5. Command Two: No Imitations Please (1)

Revisiting the Ten Commandments: 5. Command Two: No Imitations Please (1)

Ex 20:4-6   “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Idols? In the day in which we live, for most of us in the West, idols do not rate highly in our thinking. We have had a TV series called ‘Pop Idol’ and there is the recognition that we make idols of ‘celebrities’ in our thinking, but this is not the same as the idols that we find in the Bible. To understand this command we first need to understand the context and why idols featured so much in the text (this study) and then go on to ponder on what relevance this command has to today (the next study).

Understanding ‘gods’ and ‘idols’: In the style that is often found in the Old Testament Hebrew writings, repetition in a slightly different form is very common and so, for example, God uses it in prophetic writing to emphasis or expand on a subject. Similarly here. We have just seen in the first command, “You shall have no other gods before (or besides) me”, a call not to have any god other than the Lord for, we said, in reality He is the ONLY God. But we observed in that study, the multitude of ‘gods’ found in Egypt, Canaan, Greece and Rome. Now look up the definition of an idol and you find, “an image or representation of a god used as an object of worship.” So the existence of ‘idols’ becomes the material expression, if we may put it like that, of the belief in these ‘gods’ we considered previously.

The Command: So then we come to this second command which slides off the back of the first command. Note carefully the words: “You shall not make.” (v.4a) It is as basic and fundamental as that: idols are man-made and if you were one of God’s called-out people then you were NOT to go the way of the rest of the world and make idols.

But what sort of idols are forbidden? “an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” (v.4b) In other words you shall not make a model of anything on the earth or that you think might be in heaven and make it a source of worship. Why? What might you do with them? “You shall not bow down to them or worship them.” (v.5a) i.e. if you make something like this you may use it as a substitute for the real thing.

The Effects: But what was the effect of creating such ‘models’ of the imaginary deity? Consider what happens. In so doing, in making an image to represent your deity, you will make the real thing smaller in your understanding, something or someone who you can control, who you can move around, who you have scaled down into manageable proportions, that is no longer scary. And as for attributing divine attributes to fish or birds or animals….. superstition at its extreme! But it was seen so often in the Old Testament, not only in pagan peoples but, tragically, also in the life of Israel.

Idolatry on Mount Sinai: This is perhaps why the terrible incident of the golden calf on Mount Sinai received such censure (see Ex 32). It started when Moses remained up the mountain for a long time and we see, “When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods (or ‘a god’) who will go before us,” (Ex 32:1) and the consequence was the golden calf.

Wrong Thinking in Eli’s time: Now there is an interesting period in 1 Samuel where Israel treat the ark of the covenant as an idol or ‘good-luck charm’ (1 Sam 4:3). Now at a later date the Lord will show them that the ark is to be considered holy and not to be messed with or even touched by anyone not so appointed (see 2 Sam 6:1-15), but for the moment the Lord needs to teach them that it is not a good-luck charm to be taken onto a battle field, and so when they do, it is captured by the Philistines and taken home and placed in the temple of Dagon (1 Sam 5:1,2). Now we mentioned Dagon in the previous study on ‘gods’ and he was a god of fertility, the father of Baal, and the main god of the Philistines. The ark is placed before a large idol depicting Dagon, probably to symbolize Dagon’s superiority over the God of Israel, but the next morning Dagon’s idol is found lying face down before the ark, in an attitude of worship we might say! They place him upright again but next morning he is face down again before the ark and his hands and head are broken off and are lying by the threshold of the temple, almost as if the Lord had done it, gone to leave the temple and then just dumped them there in disdain (1 Sam 5:3,4). The message was clear: don’t mess with the Lord!

The Need for a Visible Representative: There is within sinful humanity something that says, “I want to be able to see what I worship and this, in a sense, is the problem with God – we cannot see Him. It was the same thinking that made Israel, a lot later, demand to have a king (1 Sam 8:6). Yes, they were disenchanted with the religious representatives (Samuel’s sons) but that was no excuse. But that is what sinful humanity is like. Previously we noted, Aaron made them a calf of gold that they could see, understand and foolishly bow down before. In no way could that calf convey anything of the wonder and greatness of the Creator and Sustainer of this world!

