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Benefit of Israel's Experience

These are my notes from my ladies’ Sunday School class this morning. I’ll be posting the notes from my class here each week. Click here for last week’s lesson.

Through the Bible in 2014 ~ Week 35 ~ Aug. 24-30
Jeremiah 51-52, Lamentations, Ezekiel 1-15
The Benefit of Israel’s Experience

For weeks now, we have watched Israel and Judah sink farther and farther into idolatry and other sin, and now they are facing God’s wrath for it. It’s easy to look back thousands of years later and think this is an ancient story that has no bearing on us today. But Israel was God’s people, like we are. They were prone to sin, like we are. Among the many things we can draw out of Israel’s story is that we as God’s people don’t want to go down the same road to sin that they did. What can we learn from what they did wrong, and how do we keep from becoming like them?

Ezekiel 14

It’s a slow fade (Exodus 14-17,32)
That’s the title of a Casting Crowns song. Another line of the song says, “People never crumble in a day,” and that is certainly true. In the same way that someone doesn’t just wake up one morning and decide to have an affair, Israel didn’t just wake up one morning with Asherah poles in their back yards and prostitutes in the temple. We’re in about 593 BC here in Ezekiel. The exodus occurred around 1445 BC, with the golden calf incident occurring not too long after that. Give or take, we’re talking about 800ish years that Israel has been involved with idolatry. This depth of depravity didn’t happen overnight.

But even back in Exodus, there were “smaller” sins leading up to idol worship: they didn’t trust God, and they weren’t satisfied with God. They coveted fleshly security. At the Red Sea, they doubted God and wailed and moaned that they were going to die. They didn’t trust God for water or bread. And, finally, they grew impatient and distrustful that God would ever bring Moses down from Mt. Sinai. All of that culminated in the making and worshiping of the golden calf.

What can we learn? (2 Timothy 2:22, 2 Corinthians 10:5, Matthew 5:27-30)
There is no such thing as a little sin, because little sins always lead to bigger sins. Ever watch the Animal Planet show, Fatal Attractions? It was all about these various crazy people who adopted baby tigers, chimps, bears, etc. into their homes and then were shocked when these animals grew up and ripped their faces off (sometimes literally).

That’s what a “little” sin will do to you. It starts off looking cute and cuddly and harmless and then you embrace it and nurture it and think you’ve got a handle on it, and it grows up to rip your face off or kill you.

“Small” sins have to be dealt with swiftly and decisively. We must immediately turn from them and ask God’s forgiveness. We can’t play around with them even a little bit. That’s why the Bible tells us to “flee” (2 Tim) from sin and to take even our thoughts captive to obey Christ (2 Cor.). Hey, poke out your eye or cut off your hand if you have to, is what Jesus said (Matt.).

Lip service is a lie
The elders in 14:1 were not genuinely seeking to worship or obey God. It had been a long time, if ever, since they had done that. They were making a pretense to make it look to the people of Judah like they were actually following God and that God was pleased with them. And God answered that fake inquiry with real judgment. 

What can we learn? (Isaiah 29:13-14)
Merely going through the motions doesn’t cut it. Putting your body in church once a week, reciting memorized prayers, giving offerings out of habit, mindlessly singing the hymns does nothing to make you godly. In fact it can help lull you into thinking you’re good with God and have nothing to worry about with regard to falling into sin. 

Isaiah said about the Israelites:

“…this people draw[s] near with their mouth and honor[s] me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me…” (Is.)

and look what happened to them. 

The same can be true of us. We must ask the Lord to hold us close and help us cling to Him. We must daily run to God’s word and prayer, humble ourselves and remember our dependence on Him. We must celebrate the gospel every day, remembering the price Christ paid for our sin, His love for us, and our love for Him.

Repentance is always the answer
Even at the brink of destruction, God’s message to Israel (14:6) is repent. He had brought all these calamities upon them to bring about their repentance. But the people and their leaders would have none of it.

What can we learn?
We’re going to sin. There’s just no way around it. But when we do, the answer is always to turn to Christ in repentance. One of the verses we have talked about so many times in this class is 1 John 1:9: 

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  

While the idolatry the Israelites committed was a grave sin, what was even worse was that they refused to repent.

Sometimes, the cheese stands alone (Genesis 6:8, Daniel 6:4, Job 1:8)
Noah, Daniel, and Job- what do we remember about these guys? Each of them stood for righteousness surrounded by a sinful culture, and they all stood alone or nearly so. Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord (Gen.). Daniel was “faithful, and no error or fault was found in him.” (Dan.) God Himself said Job was “a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil” (Job) 

And yet, God said that even if these three men had been present at Ezekiel’s time, their righteousness would have saved only themselves, no matter how hard they prayed or preached, because Israel refused to repent.

What can we learn?
Daniel, Job, and Noah were not righteous in and of themselves. They didn’t find favor with God because they were good deed doers, but because they believed God, walked in repentance, and were faithful to Him– some of the things we’ve already discussed today. 
It seems simplistic to say that the lesson here is “Be like Daniel, Job, and Noah, not like the Israelites,” but sometimes it really is that simple. We must be faithful to God like they were even when no one else around us is.

I’ll take you back
If you could boil it down to one sentence, what would you say was God’s end goal in hitting Israel so hard? Check out verses 10-11:

And they shall bear their punishment—the punishment of the prophet and the punishment of the inquirer shall be alike— that the house of Israel may no more go astray from me, nor defile themselves anymore with all their transgressions, but that they may be my people and I may be their God, declares the Lord God.”

No matter how far they had strayed or what they had done, God still loved His people and wanted them back. His desire was never to destroy them but to reconcile them to Himself.

What can we learn? (Luke 15:11-32)
As the parable of the prodigal son so beautifully demonstrates, we may fall into all kinds of horrible sin, but when we come to God broken and sorrowful over that sin, He wraps His arms around us in love and welcomes us back. That’s what He wanted to do for Israel, and that’s what He wants to do for us. That’s the reason Jesus came. The reason for the cross. The reason for the empty tomb.

For some purpose, known only to Himself, God loves us and wants us back.

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