The first five chapters of Isaiah sound the mournful cry of an angry God that is summarized in Isaiah 1.3: ‘The ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s feed trough; but Israel does not know, My people do not understand.’ What a contrast! Lowly animals know who owns and feeds them, but man, the epitome of God’s creation, has forgotten his Creator and forsaken His way, turning ‘away backward’ (verse 4; illustrated in 5.20-23). How did this happen? If we are following their example, what are we to do? What is your ‘prophetic message’ to those God brings to you (Isaiah 55.5; John 1.22-23; Matthew 3.2, 4.17; John 3.16-21)?
- Nehushtan illustrates just how ‘Egyptian’ the Hebrew people had become and how ‘stiff-necked’ they were. Numbers 21.4-9 tells their story of rebellion, its consequences, and God’s remedy of faith (Romans 1.16-17 and Habakkuk 2.4). Six hundred years later, King Hezekiah destroyed what had become an idol to the people throughout the reigns of the judges and earlier kings (2 Kings 18.1-7a). They called it ‘Nehushtan’, meaning bronze serpent. ( How do we pay homage to this present-day symbol of the medical profession?)
- King Saul was another example of Hebrew ‘stiff-necked’ rebellion. 1 Samuel 8.1-8 tells how the people wanted to be like the nations around them. What a goal! Notice how God frames their request, in verses 7 and 8. Saul exemplified Hebrew rebellion in 1 Samuel 15.1-21.
- How does 1 Samuel 15.22-23 include ‘Nehushtan’ and condemn having a ‘king’? Notice the origin of animal sacrifices in Genesis 7.1-3 and 8.20 and consider how man perverted this worship practice with their idols. What have we maligned in our times by diverting its use from worshipping God? Could the various animal sacrifices have been instituted by God to redirect the Hebrews’ worship from Nehushtan (and other idols) and back to God, similar to what Apostle Paul addresses in Acts 17.22-31, especially 27? Hebrews 10.1-10 gives what ultimate goal explaining ‘back to God’. How does this explain ‘away backward’ in Isaiah 1.4?
What names do we give to our idols?
- One of my favorite authors, A. W. Tozer, wrote, in The Purpose of Man: Designed to Worship (Regal, 2009), that ‘idolatry is simply worship directed in any direction but God’s, which is the epitome of blasphemy’ (p. 55). If guilty, raise your hand.
- Pastor Timothy Keller wrote, in Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters (Dutton, 2009), that ‘an idol has such a controlling position in your heart that you can spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought’ (p. xvii-xviii).
- Do you agree with his list of what could become idols: family and children, career and making money, achievement and critical acclaim, saving ‘face’ and social standing, a romantic relationship, peer approval, competence and skill, secure and comfortable circumstances, your beauty and/or brains, a great political or social cause, your morality and virtue, or even success in Christian ministry? (Rory Noland quotes these in Worship on Earth as it is in Heaven: Exploring Worship as a Spiritual Discipline; Zondervan, 2011, p. 75.)
- How do Jesus’ words in Matthew 22.21 advise you regarding these?
What did not Israel ‘know’ and ‘understand’?
- They did not know who they were and what this meant. In Genesis 17.7, God told Abraham who Israel was and what that meant. Paul stated that Christians are included, in Galatians 3.1-18. So, what does Genesis 17.7 mean to you?
- They did not understand Who God is. In Exodus 6.3, God introduced His name LORD to Moses and the people; an additional identity beyond God Almighty! I believe that the name Jesus is further revelation of LORD, as the Son Jesus said in John 17.6, 11-12. Respond to God’s plea in Jeremiah 9.23-24; it is His heart!
- They rebelled against God’s intended plan for them, which He discussed with Moses in Exodus 19.3-6. They were to ‘occupy’ the nations around them (Luke 19.13, KJV), instead of becoming just like them! What do Ephesians 3.10 and 1 Peter 2.9-10 say is God’s plan for Christians? How will you show that you know and understand?
‘Be holy for I AM holy!’
- This is what God gave as rationale for the Hebrews not acting like the peoples He was driving from the land He promised to Abraham for them. Consider His arguments in Leviticus 20.1-27. Romans 8.1-11 and Galatians 5.16-26 will help you to understand ‘holiness’. How do Jesus’ words in Matthew 5.48 complete this thought?
- Therefore, how do Ephesians 5.1 and James 1.27 and 4.7 instruct us to change?
- Romans 12.1-2 and Hebrews 12.1-3 are the ‘how to’ instruction for life.
- Consider how God’s instructions to Jeremiah (1.9-10) apply to you. Ezekiel 3.17, too.
- Practice, practice, practice!
- Listen carefully to Jesus’ words in John 4.23. Listen carefully to Hanani’s words in 2 Chronicles 16.9a.
Copyright by Maurice Painter, 2012. Other studies at www.sozoclass.com