Today’s selected reading continues in the Old Testament prophetic book of Ezekiel the priest which he saw in the fifth year of the captivity of Jehoiachin’s captivity. More specifically, today’s passage is found in chapters fourteen through sixteen of this Old Testament book. SON OF MAN, THESE M EN HAVE SET UP THEIR IDOLS IN THEIR HEART, AND PUT THE STUMBLING BLOCK OF THEIR INIQUITY BEFORE THEIR FACE! SHOULD I BE INQUIRED OF AT ALL BY THEM! EVERY MAN OF THE HOSUE OF ISRAEL THAT SETTETH UP HIS IDOLS IN HIS HEART, AND PUTTETH THE STUMBLING BLOCK OF HIS INIQUITY BEFORE HIS FACE, AND COMETH TO THE PROPHET; I THE LORD WILL ANSWER HIM THAT COMETH ACCORDING TO THE MULTITUDE OF HIS IDOLS! THAT I MAY TAKE THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL IN THEIR OWN HEART! THEY ARE ALL ESTRANGED FROM ME THROUGH THEIR IDOLS! REPENT, AND TURN YOURSELVES FROM YOUR IDOLS! TURN AWAY YOUR FACES FROM ALL YOUR ABOMINATIONS! SEPARATETH HIMSELF FROM ME, AND SETTETH UP HIS IDOLS IN HIS HEART, AND PUTTETH THE STUMBLINGBLOCK OF HIS INIQUITY BEFORE HIS FACE, AND COMETH TO A PROPHET TO INQUIRE OF HIM CONCERNING ME! I THE LORD WILL ANSWER HIM BY MYSELF! I WILL SET MY FACE AGAINST THAT MAN! I WILL MAKE HIM A SIGN AND A PROVERB! I WILL CUT HIM OFF FROM THE MIDST OF MY PEOPLE! YE SHALL KNOW THAT I AM THE LORD! AND IF THE PROPHET BE DECEIVED WHEN HE HATH SPOKEN A THING, I THE LORD HAVE DECEIVED THAT PROPHET, AND WILL STRETCH OUT MY HAND UPON HIM, AND WILL DESTROY HIM FROM THE MIDST OF MY PEOPLE! THEY SHALL BEAR THE PUNISHMENT OF THEIR INIQUITY! THE PUNISHMENT OF THE PROPHET SHALL BE EVEN AS THE PUNISHMENT OF HIM THAT SEEKETH UNTO ME! THAT THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL MAY GO NO MORE ASTRAY FROM ME, NEITHER BE POLLUTED ANY MORE WITH ALL THEIR TRANSGRESSIONS! THEY MAY BE MY PEOPLE, AND I MAY BE THEIR GOD, SAITH THE LORD GOD! [EZEKIEL 11:17-21).
SON OF MAN, WHEN THE LAND SINNETH AGAINST ME BY TRESPASSING GRIEVOUSLY, THEN WILL I STRETH OUT MINE HAND UPON IT, AND WILL BREAK THE STAFF OF THE BREAD THEREOF, AND WILL SEND FAMINE UPON IT, AND WILL CUT OFF MAN AND BEAST FROM IT! THOUGH THESE THREE MEN, NOAH, DANIEL AND JOB WERE IN IT, THEY SHOULD DELIVER BUT THEIR OWN SOULS BY THEIR RIGHTEOUSNESS, SAITH THE LORD GOD! IF I CAUSE NOISESOME BEASTS TO PASS THROUGH THE LAND, AND THEY SPOIL IT, SO THAT IT BE DESOLATE, THAT NO MAN MAY PASS THROUGH BECAUSE OF THE BEASTS! OR IF I BRING A SWORD UPON THAT LAND, AND SAY, SWORD, GO THROUGH THE LAND; SO THAT I CUT OFF MAN AND BEAST FROM IT! OR IF I SEND A PESTILENCE INTO THAT LAND, AND POUR OUT MY FURY UPON IT IN BLOOD, TO CUT OFF FROM IT MAN AND BEAST! HOW MUCH MORE WHEN I SEND MY FOUR SORE JUDGMENTS UPON JERUSALEM, THE SWORD, AND THE FAMINE, AND NOISESOME BEAST, AND THE PESTILENCE, TO CUT OFF FROM IT MAN AND BEAST! YET, BEHOLD, THEREIN SHALL SEE THEIR WAY THEIR DOINGS: AND YE SHALL BE COMFORTED CONCERNING THE EVIL THAT I HAVE BROUGHT UPON JERUSALEM, EVEN CONCERNING ALL THAT I HAVE BROUGHT UPON IT!
CAUSE JERUSALEM TO KNOW HER ABOMINATIONS! IN THE DAY THOU WAST BORN THY NAVEL WAS NOT CUT, NEITHER WAST THOUW ASHED IN WATER TO SUPPLE THEE! THOUW AST NOT SALTED AT ALL, NOR SWADDLED AT ALL! NONE EYE PITIED THEE, TO DO ANAY OF THESE UNTO THEE! TO HAVE COMPASSION UPON THEE! THOU WAS CAST OUT IN THE OPEN FIELD, TO THE LOTHING OF THY PERSON, IN THE DAY THAT THOU WAST BORN! WHEN I PASSED BY THEE, AND SAW THEE POLLUTED IN THINE OWN BLOOD, I SAID UNTO THEE WHEN THOU WAST IN THY BLOOD, LIVE! I SAID UNTO THEE WHEN THOU WAST IN THY BLOOD, LIVE! I HAVE CAUSED THEE TO MULTIPLY! THOU HAST INCREASED AND WAXEN GREAT! THOUA RT COME TO EXCELLENT ORNAMENTS! THE BRIDE OF JERUSALEM! NOW WHEN I PASSED BY THEE, AND LOOKED UPON THEE, BEHOLD THY TIME WAS THE TIME OF LOVE; AND I SPREAD MY SKIRT OVER THEE, AND COVERED THY NAKEDNESS! I SWARE UNTO THEE, AND ENTERED INTO A COVENANT WITH THEE! THOU BECAMEST MINE! I WASHED THEE WITH WATER! I THROUGHLY WASHED AWAY THY BLOOD FROM THEE! I ANOINTED THEE WITH OIL! I CLOTHED THEE! I GIRDED THEE ABOUT WITH FINE LINEN! COVERED THEE WITH SILK! I DECKED THEE WITH ORNAMENTS! AND THOU WAST EXCEEDING BEAUTIFUL, AND THOU DIDST PROSPER INTO A KINGDOM! THY RENOWN WENT FORTH AMONG THE HEATHEN FOR THY BEAUTY! (IT WAS PERFECT THROUGH MY COMELINESS, WHICH I HAD PUT ON THEE!)
