14. Manasseh

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 14. The Strange Story of Manasseh

2 Chron 33:10-13 The LORD spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. So the LORD brought against them the army commanders of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon. In his distress he sought the favour of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. And when he prayed to him, the LORD was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD is God.

 Manasseh in outline: We have so far been examining some of the lives of the well-known figures of the earlier part of the Old Testament, the Patriarchs, then Moses, then David. Now we consider a king who strangely reigned 55 years in the southern kingdom of Judah, Manasseh, who in a simple summary did evil and was carried off to Babylon (2 Chron 33:1-11) and there repented & was restored (2 Chron 33:12-20). The account above shows the hand of the Lord in his affairs

  • Bringing Assyria against him, resulting in him being taken to Babylon,
  • Being moved by his prayers of repentance and restoring him to Judah.

Manasseh’s work of restoration: Subsequently Manasseh, “got rid of the foreign gods and removed the image from the temple of the LORD, as well as all the altars he had built on the temple hill and in Jerusalem; and he threw them out of the city. (v.15) Then he restored the altar of the LORD and sacrificed fellowship offerings and thank offerings on it, and told Judah to serve the LORD, the God of Israel. (v.16) The people, however, continued to sacrifice at the high places, but only to the LORD their God. (v.17) Now what is remarkable about all this is the depth of wrong-doing that he had sunk to before all this happened.

Manasseh’s sin: He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, following the detestable practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites. He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had demolished; he also erected altars to the Baals and made Asherah poles. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them. He built altars in the temple of the LORD, of which the LORD had said, “My Name will remain in Jerusalem forever.” In both courts of the temple of the LORD, he built altars to all the starry hosts. He sacrificed his sons in the fire in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, practiced sorcery, divination and witchcraft, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the LORD, provoking him to anger. He took the carved image he had made and put it in God’s temple…. Manasseh led Judah and the people of Jerusalem astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites.”  (2 Chron 33:2-7,9), i.e. he:

  • Followed the ways of the Canaanites (v.2)
  • Rebuilt high places, erected altars to Baal, made Asherah poles (v.3)
  • Built wrong altars in the temple (v.4,5)
  • Sacrificed his sons and practiced sorcery, divination and witchcraft (v.6)
  • Put a carved image in the temple (v.7)
  • Did more evil than the Canaanites had done (v.9)

The Lord’s Judgment: We need to see God’s word of judgment, prior to the events recorded above, as we find it in 2 Kings for, in the light of the above, it is equally remarkable: “The LORD said through his servants the prophets: “Manasseh king of Judah has committed these detestable sins. He has done more evil than the Amorites who preceded him and has led Judah into sin with his idols. Therefore this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. I will stretch out over Jerusalem the measuring line used against Samaria and the plumb line used against the house of Ahab. I will wipe out Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. I will forsake the remnant of my inheritance and hand them over to their enemies. They will be looted and plundered by all their foes, because they have done evil in my eyes and have provoked me to anger from the day their forefathers came out of Egypt until this day.” (2 Kings 21:10-15)

  • The Lord’s word (v.10) which is probably an expansion of 2 Chron 33:10 – see above.
  • His sin is worse than the Canaanites before him (v.11)
  • Therefore disaster will come on Jerusalem and Judah (v.12)
  • Jerusalem will be wiped out (v.13)
  • They will we handed over to their enemies (v.14)
  • And this is all because of what they have continued to do (v.15)

A Major Question: The question has to arise, in the light of this incredibly strong word of judgment on Manasseh and Jerusalem and Judah, how did it come about that these things – the destruction of Jerusalem – did NOT happen for another half century?

Answers? One can only suggest the following. Scripture is quite clear that even when the Lord has spoken judgment, when repentance comes, that repentance causes the Lord to ‘change His mind’ so that He does not bring that judgment. Thus at the end of Manasseh’s reign there is no indication of this destructive judgment falling on Jerusalem. So why did it eventually happen? Observe the kings who followed Manasseh.

Amon: He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, as his father Manasseh had done. Amon worshiped and offered sacrifices to all the idols Manasseh had made. But unlike his father Manasseh, he did not humble himself before the LORD; Amon increased his guilt. (2 Chron 33:22,23) Contrasted with his father, did some of what Manasseh had done but did not repent. Was assassinated by his officials within two years. Did he steer God’s eyes back towards that threat of destruction?

