Moving Beyond Futility (Ecclesiastes 12)

Some of the best writing known to mankind has come from the pens of people in the latter stages of life, from folks who are able to look back over it all with a grand view from Mt. Perspective. From such a precipice, the thoughtful person is able to see in a glance all of the highs and lows, seeing beginnings and ends, visions and fulfillments … or lack thereof.  These words of perspective can be invaluable to the wise reader, to one who does not blow off their instruction as mere ramblings of an aged mind out of touch with the current modern world.

And our brief final words this week on Solomon will be to share the brief final words of Solomon. They are from Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 …

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

In the end, it’s really not complicated. Just obey God. That’s it. That is our duty.

The judgment being spoken of here by Solomon is not related to the afterlife. Scriptural truths about heaven and the resurrection that we know from this side of the cross and from New Testament revelation were not at all in the minds of Old Testament people. Solomon is essentially saying that God will in this life bless those who honor him and stand in judgment over acts that are not in line with God’s revealed word.

So when did Solomon write these words? We believe the Song of Solomon to be from early in his adult life, Proverbs to be in the prime of life, and Ecclesiastes to be from the final years. But was this before or after God’s anger at Solomon’s drift? In the historical accounts, it is as if Solomon is just put on the shelf at that point. We can’t answer the question for sure, but I am going to speculate that is was rather late in life and even beyond the time when God chose to move on from Solomon and the united kingdom.

In any event, not honoring God or truth never really works. It never has, not even for the wisest and most blessed person ever. Life is too short for drifting away from God. Just don’t do it.

NOTE: If you want to get a little jump on the sermon this week and on next week’s writings, read the Book of Jonah; it won’t take long.

The Anatomy of Infidelity (1 Kings 11)

When we hear the word “infidelity” it is an extramarital affair sort of thing that comes to mind. But the word has more generic meanings. The word “fidelis” in its Latin root means “faith” or “trust”.  Hence we have the motto of the U.S. Marine Corps of Semper Fidelis, or Semper Fi, which means “always faithful.”

And we much now hear the word “infidel,” most often associated with the view that Islamic extremists have toward those who are outside their true faith in the teaching they espouse from their holy book.rowboat-1541197_960_720

But some of the same elements that cause a person to drift away from faithfulness to a marriage covenant or loyalty to any commitment are the constituent parts of how a person drifts from an initial good and healthy relationship with God. It could involve taking things for granted, or disappointment that things are not going as well as hoped. There could be an attraction to other people or interests that seem to be more exciting and immediately fulfilling.

And this is what happened to Solomon over time. The biblical narrative that lists success after success, blessing after blessing, takes a sudden turn in chapter 11 of 1 Kings …

11:1 – King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. 2 They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. 3 He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. 4 As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. 5 He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. 6 So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done.

7 On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. 8 He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods.

9 The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. 10 Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the Lord’s command. 11 So the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. 12 Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. 13 Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.”

That is a lot of wives to try to please. Forgive me if I seem to go psychoanalyst on you here, but I do see Solomon as someone who liked to please others. I understand this from the inside-out. For those of us who don’t like to disappoint anyone, it is an impossible task to please everyone, especially those who have systemic belief and core values differences.

And over time, Solomon’s many foreign wives apparently wore him down. This accumulation was not a part of what God gave him at the beginning. This was his own collection. God really did not want Israel intermarrying, the very reason being what happened with Solomon. His heart softened. He drifted a little bit here and there. He built places for them to worship, even to such gods as Molech – particularly detestable because of the infant sacrifices that were a part of this association. To get to that point, clearly Solomon had drifted a long way from the point of beginning and the first dream and communication with God.

All relationships in the material world need occasional evaluations that recall the beginning point and fidelity to that point. Businesses have purpose statements, and a good company will occasionally review the current state of affairs with the overall purpose. A good marriage needs regular devotion and introspective analysis as to the total fidelity with the covenant promises made on the day it was initiated. And so likewise the nature of our genuine, core-level, heartfelt commitment to relationship with God needs regular evaluation and renewal for it to take us from a good beginning to a great finish.