THOU DIDST TRUST IN THINE OWN BEAUTY! PLAYED THE HARLOT BECAUSE OF THY RENOWN! POURED OUT THY FORNICATIONS ON EVERY ONE THAT PASSED BY! OF THY GARMENTS THOU DIDST TAKE, AND DECKEDST THY HIGH PLACES WITH DIVERS COLOURS, PLAYEDST THE HARLOT THEREUPON! THOU HAST TAKEN THY FAIR JEWELS OF MY GOLD AND OF MY SILVER, WHICH I HAD GIVEN THEE, AND MADEST TO THYSELF IMAGES OF MEN, AND DIDST COMMIT WHOREDOM WITH THEM! THOU HAST TAKEN THY SONS AND THY DAUGHTERS, WHOM THOU HAST BORNE UNTO ME, AND THESE HAST THOUS SACRIFICED UNTO THEM TO BE DEVOURED! AND IN ALL THINE ABOMINATIONS AND THY WHOREDOMS THOU HAST NOT REMEMBERED THE DAYS OF THY YOUTH, WHEN THOU WAST NAKED AND BARE, AND WAST POLLUTED IN THY BLOOD! THOU HAST BUILT UNTO THEE AN EMINENT PLACE, AND HAST MADE THEE AN HIGH PALCE IN EVERY STREET! THOU HAST BUILT THY HIGH PLACE AT EVERY HEAD OF THE WAY, AND HAST MADE THY BEAUTY TO BE ABHORRED, AND HAST OPENED THY FEET TO EVERY ONE THAT PASSED BY, AND MULTIPLIED THY WHOREDOMS! THOU HAST COMMITTED FORNICATIONS WITH THE EGYPTIANS THY NEIGHBOURS! HAST INCREASED THY WHOREDOMS, TO PROVOKE ME TO ANGER! I HVE ADELIVERED THEE UNTO THE WILL OF THEM THAT HATE THEE! THOU HAST PLAYED THE WHORE ALSO WITH THE ASSYRIANS! THOU WAS UNSATIABLE! THOU HAST PLAYED THE HARLOT WITH THEM, AND YET COULDEST NOT BE SATISIFED! THOU HAST MOREOVER MULTIPLIED THY FORNICATION! YET THOU WAST NOT SATISFIED HEREWITH! HOW WEAK IS THINE HEART, SAITAH THE LORD GOD, SEEING THOU DOEST ALL THESE THINGS, THE WORK OF AN IMPERIOUS WHORISH WOMAN! [THE BRIDE TURNED WHORE! THE BRIDE TURNED HARLOT] BUT AS A WIFE THAT COMMITTETH ADULTERY, WHICH TAKETH STRANGERS INSTEAD OF HER HUSBAND! WHEREFORE, O HARLOT! BECAUSE THY FILTHINESS WAS POURED OUT, AND THY NAKEDNESS DISCOVERED THROUGH THY WHOREDOMS WITH THY LOVERS, WITH WHOM THOU HAST TAKEN PLEASURE! [I WILL EXPOSE THY NAKEDNESS]!
When you come to this particular portion of Scripture you will find a chapter that has long fascinated me within the prophetic book of Ezekiel. In all reality, there are two chapters found within this passage of Scripture that have long intrigued and captivated me—namely because of the language that is found and contained therein. If and as you begin reading from the first and opening verse of the fourteenth chapter you will again find the elders of Israel coming unto Ezekiel the prophet there in the land of the Chaldeans. The visions of God which Ezekiel had concerning Jerusalem and the Temple of the LORD are now over and completed, and Ezekiel found himself back in the land of the Chaldeans with the rest of those who had been taken and carried away captive by the Babylonians. Upon reading the opening verses of the chapter you will find the word of the LORD coming unto Ezekiel concerning the elders which had come unto him and sat before him. Scripture doesn’t reveal the nature and purpose of the visit of these elders of Israel, however, what Scripture does point to and reveal is the word of the LORD coming unto Ezekiel concerning these men and the nature and condition of their hearts. It’s actually quite intriguing and captivating when you read the words found in this passage of Scripture, for the word of the LORD which came unto Ezekiel was one that dealt exclusively and specifically with idolatry—yet the word of the LORD didn’t address idolatry the way that we as the people of God have historically talked about and understood it. As you read the words found in this chapter you will find the LORD speaking of and addressing idolatry—not necessarily as as matter of an external act and manifestation, but rather as an inward reality and practice within our hearts. The words found within this chapter directly links idolatry to the heart and intrinsically connects the two to each other. The word of the LORD which came unto Ezekiel at this time was a powerful word concerning idolatry and idols which were found within the lives of these elders which came and sat before Ezekiel, however, the LORD didn’t speak of the external manifestation of idolatry in the midst of the land as that which is formed and fashioned with one’s hands.
As you read the words which are found in this passage of Scripture you will find the LORD speaking of and addressing idolatry in an entirely different light than what we are perhaps used to. In all our discussion concerning idolatry we would like to think of it as having an external and physical manifestation within our lives—even within this nation, within the cities round about us, and perhaps even within the church. More often than not, when we think about idolatry we think about it in terms of that which is something formed and fashioned out of gold, silver or bronze, and something that is set up in our homes, in our cities, in our streets, in our nation, in our churches, and the like. We have read Scripture and know all about the golden calf which Aaron the brother of Moses set up at the base of the mountain in the wilderness when the children of Israel came unto him and asked him to make unto them gods. Scripture reveals how the children of Israel had grown weary, tired and impatient with Moses being too long atop the mountain, and as a direct result of their weariness and impatience with this man of God they demanded of Aaron that he form and fashion a golden calf they might worship—a god which they could worship. You will recall that when the children of Israel saw the thunders, the lightnings, the consuming fire and smoke atop the mountain, and heard the sound of the trumpet as it were from the midst of the storm atop the mountain, they shrank back in fear and requested that Moses speak with God, that Moses hear and listen to God, and that Moses speak unto them that which the LORD had commanded and instructed. With that being said, we find the children of Israel becoming entirely and altogether dependent upon this man Moses, and when he took too long coming down from the mountain, they asked Aaron that he form and fashion for and unto them a god which they could worship. No longer were they satisfied with the one true and living God atop the mountain, and no longer were they interested in worshipping and serving Him, but now they wanted a cheap substitute—something they could actually see when they worshipped it. What makes this all the more intriguing is when you think about the fact that the mountain was still altogether on a smoke because of the consuming fire upon it, the mountain was still shaking under the tremendous weight and pressure of the glory of the LORD upon it, and the children of Israel still saw the thunders and lightnings which were in the midst of the storm atop the mountain Despite the fact that the children of Israel saw the storm atop the mountain and still knew the glory of the one true and living God was atop the mountain, they still proceeded to ask Aaron to form and fashion for them a golden calf. Of course we know that Aaron asked the children of Israel for all the golden earrings the children of Israel had that he might form and fashion unto them a golden calf which they might worship.