Josiah:  A mostly good king (see 2 Chron 34 & 35) who sought the Lord (34:1-3), cleansed the land (34:4-7), restored the temple (34:8-13), renewed the Covenant (34:14-33), celebrated the Passover (35:12-19) but was unnecessarily killed after a battle (35:20-27). One might assume he put Judah in a better light before God.

Jehoahaz: Only reigned a short period before Egypt came against him and so Jehoahaz ends up in Egypt and Jehoiakim left to reign. See 2 Chron 36:2-4

Jehoiakim: (2 Chron 36:5-8) Did evil was taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar after 11 year reign.

Jehoiachin: (2 Chron 9,10) A bad king only reigned for three months before Nebuchadnezzar called him to Babylon.

Zedekiah: Refused the Lord (2 Chron 36:11-14), and after 11 year reign was taken into exile with Judah in Babylon (36:15-21)

Back to Manasseh: Thus, after Manasseh, of the six kings who followed before Jerusalem was destroyed, only Josiah was good. This, despite the prophetic warnings that came again and again, the kings and their subjects refused to turn back to the Lord and thus the word originally spoken against Manasseh was now fulfilled. It was only Manasseh’s repentance that put it off and one cannot help feeling that of each subsequent king has similarly turned to the Lord, that destruction would never have happened.

What have we learned? We have seen murderers and adulterers in these studies and Manasseh encapsulates the summary that “however bad you are, if there is genuine repentance, salvation (redemption) will follow”.  We referred to God’s words through Ezekiel and perhaps we need to conclude with them here to remind ourselves of the Lord’s heart:Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23) and “Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel?  For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” (Ezek 19:31,32) and, “Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’” (Ezek 323:11) Be quite clear, God’s heart is to redeem whenever there is repentance.

31. Avoid Evil

Meditations in 1 Thessalonians

Part 3 :  31. Avoid Evil

1 Thess 5:21,22   Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.

Now this third and final instruction may sound so obvious that we might be tempted not to consider it, but it is the other side of the coin. You may have heard the expression, “The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is that Good Men Do Nothing.” The implication behind these two verses almost seems to say, hold firmly onto good or evil may creep in.  To say avoid something means to steer clear of it . Now that can mean that we need to keep away from evil when we see it before us, or be careful that evil doesn’t make its way into your life.

I always remember an illustration of going too close to evil given by a preacher. He said that some people are like a cow he saw grazing in a field and it had its head under the bottom strand of an electric fence. It was just seeing how far it could go without getting electrocuted! The wise Christian doesn’t do that but steers well clear of the fence. Now I am not one who usually says you shouldn’t do this and you shouldn’t do that but where there are places or situations in life where you could be led astray, my advice is stay away! Samson was a man who thought he could stretch his boundaries with God and look where he ended up (Jud 16:30)   Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, had the opportunity to capitalise out of his master’s work and ended up with leprosy (see 2 Kings 5:20-27). He allowed himself to be led into evil.

Perhaps we should pause and consider, ‘what is evil’ and what does ‘evil’ mean? A dictionary definition includes, “anything morally bad or wrong; wickedness; depravity; sin; anything that causes harm, pain, misery, disaster.” So we then have to ask what is ‘wrong’ and we have to say anything that is contrary to God’s character and His design for Creation i.e. anything that is contrary to His perfect will. Good is that which conforms to His character and His perfect will. Now because there is freedom of will in angels and humans, behaviour is possible that is contrary to His character and to His perfect will, and THAT is evil. So murder is evil, theft is evil, adultery is evil, lying is evil. Anything that is Sin is evil.

Evil is expanded upon a little in the Law: “if you then become corrupt and make any kind of idol, doing evil in the eyes of the LORD your God…..” (Deut 4:25) ‘Corrupt’ here means being changed from a good thing into a bad thing, being changed from a faithful people to an unfaithful people. That is evil. Making idols to replace God is evil. Moses, referring to this same thing, later put it slightly differently: “all the sin you had committed, doing what was evil in the LORD’s sight,” (Deut 9:18) where sin and evil are seen as the same thing. Turning away from God is shown as evil (e.g. Deut 13:6-11): Moses made that abundantly clear again and again: “For I know that after my death you are sure to become utterly corrupt and to turn from the way I have commanded you. In days to come, disaster will fall upon you because you will do evil in the sight of the LORD.” (Deut 31:29)

Solomon, despite having started so well, ended up badly: As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done.” (1 Kings 11:4-6) In those verses we see the steady decline and growth in evil: a heart not fully devoted to the Lord, took many foreign wives, allowed them to turn his heart even further, tolerated and then followed their idols and gods thus fully turning away from God. All of these things were examples of evil.

