Wednesday, April 24, 2013

God Forsakers; God-Forsaken

The difference between you and God is that God doesn't think He's you.
― Anne Lamott

It is to idols that men turned (and turn) for quick and literal answers.
― J.R.R. Tolkien

2 Kings narrates the failure of the kings Israel to be true kings, and how God, seemingly distant, was yet still present through HIS WORD of judgment (i.e. Elisha).

This is all is the outworking of 1) Israel’s idolatry, and 2) God’s judgment.

God-forsakers are God-Forsaken.

I. God-Forsakers

The King, and yet coming King, the Lord Jesus Christ, only and ultimately fulfills the office of JUST King (Is. 9.7). Another way to say this: only God can (and ultimately He does) rightly fill the office of JUST King. He is The True King; true = authentic, real – all others are imposters, and phonies.

If this is so, then why does Israel ask for a king (1 Sam 8.4-5)? What reason do they have to be discontent under God's kingship?

Still, they ask for a king. Is this a good thing? They ask for a king as an act of idolatry; really, as proof of Idolatry; this is not a good thing.

Demanding a king “like the nations” was an idolatrous urge: an outright rejection of God’s Kingship. It was asking for a God-replacement. It was forsaking God. It was, actually, a sign they had already forsaken God.

1 Sam 8:4-5, “Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah, And said to him, Behold, you are old, and your sons walk not in your ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.”

1 Sam 8:7, “And the LORD said unto Samuel, listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you: for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.”

Hosea 8.4, “They made kings, but not through me. They set up princes, but I knew it not.”

Idolatry happens when a person/people puts something in God's place. It happens when we make anything but God "king." To be a king is to rule; idolatry happens when we trade God's rule for some other rule: when we let something/someone besides God make decisions for us. The fact that the people asked for a king shows that they had, already, displaced God in their hearts: they had already rejected God as King.
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,  because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen (Romans 1.21-24).
II. God-Replacement

Whenever we displace God, we go running for something to replace him. Repentance is turning from idols to God; sin is turning from God to idols. The turning from and to is really one motion. I have often noted that men/women who despises their marriage will actively seek out an adulterous relationship. The adulterous relationship is the turning to; the dissatisfaction with their marriage is turning from. It is one motion, with two distinct parts: and so it is with idolatry. We turn from God and turn to idols, like a dancer spinning on a musical note: in this case, the note is a minor key of tragedy.

We have a God shaped hole in our hearts; it must be filled: if not by the true God, then by a false one. The people would never have sought a king on earth if they had not first forsaken the King of Heaven.

Israel expected from a king what could only be found in the KING. Or, they settled for a king over the KING. They forsook God as king and carved for themselves a silly replica (Jer. 2.13; Romans 1.21). They became political idolaters, and traded the glory of the immortal God for a mere man (Romans 1.23). Many assume that Romans 1:18-32 is a description (Idolatry Descending Down To Depravity), not of Israel, but the pagan world; it is also a description of Israel in that Israel wanted to be "like the nations." They grew evermore to resemble the god-less pagan world first in idolatry, then in depravity (See Below, Comparative Outline).

Soon after President Obama's election to his first term I heard a brave African-America pastor say to a crowd of mostly African-American men, "Obama can't save you. He can't even save himself."

This is the lesson of the failure of Israel's (mostly idolatrous, immoral, and ineffectual) kings: they couldn't save us; they couldn't even save themselves.

III. Self-Forsaken

Turning from God leads to disintegration of self. Turning from God is striking out into the universe to be something we are not: equivalent to a child pretending to be a soldier. We were not made, by nature, to be gods, or to sin: sin is anti-nature. It is anti-creation. It is anti-self. This is seen, in our present age, by the refusal of men to be men, and women to be women. Gender distinction has broken down in favor of "defining ourselves." There is only one problem with defining ourselves: we have already been defined by our creator. Suppose you made a book shelf; suppose that book shelf could speak, and one day rose up and demanded to be an automobile. Humanity can speak, and we have rose up and denied our own humanity, and demanded to be little gods. In so doing, we have lost ourselves.