In the Land: Now when Israel went in to take over the Promised Land, again and again they were warned to destroy the idols of the inhabitants yet in the time of Samuel, we find him rebuking them: “Samuel said to the whole house of Israel, “If you are returning to the LORD with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” So the Israelites put away their Baals and Ashtoreths and served the LORD only.” (1 Sam 7:3-4) If we watch the history of Israel, we find them returning to this folly again and again.

Warnings & Condemnation: A large number of times when Moses was briefing Israel on the Plains of Moab before their entry to the Promised Land and before his departure, as we see in Deuteronomy, Moses warned Israel not to get into idol worship – as a starter check Deut 4:15,16,23,25.

There was no problem in David’s reign but tragically we read,  As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods…. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites,” (1 Kings 11:4,5) for which he was reprimanded by the Lord. When Lord split the kingdom He sent Ahijah the prophet to Jeroboam to tell him He was making him king of the north because, “they have forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Molek the god of the Ammonites,” (1 Kings 11:33) so Jeroboam knew very clearly what caused the Lord to bring discipline but we soon find he sets up two idols (actually calves), one on the northern border and one on the southern border to dissuade Israel, the northern kingdom, not to return to Jerusalem to worship the Lord there. (1 Kings 12:25-30) These two idols  were never removed throughout the two hundred year existence of the northern kingdom. Throughout the history of the northern kingdom we find reference to idols in the land (e.g. 1 Kings 16:13,26, 31-33, 22:53, 2 Kings 1:2, 10:18-22,29, 13:6)

As a summary at the end of the northern kingdom we read, They worshiped other gods and followed the practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before them, as well as the practices that the kings of Israel had introduced. The Israelites secretly did things against the Lord their God that were not right. From watchtower to fortified city they built themselves high places in all their towns. They set up sacred stones and Asherah poles on every high hill and under every spreading tree.  At every high place they burned incense, as the nations whom the Lord had driven out before them had done. They did wicked things that aroused the Lord’s anger. They worshiped idols, ….They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless. They imitated the nations around them although the Lord had ordered them, “Do not do as they do.” They forsook all the commands of the Lord their God and made for themselves two idols cast in the shape of calves, and an Asherah pole. They bowed down to all the starry hosts, and they worshiped Baal. They sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire. They practiced divination and sought omens and sold themselves to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, arousing his anger.” (2 Kings 17:7-12,15-17)

It is a terrible indictment. For space sake we will not cover the southern kingdom beyond noting that before the exile took place we find, all the leaders of the priests and the people became more and more unfaithful, following all the detestable practices of the nations and defiling the temple of the Lord, which he had consecrated in Jerusalem.”  Perhaps the destruction of Jerusalem and specifically the temple was God’s way of purging both the temple and the city from these abominations. To see the fuller extent of these denunciations may I recommend a reading of both Jeremiah and Ezekiel that came in the years immediately prior to the Exile. For a devasting comparison (which we will pick up in the next study) between idols and God, read Jer 10:1-16 & 14:22. Ezekiel was even more scathing about their use of idols and you find the word over 40 times in his book!

And So: Never think the matter of idols was a minor issue in the Law and Life of Israel; it wasn’t, it was their major stumbling block, the thing that eventually brought them down.  Now we will go on in the next study to try to examine what it is about idol worship that appeals to humanity.

Application: May I suggest we conclude this study praying something like, “Lord Jesus, I reject any thought of allowing any one anything else to usurp your role as my Supreme Lord. I love you and worship you. Amen”

4. Command One: Only One God

PART TWO: First Four Commandments – about God

Revisiting the Ten Commandments: 4. Command One: Only One God

Ex 20:1,2    And God spoke all these words: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

Ex 20:3 You shall have no other gods before (or besides) me.

