But odd manger ornaments aside, my Bible reading this morning was from Matthew 1-2–the “Christmas story”. Once through the name list of chapter one, I settled in for the familiar flow of events. Along the way, I noted a couple things that I’d not thought before… Continue reading
Even still, chapter 47 didn’t jump out at me the way most others have in this string of readings… except for one little phrase…
“You pleasure-loving kingdom”.
That word comes to Babylon. And it’s not a compliment.
A piece of me loves the piercing quality of that prophetic word. Another piece of me, perhaps my pleasure-loving portion, says, “Hey, what’s so bad about loving pleasure?” Continue reading
1 Bel and Nebo, the gods of Babylon, bow as they are lowered to the ground. They are being hauled away on ox carts. The poor beasts stagger under the weight.
2 Both the idols and their owners are bowed down. The gods cannot protect the people, and the people cannot protect the gods.
They go off into captivity together.
To cling to anything but the eternal God is a burden.
In fact, I’ve known the temptation to cling to religion or culture or tradition or what-I-want, and then to CALL THAT “God”, and then to gripe that God is burdensome, that following Him “doesn’t work”, that the whole thing is a joke. Easiest of all is to take the role of critic and target others who appear to have given into this temptation. We think we’re making brilliant points about how faith is irrelevant, when really we’re just confirming what God shared with Isaiah 2500 years ago…
To cling to anything but the eternal God IS a burden.
And that’s a valuable line to live with, in a world overflowing with burdens, for its only the free who can bring freedom to the rest.
In a time of suffering, one asks, “Why?” Even without thinking, that question rolls off our burdened minds? Generally, we ask because we believe that the answer will contain some self-justification. We’ll be shown to be in the right, and there’s something comforting about being an “innocent victim”. We feel vindicated.
So imagine the shock of this abrupt sentence:
24 Who allowed Israel to be robbed and hurt? It was the Lord, against whom we sinned, for the people would not walk in his path, nor would they obey his law.
We get the sense sometimes that ancient Israel felt privileged. God was FOR THEM. What a powerful ally to have! And that impression made it easy to watch opposing nations suffer at His hand. In fact, one likely prayed for such events, that God would use His power to smooth Israel’s path against their enemies. And often He did.
But the wheels fell off the logical wagon when Israel found itself in dire straits. Why could this possibly be happening? Who would allow such a thing to happen?
The answer: God Himself.
I’d advise against going out and building a whole theology of any sort around this verse. But do take it for what it is.
God is serious about His covenant with His people. He expects them to be the same. And He certainly has higher priorities than cushioning us unfairly, should we set out on our own paths.
He is working to make us His, and He has a complete arsenal of ways to work toward that goal.
21 “Present the case for your idols,” says the Lord.
“Let them show what they can do,” says the King of Israel.
22 “Let them try to tell us what happened long ago so that we may consider the evidence.
Or let them tell us what the future holds,
so we can know what’s going to happen.
23 Yes, tell us what will occur in the days ahead.
Then we will know you are gods.
In fact, do anything—good or bad!
Do something that will amaze and frighten us.
24 But no! You are less than nothing and can do nothing at all.
Those who choose you pollute themselves.
God calls to the stage those who are stealing His people’s affections. Show off! Give a display of your power! He invites a pageant. His rhetorical challenge makes His point: The people waste themselves in these quests. In fact, it is worse than “waste”. It is a pollution of the soul to give oneself to something with no value.
Statues of gold and wood aside, that last line should likely cause a pause for all of us.