You’re Not Idolatrous, Or Are You?

II Samuel 6:3 says that “the people of Israel yearned for Adonai.” Now, many translations will render that as the people of Israel “lamented” or “mourned” for God. But there is a problem here. You see, the Hebrew phrase being translated is naha ahare. And the meaning is that the people felt that Yehoveh was no longer with them; that somehow, their relationship with Him was broken and that their faith was empty and spiritless. And because of this break, they had a deep longing for Him.

The key word is feeling, an emotion. They wanted to recover what was missing, but they had no idea how to restore their relationship. Have you ever been there? I mean, you know something is wrong, but even with all of  your crying and tearing your hair out, it doesn’t seem to help. Well, in the case of Isra’el, Samuel was trying to explain that the next step (since they desired God at least on an emotional level) was to eliminate the foreign practices and activities that had become part of their everyday lives and begin to serve only Yahweh.

I could spend hours on this (but I won’t). But, I do have to say something. This break in their relationship didn’t come suddenly. You know, they didn’t wake up one day and decide to let others things rule in their lives. No, the events in their lives  slowly ebbed away at their faith and over a period of years they realized the distance between them and God; they could inwardly sense that they were isolated from Him. I doubt they could have even put it into words, but they obviously didn’t know how to move  beyond a sense of longing, a mere emotion.

But what Samuel was trying to help them understand is that if they really wanted to repair their relationship with Yahweh, then they had to do two things: first, they had to take physical action and they had to take mental action. Huh?

Now remember, we are reading II Samuel 6:3, and I want you to take a pen or marker and in verse 3 where it says, “if with all your heart,” and cross out heart, and put “mind.” You see, in ancient times (the entire bible era, Old, and New Testament) the heart was thought to be the center of conscious thought. The heart was more or less seen as how we today think of the brain. But due to the later Greek and Roman influences, the heart (in Western culture at least) came to be a metaphorical association with feelings and  emotions. However, in the Scriptures,  the heart has nothing to do with emotions, it means “mind.”

So, what we see is that the people of Israel were naha ahare, having an emotional desire for God and all the shalom that such a relationship brought with it. But Samuel was telling them that in order to enjoy what they felt; they had to move beyond just the emotion of it and set their minds, their wills, towards that goal. But even this involved only a passive intent; what was critical was to put action to their emotions and wills. And the action was to physically remove the foreign idols and pagan sanctuaries from their presence and only worship Yahweh.

Folks, I don’t mean to be too harsh, but our churches tend to have a large portion of permanent “seekers” in their congregations. In fact, I will so far as to say they comprise the majority of the congregation. These are people who always feel the need for God, but they do not have the will (their minds haven’t been set) to move forward with God and make a firm commitment.

They refuse to take the physical action of changing the things in their lives that by definition are roadblocks to harmony with their God. For instance, they won’t leave adulterous relationships. They won’t stop cheating people, or stealing from people. They refuse to take serious steps to remove themselves from the drug or alcohol culture. They won’t get rid of their televisions and stop visiting the sites on the internet that they know are a major hindrance to their faith. They refuse to dedicate time and energy to learn God’s Word, or fellowship with His people and to be mentored, or serve in ministry. They are stingy with their finances, they limit their tithes and offerings and refuse to help those in need. They refuse to give up harmful things in their life that are completely incompatible with the things of God like sleeping around, or homosexuality, or absolute immersion in the love of money and wealth and power.

I am not talking about cleaning up your life before coming to the Lord; believing that “sanctification” proceeds “Salvation.” I am not talking about that at all! For Salvation, you come as you are. If you are dressed in your pajamas or big baggy pants . . . “come on down . . .” However, and hear this good, if you have already signed on the dotted line and accepted Yeshua as your Lord and Savior but still find you are distant and alienated from his presence, are you refusing to let go of those things which are encumbering you? If so, then by golly, cast those things off and call out to him!

But don’t do this by how you feel about it. Yes, yes. I understand that our emotions are part of who we are, and our God created those emotions. Our emotions are valid and necessary. However, our emotions are the lowest level of our relationship with the Lord. From low to high, the least earthly expression of our love of God is emotion, the next up the scale is an intellectual commitment (a commitment of our will), but the highest earthly expression is to act and do the Word of God. To live out the Word of God is the goal, not to feel it.

Of course, this requires the Lord filling us with faith and a spiritual re-birth. But from a tangible point of view, the hierarchy of commitment I laid out for you is true and it is the one that Samuel is talking about.

But notice something else here as well, something that plagues every one of us who call on His Holy Name; something that is so subtle yet vexing and plays an enormous role in our lives. It is the same issue the Israelites and Samuel were dealing with. It was not that they had stopped believing in Yahweh, the God of Israel — even during their darkest times. They had never renounced Moses and the Law. They had never denied the holiness and righteousness of the Lord. However, what they did do, was to allow impurity to creep in; they allowed things of the world to pollute their relationship with the Creator and to twist it until like the proverbial frog in the kettle; they were almost dead in the Lord. It happened so subtly that it was almost unnoticeable.

It is so common for us to look and those weak, wicked Hebrews and shake our heads in disgust. “Couldn’t they notice that it is wrong to mix in the paganism of having Baal and Ashtoreth idols in their homes, and observing some of the pagan holidays (even though they went by Hebrew names)? How could they compare the Law of Moses with how they were living their lives? It was obvious that it was at opposite ends of the pole.” Well . . . not to get too personal, but we are asking those questions with blindfolds firmly over our own eyes, and plugs stuffed in our ears. And we stand with our arms folded, prepared with our rationalizations to explain away our paganizing of Christianity. Our actions would make any of those ancient Hebrews green with envy.

Oh, I know. Every time I get on this subject and use some well-known examples, I immediately get people sending me angry emails explaining that while indeed they understand that what they do might seem to be pagan, and possibly did have pagan beginnings, they do it in God’s name. Or, they don’t actually worship this or that, it’s just a symbol and besides non-Believers are always asking them about it so it gives them a means to create a chance to witness to them. Or that it’s just for fun and they are able to separate it from actual religious observance. The ironic part is that I don’t even have to give you one illustration or example because each and every one of you know the sorts of things I am talking about and you have at least one or two in mind right now. I can say that because I can read in your mind, and they are your favorite activity and you see no need to give it up!

Well then, you better than anyone should understand and sympathize with these Israelites that Samuel is talking to because it is exactly the same situation and they always used the same arguments you are using. Problem is, God did not buy it then, and He does not buy it now. Sorry, but someone has to say it . . .

Now, remember: these people who were eventually exiled from the land primarily for their idolatry had never renounced God, nor given up worship of Him; they simply added “fun” or “useful” elements of a pagan system to God’s pure and holy system. So don’t even remotely think that idolatry and Christianity are mutually exclusive; that somehow if you feel your heart is towards God, that anything you might do where your intention is to honor Him or just to have fun or be in tune with your neighbors and the rest of your family that it couldn’t possibly be wrong, or idolatrous. Because in reality it almost certainly is and you know it, which is why you defend it so vigorously.

To quote Keith Green:

Believers need to wake up, repent, and live a life that looks like what they say they believe. I bet many more would come to Jesus sooner if it wasn’t for Christians who lead double lives. If you praise and worship Jesus with your mouth, and your life does not praise and worship him, there’s something wrong!

Just sayin’ . . .

Doulos Studies

(I send out messages like this each morning in emails, and if you are interested in receiving them, send me your email address and I will add you—a to the list: Mail List)

I do thank you for your gifts. It is your faithful and continued support that makes these messages possible.

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