And More: There is a further historical dimension to our starter verses above, that we have been considering. It is found in verse 2: “who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” Now, perhaps, we will shortly be able to see why the first of these ten commands is so important. All the knowledge of Him that we pick up in the Bible, (and I realize this is a much bigger topic) is that He is one, He is the Creator of all of existence, He is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-wise and He is eternal and, of course, He communicates.  These are some of the minimums that come through in the Bible about Him. It also declares that He is love, He is good, He is holy, and He is perfect. In other words He is utterly different from any of these other ‘gods’ we soon need to be considering.

Historical Context: Now He can now be identified as the one who delivered Israel miraculously out of the hands of the most powerful despot in the world, from Egypt. In earlier meditation No.2 we emphasized the need to observe the historical context when approaching these laws. That is especially important with this verse. The law is simple and straight forward in this first command: God says, “You shall have no other gods before (or besides) me”, i.e. “I am God, there is only one of me, so don’t worship anyone or anything else,” but it comes in the context of a people living in the midst of a nation where ‘gods’ proliferate!

‘gods’ of Egypt: Bear in mind Israel had only recently left that fear-driven, superstitious nation, Egypt, which we are told had over 2000 ‘gods’. Many had similar characteristics and appeared all over the country but with different names.  Birds, crocodiles, snakes, turtles, frogs, cattle, dogs, cats and other domesticated animals were considered to be the living images of a particular god or goddess. One historian declares, ‘All parts of life were covered and there were gods for beer, plants, digestion, the high seas, female sexuality, gardens, partying etc.’

The best-known gods of Egypt we may have heard of – Ra, the god of the Sun, the most important god, lord of all the gods. He was usually shown in human form with a falcon head, crowned with the sun disc encircled by a sacred cobra – judge of the dead, and father of Horus, god of the sky (the Egyptians believed that the pharaoh was the ‘living Horus’) – Tefnut, goddess of the rain – Anubis, who guided the dead to the next life via the court of Osiris in the Underworld – Sobek, god of Nile who had the head of a crocodile, and many others (followers of ‘The Mummy’ films will know some of these names). But ‘gods’ appear all over ancient history.

‘gods’ of Canaan: In Canaan, gods we come across in the Bible were Asherah, the walker of the sea, a mother goddess, Baal, god of fertility, Dagon, god of crop fertility, Molech, god of fire, and there were also many, many others. A simple Google search reveals that virtually every nation had ‘gods’.

‘gods’ of Greece & Rome: Later in history we may be more familiar with the Greek gods – Zeus, god of the Sky – Hera goddess of marriage, mothers and families – Poseidon, God of the Sea – and so on. Following them, the Romans with their gods, mostly the same but with changed names, for example, Zeus, the king of the gods, the ruler of Mount Olympus, and god of the sky and thunder, Pallas Athena, is the goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, law and justice, Mars was the god of war, Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation, and so on.

Characteristics of ‘gods’: A study of such gods shows us six things:

  • First there were lots of them! In fact there were gods for any and every situation or feature of the world.
  • Second, they created or maybe were the result of superstitious fear, the insecurity of living in a changing and uncertain world.
  • Third, they were never benign, it seems; they all required some form of appeasement.
  • Fourth, when these gods took human form, or were thought of as being in human form, they also took on human foibles and struggled and fought with one another and did not have humanity’s best at heart!
  • Fifth, and this becomes very significant as we move on, the idea of the existence of such ‘gods’ meant that humanity’s attitude towards them was one of superstitious subservience.
  • Sixth, because we know that such secondary beings are purely expressions of superstitious imagination, there is never any way to measure the reality of interchange between a human being and a ‘god’. Indeed one wonders if there was really any real relationship involved. (how can there be a two-way interaction with a carved block of wood?)

And then: When we come to the Bible. We see A God who reveals Himself, first to the Patriarchs and what became Israel, and then to Moses and then to all of Israel but, as we’ve already seen He is utterly different from any of these other ‘gods’ we have just been considering.

The call to follow Him alone is surprisingly, and contrary to the crusading atheists claims, a claim to be free of superstition and a call to come to One who will bring love and goodness and security. For Moses and his people they already knew something of Him as revealed through His dealings with the Patriarchs and now recently His deliverance of them from Egypt. He was a God who appeared to want to be friendly, a God who had the power to deal with enemies on one hand and bless His friends on the other.