So many times in the Old Testament  the condemnation of a king was that he did evil in the eyes of the Lord and when you look at what he did it is summed up by, he turned away from God and turned to the ways of the world and worshipped idols.  Do you see why the meditation  ‘10. Facing Idolatry’ was so important?

When that happens we find specific behaviour in respect of others also becomes corrupt and described as evil. Consider: “You use your mouth for evil and harness your tongue to deceit. You speak continually against your brother and slander your own mother’s son.” (Psa 50:19,20) Speech there is considered evil, because it involves deceit and slander. This absence of truth is emphasised even more in another psalm: “Why do you boast of evil, you mighty man? Why do you boast all day long, you who are a disgrace in the eyes of God? Your tongue plots destruction; it is like a sharpened razor, you who practice deceit. You love evil rather than good, falsehood rather than speaking the truth.” (Psa 52:1-3)  But is it not only wrong speaking: “Rescue me, O LORD, from evil men; protect me from men of violence, who devise evil plans in their hearts and stir up war every day.” (Psa 140:1,2) No, acts of violence, anything done physically against another is evil. Words and actions that follow ungodliness, are all evil.

So maybe now we see the importance of this instruction to “Avoid every kind of evil.” We have seen evil starts by turning away or rejecting God and turning to place reliance on other things. That is godlessness which always leads to idolatry.  But that is soon expressed in unrighteousness which may be words and/or deeds that are self-centred and godless and harmful to others. This call by Paul in the last of these instructions we are going to consider screams out to us – “Stay away from any thought or word or behaviour that is turning way from God and leads into destructive and harmful behaviour. You were not saved for that!”  It is a strong call, far stronger than we might have thought at first sight. May we hold on to these things and let them remain as warning to us as we finish with this letter in this particular series of meditations.

65. Freedom

Meditations in 1 John : 65 : Freedom

1 John  5:18-19    We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.

Perhaps one of the reasons that cynical unbelievers reject the Gospel and the teachings of the New Testament is that it is so explicit in its revelation, and it is ‘revelation’ for we could neither know it nor teach it if it had not been revealed by God. The other thing about it, which is often missed, is that it answers the questions of the world and, in fact, without it these questions go unanswered, such questions as what is evil, why is there evil in the world and why do we need laws to protect the poor and weak, why do people do wrong, and why are people self-centred?

These questions respond to a state of affairs in the existence of life on this world that is highly questionable. In personal terms, why is it that I have aspirations to be good yet so often fail to be so? As the apostle Paul wrote, I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Rom 7:15) and “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.” (Rom 7:18,19) This doing evil that he spoke about is what the Bible calls ‘Sin’, that propensity to be self-centred and godless resulting in wrong living, resulting in individual sins, individual acts of wrong doing and that, we find, we are stuck with and cannot break away from. Why, the earnest seeker might ask, am I like that? Why is life like this?

It is to these questions that the Bible speaks and explains we are all sinners because we were born tainted with this propensity called Sin. It was because of this that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came and died on the Cross to pay the punishment for our wrong doing and offer us a new way of life as children of God empowered by God’s Holy Spirit. Paul again described this: “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins,” (Col 1:13,14) explaining that there are two rulers and that the individual lives either under the domination of Satan or in the freedom of the kingdom or rule of God. Those are the ONLY two options.

When we come to Christ we are delivered out of that dominion of darkness and, as John now says, “anyone born of God does not continue to sin.”  i.e. anyone under the rule of God no longer is driven by that old power called Sin, is no longer self-centred and godless, but is Christ and God-centred and is led by God into right living.

But John also picks up this other aspect that was referred to in Paul’s verse as ‘the dominion of darkness’, the domination by Satan, when he says, “the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him.”  Satan is still there domineering over unbelievers, and wanting to lead astray the children of God, but Jesus is there, seated at God’s right hand ruling, and he protects and guards the children of God, and his Holy Spirit within us is there countering the lies of the enemy. All we have to do is listen to Him. The enemy can no longer pressurize us into going his way and disobeying God and doing wrong; we have been freed from that and from him.

When John goes on, “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one,” he is, like Paul, making a distinction between the children of God and the rest of the world. The children of God, Christians, are under God’s protection and are no longer under the control of Satan and so, as he said earlier, do not have to sin, but the rest of the unbelieving world still are under Satan’s sway and so he is able to make wrong suggestions to them (as he did to Eve – Gen 3) and lead them astray and into wrong living.