That is what we want – a good finish. As Paul said of his desire to finish well, “I want to know Christ—yes … I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me … Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

You can’t do that if you let yourself drift. So don’t drift! Press on.

The Greatest Day Ever (1 Kings 8)

I once knew a fellow many years ago in New Jersey who was a likeable sort of guy, but with a rather ragged and earthy edge about him. He had lived life a bit too much in the fast lane, foolishly dabbling into a partying and drinking side of adventure. He would hang around with those of us who were a part of the local running club, still jogging a bit, but certainly not able to do much. For someone like me who only knew him at this stage of life, it was rather difficult to imagine him at an earlier stage of his life when he was one of the better runners in the country. But bad lifetime choices had taken a toll upon him.

Our story today of Solomon and the dedication of the Temple is one of an incredible day and event. Knowing the tragic sadness and end of the story of Solomon and the split of his kingdom into a divided nation north and south, it is striking to see this Solomon of earlier years.

You will recall that David wanted to build a Temple for the Lord. God was blessed by the desire, being something that the Lord had not actually called upon David to do. It was decreed that this would not be something for David’s time, but that his son Solomon would make this happen. And to the great credit of David, he did not mourn over this or resent this loss of opportunity, but rather he used the remaining years of his life to make helpful preparations for this great project. There is a great and timeless generational lesson in that story.

So Solomon picks up the effort and does indeed make it happen. We read in 1 Kings 6:1-2 …

6:1 – In the four hundred and eightieth year after the Israelites came out of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, the second month, he began to build the temple of the Lord.

2 The temple that King Solomon built for the Lord was sixty cubits long, twenty wide and thirty high.

The passage goes on to give details of the splendor of this structure, and then in verses 37-38 it says …

37 The foundation of the temple of the Lord was laid in the fourth year, in the month of Ziv. 38 In the eleventh year in the month of Bul, the eighth month, the temple was finished in all its details according to its specifications. He had spent seven years building it.

The actual presence of God within the House of the Lord was the Ark of the Covenant, being the place of atonement within the most holy place. So the key moment of the Temple was that of bringing the ark into this permanent structure …

8:1 – Then King Solomon summoned into his presence at Jerusalem the elders of Israel, all the heads of the tribes and the chiefs of the Israelite families, to bring up the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Zion, the City of David. 2 All the Israelites came together to King Solomon at the time of the festival in the month of Ethanim, the seventh month.

3 When all the elders of Israel had arrived, the priests took up the ark, 4 and they brought up the ark of the Lord and the tent of meeting and all the sacred furnishings in it. The priests and Levites carried them up, 5 and King Solomon and the entire assembly of Israel that had gathered about him were before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and cattle that they could not be recorded or counted.

6 The priests then brought the ark of the Lord’s covenant to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, and put it beneath the wings of the cherubim. 7 The cherubim spread their wings over the place of the ark and overshadowed the ark and its carrying poles. 8 These poles were so long that their ends could be seen from the Holy Place in front of the inner sanctuary, but not from outside the Holy Place; and they are still there today. 9 There was nothing in the ark except the two stone tablets that Moses had placed in it at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the Israelites after they came out of Egypt.

What an amazing scene this is! The presence of God was so “thick” that the priests could not long endure this cloud of God’s glory. And Solomon speaks at this moment to recall the history and significance of the event …

12 Then Solomon said, “The Lord has said that he would dwell in a dark cloud; 13 I have indeed built a magnificent temple for you, a place for you to dwell forever.”

14 While the whole assembly of Israel was standing there, the king turned around and blessed them. 15 Then he said: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who with his own hand has fulfilled what he promised with his own mouth to my father David. For he said, 16 ‘Since the day I brought my people Israel out of Egypt, I have not chosen a city in any tribe of Israel to have a temple built so that my Name might be there, but I have chosen David to rule my people Israel.’

17 “My father David had it in his heart to build a temple for the Name of the Lord, the God of Israel. 18 But the Lord said to my father David, ‘You did well to have it in your heart to build a temple for my Name. 19 Nevertheless, you are not the one to build the temple, but your son, your own flesh and blood—he is the one who will build the temple for my Name.’