If you journey further into the Old Testament—specifically during those early and initial years of a divided nation and kingdom of Israel—you will find it written how Jeroboam son of Nebat, king of Israel had set up two golden calves in the midst of the land. Please note and understand that what one generation does in moderation another generation will do in excess. The children of Israel worshipped before one golden calf there in the wilderness, however, it would be during the days of Jeroboam son of Nebat that not one, but two golden calves would be set up in the midst of the land. Jeroboam would set up a golden calf as far north as Dan, and would set up another one as far south as Beth-el. It’s absolutely necessary for us to recognize and understand the words and language that is found in these two passages of Scripture, for when we think about and consider idolatry, we tend to think about it in terms of that which Aaron, and that which Jeroboam son of Nebat had set up in the midst of the people of God. We tend to think of idolatry as something that can only be seen and understood in the physical realm which we can see with our eyes, and which we can see and perceive with our natural senses. The truth of the matter, however, is that when the word of the LORD came unto Ezekiel as the elders of Israel sat before him, that word would reveal a tremendous truth concerning idolatry—namely, that idolatry is not relegated, nor is it altogether limited to that which we set up and form with our own hands, but it is something much deeper and something that is much greater than that. We dare not miss and lose sight of the words which are found within this passage of Scripture, for what the word of the LORD did in the company and presence of the elders of Israel was elevate and heighten the reality and concept of idolatry. Through and by the word of the LORD the prophet Ezekiel would find the LORD speaking of idolatry—not necessarily as something that can be seen and understood in the physical and natural realm only, but as something that can and should be understood in the unseen and invisible realm. The word of the LORD which came unto Ezekiel on this particular occasion would be one that would radically change and alter how I view and perceived idols and idolatry, for we would like to think that idolatry is something that is only manifested if and when there is an external reality before our eyes. Very rarely do we think about and consider the fact that before idolatry ever touches our home, before idolatry ever touches our houses of worship, before idolatry ever touches our streets and our cities, and before idolatry ever touches our nation, it has always and must first touch our hearts.
With this being said, I am absolutely compelled to emphatically declare that no idol has ever been set up within your home, no idol has ever been set up within our cities, no idol has ever been set up within our nation, and no idol has ever been set up—even within our houses of worship—without it first touching and being present within our hearts. The prophet Isaiah would speak and proclaim the tremendous danger of idolatry when comparing it to the glory and holiness of the living God, and the prophet Isaiah would speak of it in terms of that which is formed and fashioned with the human hands, however, when we think about and consider the nature of idolatry, we must understand idolatry as that which is first formed and fashioned within our hearts. In all reality, when we think about idolatry, we must think of it in terms of the heart, the hands, and the home. THE HEART, THE HANDS, THE HOUSE! As I sit here today, I can’t help but think about and consider the awesome and incredible reality of idolatry, and how idolatry has never been manifested in the physical realm without it first touching the unseen realm of our hearts. Before an idol is ever formed, and before an idol is ever fashioned with and by our hands, it is first formed and fashioned within our hearts. There has never been a single idol that has ever been formed and fashioned with human hands, nor has there ever been a single idol that has ever been worshipped in the physical and natural realm, which has not first been set up and worshipped within our hearts. Any idol that is found within the physical and natural realm is and has always been found first and foremost within our hearts. We cannot, we dare not, we must not miss and lose sight of this incredibly awesome reality, for this is the main and underlying crux of what the LORD would speak unto Ezekiel when the elders of Israel came unto him and sat before him. Consider if you will the words which are found within this chapter beginning to read with and from the first and opening verse:
“Then came certain of the elders of Israel unto me, and sat before me. And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumbling block of their iniquity before their face: should I be inquired of at all by them? Therefore speak unto them, and say unto them, Thus saith the LORD God; Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet; I the LORD will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols; that I may take the house of Israel in their own heart, because they are all estranged from me through their idols. Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the LORD God; Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations. For every one of the house of Israel, or of the stranger that sojourneth in Israel, which separateth from me, and setteth up idols in his heart, and putteth the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to a prophet to inquire of him concerning me; I the LORD will answer him by myself; and I will est my face against that man, and will make him a sign and a proverb, and I will ct him off from the midst of my people; and ye shall know that I am the LORD. And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the LORD have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand upon him, and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel. And they shall bear the punishment of their iniquity: the punishment of the prophet shall be even as the punishment of him that seeketh unto him; that the house of Israel may go no more astray from me, neither be polluted any more with all their transgressions; but that they may be my people, and I may be their God, saith the LORD God” (Ezekiel 14:1-11).
If there is one thing I find absolutely and incredibly interesting and challenging when I read the words contained within this chapter, it’s that the word of the LORD not only spoke of idols which were set up within the hearts of men, but it also spoke about the stumbling block of iniquity. which was set up before their faces. It is absolutely necessary that we recognize and understand this language, for there is an intrinsic link and connection between the idol which was set up within the heart of an individual and the stumbling block of iniquity which they set up before their face. What we notice when reading the words which the LORD spoke unto the prophet is not only idols which were set up within the heart of an individual, but also the manifestation and fruit of that idol which was manifested in that which was set before the face of the one who had first set up the idol within their heart. It’s actually quite captivating to think about and consider the fact that when speaking unto the prophet Ezekiel the LORD almost seems to separate the external manifestation of idolatry from the inward reality of idolatry, and yet at the same time intrinsically linking and connecting the two together. The LORD not only spoke of setting up idols within one’s heart, and the LORD not only spoke about setting up the stumbling block of iniquity before one’s face, but the LORD also spoke of coming and inquiring of the LORD through the prophet. We dare not and must not miss and lose sight of this awesome reality, for it brings us face to face with just how much the heart is involved in idolatry. We would like to think that we can somehow engage in idolatry, and yet the heart be completely separated and not joined together in and with it, and yet the truth of the matter is that this simply is not the case. The word of the LORD which came unto Ezekiel clearly reveals the powerful truth the heart is very much involved—and is as much involved in the process and act of idolatry as that which is seen and experienced by and with the physical eyes. We dare not, we cannot and must not think and consider—even for a brief moment—that idolatry can somehow be separated from the heart, and that the heart is somehow not involved in the process of idolatry within our homes, within our houses of worship, within our streets, within our cities, and within our nation. Oh try and try as we may to separate our heart from idolatry it is absolutely and altogether impossible to do so, for both the idol and the heart are intrinsically linked and connected.