This is one of the fundamentals that the world does not like, this claim that it is being led by the nose by an evil force, even though it cannot break free from self-centredness and godlessness and thinking, saying or doing wrong things. Indeed this way of life is so common that the unbeliever doesn’t even think about it. It is so normal to think badly about others, to speak badly about them or to them, and to do things that are utterly self-centred and harmful to others, that that is all they know and expect. They might consider it normal – accompanied by the stress, worries and anxieties that go with that lifestyle –  but that is a long way from God’s design for humanity

Sadly in recent decades in the West, standards in the Christian community have fallen and so often it is difficult for the world to see the distinction that should be there. So we see divorces, we see drunkenness, we see over-eating, we see self-centred materialistic lifestyles, we see angry upsets and divisions, and it is no wonder that the world fails so often to see the distinctive lifestyle of love and goodness that should characterize the Christian community.   It is time for it to change! John reminds us, we are children of God, different (or we should be!) from those who are under the control of the evil one. Check it out: are you?

 

 

15. Wrath of God

We return to our series in Romans

Meditations in Romans : 15 :  The Wrath of God

Rom 1:18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness

Mostly we associate ‘wrath’ or anger with unrestrained outbursts of extremely hostile emotions witnessed by words and even deeds. Because we are so often unclear on the characteristics of God we think of God’s wrath or anger in these terms but an examination of Scripture indicates that this is not so. The wrath of God is a cool, calm, purposeful bringing of judgment that is deserved. It is a bringing of justice. Yes God is upset by our foolish godlessness and unrighteousness and yes He does rise up to take action against such attitudes and behaviour, but God’s anger is never out of control.

Anger, a dictionary of pastoral ethics suggests, is… ‘a response to wrong doing… may be negative or positive, unloving or loving…. redemptive or destructive… a neutral emotion.’  Wrath it seems in Scripture refers to anger in action. It is right to feel emotional about wrong doing and anger is an emotion that says ‘this should not have been’ or ‘this should not have happened’. Anger shows an absence of complacency about such wrongdoing, and God is never complacent. Wrath is anger that has determined that action should be taken against this wrong-doing. It is anger moving into retribution or judgment or correction. God doesn’t get angry over our stumbling attempts as His children to get it right when we make mistakes.

From what Paul says in our verse today God’s ‘anger-in-action’ is directed at godlessness and wickedness. Wickedness is wrong that is done with evil intent. The intent of the person is to positively do evil, wrong, harm etc. It is righteous to be angry at wilful, positive-intent evil! God has made us with a wonderful world and with immense individual potential – specifically to be and do good, in the image of our Creator. To purposefully go in the opposite direction to cause hurt, harm or damage in a purposefully destructive manner whether it simply involves words or, more likely, specific acts or hurt or harm, is a cause for negative emotions of indignation and displeasure and these are the expression we call anger. God is right to show this indignation and displeasure when He observes this wilful godlessness and unrighteousness that we call evil.

Now we mustn’t confuse the outworking of God’s anger with the emotion of His anger. Anger is the emotion and the emotion, in some situations, is closely linked with His calculated decision to take remedial action. We do need to note in passing that when God brings discipline or judgement, it is a form of remedial action. It is either to stop permanently a course of action by removing the person who God sees will not change whatever He says or does, or it is corrective in the way it stops a person following the course they are following so that they follow a new path that is not hurtful, harming or destructive. Now we are going to see in the verses ahead that God takes action (wrath = anger-in-action) and the form of what we would call judgment is clearly corrective, i.e. designed to bring change of behaviour.

Thus we should see that although God’s wrath is obvious, it isn’t necessarily destructive, it isn’t designed to kill or destroy people. We will see that soon in the verses ahead. So, we shouldn’t misunderstand God’s ‘wrath’ and see it as a vindictive or spiteful act, which is what it so often is in human beings. God’s wrath is thus seen to be His anger or indignant displeasure that is of such a magnitude, because of the nature of the sin, that it results in action by God against those committing the sin.

Perhaps a final thing we should emphasise is that so often men’s wickedness is both an expression of and an outworking of men suppressing the truth. First of all they suppress the truth by denying it, denying God and denying the way He has designed the world to work best, and they then proclaim and live a lie. Second, in the way that they do evil and wickedness, they prevent truth, the truth of God’s design being lived out as He wants it to be. They stop goodness prevailing, and they stop love prevailing.