20 “The Lord has kept the promise he made: I have succeeded David my father and now I sit on the throne of Israel, just as the Lord promised, and I have built the temple for the Name of the Lord, the God of Israel. 21 I have provided a place there for the ark, in which is the covenant of the Lord that he made with our ancestors when he brought them out of Egypt.”

Solomon went on with an extended prayer of dedication from verses 22-53, which is rather awesome as well. And finally, the King addresses the people in a pastoral leadership sort of way …

54 When Solomon had finished all these prayers and supplications to the Lord, he rose from before the altar of the Lord, where he had been kneeling with his hands spread out toward heaven. 55 He stood and blessed the whole assembly of Israel in a loud voice, saying:

56 “Praise be to the Lord, who has given rest to his people Israel just as he promised. Not one word has failed of all the good promises he gave through his servant Moses. 57 May the Lord our God be with us as he was with our ancestors; may he never leave us nor forsake us. 58 May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in obedience to him and keep the commands, decrees and laws he gave our ancestors. 59 And may these words of mine, which I have prayed before the Lord, be near to the Lord our God day and night, that he may uphold the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel according to each day’s need, 60 so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God and that there is no other. 61 And may your hearts be fully committed to the Lord our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands, as at this time.”

What an amazing day. It had to be the greatest day of Solomon’s life, and that is saying something! The festive event went on for multiple days with tens of thousands of sacrifices. It was even a bigger event than the Olympics in Rio that we see on TV this week.

God appears again in a dream, as he had earlier and as we wrote about yesterday. So it says …

9:1 – When Solomon had finished building the temple of the Lord and the royal palace, and had achieved all he had desired to do, 2 the Lord appeared to him a second time, as he had appeared to him at Gibeon. 3 The Lord said to him:

“I have heard the prayer and plea you have made before me; I have consecrated this temple, which you have built, by putting my Name there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there.

4 “As for you, if you walk before me faithfully with integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did, and do all I command and observe my decrees and laws, 5 I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father when I said, ‘You shall never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’

6 “But if you or your descendants turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, 7 then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. Israel will then become a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples. 8 This temple will become a heap of rubble. All who pass by will be appalled and will scoff and say, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this temple?’ 9 People will answer, ‘Because they have forsaken the Lord their God, who brought their ancestors out of Egypt, and have embraced other gods, worshiping and serving them—that is why the Lord brought all this disaster on them.’”

Wow, what a story. Anyone who had all of this blessing and all of this affirmation from God would surely not fall prey to the sort of warnings that God had given in this dream. The remainder of the chapter and all of the following 10th chapter of 1 Kings lists all of the deeds of the height of Solomon’s reign. He built many great structures, had a fleet of ships, and his wisdom was legendary along with his wealth – the rulers of the earth came to see it.

It is not an exaggeration at all to say that Solomon was THE GUY who indeed had it all. He could just rest in it all and enjoy all of this succession of successes, right? Nope. Even the guy with it all needed to work daily to be faithful to remain in obedient relationship with God. I think the timeless application of that is rather obvious to every last one of us!

Intentional Living, Beginning to the End (1 Kings 3)

I used to know this young, thin, athletic, super-healthy guy with long, black wavy hair who could eat anything and never gain weight or have any injurious effects of such. He looked a lot like me at that age. In fact, it was me. Struggling with health and aging issues are things that happen to other people, right? Not really. Ugh! It would be great to assume that our physical selves when in our 20s would last for a lifetime, but it doesn’t.

Nothing much stays the same. A business person has to make adjustments. Few successful businesses have managed to operate the same way they did before the advent of technological innovations like electronic banking and online marketing and the effects of internet commerce. Just because they were successful prior to such developments did not mean it would remain the same always. A business person can’t just drift along, expecting endless success.

Even a person who inherits wealth and blessing cannot assume that those resources and circumstances will always prevail through the years of a lifetime, not without being responsible and purposeful attention and the disciplines of management.

And we can’t just drift through life. We have to live intentionally. What begins well only ends well because of focused intent and attention.