And So: Everything we know of these other ‘gods’ makes us want to shy away from them and their demands and the superstitious fear-filled life, and everything we come to know of Him says here is One who we would be foolish to reject. It is only that self-centred and godless propensity that we all have, which the Bible calls Sin, that makes us suspicious and fearful of Him.

It also makes us want to stand on our own two feet and foolishly think we can cope in life without Him, hence the popular ‘Don’t you tell me what to do!’ attitude that is the common expression of the rebellious aspect of Sin. In the folly of Sin we cannot believe that this God, who claims to be the one and only God, is loving and good and desires the best for us. But that, as we say, is the folly of Sin. The call to “have no other gods beside me” is, in one way, a common-sense call in accord with reality because there is NO other God, merely the imaginations of superstitious fear. Away with it!

But why, we might ask, do people have all these ‘gods’? Because it is such a big question, we will wait until the next studies and examine the nature of the working out of this superstitious fear seen in the form of worshipping idols. We will then compare this to the nature of God and then the nature of sinful mankind that turns to such things.

Application: May I suggest we conclude this study praying something like, “Lord God, you are so great that you defy my imagination. I confess my mind cannot comprehend the greatness of One who is all-powerful, all knowing and all-wise, and yet you have given us your Word, almost as if to attract us and get our attention, to reveal something of yourself to us. Forgive us Lord that we treat it so casually and so often give so little thought to what we find in it. Lord I need your help to see these things in a fresh light that will break through the confusions of limited understanding. Please help me. Amen.”

33. Essentials (3): God’s End Goals

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 33. Essentials (3): God’s End Goals?

Gen 4:16-18  So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden. Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch. To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael was the father of Methushael, and Methushael was the father of Lamech.

Continuing the thread: We’ve said that the marvel about this whole subject of redemption isn’t just the initial fact of us being delivered out of our old lives, but is about how God takes sinful, messed up, confused, self-centred human beings and transforms them into people after His own image, godly, gracious, insightful, wise and so on, despite the fact that it is a slow process. We’ve considered in these last three studies the fact of our sin, and then some of the ways God goes about changing us, and now we want to focus on the end product of God’s activities as seen in the lives of the men we studied in the earlier Part.

That end product: Back in studies 28-30 we considered something of the goal of God as seen in Ephesians 2, often spoken of as the inheritance of Christians. Now to see again something of God’s purposes, we are going to get a glimpse of the changes that He brought about in each of the men we saw earlier.

Cain: Right back in study no.3 when we considered Cain, we noted there the ‘end product’ that is seen in our header verses above. Cain settled, had a wife and children and built a community (a city). He clearly had the opportunity to change and he took it. Now that, you might have thought, was an unwarranted conclusion on our part, but think about the wonder of what had happened. He was a murderer and instead of forfeiting his life God sent him away to live the life of a wanderer. Yes, he would be protected by God, but no longer could he be a farmer (the basic role of early man) but a wanderer. We’ve asked the question before about redemption, does his failure means the rest of his life is a write-off? Clearly not. He is married, has a family and settles down in one place to build a city. What is a city? A place where people come to settle down and carry out business. It is not a place for farming, it is a place of community and commerce, and Cain settles down to be the first city builder – not merely a dweller, but a builder! There is new purpose in his life and it is focused on family and community which, when you consider his background, his failure in respect of his relationship with his brother, is a most amazing change. Cain, I suggest, has been redeemed.

Abram: Perhaps something of Abraham’s greatness is seen in four things. First, and this is relatively early on in his experience of the Lord, was his faith which became a model for our salvation today (see Gen 15:6, Rom 4). Second there was his obedience which was willing to give up his son Isaac because, we are told he believed God could raise him from the dead (see Gen 22, Heb 11:17-19). Third, there was the way he acted when Sarah died (see Gen 23) showing the depth of his love for his wife of many years who had born the son of the promise, in which the honour and respect in which he is held by the locals is revealed (esp. v.6). He has become a great man. Fourth, there was the way he made provision for a wife for his son (see Gen 24) and understood now something of the importance of the God-family, and so refused to allow a woman from Canaan. He understood legacy and the significance of being God’s chosen family, a holy people.

