Monday, February 8, 2010

Choosing Inferior Faith

I was reading in Exodus today, where God was instructing the Israelites not to go after the gods of the Canaanites at the risk of destroying themselves (23:24-26). Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with the absurdity of that statement.

Do not misread me.  I do not think God was making grim forecasts with no substance, but you have to think about it this way: The peoples conquered by the Israelites were crying out to their idols of wood and stone. Idols that the Psalmist says are powerless to hear them, let alone act. The Israelites, by the grace of God alone, defeated these people who outnumbered the Israelites vastly; and were armed not only with superior numbers, but superior weapons and superior strongholds. The only thing the Israelites had over the various people of Canaan, was that they did not serve mute idols. They served the One True and Living God.

Imagine this. The people of Jericho, laughing at the Israelites. They couldn't believe that this poorly armed people would dare "take" their city, when they did not even have a way to get over the walls. The Israelites marched, and the walls fell down, Jericho was theirs.

Thinking that the Israelites would turn to foreign gods is ludicrous. It is as if two knights were fighting: one full clad in steel armor, and one in armor made of paper. The knight with the real armor defeats the knight in the paper armor easily, right? So why would God have to warn him, "Do not forsake your armor for the paper armor the other knight wore?" That is exactly what God was telling the Israelites. Do not sell the truth in order to buy a lie. Do not cast aside true strength and security in favor of superstition and false confidence.

How does that apply to us? What idols are we prone to go after? David says in Psalm 27, "The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?" What things do we take stock in that are not God? What about the things we should be looking to Him to provide us with? Money? Food? Shelter? Value?

God refers to himself often as Jehovah Jireh, God who provides all of our needs. Our food, our shelter, and our provision come from Him. When we focus on the needs we worry, we stress, we strive, and we strain. God falls out of our focus, and we end up just like the biblical Canaanites: strong in the world's eyes, secure according to their standards, and impressive in our own eyes and in the eyes of everyone else; but still lost. We get our value from His love toward us, the sacrifice He made for us. How ridiculous is it of us - after seeing how His love has set us free from fear, seeing His hand of provision in our lives, seeing the victory He gives us from day to day - to chase after the "weapons" by which the world wages war? Forgive the extreme metaphor, but does it make sense to storm a castle, and then move in and set all the dead soldiers up as your guards?

When the Lord instructed us to store up for ourselves treasures in Heaven, it was not just to safeguard eternity for us; it was also to protect us in the present. When our hope is in the things of this world, we make our lives no more safe, secure, and cared for than the wall of Jericho left the city of Jericho. Why should we look to foreign gods? Why should we put our hope in that which is not eternal?

I was really challenged by what I read in Exodus today. It seems foolhardy to even think about pursuing things we know will not give us what we want and need, and yet, God saw fit to warn the Israelites: "By My hand and My hand alone you will conquer all of these nations; do not worship their idols, which were no help to them against My hand (my paraphrase)." Obviously there is something in the human heart that longs to adore, longs to find things we feel are praiseworthy, and longs to pour itself out to what we can find.

Jesus Himself gives the answer, when He says, "Seek ye first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well... (Matthew 6:33)" It is in worshiping God that we find ourselves provided for, secure, and valued. We give our hearts the purpose that was intended for them (to worship), and we find ourselves truly secure.

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