Solomon was not necessarily the first or most likely choice to follow David upon the throne, but it was in accord with God’s plan and had come to fruition. The transition was bumpy, but here he is as the king in Israel over a vast land and people. And we read about the early blessings that accrued to him and of his disposition toward the Lord…

3:1 – Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt and married his daughter. He brought her to the City of David until he finished building his palace and the temple of the Lord, and the wall around Jerusalem. 2 The people, however, were still sacrificing at the high places, because a temple had not yet been built for the Name of the Lord. 3 Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places.

4 The king went to Gibeon to offer sacrifices, for that was the most important high place, and Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar.

Hold it, aren’t there some kinky sorts of things going on here? What is Solomon doing marrying a daughter of Pharaoh? Weren’t there any sweet, cute Jewish girls? Marrying internationally into the royalty of a neighboring nation was not unusual. It was a way of leading successfully and securing neighboring boundaries and friendly relations and commerce between world powers. It was not explicitly forbidden, though of course such a person was likely to bring along with them an alien, pagan faith. This relationship is spoken of rather positively in the Scripture, and Jewish tradition holds that she became a proselyte. We don’t know that for certain.

But there’s another “but” in these verses … an “except” about Solomon having a passion for God except for worshipping on the high places. This looks rather damning, in spite of the overall positive tone about Solomon in this section. And it indeed might not be as bad as it appears on the service. Let me say it this way: Instead of Solomon being given here a report card with five “A” grades and one “F,” we might see it as five stellar grades with one “C.”  There really was no centralized place of worship in Israel, as was God’s desire once the Promised Land was occupied. The ark itself was at various times in various places, with other articles of the tabernacle not always necessarily in the same place. The nation worshipped with sacrifices on “high places” here and there, too often falling into a syncretistic mingling with pagan Gods, though not necessarily always as such. We read in 1 Samuel 9 that Samuel offered sacrifices at various high places, but the “high places” were a sore spot in national history. Perhaps Solomon did not have quite the same high-level heart and passion to see a centralized place as did his father David.

And in verse 4, it is seen as a positive thing that Solomon went to a most important high place to offer sacrifices to God, and he took the entire leadership of the nation along with him (according to the parallel passage in 2 Chronicles 1:2-3). This is essentially Solomon kicking off his administration as king by expressing his genuine trust in God in order to have His blessing for success in leading the chosen people.

3:5 – At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

6 Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.

7 “Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. 8 Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. 9 So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. 13 Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. 14 And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” 15 Then Solomon awoke—and he realized it had been a dream.

He returned to Jerusalem, stood before the ark of the Lord’s covenant and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then he gave a feast for all his court.

That God appeared to Solomon in an extraordinary way is evidence of God’s approval and affirmation of the sacrifices made and heartfelt desires of Solomon. In true humility, Solomon speaks of himself as a “little child” in terms of having the abilities to accomplish the tasks associated with the blessings he had inherited by ascending the throne. Instead of asking for the common desires of kings – riches, military might and security, “long live the king,” etc. – God was pleased to give Solomon his expressed desires, and all else added to it.

But as always, those blessing would be dependent upon Solomon upholding his responsibility to “walk in my ways and obey my statutes and commands as David your father did…”  Does this sound at all like “Seek first of the kingdom of God and his righteous, and all else will be added to you.”?  Yes it does, and the obedience and honoring thing is a part of that as well!

But in terms of application today, beyond the thought that it would be great to have some sort of presidential candidate of any sort who would have such a humble desire as the national leader, what do we take from this passage and story of Solomon’s life? It is that for us, having started well, to finish well we need to give diligence to an intentional faithfulness through all our days. In other words, and in the words of our series, we need to intently work on not “drifting” away from God.

You might argue or push back by saying, “Have I really begun well? I ain’t no Solomon.”  And yes, you have begun well if you have come to know Christ as Savior. The creator God of the universe has made you his child, having sought you out and brought his gift of grace to you. That’s big! That’s something most of the people of the world have frankly not experienced. And you have great resources: God living IN YOU in the form of the Holy Spirit, and you have the resource of the complete Word of God. In spite of living yet in this sin-saturated world with its inevitable sorrows, these resources are more than sufficient for your success in navigating it through to the end – a final home with God himself. So … don’t drift.

Coming Out of a Messy Background (1 Kings 2)

Did you come from an incredible, all-everything family? Over the couple of generations before you, was it free of scandal and foolishness, confusion and infighting? If you can answer these questions with a “yes,” you are exceedingly rare.