The more I think about this reality of the heart being directly linked and connected to idolatry, the more I can’t help but think about the words which Jesus our Lord spoke in His famous Sermon on the Mount. Although much of the language you are about to read has nothing to do with idolatry as we have come to know it, it does present us with the reality of Jesus doing something with the Law that is truly and utterly powerful and captivating. What Jesus did in the Sermon on the Mount is take the Law and not merely demand external obedience and faithfulness to the Law, but also inward obedience and faithfulness to it. What Jesus did in the Sermon on the Mount is emphatically declare and proclaim that we can violate the law within our own hearts and minds without ever even violating it with our hands and our actions. Please don’t miss what is taking place here within the Sermon on the Mount, for it brings us face to face with the awesome and incredible reality that we can—and in most cases do—violate the law within our hearts and our minds before we ever violate it with our hands, and anything else within our lives That which Jesus does is take obedience and faithfulness to the Law, flip and turn it on its head, and demand even greater obedience and faithfulness—that which is present within one’s heart and mind. It is absolutely necessary that we at least give consideration to this, for it helps shine a tremendous light on just how much the heart and mind are intrinsically connected to violating the commands, the statutes and the decrees of the LORD which are found within His Law. With that in mind, consider the following words which are found in the fifth chapter of the New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle Matthew:
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all e fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall read one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall e called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-20).
“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall e in danger of the judgment: but I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall e in danger of hell fire. Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with hi; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing” (Matthew 5:21-26).
“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of the thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell” (Matthew 5:27-30).
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away” (Matthew 5:38-42).
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48).
As you read these words of Jesus you will quickly encounter that not only did Jesus come to fulfill the Law, but Jesus also came to turn the Law on its head, flip the script, and bring the Law beyond simply external obedience and faithfulness. You will find within this narrative Jesus emphatically declaring unto those who would listen to His words that unless their righteousness exceeded that of the scribes and Pharisees the would in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven. If you study very carefully the narrative of the scribes and Pharisees you will find that they were all about external appearances and outward shows and displays. When Jesus spoke these words unto all those who would hear and listen to Him—that which He was speaking and declaring unto them was that there was a righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees that was carnal, and earthly, and natural, and outward, and this was in fact the righteousness of religion. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF RELIGION! Would it shock and surprise you to think about and consider the fact that there is a righteousness of religion, and that religion has its own demonstration and manifestation of righteousness in the sight of both God and men? You need only look at and examine the twenty-third chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew, as well as the fifteenth chapter of the same book to encounter the righteousness of religion, and that which religion attempts to portray in the house of the LORD. What’s more, is that when you think about and consider this reality of the righteousness of religion you must understand that it is entirely and altogether steeped in legalism, tradition, and hypocrisy. We dare not and must not miss and lose sight of this awesome and wonderful reality, for to do so would be to miss out on the importance of that which Jesus spoke unto His hearers. There were times when Jesus declared unto His hearers that unless their righteousness exceeded and surpassed that of the Pharisees they would in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven, while there were other times Jesus spoke directly unto the scribes and Pharisees themselves and indicted and condemned them for their legalism, for their tradition and for their hypocrisy. It is important that we recognize and understand this truly awesome reality, for it helps shine a great amount of light on to the truth that there is a righteousness which is presented by religion, and if one is not careful and discerning, they might very well think this righteousness is actually such that pleases and honors the LORD. With this in mind, I invite you to consider the words which are found in the fifteenth and twenty-third chapters of the New Testament gospel narrative of Matthew, as they describe this righteousness of religion—that which thinks and believes it truly pleases, honors and glorifies the living and eternal God, and yet is an abomination before and unto Him:
“Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they wash not their hands when they eat bread. But He answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; and honour not his father or his mother, he shall e free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. And He called the multitude, and said unto them< Hear, and understand: Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. Then came His disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying? But He answered and said, Every plant,w high my Heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. Then answered Peter and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable. And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding? Do not yet yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the fraught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: these are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man” (Matthew 15:1-20).
“Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall e forgiven unto me: but the blasphemy against the Hoy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come. Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth evil things. But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matthew 12:31-37).
“Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to His disciples, saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heaven burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted. But woe unto your scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against me: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye deliver widows’ houses, and fora. presence make long prayer: therefore yes shall receive the greater damnation. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! FOr ye compass sea and land to make one proselye, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but SHO whoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by the temple, and by all things therein. And whoso shall swear by the Temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth therein. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! FOr ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, and say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell” (Matthew 23:1-33).
It is quite clear and obvious when reading each of these passages—not only that there is a righteousness of religion, but also that there is indeed a righteousness that is of the earth, and a righteousness that has very little to do with that which actually pleases and glorifies the living God. What’s more, is that as you read these words you will quickly encounter and come face to face with the awesome reality that the righteousness which truly pleases the one true and living God is not an external righteousness that seeks to causally observe the Law, or to do enough to give the appearance of obeying the Law, but that which actually touches and transforms the heart. As you read the words which are found within these chapters you will find that Jesus declared unto His hearers and audience that it wasn’t that which went into the mouth which defiled a man, but rather that which came out of the mouth that defiled a man. What’s more, is that you will also find Jesus declaring that it is out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Thus, that which Jesus is ultimately saying is that that when we think and speak about righteousness we must recognize and understand that it is entirely and altogether a matter of the heart and is not merely an external manifestation within our lives. We would like to think that our obedience to the Law of the LORD, and our obedience to that which the LORD has commanded and instructed can be measured in external and outward manifestations, and yet the truth of the matter is that this simply isn’t the case. Jesus recognized and understood that there was an external righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, which was the righteousness of religion, as well as pointing out the fact that there is a righteousness that is of the kingdom—a righteousness which is of the heart and the inner depths of a man. We must recognize and understand this, for even when we speak about the words found in the Old Testament prophetic book of Ezekiel, we see that idolatry is not so much a matter of that which is seen in the physical and natural realm, but that which is present within our hearts. The word of the LORD spoke unto Ezekiel and revealed unto him that it is absolutely impossible to separate the heart from idolatry, as idolatry has always been, and will always be found within the heart of a man or woman. When the word of the LORD came unto Ezekiel concerning the elders of Israel, the LORD revealed unto the prophet that the men who were sitting before him had set up idols within their heart. What makes this all the more interesting and intriguing is when you think about and consider the fact that the LORD didn’t reveal what those idols were, and the LORD didn’t give Ezekiel details concerning what these men had set up within their hearts.