In mad rush into idolatry, Israel reached just such a place. They ceased to be who they were; they became so much less than they were created individually, and organized nationally, to be. Israel was supposed to be a holy nation, distinct from other nations (1 Chr 17.21). In desiring to be “like the nations” they are taking a crucial step further away from God – and losing their identity as the distinct (i.e. unlike the nations) people of THE king, and ultimately becoming just like the nations in first idolatry, then practice, and finally, judgment.
1 Kings 14:24, “and there were also male cult prostitutes in the land. They did according to all the abominations of the nations that the Lord drove out before the people of Israel.”

2 Kings 16:3, “but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. He even burned his son as an offering, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel.”

2 Kings 17:8, “and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had practiced.

2 Kings 17:11: …and there they made offerings on all the high places, as the nations did whom the Lord carried away before them. And they did wicked things, provoking the Lord to anger…

2 Kings 17:15: They despised his statutes and his covenant that he made with their fathers and the warnings that he gave them. They went after false idols and became false, and they followed the nations that were around them, concerning whom the Lord had commanded them that they should not do like them.”

2 Kings 17:33: So they feared the Lord but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away.

2 Kings 17.7: “And this occurred (the judgment of exile) because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods…”

2 Kings 17:12: and they served idols, of which the Lord had said to them, “You shall not do this.” 
2 Kings 17:14: But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the Lord their God.

2 Kings 17:25: And at the beginning of their dwelling there, they did not fear the Lord. Therefore the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them. 
2 Kings 17:35: The Lord made a covenant with them and commanded them, “You shall not fear other gods or bow yourselves to them or serve them or sacrifice to them,

IV. Your Will Be Done

Someone may reply, “But didn’t Deuteronomy foresee a kingship, legislate it, and approve of it?”

Dueteronomy did forsee a kingship; it did legislate it. It did not approve it. Deuteronomy is specific in the duties of a true king, but ambivalent about the prospect (Dt. 17.14-20). The desire for a king will arise from the people, not God (17.14), and will have twisted connotations, “like all the nations that are around me (17.14).” Deuteronomy legislates this idolatrous urge, but in light of the context, this legislation seems to be a concession to hardness of heart (similar to divorce laws, Mt. 19.8). 

We are reminded: the worst thing God can say to us is: "Your will be done." As my campus minister used to say, "The worst thing God can do is let us go." He the illustration of a naive dog on a leash. The dog is by a dangerous roadway, but is pulling at the leash: demanding to have his way so he can run out into traffic and chase cars (i.e. get run over). The worst thing the dog's master can do is let the leash go.

In 1 Samuel 8:7, God lets go the leash of grace that restrains the people from doing what they want to do: "Listen to the voice of the people," he tells Samuel.

"Listen to" in the OT means, "Obey." It means, "Your will be done."

This is the opposite of the prayer Jesus taught us, "Your will be done," i.e. "I want to listen to, and obey, your voice, O God, not my own. I want my will to be bent to your will."

In 1 Samuel 8:7, the people pray for their will to be done, and God answers their prayer.

From Jonathan Edwards, The Dreadful Silence of The Lord (Jeremiah 44:26):

(God warns) hat he would wholly give ‘em up to (idolatry), so that the name of the true God should not so much as be mentioned. Now they worshiped the true God in part; though they burnt incense to the queen of heaven, yet the pretend some respect to the true God of Israel. But God threatens that they shall be wholly left to their idolatry, so as not so much as to have any face or appearance of the worship of the true God among them... And this is the reason that God threatens as he doth in the text, that he will finally give them to the wickedness they were so obstinate in, after so many awful judgments. This was the last judgment and the greatest judgment that was brought upon them. They are resolved that they would worship idols, and God is resolved that they shall, too... they vowed to perform their vows, and God swore that they should.
Tis meant that God doth utterly leave and suffer them to go on in sin without restraint. He used means to bring them to forsake their sins, till at length he gives ‘em up to sin. He withholds those influences without which they never will forsake their sins. He withholds restraints. He withholds convictions. He withholds those motions of spirit that shall cause consciences to resists and oppose ‘em in their course of sin, and restrain ‘em from ‘em. He gives ‘em up to such a hard heart, such a fixed stupidity and senselessness, that never anything shall have any effect upon them to cause them to forsake their sins till their dying day... He gives them up to a foolish, deluded, self-flattering spirit to presume upon mercy; to flatter themselves with hopes of time enough hereafter, with vain presumption of long life... God ceases to take care to preserve them from the snares of the world; but leaves them to be in such circumstances as will be most prejudicial to their souls, and such as have a tendency to harden in sin, and cause them to go on in it... if others are concerned about them, and take pains to make them see the evil of their sins... all is in vain. God prospers no endeavors that are used...

