Rev. L. Althouse
October 1, 2006
Background Scripture: Judges 2:11-23. Devotional Reading: Deuteronomy 6:4-9.
Have you ever read a book and, coming to the end of it, asked yourself, what was that all about? There are some books of the Bible that may fit into that category: for example, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon. But with the book of Judges, all you have to do is read chapter 3 to get the basic plan of the book. The rest of Judges simply fills in the data.
Virtually the whole history of Israel, not only in Judges but most of the Old Testament, is a recurring four-part cycle that begins with these words: “And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord…” (3:7)
So, first the people rebelled against God. The formal term for this rebellion is apostasy, the abandonment of obedience to God and his commandments. That doesn’t mean that they necessarily openly defied the Lord, but that, consciously or unconsciously, they broke their part of the covenant with God. This defection usually took place shortly after God had delivered the people from some danger or crisis.
In light of all that God had already done for them, how could Israel so quickly defy God’s commandments? And I have come to the conclusion that they did it pretty much the same way we do it today: they deceived themselves, believing that they were remaining faithful even in the midst of their apostasy! If you would try to deceive God, deceive yourself first.
The Lord and Baal
The people of Israel did not see themselves as defying God. They continued to practice the rituals that they had been given. They still thought of themselves as God’s special people. They would have been and frequently were greatly shocked when told that they were breaking the commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Deut. 5:7)
Actually, they thought it was possible to have both the Lord and Baal in their lives. The worship of Baal was very seductive with its color and excitement. In their minds, they weren’t worshipping the Baals of their Canaanite neighbors, but more the values of the community were edging out the values of their covenant with God.
This may seem irrelevant to our own times, because Baal worship is no longer a reality in our civilization. In fact, unless we are seriously considering conversion to Hinduism, Buddhism, or Islam, having “other gods” before the Lord is no longer a problem.
But, don’t you believe it because, in fact, we do follow “other gods” and there are contemporary Baals that we worship - although we would never admit it, even to ourselves.
William Bright has written: “False gods - like Baal of old - have the power of resurrection, and many a false god, long dead, walks the earth with the grave mould upon him and finds for himself worshippers. For that to which a man looks for his ultimate well-being, his salvation no less, and from which he derives his standard of conduct - that is his god. And we have no lack of them.” Thus defined, the worship of Baal is still with us.
When I see Christians callously “walk by on the other side” of people in need, when I hear them protest that you can’t run your business or your country on the teachings of Christ, when I see people who opt for physical force instead of moral suasion, and witness a society addicted to material ease and novelty, I see a nation that looks elsewhere than the Gospels for our values, goals and means. That’s the bad news.
Following close upon apostasy in this cycle is oppression by others or life itself, prayer for help and finally, God’s deliverance. And that’s the good news: if we have tasted the bitterness that results from rebellion against God, we can turn and find the saving power of God.
We, who have been deliberately deaf, selfish, materialistic, unfaithful and disdained the Gospel of love in Christ, can turn from our Baals of the 21st century, of which there is no lack, and experience the persistent love and grace of God.
Take a personal inventory: are there any Baals in your life?
This farm news was published in the Sept. 27, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.