WHAT HAVE YOU SET UP WITHIN YOUR HEART? I find it absolutely captivating and challenging when reading the words found in this passage of Scripture, for the fact that the LORD did not reveal unto Ezekiel the specific idols these men set up within their hearts, nor the stumbling block of iniquity which they set up before their faces allows it to be open ended within our own hearts and lives. That which the word of the LORD revealed unto the prophet Ezekiel was that these men which sat before him had set up idols within their hearts, and had put the stumbling block of iniquity before their faces. The word of the LORD reveals absolutely nothing else beyond or after the fact that these men had set up idols within their hearts, and that they had set up the stumbling block of iniquity before their faces, and it is something worth considering when reading these words, for the LORD would go on to ask Ezekiel if He should at all be inquired of these men who not only set up idols within their hearts, but also set up the stumbling block of iniquity before their faces. The underlying question we must ask ourselves when reading the words found in these verses is whether or not the actual idol is set up within our heart, and that which is before our eyes is the stumbling block. I can’t help but wonder if the actual manifestation of the idolatry that is found within our hearts. It would be very easy to think that there aren’t idols within our lives simply because there is nothing manifested on the outside before our eyes. We tend to think that because we have never physically formed or fashioned anything, or because there is nothing tangible and physical within our lives there aren’t any idols within our hearts. In all reality, I would dare say that we have confused idolatry of the heart and idolatry within the heart with the actual stumbling block and manifestation of the idolatry within our hearts and lives. With this being said and before us, I can’t help but think about and consider the words which the LORD God of Israel spoke unto the children of Israel in the opening commandments which were given unto Moses atop Horeb in the wilderness. Consider if you will the following words which are found within the opening verses of the twentieth chapter of the Old Testament book of Exodus:
“And God spake all these words, saying, I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: For I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. Remember the sabbath day, to ke ep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy. maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day:were fore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it” (Exodus 20:1-11).
With the words found in the twentieth chapter of the Old Testament book of Exodus I can’t help but also be reminded of the words which are found in the first and opening chapter of the New Testament epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Rome. If you turn and direct your attention to the first and opening chapter of the New Testament epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Rome you will find him writing concerning the wrath of God being revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and the unrighteousness of men. The apostle Paul then goes on to write what that unrighteousness and ungodliness actually looks like, and how it has been and continues to be manifested in the midst of the earth. It is absolutely necessary that we recognize and pay close attention to the words which are found in this passage of Scripture, for it helps us to further understand this concept of idolatry and what it looks like within our present day context. Consider if you will the following words which are found in this particular chapter beginning to read with and from the eighteenth verse of the chapter:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for GOd hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the feature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to re train God in their knowledge, God gave them over to reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; being filled with all unrighteousness, forniation, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despitefully, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them” (Romans 1:18-31).
Notice if you will how many times within this particular passage the word “change” is used, and how it directly relates to the unrighteousness and ungodliness that is found in this epistle written by the apostle Paul. In the twenty-third verse of this chapter we find the apostle Paul writing how men changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four footed beasts, and creeping things. What’s more, is that in the twenty-fifth verse of this chapter we find the apostle Paul writing how men changed the truth of God into a lie, and how they worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator. Scripture isn’t clear what this lie was that men changed the truth of God into, however, we can be absolutely certain that this changing the truth of God into a lie is the direct foundation of worshipping and serving the creature more than the Creator. What’s more, is that within this passage of Scripture we find the apostle Paul writing how these men knew God, and yet they glorified Him not as God, nor were thankful. CHANGING THE GLORY OF GOD INTO AN IMAGE! CHANGING THE TRUTH OF GOD INTO A LIE! KNOWING GOD, YET NOT GLORIFYING HIM AS GOD! KNOWING THE TRUTH, YET CHANGING IT INTO A LIE! At the very heart of choosing not to glorify the one true and living God as such is a desire within the heart and mind of man to worship and serve something else other than that which is truly meant to be worshipped. It was Moses who emphatically declared unto the children of Israel that the LORD our GOd was one Lord, and that men must love the LORD with all their heart, with all their soul, and with all their strength. What’s more, is that Jesus would speak and declare unto the Samaritan woman that the time and hour has come and now is when the Father will seek such to worship Him in spirit and in truth. It is this concept of “truth” I find so absolutely fascinating—particularly and especially when reading the words found in the first chapter of the epistle written by the apostle Paul—for the apostle Paul would write about changing the truth of God into a lie, and would then go on to write and speak of men worshipping and serving the creature more than the Creator. We dare not and must not miss this, for there is something about this changing the truth of GOd into a lie, and/or embracing a lie about and concerning God that somehow gives us the freedom and liberty to worship that which is not God, and yet somehow thinking that what we are worshipping is God.
Perhaps one of the most striking and alarming truths concerning idolatry is when you consider the fact that idolatry can take place on two different fronts and in two different ways. On the one hand idolatry can actually take the shapes and form of worshipping something else altogether which we know for a fact is not God. Idolatry can first and foremost take the shape of our worshipping strange and foreign gods which we have adapted and taken from those around us. Much like the children of Israel who adopted the foreign and strange gods of the nations around them rather than and instead of the one true and living God, so also can we, and so also may we at times choose to worship those things which we know for a fact is not the living and eternal God. Idolatry can indeed and can in fact take the form of blatant and deliberate worship of something that is never and has never been the one true and living God. such an example is found in the eleventh chapter of the Old Testament book of First Kings when we read of Solomon son of David king of Israel in his old age, and how his love for foreign and strange women would ultimately open him up to worshipping strange and foreign gods—gods of which the LORD instructed and commanded His people Israel not to worship. In all reality, Solomon was guilty of two evils before and in the sight of the living God—the first which is marrying and cleaving in love to women from among the nations which the LORD commanded and instructed His people not to indulge in, while the second was worshipping and serving strange and foreign gods from the nations round about the nation of Israel. What we find in the narrative of Solomon in the latter years of his life is a powerful picture of his adopting the false and strange gods of the nations which were round about Israel, and choosing to worship them instead of and in place of the one true and living God. With this in mind, please consider if you will the following words which are found in the eleventh chapter of this Old Testament book beginning to read with and from the first verse:
“But king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites; of the nations concerning which the LORD said unto the children of Israel, ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love. And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart. For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the ammonites. And Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD, and went not fully after the LORD, as did David his father. Then did Solomon build an high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon. And likewise did he for all his strange wives, which burnt incense and sacrificed unto their gods. And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the LORD God of Israel, which had appeared unto him twice, and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods: but he kept not that which the LORD commanded. Wherefore the LORD said unto Solomon, Forasmuch as this is done of thee, and thou hast not kept my covenant and my statutes, which I have commanded thee, I will surely rend the kingdom from thee, and will give it to thy servant. Notwithstanding in thy days I will not do it for David thy father’s sake: but I will rend it out of the hand of thy son. Howbeit I will not rend away all the kingdom; but will give one tribe to thy son for David my servant’s s are, and for Jerusalem’s sake which I have chosen” (1 Kings 11:1-13).
