe he can bring God down – Obadiah 1:3
Pride of life (the little ‘I am’ vs. the Great I AM) – I John 2:16 (See how this verse ties back to Genesis 2!)

Friday, October 23, 2009


I had a nice chat with my wife today. We talked about a subject that comes up often - church. Seems a lot of folks who I know are talking about this one subject in particular: how many people who go to church are truly saved? I and some of the followers of this blog say somewhere around 10-20% while others say 80%. Interesting.

For the past few days I have read about the last six chapters of Isaiah and the first three chapters of Jeremiah. This is powerful stuff. I encourage you to read it no matter what category you think you fit in, the 80% or the 20%. To me, it looks like God lumps all of Israel and all of Judah (read 100%) into these chapters of judgment and mercy.

Then I read Romans 6 and 7. Thank God those words are all-inclusive.

So think about it. Salvation is yes or no. 80/20 is irrelevant. It's 0/100 because it is unique to every individual.

Yet when it comes to sin, mercy, righteousness, and judgment, the numbers apply differently. But one thing I have learned lately, God will have mercy on whom He will have mercy. He brings the rain on the just and the unjust. But these are very hard to quantify. How great is the mystery of God sometimes.

Just when I was in the depths of sin and was convinced that God would not talk to me, He showed me mercy. Indeed His hand was heavy. But that's mercy. That's the goodness of God leading me to repentance.

Sometimes I wonder why God always uses a heavy hand to do this work. Why doesn't He send a tender brother or sister along to talk to me? I ask Him that a lot and never get an answer. Instead He leads me into these chapters of Isaiah and Jeremiah. It is good for me to be afflicted that I might learn to obey and fear the Lord.

There is much for us to learn about this warfare between the law of God and the law of sin in our members.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Call me Jonah

Proverbs 13:21 – Evil pursueth sinners; but to the righteous good shall be repaid.

Oh, evil has pursued me for weeks. I knew what state I was in. And in the end, I had no excuse. So I won’t list them here. They are all wicked sin. It was the heavy hand of God upon me like Jonah (but unlike him I could not physically sleep for the evil upon me and the darkness of my heart). I am the cause of all this evil for I would not obey the Lord and stay awake. Instead I wanted to sleep in sin and convince myself that I was avoiding the pain.

Psalm 32:4, “For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer.”

In all my study of the Word lately I had concluded that God does not hear the prayer of the wicked, nor does He talk to the wicked. (Proverbs 15:29) I thought that as a Christian, living in the flesh and its sin, was wicked. Hence my conclusion. Either I am wrong or else God is so merciful beyond even His Word. I cannot yet believe the latter for I do not believe that God would contradict Himself. Or else maybe the Words I read are not so absolute, not so universal as I thought, but organic only to the situation at hand. This brings into question all other sorts of organic situations to make me wonder about this question of universality versus singularity of application of God’s Word. It is worthy of more study.

But I cannot escape knowing with certainty that God’s Spirit continued to provoke me lovingly throughout this period. “Repent. Don’t give up. I am merciful.” He would say these things. Also, I did not forsake the daily reading of the Word. Often, though I would not want to see it, a verse would pierce me as the quick and powerful Word of God is intended to do. God not letting me go.

In turn I was more merciful to my own son this past week. He can be a handful with his Asperger’s syndrome combined with just being a little boy. The little had to be weighed more heavily that mercy might abound. No matter how badly he behaved at the pool, no matter what the report from mom at the end of the day, I just could not bring myself to be angry with him. His day by far was better than mine. And he was just having fun at the pool. In his own little world, he was just having fun, no matter how miserable he made everyone else around him feel.

I realized that as I looked out my hotel balcony towards the pool the day after he went home. I missed him so much. I wanted to look down and see him playing. Just having the innocent fun of a little boy who lives in his own world and seemingly cannot recognize any other.

Sinners are like that. We’re helpless. That’s why God had to first love us. That’s why His Spirit had to draw us to Himself. That’s why salvation is entirely of Him. That’s why repentance is also entirely from Him, a gift of God. That’s why I kept hearing Him tell me to repent. He wanted me back. He desires me to worship Him in Spirit and truth. He seeks such.

I had a hard time with that. “You repent,” He said, “and I make these problems go away.” He had done that before, many times in my life. I didn’t want to universalize this one. I did not deserve it. Why should He? Why would He?

But He did. I woke up the next morning after going to sleep in repentant prayer. The problems were fixed. By one o’clock in the afternoon they were cemented forever in the vault of no problems, no worries. The admiral had ordered it such. The problems were non-issues. Proceed with the mission.

God indeed can repay the righteous with good. I love Him.

This morning I woke up in prayer. What shall I do Lord in response to your goodness? I read in Isaiah 62:6-7, “I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day nor night: ye that make mention of the LORD, keep not silence, And give him no rest, till he establish, and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth.”

I could not keep silent about the good thing the Lord had done to me. He gave me a name. As soon as I left my room, there he was. Would I “be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand?” (Ephesians 6:13) Only in fearless obedience to “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel,…” I prayed for him. And then I opened my mouth and proclaimed the goodness and praise of God.

Then after we departed I asked God, “What next? I want to do something more for you.”

Pray for him, that the good word you have spoken be not snatched from his ground (Matthew 13). I desire worship and you desire others to fellowship with you in truth and holiness. Continue the work of Ephesians 5:25-27 and I Corinthians 15:27. Be bold and persistent.

One of the shortcomings I have as a leader is my trust in people. I really want to believe that people want to do good, want to do the right thing, and expect the same from others. However, I have been continually disappointed over the years in this. I see this latest season of rebellion as a lesson both for myself and for my shortfallen trust.

Psalm 14:1-3, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good. The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”

I know why I have a hard time with this. I’m one of them when in rebellion. There can be no other outcome but complete disappointment when working with sinners. To them and rebellious Christians, goodness is right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6, 21:25, Proverbs 12:15, 16:2, 21:2). It’s a moving target no man can hit and it is the source of all contention and it comes from pride.

So I have to walk in the Spirit and not fulfill the lust of the flesh that desires its own goodness and righteousness. I must not trust the goodness of another man. I must boldly trust in the Lord and His Word and His Spirit to lead me in the way which is right. I know better. “The lips of the wise disperse knowledge…” (Proverbs 15:7a) …”For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding.” (Proberbs 2:6). Therefore I can only trust His Word and confidently and boldly disperse it. “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)