This is the truth of how God has designed us to live and they stop that happening. It is a wilful, self-centred, pride thing and it is something human beings do purposefully. We don’t accidentally fall into it. It may happen gradually as we take one small step after another into a life of utter godless self-centredness, but each step involves an act of will. It is not just one step but many steps, many times when we make these acts of will in rebellion against God and rebellion against the truth. It is a downward spiral away from the truth and into a life of deception that is destructive in every way. If we live like this then let us not make any foolish talk about God’s harshness. It is right to be angry against such lifestyles and it is right of God to take action against such things to protect His world.

16. Evil Men

‘WHY?’ QUESTIONS No.16

Psa 10:13 Why does the wicked man revile God? Why does he say to himself, “He won’t call me to account”?

There is a mystery in many people’s minds, a mystery about evil and specifically about evil in people. Why are people like they are? Why do dictators do the terrible things they do? Why do men and women murder, why do men rape, why do fathers abuse children, why do people steal from other people? I once led a law class where the whole class were unanimous that we needed laws to protect the weak “because people are nasty”. What an indictment of the human race!

There are two possible aspects to this verse today – the reason why men act like this, and the reason God lets them act like this. First of all, what is the reason men act like this? Why do people do wrong and then deny the presence of God? Why does the wicked man think he will get away with it?

Well there are two parts to the answer to that. Looking at Scripture, we see that we have an adversary, Satan, who comes against us to tempt us to do wrong, and he does that by getting us to think wrongly. We did consider this the other day but we will look at it more deeply now. At the Fall we find the following sequence of events: He said to the woman, “Did God really say,’You must not eat from any tree in the garden? (Gen 3:1) This was Satan challenging the truth in Eve’s mind as part of his endeavours to get her to go against God. That was followed by,You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman (Gen 3:4), his denial of the consequences of her actions. So we see he whispers into people’s minds that it’s all right to do this thing because who’s to say it’s wrong, and anyway, it will be all right. It is wrong and it won’t be all right – A man reaps what he sows.” (Gal 6:7) There are always consequences to our wrong doing.

Now there is a second reason men now do wrong. It isn’t only Satan; it is the fact that since the Fall, every man, woman and child has been tainted by this thing called Sin, this tendency towards self-centred godlessness which results in unrighteousness. Note that it is now a tendency within us. Once we become Christians we have a greater power within us, the Holy Spirit, who enables us to overcome the old tendency, the old nature. However until a person comes to Christ for salvation, that old nature prevails and Sin prevails in them. Godlessness is most natural; self-centredness is most natural, and unrighteousness is most natural. Now David didn’t have this understanding when he wrote this psalm, but we have all the revelation of the New Testament teaching so we should understand it and we shouldn’t be surprised when we see such things. Satan plus the old sinful nature means that evil is expressed in human beings.

But we said there is a second aspect to this verse – why God allows wicked men to act like this. This is so often the cry of lack of understanding, “Why doesn’t God do something about it?” the ‘it’ being the wrong doing of evil people. Well actually when you think about it there is an easy answer to this one. The Bible indicates quite clearly that God has given us free will. It would be a nonsense if God told us to do things if we did not have the capacity not to do them. The fact that Eve and then Adam ‘fell’, were disobedient, is a clear example of this free will. A variety of other people in the Bible also clearly didn’t do what God told them to do. No, free will is a capacity that God has obviously given us. So when we cry, “Why doesn’t God do something?” we are in fact saying, “Why doesn’t God override this person’s free will?” and that’s where it gets difficult. Put simply, where should He stop? Obviously He should stop murderers and rapists and criminals, you might say. OK, but why stop with them for there are lots and lots of acts of wrongdoing that are not criminal acts? OK, you say, do away with all wrongdoing! Ah! Including in you? Including your wrong thoughts, wrong words and sometimes wrong acts? You want God to take away your free will and make you into a robot who can only do good, whose action will be severely curtailed, and whose human experience will be radically cut back? You want God to do that, because that is your only alternative?

As soon as we come to this point we see the awfulness of Sin and the awfulness of free will, but then we start seeing the wonder of salvation that wins sinful human beings to God’s side to be good. That’s what salvation does, but we have to have the other awful freedom first. Yes, God does act into this world and sometimes He does obviously move against evil men, and yes, men do reap the consequences of their actions, but in the meantime the terrible downside of free will is that man can be evil!