What we find within the narrative of Solomon isn’t Solomon’s setting up idols which he himself had formed and fashioned after the likeness of man, or that which has been created in the earth, but rather Solomon taking the gods and abominations of the nations round about Israel and worshipping them. ASHTORETH! MILCOM! CHEMOSH! MOLCEH! Please don’t miss the names which are found and mentioned in this passage of Scripture, for what we find here is the name of four different gods from four different nations round about Israel which Solomon allowed his heart to cleave to in worship. What we find and read concerning Solomon is not his setting up idols which he had formed and fashioned after the image of some thing which he observed upon the earth, but rather, we find him taking the strange and foreign gods of the nations round about Israel and worshipping them. This is in all reality how idolatry takes place on the first front, for we don’t necessarily form and fashion idols out of our own imagination and our own heart, but we take and adopt the false, the strange and the foreign gods round about us within the earth and worship them in place of God. Oh that we would recognize and understand that there is a vast different between worshipping false and strange gods in place of God, and worshipping God (or at least thinking we are worshipping God) in the image we have made. The first front of idolatry does indeed and does in fact take place in the realm of taking the strange and foreign gods which are before and around us, and worshipping them instead of, and in place of the living God. It is absolutely necessary that we recognize and understand this awesome reality, for it helps us to truly understand the narrative of idolatry, and how idolatry can in fact, and does in fact take place on multiple fronts and in multiple arenas. We cannot and must think of idolatry as solely being that which we form and fashion instead of, and that which we form and fashion in place of the living God. When we think of idolatry, we must recognize and understand that idolatry can indeed and can in fact take place in the realm and arena of taking the strange and foreign gods which are before and around us, and worshipping them instead of and in place of the living God. We dare not and must not miss and lose sight of this awesome and incredible reality, for to do so would be to miss out on the truly astonishing reality of what idolatry actually is, and how it actually manifests itself within our lives.
With this being said, we must recognize and understand that idolatry doesn’t necessarily take the shape of worshipping the strange and foreign gods which are found before and around us, but also takes the form and shape of thinking and believing we are worshipping the one true and living God in the image we have made of Him. Perhaps one of the greatest truths we must realize concerning idolatry is that it is possible to form and fashion an image of who and what we think God is actually like, and proceeding to worship God according to that image. Perhaps this is why it is so absolutely necessary and imperative that we recognize and understand the words the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Rome, for when writing unto those saints the apostle Paul wrote about changing the truth of God into a lie. Building up this even further, I would dare say that another great atrocity we can be guilty of is changing the truth about God—truth that is revealed in His Word concerning Him—and changing that into a lie. One of the greatest dangers we face within our hearts and lives is taking the truth we know about God—or the truth we think we know about God—and transforming it and changing it into a lie. It is that lie we have formed Ab out God, and that lie we believe about God that essentially allows us to proceed to worship God—not as He truly is, but rather according to the image we have formed and fashioned within our hearts and minds. As I sit here today I can’t help but be absolutely gripped and fascinated with and by the fact that it is entirely and altogether possible for us as the people of God to form and create a truth about God within our hearts and minds, and to believe that truth so intimately and dearly that we actually allow ourselves to be deceived. I have to admit that the words which Jesus the Christ spoke unto the Samaritan woman there at the well outside of Sychar are so absolutely necessary and vital to our understanding of idolatry, for Jesus emphatically declared that the Father is seeking for those who would worship Him in spirit and in truth. It is this concept of truth which we must needs pay close attention to, for when we think about worshipping God we must acknowledge the fact that to truly worship Him as He is, it is absolutely necessary that we understand and embrace the truth about God—the truth about God that is found and expressed within His word. Perhaps it is at this juncture I ask you very candidly and pointedly what your truth about God actually is. When you think about your truth concerning God—is your truth based on the opinions and ideas of others, or is your truth about God based on what is found written and contained within His word and what has been revealed concerning Him?
This reality of worshipping God in spirit and in truth is so incredibly necessary to think about and consider, for it brings us face to face with the awesome reality that what the apostle Paul wrote concerning men changing the truth of God into a lie is absolutely and utterly tragic and dangerous. We dare not, we cannot and must not miss and lose sight of this reality and truth, for one of the more subtle versions and methods of idolatry is our forming and crafting our own truth concerning God, and forming and creating our own image of God, and then proceeding to worship God according to that truth and image we have created. Oh dear brother, dear sister—there is a great and inherent danger in forming and fashioning a truth and image of God that is not rooted and grounded in His word, and then proceeding to worship God according to that truth and that image. When you read the narratives which are found in the Old Testament book of Exodus, as well as the Old Testament book of First Kings, you will find that in the wilderness the children of Israel worshipped God in the image they had made, and even proceeded to worship that God using actual truth that was present and manifested within their midst. When they worshipped the golden calf they proceeded to acknowledge it as their gods which delivered them up out of the land of Egypt, thus confirming the great wonders which were performed in Egypt, as well as the great deliverance which was wrought in the earth as they came out of the land of Egypt. When the children of Israel worshipped the golden calf their worship might very well have sounded holy, and it might very well have sounded as though it was that which pleased the living God, and yet the truth of the matter is that they were worshipping God in the image they had made using truth from their experiences. It’s as if the children of Israel wanted to form their own image of God and who they thought and believed He was, acknowledge the truth about their deliverance from the slavery, bondage and oppression of Egypt, and proceed to worship that god which was before them according to both realities. The underlying danger surrounding this, is that although the children of Israel might have sounded holy in that they acknowledged their being brought forth out of the land of Egypt, that which they were doing was nothing more than worshipping God in an image they had made.
We cannot and must not miss and lose sight of this truth and reality, for this is perhaps one of the more subtle forms of idolatry that is found within the hearts and lives of men and women—particularly and especially within the church. If we were able to see many of our churches as they truly are and as Ezekiel saw the Temple when he was brought in visions of God unto Jerusalem, would we see countless throngs and countless masses worshipping a god they have formed, a god they have created, a god they have imagined within their hearts and minds rather than the one true and living God. Oh, their worship might very well sound holy, and their worship might very well sound as though it’s pleasing in the sight and ears of the living God, for they say all the right words, and seem to strike all the right chords—and yet beneath the surface that which they are doing is worshipping the one true and living God in the image they have made. The more we think about and the more we consider this narrative of idolatry, the more we must consider the fact that idolatry can take the shape and form of forming and fashioning an image of God within our own hearts and minds, and somehow thinking and believing that image is true and we are actually worshipping the one true and living God. The underlying danger, however, is that there is a more subtle form of idolatry that can take place within our hearts and lives—namely, that we form and fashion an image of who we think God is, and then proceed to worship God according to that image. The question I can’t help but ask as I am sitting here today is whether or not the image of God you have within your heart and mind is according to Scripture and what has been revealed concerning God, or whether or not it is something that has been formed and fashioned as you have changed the truth of God, and the truth about God into a lie. We must be willing to confront this issue and tackle it head on, for if we truly want to worship God in spirit and in truth, we must acknowledge whether or not our truth is actually truth founded upon the word of God, or whether the truth we think we have is based on our own ideas and imaginations, or those of others.
