Posts Tagged idolatry
A Little History
The historian Flavius Josephus, in his work “The Antiquities of the Jews” sheds some interesting light on what we call the Tower of Babel. If this starts out a little “history heavy” it’s for a reason. Stay with it and get the point.
The great flood was sent by God to destroy all the inhabitants of the earth, except of course for Noah and his sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth. After the flood had subsided, God gave the command that man should go and inhabit all of the earth, be fruitful and multiply. According to Josephus, God’s purpose for this command was that they might enjoy the fruit and prosperity of their own lands, scattered far enough from each other that they might not fall under tyranny. But Noah’s descendants were hesitant to leave the mountains, fearing that God might send another flood.
As they finally did begin to descend into the plains of Shinar, instead of scattering and inhabiting the whole earth, they clumped together, disobeying the command of God. It was Nimrod, the grandson of Ham, who incited the rebellion and established himself as earth’s first dictator. This is mentioned in Genesis 10:8, where it is said of Nimrod, “he began to be a mighty one upon the earth.” By disobeying, man got exactly what God wanted to prevent: tyranny.
At the leading of Nimrod, the people rebelled against God and began to build a tower. This is the interesting part to me. According to Josephus, the purpose of this tower was to build a structure tall enough that, should God ever decide to once again send a flood upon the earth, the people would be able to escape God’s wrath. They built it of baked bricks and mortared it with tar, so it would be waterproof.
Did you get that?
The Tower of Babel was built as man’s attempt to insulate himself from God’s punishment. “We’ll show you, God! We’ll build a tower so tall you can’t kill us again with a flood.” Instead of just being obedient to God, man chose instead to build a structure that would give him another option besides obedience to God.
This is the beginning, the spirit, the essence of Babylon.
To create another option besides God. To hedge our bets. To look for answers outside simple obedience to the Father who only wants what’s best for us anyway.
We’re still doing it today. At least I know I am. God makes promises and I’m not really sure they’ll come true. God gives commands and I’m not really sure I want to obey. So I begin to hedge my bets, to create a system of my own security, just in case God doesn’t come through.
I’m betting you’re thinking of areas in your life where you’ve done the same. Maybe it’s that job you keep because you’re afraid God won’t provide. Maybe it’s that relationship you know you should break off, but you’re afraid of being alone. Maybe it’s forgiving or letting go of some past hurt that is holding you back. Maybe God has given you a dream, vision or command and you’re just too afraid to follow through for fear that it will fail.
Or maybe, like the descendants of Noah, we just don’t want to obey. We want to do things our own way, and we’ve built up what we think is a pretty clever system to prevent God from having His way.
And maybe, like those early founders of Babylon, God has sent confusion and chaos into our lives. Not because He wants us to suffer, but because He wants us to obey. Not because He’s mad at you, but because He wants to bless you. Like this passage in Isaiah 48,
“ I am the LORD your God,
Who teaches you to profit,
Who leads you by the way you should go.
Oh, that you had heeded My commandments!
Then your peace would have been like a river,
And your righteousness like the waves of the sea.
Your descendants also would have been like the sand,
And the offspring of your body like the grains of sand;
His name would not have been cut off
Nor destroyed from before Me.”
So what’s your Tower? What’s your “other option”? What system have you build in order to avoid what you know is right, what you know God wants you to do?
Where is the confusion and chaos that God wants to use to push you into doing what He has said? That tower is taking a lot of emotional and physical effort to build and maintain, isn’t it? Are you tired of the struggle? I know I am. It’s not too late. His grace extends to our rebellion and disobedience today just like it did the day we accepted Christ.
I’m thinking obedience is a whole lot easier than building a tower.
Each of us, like the Jewish people of old, can point to idolatry in our lives. We have made idols of our bodies. We have made idols of money and possessions. We have made idols of family, friends, time and entertainment. We have even turned our own religion into an idol. All of us have those things to which we turn for fulfillment or validation that exist outside of God and His will for us.
And because of our idolatry, like Israel, we are surrounded by Babylon. The Babylonian king was a tool used by God to punish His people and break them from their idolatry. And, like Nebuchadnezzar, the pressures of this life are used by God to bring an end to our idolatry.
Maybe we have idolized a lifestyle we cannot afford, and God is using financial crisis to turn our heart back to Him. Perhaps we’ve made an idol of food or substances , and God is using health problems to call us away from our dependence and back to a place of health. A failed relationship, a lost job, or any number of things could be that Nebuchadnezzar besieging our lives, putting pressure on us to give that area over to God.
