Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Idols, Kings, and Holiness

I am a big fan of the Old Testament. The history and stories, the battles, romance, plagues, catastrophes, conquerors, assassins; I love it.

And it gets even better when you realize that the whole Old Testament is pointing to the main character of the New Testament; Jesus.

Every event and person in the Old Testament, in some way, points to the gospel.

True story.

One of the big epiphanies I had about three years ago was a realization that the Israelites are a screaming metaphor for our hearts. The historical Israelites who were held in captivity in Egypt for generations, who were led out in the Exodus, who wandered the desert forty years, who conquered the Promised Land, who, years later, would reject Jesus Christ: they create a perfect allusion to the tendencies and habits of the heart.

When I keep this in mind, the Old Testament holds more personal and intimate meaning.

For the past four months, Summit Ridge has been traversing the bible together, reading from beginning to end chronologically. This morning, we read through 1 Samuel chapter 4 through chapter 8.

This section of scripture is one of my favorite illustrations of God's demand for holiness among His people, and His hate for false Gods.

In a tragic battle, the nation of Israel is defeated by the Philistines. In desperation, the Israelites summon their favorite good-luck-charm to the battle field: the Ark of the Covenant. As the Ark is marched in to the Israelite camp, the Israelites cheer loudly for the assured victory to be had. But God is not a good-luck-charm to be summoned when needed. He is the Lord and ruler of the people, not a box that they can cart around when convenient.

The battle is a slaughter.

The Philistines claim the Ark and take it back to their capital city, placing it beside their false god, Dagon. According to the Philistines, once you had captured a nation's god, the people were defeated.

But this wasn't some fish-headed statue sitting in a tent. This is the Most High creator of the universe.

The next day, the Philistines entered the temple of Dagon to find that their idol was not standing beside the Ark of the Covenant, but laying face down in front of the Ark. They stand Dagon back up. The next day, they enter the temple of Dagon to find Dagon again lying on the floor before the Ark, but now the head and hands of Dagon were broken off and were laying in the doorway.

This temple ain't big enough for the two of us.

If this wasn't enough to put the Philistines on edge, bubonic plague begins spreading around the city where the Ark is held. The Philistines move the Ark away to a different town and the plague spreads there. the Ark is moved to five different cities before the broken Philistines send the Ark back on a cart led by a single cow.

When the Ark returns to the Israelites, they celebrate and repent of their pride and sin.

But before long, the memory of God's power and protection fades from the minds of the Israelites and they desire to be like the other kingdoms. They want a king. Instead of God's word ruling over them, they want a single person to control them.

This passage breaks my heart.

Partly because I know the story. I know what happens to Israel. But also because I see my own heart in this passage.

How often do I overlook the victories and blessings of God and pursue worldly things to dictate my life?

God wanted to be the sole ruler of the nation of Israel, speaking to His people through prophets and judges, guiding them as the perfect king of kings.

The Israelites lacked a true understanding of who God is and sought fulfillment in tangible things rather than finding their sufficiency in the sovereign king of the universe.

In 1 Samuel 8, the people of Israel cry out to the prophet Samuel that they want to be "like all the other nations", having a king rule over them. If we remember correctly, the other nations in the surrounding areas were evil, godless, twisted nations, who hated the Israelites.

God doesn't call us to be like all the other nations. In fact He calls us to be the opposite. In Leviticus 19, God tells Moses, "'Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, you shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.'"

Holiness is an attribute of God meaning sacred and set apart, separate from the rest.

God calls us to be holy, set apart for His glory and fame.

Just like God cast down the idol and destroyed it, we also should cast down our idols and destroy them and fully lean on God's power and providence.

Idols are anything other than God that we rely on for fulfillment. It can be anything; money, cigarettes, work, engraven images of Dagon, even people.

Just like in 1 Samuel, God is faithful and loves and protects His people even when they are in sin. God's love is stronger and deeper than anything created by man.

As people pursuing the heart of God, we strive and pursue holiness, putting off the old habits and ways of "the other nations", and being holy as the Lord our God is holy, separate and set apart specifically for the purpose of glorifying and worshiping God.

Nate T B