When you think about the worship of the golden calf in the wilderness, as well as the worship of the two golden calves which were found in the northern kingdom of Israel during the days of Jeroboam son of Nebat, and Rehoboam son of Solomon, you must recognize and understand that on both occasions images and false creations of God were formed and presented in the midst of the people of God, and then these images were presented and passed off as the actual image of the living God. It is incredibly dangerous for us to somehow form and fashion an image of God within our hearts and our minds, and then proceed to worship that image thinking and somehow believing that it is actually the one true and living God. The apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Rome concerning changing the glory of the uncorruptible God into that made of corruptible man, and of changing the truth of God into a lie, and both were the breeding ground for men and women no longer glorifying God as He truly is, and worshipping the creature rather than the Creator. The more we think about idolatry the more we must recognize and understand that idolatry can take the shape and form of our worshipping strange and foreign gods which we know aren’t the true and living God, and/or forming and fashioning and image of God within our hearts and minds, and then proceeding to worship that image. With this being said, it’s important to note that the first realm is blatant, overt, and in all reality deliberate and intentional, while the second might be more subtle and hidden within our hearts and minds. As we think about idolatry, it is necessary that we recognize idolatry can take the shape of worshipping the strange and foreign gods around us within the land, it can take the shape of our changing the truth about God, and perhaps forming and fashioning our own truth concerning God, and then proceeding to worship Him according to that truth. It’s almost like the encounter Jesus had with His disciples when they came to Caesarea Philippi when He initially asked them who men said that He the Son of man was, and after hearing their responses and answers He proceeded to ask them who they said, who they thought, and who they believed Him to be. Consider if you will the following words which are found in the sixteenth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew:
“When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? ANd they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. HE saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Then charged He his disciples that they should tell no man that He was Jesus the Christ” (Matthew 16:13-20).
The words found in this particular passage of Scripture bring us face to face—not only with the truth we have been given, and not only the truth we have believed, but also the truth we have received directly from the eternal Father. What makes this particular interaction and narrative so absolutely astounding and remarkable is when you consider the fact that Jesus initially asks His disciples who men said that He the Son of man was, and He even listened and entertained their responses to a certain degree. Ultimately, however, we find Jesus bringing the question to a more personal and intimate point within their lives, as Jesus would ask them who they said [who they believed] that He the Son of man was. It’s interesting and worth noting that Jesus’ question was around who men said that He the Son of man was, and when Simon who was also called Peter spoke up, he didn’t speak of Jesus as the Son of man, but rather He acknowledged and declared Jesus as the Son of God. It’s interesting to think about and consider Jesus’ question concerning who men said that He the Son of man was, and yet it would be Simon Peter who would emphatically speak concerning Jesus as being the Son of God. The question would be around Jesus as the Son of man, and yet the response Simon would give would acknowledge and emphatically declare Jesus as the Son of the living God. Not only this, but SImon would also declare that Jesus was indeed the Christ. When there were countless opinions and ideas concerning who Jesus the Son of man was, it would be the apostle Peter who would declare that Jesus was the Christ (thus acknowledging that he was the fulfillment of what the Law and prophets spoke of), and that Jesus was the Son of the living God (thus acknowledging that Jesus was eternal and divine). What’s more, is that it was on these two points the scribes, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the elders, and the chief priests argued and disagreed on, and it was on these two points they stumbled during those days. It would be the declaration and acknowledgement that Jesus was both the Christ, and the Son of the living God that the foundation of the church would be built, yet it was on those two points religion and the entire religious system would crack, crash and crumble. It would be the truth regarding Jesus as being the Christ, and thus the fulfillment of prophecy; as well as the truth regarding Jesus as being the Son of the living God, and thus acknowledging that He was divine and eternal that religion would and could not accept and/or believe.
Turning our attention back to the words which are found in the prophetic book of Ezekiel it is absolutely necessary that we recognize and understand that the word of the LORD would come unto the prophet as the elders of Israel sat before him, and it would reveal how these men had set up idols within their hearts. Moreover, these men had not only set up idols within their hearts, but they had also set up the stumbling block of their iniquity before and in front of their faces. I can’t help but be absolutely gripped and captivated with this language, for it brings us face to face with the awesome reality that the heart cannot be separated from idolatry, and more often than not idolatry is at its very root and core a heart issue. We cannot for one moment think that idolatry is not and cannot be a matter of the heart—particularly and especially when reading the words found in this passage of Scripture. Through the word of the LORD it was revealed unto Ezekiel that these men which were sitting before and in front of him had set up idols within their hearts, and the question I can’t help but wonder is how long these idols had indeed and had in fact been set up in their hearts. The word of the LORD would reveal unto the prophet Ezekiel that these elders of Israel had indeed set up idols within their hearts—and not only had they set up idols within their hearts, but they also set up the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces. What allows this to have even more weight and meaning is when you turn and direct your focus back to the seventh chapter of this same prophetic book, for within this chapter you will find a very specific reference to that which was the stumbling block of iniquity for the house of Israel. If you begin reading with and from the fourteenth verse of the seventh chapter you will find a powerful description concerning that which was considered to be the stumbling block of iniquity for the house of Israel, as it would be revealed unto Ezekiel by and according to the word of the LORD. Consider if you will the following words which are found within this passage of Scripture beginning with and from the fourteenth verse of the seventh chapter:
“They have blown the trumpet, even to make all ready; but none goeth to the battle: for my wrath is upon all the multitude thereof. The sword is without, and the pestilence and the famine within: he that is in the field shall die with the sword; and he that is in the city, famine and pestilence shall devour him. But they that escape of them shall escape, and shall be on the mountains like doves of the valleys, all of them mourning, every one for his iniquity. All hands shall be feeble, and all knees shall be weak as water. They shall also gird themselves with sackcloth, and horror shall cover them; and shame shall be upon all faces, and baldness upon all their heads. They shall cast their silver in the streets, and their gold shall be removed: their silver and their gold shall not be able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the LORD: they shall not satisfy their souls, neither fill their bowels: because it is the stumbling block of their iniquity” (Ezekiel 7:14-19).