Jacob: Jacob the crook became Jacob the man who blesses kings (see Gen 47:7-10) and is honoured by kings (Gen 50:1-9), Jacob the man who prophesies with discernment (see Gen 48:8-20), prophesies about Israel’s future (Gen 48:21,22), and prophesies over the whole family (see Gen 49). He is a prince among men and a prince in the kingdom of God. What an amazing transformation.

Joseph: Joseph the spoilt brat becomes Joseph the advisor to kings (see Gen 41) and Joseph the man of grace and understanding. See his incredible statement to his brothers in Gen 50:20. Again an amazing transformation!

Moses: It is difficult to know where to start with Moses. The rich and affluent (as he would have been), self-concerned Prince of Egypt with confused ideas about ‘his people’ Israel, who throws it all away by a foolish act of murder, became a nobody shepherd whose only company most of the time for forty years in the desert were sheep. This ‘nobody’ thought God had got His guidance wrong when He called him to deliver Israel out of their slavery at the hand of the most powerful, occult driven man of the region. This ‘nobody’ is subsequently described as the meekest (AV) or most humble man (NIV) in the whole earth (Num 12:3). Humility before God should never be seen as a sign of weakness but instead of great strength. It is the ability that knows its limitations and knows that God is unlimited, and so acts accordingly. It is this ability that enables him to face Pharaoh and then lead his people through the grumbling months of their desert journey to Sinai, then cope with the events at Sinai, then cope with their grumbling journey to Canaan, their refusal to enter Canaan and then minding them in the desert for another forty years while that generation died off.

As I commented before, Moses had what turned out to be the most thankless task in all history. He reveals the stresses and difficulties of it when on just one occasion he allows his own personal feelings to come to the surface as he chided Israel (see Num 20:10). He is known in Israel’s history for being the great Law-giver but, in reality, that was simply passing on what God gave him. But consider the biggest changes that had taken place in Moses. As a Prince of Egypt he had been hasty and impulsive in action; as a man of God he always paused up, took it to God and waited. The change of rule over his life was dramatic. It had to be to cope with the trials he faced living with capricious Israel who never seemed to get the message that God was for them and would provide in every way for them, and thus moaned and groaned, criticized and blamed; how like modern man!

One of the things that struck me about Moses is that having travelled around the desert of Sinai for forty years with sheep, he knew his way around and with every continuing grumble that came from his people, the temptation must have been there to just quietly slip away in the night and leave them to it! But he didn’t; he remained faithful to the Lord and to his calling to lead this people and in so doing became an instrument of redemption in the hands of the Lord, to make sure they eventually got where they were supposed to be going and thus remain within the long-term plan of God. Amazing!

David: Here we face complexity personified. In many ways he started out a hero – a shepherd boy who fought lions and bears for a living, who then killed a giant who was scaring Israel, and then became a might warrior and leader.  Perhaps in all that he came to a place of thinking that he could do the stuff on his own, but none of his psalms suggest that. When he has to flee from Saul, he remains the good guy who picks up waifs and strays at Adullam (see 1 Sam 22) and generally beats up the enemies of Israel until he is made king. His downfall comes while he is king and by wrongly using his royal power to steal another man’s wife. Yet even in that we see a good response, as we have noted before, “I have sinned against the Lord,” (2 Sam 12:13) a man who can face his personal failures. After numbering the people, we see the same thing: “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, Lord, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing,” (2 Sam 24:10)

When you look at David’s psalms you wonder about the changes within him. There is such a mixture of heart cry. Sometimes it is in anguish, at other times it is in triumph, sometimes it almost feels arrogant in his sureness of his own righteousness, and then other times there are cries of guilt and failure. David has run the full gamut of feelings in his experiences of the Lord, who clearly feels sometimes near but sometimes afar off. It is impossible to tell the order of his writings and therefore reach any conclusions about what went on in his heart. The most memorable thing about David though, is his testimony that we considered in detail in Study no.8, where he almost becomes a benchmark or plumb line for all future kings. He dies in old age which, in some ways, is quite remarkable. He was a warrior who survived. He was a man of God – who got it wrong – but survived the discipline of the Lord. He became a lasting testimony in Israel Amazing!