Never blame God for your wrong doing and never demand He takes away free will of other people – or you! Free will is the staggering responsibility that God has bestowed upon mankind. It is, if you like, a sign of His respect for us. He gives us our lives to live as we will, with the potential to achieve wonderful things, but also to do terrible things. The choice is ours. He will be there to help us achieve the former, and His wrath will be there against the latter, but the choice is still ours. Choose wisely.

8. Uncovered

MEDITATIONS IN ISAIAH – No.8

Isa 3:18 In that day the Lord will snatch away their finery: the bangles and headbands and crescent necklaces

Deception is a deadly thing. Jesus once told a parable about a rich farmer who kept building bigger and bigger barns to store his wealth (crops), and who concluded, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” (Lk 12:19) but he didn’t realise he was at the end of his wasted life: “But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (Lk 12:20). Affluence is very deceptive. It can make us feel secure and in our (false) security we forget God and forget our spiritual wellbeing. Before we know where we are, disaster strikes and our lives collapse (see also Jesus’ parable of the two house builders – Mt 7:24-27).

After the verses we considered in the previous meditation, Isaiah goes on to speak against different groups of people. As we noted he speaks against a general group first of all, the wicked: “Woe to the wicked! Disaster is upon them! They will be paid back for what their hands have done.” (v.11). Now we tend to think that ‘wicked people’ are really evil, but I suspect from what follows that it would include large numbers of our own society. “Youths oppress my people.” (v.12a) In some parts of Western society, certain parts of towns are ‘no-go areas’ because of youth gangs. “Women rule over them.” (v.12b) When God had ordained men to take the lead, the prophet speaks against the women who had taken control. How many people would this word upset today in the West? “The LORD enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of his people.” (v.14). Young people and then women and now leaders come under God’s spotlight.

See how the Lord comes to them: “The LORD takes his place in court; he rises to judge the people.” (v.13). Our guilty consciences may make us feel that this is a bad picture but it is a picture of the Lord who comes to assess guilt or innocence and it is only the guilty who have cause to fear. Justice is about fair and rational assessment of the truth. The innocent have nothing to fear. Indeed the innocent can rejoice that injustices are about to be dealt with!

Sometimes people have funny feelings about God’s judgment, speaking harshly about Him, but look at see what He is moving against: “It is you who have ruined my vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?” (v.14,15). His vineyard is a picture often used of the nation, God’s people. He is speaking against those who have robbed from the poor, who have trodden them down. Wouldn’t we all cheer at this?

But then he comes back to the women: “The women of Zion are haughty, walking along with outstretched necks, flirting with their eyes, tripping along with mincing steps, with ornaments jingling on their ankles.” (v.16). These are the affluent women of Jerusalem, the modern affluent girl power, full of pride, sexual desires and indifference to God. Affluence, we said above, is deceptive and these women are typical of the attitude of the people of Jerusalem and Judah. They think they are something and they care nothing about the poor who were referred to earlier. Ms Materialist cares nothing about God – or about others. Self-centredness is the name of the game.

Now we have considered in previous meditations the Lord’s intent, which is to draw His people back to Himself. In their folly they have made themselves weak and a prey to other nations and other ideologies, which is why they worship idols from elsewhere. The only way to bring them to their senses is to strip away their finery, strip away their material wealth and wellbeing. We can often cope with a reduction in our wealth, but the removal of our wellbeing really brings us down and brings us to our senses. So how is the Lord going to deal with them? Therefore the Lord will bring sores on the heads of the women of Zion; the LORD will make their scalps bald.” (v.17). Oh my goodness, He’s going to attack their beauty and their makeup! He’s going to remove their fashion accessories by which they hold so much store! See verses 18 to 23 for a list of their finery with which they adorn themselves and which deceive them into thinking they are great and they are secure. He’s going to remove it all to bring them to their senses!

We need to understand here, or remind ourselves if we took in the previous meditations, that the Lord’s intent is to bring this people into a place of real blessing, instead of this surface, counterfeit. It is not only what people look like on the outside that makes them rich, it is what they feel like on the inside, how they think of themselves, of God and of others. A self-centred, self-serving people are not rich, however many bits and pieces they have to adorn themselves or their homes. It’s not wrong to have money and possession, but if we obtain those at the cost of losing our soul, we have indeed become very confused and deceived. In the materialistic day in which we live, we would do well to really thing about these things!