IV. God-Forsaken

Read 2 Kings; God's absence is present; His silence is loud. Gone are the days of His Closeness; His mighty deeds; His Immediacy. Commentators marvel at how few times The Lord is directly mentioned in 2 Kings.

The question of 2 Kings 2:14 is the question, and the answer, of the whole book, "Where now is the Lord, God of Elijah?"* 2 Kings demonstrates the presence of God in an unfamiliar (new) and unfamiliar (lacking intimacy) way: His Presence of Absence (Judgment): his Silence of Speaking.

In 2 Kings God may seem absent; he may seem distant – in fact, he has been culpably distanced by His people in that they appointed a king in the place the KING. One way to distance God is to appoint a god-substitute. We marvel at Israel, but we do it all the time: we put things of this earth in the place of Heaven; we seek on earth what can only be found in Heaven; we seek from men what can only be found in God.

God-forsakers are justly God-forsaken. Thus, 1 and 2 Kings is a tragic tale of the spiral downward, away from God, and into just judgment (Exile). 1 and 2 Kings details what happens to a people who forsake God. They are given over, first, to the oppression of idolatry – a heavy and burdensome oppression they chose for themselves (1 Kgs. 4.7, 22ff: where Solomon’s provision are detailed). They find out the hard way that their kings are not anything like THE KING. False kings take; they suck the life from a person/people; The True King gives. In addition, The True King is all-powerful, and able to help in the day of calamity; false kings are impotent.

Thus, in 2 Kgs. 6.24ff, the king of Israel is powerless and overwhelmed. He is not a crusader for justice, but a passive observer of evil. Even the ideal idol, Solomon, fails them (1 Kings 11.1-4: Solomon descends into grievous idolatry; this is ironic: the idol is himself an idolater who has broken with the basic laws which apply to being God’s kind of king, i.e. horses and wives: cf. Dt. 17.16-17 with 1 Kgs 4.26, 10.28, and 1 Kgs 11.1-4).

Over time, Israel’s idols are multiplied (1 Kgs 16.13; 2 Kgs 17.7, 15; 21.10, 11; 21.21), and their oppressions and judgments grow more grievous.

So, in 2 Kings God does seem distant. Yet, this seeming distance is His people’s own doing, and is not the ultimate reality; rather, God is present, administering justice BY HIS WORD, in the practical presence of His prophet. The rebellious action of choosing a king over THE KING does not mean THE KING utterly withdraws, but rather that He is culpably obscured (Romans 1.18, “suppress the knowledge of God”); and, He continues to make HIS presence known in subtle ways BY HIS WORD, even though – at this point this – this is mostly a WORD of judgment. The presence of God is not the familiar fatherly presence Israel had earlier known. It is the wrathful and prescient presence of a judge. It is, at the same time, the withdrawal of kindly familiarity, and drawing near of wrathful retribution.


What application does this have for us? We ought to beware of putting our ultimate confidence in rulers (Ps. 146.3; Ps. 62.9). We not above this temptation. The idolatry of choosing a human leader as a God-replacement is repeated every time we evangelicals in America look to a President to “save” us, and bring perfect justice. Every time we elect a President in America, I tremble: both liberals and conservatives (if their candidate wins) will celebrate like the Messiah just came back. This shows that we have already forsaken God in our hearts, a long time ago; why else would we place such hope in mere men? Why else would we celebrate their ascendancy with what can only be called worship? This is idolatry. These men can't save us; they can't even save themselves.


From Jonathan Edwards, The Dreadful Silence of The Lord:

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