And Us?  How can we summarise these outworkings in the lives of these men, outworkings which surely must apply to us today?

  • Our lives will be given many opportunities to improve (Cain); will we take them?
  • God will encourage us again and again to be people of faith and obedience who completely trust the Lord and, receiving His blessing, become people of respect and honour in the community, while holding firmly to our legacy as Christians (Abraham). Will we rise to that?
  • He will be guiding us out of the life where we rely on our own cleverness and come to be those who trust Him and receive His revelation (Jacob). Can we accept that change?
  • Can we see His sovereign working in the ways of the fallen world around us, understanding our calling and part in it all? (Joseph) Can we cooperate with Him in all that?
  • Can we remain faithful even when the tasks He gives us appear full of problems and difficulties and people around us seem so unhelpful? (Moses)
  • Can we take correction without complaining, learning how to face up to our failings and foibles quickly and honestly, and receive His grace to persevere? (David)

There is within that list above a combination of, first of all, learning to understand ourselves, God, and the ways of the world, and then, second, changing in the light of that understanding to become faithful, wise, steadfast members of the body of Christ today, that he can use to more fully bring in the kingdom of God around us. Can we run with that?

67. Idols?

Meditations in 1 John : 67 : Idols?worship, 

1 John  5:21    Dear children, keep yourselves from idols

Of all the apparently strange ways to conclude a letter, this appears the most strange. It is short, abrupt and apparently right out of the blue – no warning of it at all! So why should John finish with such a command?

The answer is given by a quote from a Christian historian I recently came across when he wrote about the early church: “Though the Christianity of the first several centuries was merely one among many mystery religions — it differed from all other devotions in requiring of its adherents a loyalty not only devout but exclusive. The votaries of Dionysus, Cybele and Attis, Isis and Osiris, Sabazius, Mithras, or any of the other pagan savior deities were not obliged to derogate or deny the power or holiness of other gods, or to remain totally aloof from their rites or temples; they merely acquired a new, perhaps dominant, but in no sense solitary, god or goddess to adore. Only the Christian mystery demanded of the convert an absolute commitment to one God and a denial of all others.”

Within that quote he names a number of ‘gods’ or objects of worship that were commonly worshipped in the world of the early centuries of the Christian Church, through ‘religions’ that competed in the superstitious mind of the day. The writer of that quote was conveying the fact that all these religions and gods existed and happily existed alongside each other and were quite happy if you worshipped a whole variety of them. That was until you came to Christianity which stood out in the world’s ‘faiths’ as demanding allegiance to it and to the One True God alone.

This takes its roots right back into the early history of Israel when the Lord gave them the Ten Commandments (never rescinded or replaced) which included: You shall have no other gods besides me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.” (Ex 20:3-5). For a simple answer to the question, “Why were these commands included?” we need only look at the verses we’ve just previously considered which included, “that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true–even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God.” (1 Jn 5:20). In other words, only the One we find revealed in the Bible is God and there are no others. Idols are merely man-made false representations of ‘gods’ that don’t exist.

Often the writings of the prophets focused on this. Isaiah wrote: “Bring in your idols to tell us what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear. But you are less than nothing.” (Isa 41:22-24). That is just one of a number of instances in the prophetic writings that derides idols and gods. They don’t exist except as a figment of your imagination, is the message of the prophets, so stop wasting your time making idols and worshipping things that don’t exist. Instead worship the One True God.

But still, in the world of John’s day they worshipped idols and superstition ran rife. The thing about an idol was that you could see it and it acted as a focus of your worship and was thus a great temptation. “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols,”  was John’s last call to his scattered flock.