Within this passage we encounter and come face to face with the face that the stumbling block of iniquity of the house of Israel was their gold and their silver, which the word of the LORD would reveal as being cast out into the streets when people realize that it cannot save, nor deliver them. IN the day of the wrath of the LORD—neither their silver, nor their gold will be able to deliver them, and as a direct result of this, the people will give themselves unto mourning, and sackcloth, and horror as they face the day of the LORD knowing that what they had trusted in has absolutely no power to deliver and/or save them. Oh what a tremendous place it is to be in where you realize that that which you have placed your trust in, and that which you placed your confidence in can not deliver, nor save you in the day of the LORD, and in the time of His wrath and judgment. Perhaps the underlying question we must ask ourselves is who and what we are placing our trust and our confidence in. It is in the seventh chapter we read concerning the stumbling block of iniquity, and how the gold and silver of the house of Judah was the stumbling block of their iniquity—not only in that as currency it could not deliver them, but as an idol and image it could not save them. Oh, what do you do in that day when you realize that the currency you placed your trust in cannot save you, and the images and idols you have placed your confidence in cannot save you? What will you do in that day as you realize and recognize that neither your currency, nor your idols can save you? What a tremendous place of stripping it actually is when you find yourself coming face to face with the awesome reality that neither your currency, nor your idols can deliver you in the day of the LORD, and in the day of His wrath and judgment. I can’t help but think about and consider the fact that it is the day of the LORD that can and will expose and reveal that which men and women place their trust and their confidence, and will rip that false trust and confidence wide open that it might be completely and utterly shattered and brought to nothing. The stumbling block of iniquity found within the hearts and before the faces of the people of Judah being gold and silver is actually quite telling—particularly and especially when you think about and consider the fact that gold and silver was not only used as currency, but gold and silver was also used in forming and fashioning idols and images.
It is with this truth concerning gold and silver being used to form and fashion idols I would like to call and draw your attention to, for I would like to leave you with the words which are found in the fortieth chapter of the prophetic book of Isaiah. When you come to this particular portion of Scripture you will find a powerful comparison between the one true and living God, and the false idols and images which were created, formed and fashioned by the people of Israel and Judah during those days. The words which we find here are absolutely necessary and critical when we read the words which are found in the prophetic book of Ezekiel, for although we might not form actual images made of gold and silver, it is still possible for us to set up idols within our hearts as we allow our hearts to be turned away from worshipping and serving the living God. You will notice in the narrative of Solomon that Scripture reveals how his wives turned away his heart from the LORD, and turned his heart toward the strange and foreign gods of the nations round about Israel. We must recognize and understand this awesome truth, for it shines a great light on to the awesome and tremendous reality that idolatry is as much a heart issue as it is a physical manifestation, for before we can every give ourselves to worshipping an idol we must first allow our hearts to turn away from worshipping and serving the true and living God, and turning toward those idols we worship with our hearts, with our strength, and with those parts of us which should be reserved for the one true and living God. Having all of this in mind I now leave you with the words which are found in the fortieth chapter of the prophetic book of Isaiah beginning to read with and from the twelfth verse:
“Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance? Who hath directed the Spirit of the LORD, or being his counseller hath taught him? With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and shewed to him the way of understanding? Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: Behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing. And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt offering. All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity. To whom then will ye liken God? Or what likeness will ye compare unto him? The workman melteth a graven image, and the goldsmith spreadeth it over with gold, and casteth silver chains. He that is so impoverished that he hath no oblation chooseth a tree that will not tot; he seeketh unto him a cunning workman to prepare a graven image, that shall not be moved. Have ye not known? Have ye not heard? Hath it not been told you from the beginning? Have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretched hath out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in: that bringeth the princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity. Yea, they shall not be planted; yea, they shall not be sown: yea, their stock shall not take root in the earth: and he shall also blow upon them, and they shall wither, and the whirlwind shall take them away as stubble. To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? Saith the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one failed. Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the LORD, and my judgment is passed over from my God? Hast thou hast not known? Hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, The Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? There is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:12-31).
TO WHOM THEN WILL YE LIKEN GOD! WHAT LIKENESS WILL YE COMPARE EUNTO HIM! TO WHOM THEN WILL YE THEN LIKEN ME, OR SHALL I BE EQUAL? LIFT UP YOUR EYES ON HIGH, AND BEHOLD WHO HATH CREATED THESE THINGS! BY THE GREATNESS OF HIS MIGHT, FOR THAT IS STRONG IN POWER! NOT ONE HAS FAILED! Please pay close attention to the words and language which is found in this passage of scripture, for on the one hand you find the prophet Isaiah speaking unto the house of Israel concerning those who take gold and silver that they might form and fashion idols and images, as well as those who take wood that they might form idols and images. The underlying truth that is found within this passage of Scripture is how little the idols and images we have set up within our hearts can indeed and can in fact measure up with the one true and living God. AN INVITATION TO COMPARE IDOLS TO THE GOD OF HEAVEN! AN INVITATION TO COMPARE IMAGES TO THE ONE TRUE AND LIVING GOD! I can’t help but get the strong sense that the living and eternal God is inviting men and women in this generation to compare the idols and images they have set up within their hearts, and that which they have set before their faces, and compare it to and line up against Him. This is precisely what the prophet Elijah did during the days of Ahab and Jezebel when he confronted the prophets of Baal atop mount Carmel in the midst of the land. It would be there on top of the mountain the prophet Elijah would call on the people to choose whom they would worship and who was the true and living God, as he would bait the prophets of Baal into a confrontation of fire. A CONFRONTATION OF FIRE! A CONTEST OF FIRE! If there is one thing I can’t help but think about and consider when reading the narrative of the prophet Elijah atop the mountain is how that which would prove the one true and living God would be fire which would come down from heaven and consume the sacrifices and offerings which were upon the altar. The prophets of Baal had their chance to call upon their gods and see if they would answer by fire, and when it came time for the prophet Elijah to call upon the name of the true and living God, he would ask fire to contend with water, stone, dirt, dust, and the like. How absolutely remarkable and incredible it is to think about and consider the fact that the confrontation and contest that would take place atop Carmel in the land of Israel would be a contest of fire, as the God who answered by fire would be the true and living God. We cannot and must not miss and lose sight of this reality, for it brings us face to face with what I believe the LORD is doing within this generation—namely, calling for a direct confrontation between the false gods, the false idols, and the false images men have set up within their hearts and before their faces. Oh that we would allow the LORD to bring us into this place where we allow any and every idol, any and every false god we have set up within our hearts and lives to be compared before and unto Him, and that they might be found wanting—much like Dagon the god of the Philistines was found to be facedown before the Ark of the Covenant, and much like the prophets of Baal were disgraced and humiliated atop Carmel when the LORD of hosts responded to Elijah by sending fire down from heaven. Oh that we would allow the fire atop Carmel and the glory in Ashdod to absolutely crack, crumble and crash each and every false idol and image we have set up within our hearts and before our faces that we might be found to worship the true and living God, and Him alone.