Updated: Jan 31, 2020
The Promised Land was beautiful. As Joshua stood in front of the multitude of Israelites, he said with a voice full of conviction, "Fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth! Put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve the Lord." The people listened intently as Joshua continued, "And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom you will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." (Joshua 24:14-15)
The multitude immediately cried out, "God forbid that we should forsake the LORD, to serve other gods!" (Joshua 24:16) It was a powerful, wonderful moment in Biblical history when an entire nation thunderously exalted the one true God and vowed to worship only Him forever. It wasn't long after that Joshua, the beloved successor to Moses, died. Then came one of the saddest accounts in all of Scripture.
Though the people were finally in the Promised Land, it was still inhabited by the Canaanites and other heathen nations. The book of Judges opens up with God commanding His people to thoroughly drive out the inhabitants of the land, but the people only partially obeyed. God had told the Israelites to drive the nations out completely so they would not fall prey to their idol-worship and pagan sacrifices. But the Israelites compromised, only driving out some of the nations, and choosing to live among the others. By allowing the heathens to cohabit with them, they ended up sabotaging their own future. The Bible says that one generation after another rose up, never hearing about the plagues in Egypt, never hearing about the mighty exodus, never learning about the manna in the desert or the miracles God had done on their behalf. Slowly they themselves turned to idol worship, forgetting their promise to obey the voice of God and reject all other gods. (Joshua 24:23-24) God's heart was broken. His anger was hot. After all the mercy and faithfulness He had shown to His chosen people, they continued to complain, to compromise, and then turn away from the great I Am. Each time they shamelessly worshipped idols, God would allow them to suffer the natural consequences of their sin. They were taken into captivity, they were humiliated, and they were separated from the fellowship of Jehovah God. Eventually, when they could bare no more, they would cry out for deliverance and the Lord would graciously send them a godly judge to guide the people back. But inevitably each time the judge would die, the people would revert back to paganism. And the cycle continued for over 300 years! It's easy for us to read the story, shake our heads, and wonder how the Israelites could ever find satisfaction in false gods when they had personally experienced the miraculous deliverance and sustained power of Jehovah. But although the Israelites physically bowed to pagan idols and physically sacrificed their children to false gods, we do the very same thing spiritually, inside our hearts.
We claim to be people of God, then we blatantly spend more time worshipping people, things, and even ourselves.
We adamantly call ourselves Christians, which by definition means Christ-like, yet we sneer at the responsibility, as if being like Christ is an insult to our ego.
We profess to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit, but maintain that we are going to do whatever we feel like doing instead of being controlled by the Almighty Spirit of God.
Are we spiritual Israelites shouting that earthly relationships, hobbies, TV, or social media are more entertaining and profitable than spending hours in the Word hearing directly from the Creator?
Are we in the crowd rolling our eyes at the legalistic arrogance of driving out idols and making our hearts a pure place for a Holy God to dwell? Are we faces in the multitude nodding our heads in mock agreement, but planning our next tryst with sin? Because the Christian life - all the cleaning out of self and submitting to the Savior - that's too hard and, quite frankly, requires more than we care to give.
God forbid that we look upon the character and nature of God with anything less than awe and reverence. God forbid that while we receive, day after day, new mercies and new miracles, we murmur and complain about useless things we don't have. God forbid that we give ourselves to idols believing that they will provide something that Jesus will not. God forbid we live in unbelief when the Godhead cannot lie, will not leave us, and is acquainted with all of our grief.
Let us not live as the Israelites, forgetting who God is and what He has done and will do. May our daily creed be, "God forbid that we should forsake the LORD, to serve other gods!" Because He alone is worthy....