Does such a call have any relevance to us today?  Well if we consider ‘an idol’ in more general terms, the answer has got to be yes. An idol is anything or anyone we esteem and lift up in our estimation and which has influence on us and which we allow to direct us (and that we ultimately ‘worship’.). Thus materialistic affluence and the pursuit thereof is clearly an idol of many. Ambition, the desire to achieve great things for oneself regardless of what it takes, is another. Superstars or ‘celebrities’ may be genuine idols for the more gullible. An idol thus becomes anything which detracts from God, and that competes with God for His lordship. It is anything that you put before the Lord and in that sense there may be many things in the modern world that compete.  Thus John’s call is still valid today.

To slightly change the words of the last line of that quote I used earlier, Only the Christian faith demands of the convert an absolute commitment to one God and a denial of all others.  That is just as true today as it was two thousand years ago. And the reason? It’s what John has been talking about throughout his letter: we have knowledge of One who is supreme and unique and He has revealed Himself to us through His Son, Jesus Christ, and through him we have a salvation which can be gained through no other means, so don’t look elsewhere. As the psalmist wrote for his day, Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” (Psa 20:7) THAT is wisdom and it is the wisdom that comes through John’s letter again and again. May we hold firmly to it!  Amen?  Amen!

66. He who is True

Meditations in 1 John : 66 : He who is True

1 John  5:20    We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true–even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

Every now and then in Scripture gems stand out, verses or phrases or words that leap out with great significance. Our verse above is one such hidden gem, tucked away at the end of this letter where it is probably missed by most. All around the world, world religions strive to make sense of their understanding of the unseen world. Through the centuries of human history, communities have wondered about and then worshipped ‘gods’, the conclusions of their superstitious wonderings. Were there ‘powers’, personal powers that influenced the world?  Today we struggle to understand the powers of El Nina or El Nino in the Pacific Ocean but still don’t understand the causes. One God, many gods, an impersonal force, or no God or gods? What is true? What is real? Who or what is there, or is there nobody? Such have been the questions throughout human history.

And then Jesus Christ came into the environment of Israel in history, an environment that already had history with Jehovah, the One Creator God, a God to be worshipped through the means of sacrifices, a God at a distance, a God who knew everything and was all powerful and everywhere. In a whole variety of ways – words and works – Jesus declared himself to be the Son of God, THE unique, one and only Son of God. We look at his words, we look at his works and we look at his life, death and resurrection and we marvel and wonder, and those who have not got such strong personal prejudices as to be blinded, see and realise that this is true. This one person was who he said he was.

John’s starting point here is, “We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding.”  We have knowledge – that which we just spoke about above – and that knowledge brings us understanding; yes this the Son of God, yes this is a true reflection of God, God showing Himself to us in ways that we can understand and cope with. This is like me taking a part of me and turning it into an ant to communicate with ants. That, of course, is impossible, but God is God and can do all things, and so He’s come in human form, the form of a man, and lived and spoken and acted into our world to show us the sort of being that He is. To our total surprise He is completely for us: “News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them.” (Mt 4:24)  He didn’t write them off, he didn’t reject them, he didn’t chastise them for living such godless lives that they got sick and demon possessed – he healed them!

Now within this gem of a verse comes a gem in its own right: “so that we may know him who is true.”  Remember what we pondered on earlier, about mankind’s seeking for what or who is true?  Jesus is true, Jesus is real. Most of us put on a face, we pretend to be something but Jesus was exactly who you see in the Scriptures, the unique, loving Son of God. Do you remember Jesus’ description of Nathaniel: “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” (Jn 1:47)  Likewise there was nothing false in Jesus. He was not pretending to be someone or something that he wasn’t. When we look at Jesus in the Gospels we see the unique Son of God, exactly as he is.

And then John makes it even more clear: “And we are in him who is true–even in his Son Jesus Christ.” So when he said before, “we may know him who is true,” we might have been confused about the ‘him’ because, we might have reasoned, surely there is only one who is absolutely true – God.  I’m speaking about Jesus, John says to remove any doubt and then comes his climax, the climax of this letter, the climax of the whole Bible even: “He is the true God and eternal life.” 