I understand this is not always the case. I’m not saying all sickness or financial trouble is a result of sin in our lives. Jesus made that clear in Luke 13. Sometimes things happen for reasons we do not understand, and we cannot walk in a constant state of guilt, like we have brought all our own problems on ourselves.
But what if it is?
What if it is our fault? What if God is using our own private Nebuchadnezzar to bring us back to where we need to be? Isn’t it worth exploring? If so, we would be wise to listen to Jeremiah’s advice to the people of Judah,
Thus says the LORD: “Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death. He who remains in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence; but he who goes out and defects to the Chaldeans who besiege you, he shall live, and his life shall be as a prize to him. For I have set My face against this city for adversity and not for good,” says the LORD. “It shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.”
God has laid out that same choice to you and I as well. If you stay entrenched in your idolatry and worldliness, you will die. Failed marriages, broken lives, lost opportunities, and addictions are but a few examples of the death that comes from refusing to let go of our idols. Our churches and families are littered with the destruction that comes from Christian people refusing to lay down their idols.
But if you humble yourself and accept the destruction of your false gods, you will live. Accept His correction and repent of our idolatry, and watch as His healing power begins to transform our lives. I’m not saying we are guaranteed all our problems will disappear when we submit to God (in fact, they most likely will not.) But I am saying the path to spiritual and emotional healing begins with giving in to God’s call to forsake ourselves and follow Him completely.
Like Israel, it might take 70 years of captivity.
It might be humiliating and uncomfortable to confess our idolatry. It will be scary to let go of the gods to which we have clung so tightly in false security. To lay down our arms and stop fighting God will take incredible faith and trust in a loving Father who ultimately is using crisis to prove His love for us. Think about that for a minute. God ultimately allowed Israel to be destroyed because He loved His people enough to not allow them to continue in their wayward state. Are we willing to trust that same love in our lives as well?
In the end, do we have a choice?
In 2 Chronicles 25 Amaziah, the king of Judah, went to battle against the people of Edom. God gave him a decisive victory over his enemy, and he returned home in triumph. But Amaziah did something strange and unexplainable. He took the idol gods of the people of Edom back to Jerusalem, set up altars to them and bowed down to worship them.
The scripture tells us that God’s anger was aroused against Amaziah. He sent a prophet to the king to rebuke him. “Why have you sought the gods of the people, which could not rescue their own people from your hand?” asked the prophet.
Seems kind of silly doesn’t it? Amaziah won a great victory over the people of Edom through the power of the one true God. Yet in his arrogant foolishness, he immediately turned away to other gods. Gods that could not even save their own people. Gods that were exposed as powerless frauds. Yet here was King Amaziah bowing before them.
We do the same, don’t we? The modern idols of money, fame, sex, power, and entertainment have been proven powerless to bring lasting happiness. Those who seek after these fraudulent gods find themselves living meaningless, empty lives. Yet we keep following after them, hoping somehow they will finally come through for us.
We, as followers of Christ, should know better. We serve a God who have proven over and over again that He is the one true God. We follow after a Savior who gave His own life for us. We trust in a Father who gave His own Son for us, promising to freely give us all things.
Yet we bow to the idols of this world. We drown in materialism while the poor suffer. We turn to marketing and scheming because we lack the power of the Holy Spirit. We watch a 3 hour football game, but couldn’t imagine spending 3 hours in prayer. We waste our time with meaningless entertainment when He has called us to so much more. We have settled for the futile lords of this world, while the God of the Universe patiently waits for our wayward hearts.
Hosea 2 is a message from a jealous Husband to His unfaithful wife. In spite of our wanderings, God speaks words of mercy to us,
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
Will bring her into the wilderness,
And speak comfort to her.
I will give her her vineyards from there,
And the Valley of Achor as a door of hope;
She shall sing there,
As in the days of her youth,
As in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt.
God is calling to us.
He is calling us to get off our knees and to stop bowing to the gods of this world, gods that cannot satisfy, gods that cannot save. These worldly gods have never kept their promise to anyone who has followed after them, and they have let us down as well. But our jealous Husband is calling. He is alluring each of us to that wilderness place where He will speak words of comfort and words of hope.
I’m not much for quotes, but I think C.S. Lewis said it best in my favorite quote from his sermon “The Weight of Glory”:
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
This is not some guilt trip. This is not a call to do more or be more for God out of religious obligation. That’s just more of the same. This is a call to lay down our idols and fall in love with the one who paid for our hearts with His life. This is a call to stop settling for too little. This is a call from a jealous Husband to His bride to come away and know the joy of His presence.