Wow! Absolutely no doubts there. He, Jesus, is the true God. Take it in word by word:

  • THE true God, i.e. the one and only One.
  • The TRUE God.  You need have no doubts about Him; there is nothing false or pretend in Him.
  • The true GOD.  THIS IS God, the one and only Creator God, the all-knowing, all-powerful One, who is loving, compassionate, forgiving, the One who is for us.

This is who Jesus is! He’s not merely a carpenter of Nazareth. He’s not merely a good teacher. He’s not merely a miracle worker. He is the Son of God, He is God!  That is the climax of the Biblical revelation!  He is God and He has come to us to redeem us from our sins. Hallelujah!

Walk of Folly


1 Kings 11:1 King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter–Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.”

There are times when, looking at the human race, you wonder why God ever made us, knowing that in our sinfulness we would do the most stupid of things. This present situation with Solomon is one such time. Solomon in his youth had received supernatural wisdom from God and as a result of that had become the richest man in the world. He had known the blessing of God on him as few others do. He made Israel very prosperous and from his writings in Ecclesiastes, you name it and he had done it. He had had a most fulfilling life, having opportunities to do things most of us only dream of. Yet when you read Ecclesiastes it is the epitome of cynicism. He is clearly jaded and even for this man of almost infinite wisdom (well it came from an infinite source!) there is a confusion about life and a weariness that is more than mere old age.

How did Solomon get to that state? Why was he like that? In an earlier meditation as we started looking at Solomon, we noted: “Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt and married his daughter(v.1). Now that was not a smart move; in fact it was contrary to God’s instructions to the Israelites not to marry foreigners who might lead them astray. Now we can accept that this marriage was no doubt part of a trade treaty, but it still reveals an area of vulnerability in Solomon that will bring his downfall. The Egyptian princess was merely the first of many foreign women that Solomon married. His walk through life was littered with beautiful women, for that’s what they would be.

Despite all of the wisdom from God that enabled him to run a country more prosperously than any other king in the world, when it came to his own life, there was something in him that was never satisfied and could never settle. Solomon, in this respect anyway, is the role model for many foolish men today who are unable to settle and be loyal to one woman. The Egyptian princess was clearly not enough for Solomon so when he saw another beautiful woman from another land, he took her too, and then a while later she became not enough and he found another and another and another. Soon he worked on the basis of ‘variety is the spice of life’ but this ‘wise’ man did not realise that in respect of relationships that was not true. Somehow he had either not read or ignored the Scripture that told him, “a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh,” (Gen 2:24 ) one man with one woman was God’s best design, that was what worked best.

But there was another aspect to this vulnerability of Solomon. When he took another woman he forgot that she had a background, and most of them came from other cultures where they worshipped other gods or idols. He also didn’t realize that when such a woman came, she came with the trappings of superstition, not knowing the one true God, and would want to continue that idolatrous worship of idols. More than that she, like Eve, would want to involve her man in what she did, and so Solomon found himself being pressed to go along and join in her rites of idol worship. “He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. 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.” (v.3,4) Soon the reality of the Lord’s presence faded and with it the sense of meaning and purpose that comes with the knowledge of the Lord who is Creator, Sustainer, and Planner of this world. Soon he became very jaded. What was so awful about this was that he had been warned against it. He belonged to a people who had been warned not to marry idol-worshipping foreigners. If those foreigners wanted to convert to become the true people of God that was different, but if they didn’t the command was stay away!

Thus Solomon’s walk through life changed from a walk of wisdom to a walk of folly. Read Ecclesiastes and you will catch a sense of the awfulness of the results of that folly. Written near the end of his life it shows in the most graphic terms possible what can happen when a person loses their faith and turns away from God. The awful truth was that at some point, despite his wisdom, Solomon thought he knew better than God and ignored God’s command to stay away from foreign idol-worshipping women. Whenever we fall to such a temptation that Satan puts before us, we do the same thing, we think we know better than God – it will be all right. It won’t! Every time we accept or tolerate some ‘small’ wrong in our lives, we do this. Jesus understood this when he said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Mt 5:29,30). He knew that unless you deal radically with an ongoing sin, it would bring about your destruction. Don’t let it! Do something about it, because while you tolerate it and don’t deal with it, you walk the walk of folly and the end will be destruction.