Families can be messy things, and socio-economic or class status does not make for a definitive difference. Some of the wealthiest and most successful of people in terms of the ways that score is kept in the material world are either from or are trying to lead a dysfunctional home.

Over my years at the church, I (Randy writing) have been very open with you about the mixed background from which I’ve come. It is probably confusing to hear parts of the story here and there – talking of the great blessing of successful and godly parents and grandparents, yet also of an adoption due to some messiness that is so confusing that I sometimes have had to resort to drawing charts and graphs to explain this and that mother and father and grandmother and grandfather and how they intersect and overlap. It is a big pot full of blessing, yet also a kettle of dysfunction and crud both boiling on the stove at the same time.

This week we will look at the life of Solomon in our “Drift” series. Here too was a guy with great blessing, being the child of the king with a promise to inherit the kingdom. Yet his story begins in an illegitimate relationship and involves a crazy household with brothers and family that were dysfunctional and publically immoral in the most awful of ways. But in the big picture, the blessings of God outweighed the messes, particularly as Solomon humbly walked in light of those blessings.

Today, let us get some background on the ascendance of Solomon as the third and final of Israel’s three kings of the united kingdom, with Solomon following his father David, who had followed Saul. Let’s quickly work through 1 Kings chapter two …

2:1 – When the time drew near for David to die, he gave a charge to Solomon his son. 2 “I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So be strong, act like a man, 3 and observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses. Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go 4 and that the Lord may keep his promise to me: ‘If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’

We could just talk about this paragraph and make a week’s study out of it. It contains the most timeless big idea of them all: If anyone will trust and obey God and prioritize Him in their lives, they will prosper, and that blessing will transcend generations. But the Devil is in the details … he really is!  It is doing this with consistency as a sinner in a sinful world that is the challenge. And it was exactly that, even for Solomon, the most materially blessed man of all time.

David now gives Solomon a charge to deal with some outstanding problems in the kingdom, to both execute justice and establish his rule as the next king in the land …

5 “Now you yourself know what Joab son of Zeruiah did to me—what he did to the two commanders of Israel’s armies, Abner son of Ner and Amasa son of Jether. He killed them, shedding their blood in peacetime as if in battle, and with that blood he stained the belt around his waist and the sandals on his feet. 6 Deal with him according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to the grave in peace.

7 “But show kindness to the sons of Barzillai of Gilead and let them be among those who eat at your table. They stood by me when I fled from your brother Absalom.

8 “And remember, you have with you Shimei son of Gera, the Benjamite from Bahurim, who called down bitter curses on me the day I went to Mahanaim. When he came down to meet me at the Jordan, I swore to him by the Lord: ‘I will not put you to death by the sword.’ 9 But now, do not consider him innocent. You are a man of wisdom; you will know what to do to him. Bring his gray head down to the grave in blood.”

10 Then David rested with his ancestors and was buried in the City of David. 11 He had reigned forty years over Israel—seven years in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem. 12 So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David, and his rule was firmly established.

We will get back to Solomon’s fulfillment of his father’s wishes and decrees, but first comes another story that has some background in the previous chapter one. It relates to Solomon’s older brother Adonijah, who attempted (successfully for a brief time) to set himself up as the king to follow David; but a shrewd plan of David to establish Solomon instead quickly dissipated this errant rebellion. Solomon let it slide without immediate retribution, telling Adonijah there would be no retaliation so long as he proved himself to be a good boy, but …

13 Now Adonijah, the son of Haggith, went to Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother. Bathsheba asked him, “Do you come peacefully?”

He answered, “Yes, peacefully.” 14 Then he added, “I have something to say to you.”

“You may say it,” she replied.

15 “As you know,” he said, “the kingdom was mine. All Israel looked to me as their king. But things changed, and the kingdom has gone to my brother; for it has come to him from the Lord. 16 Now I have one request to make of you. Do not refuse me.”

“You may make it,” she said.

17 So he continued, “Please ask King Solomon—he will not refuse you—to give me Abishag the Shunammite as my wife.”

18 “Very well,” Bathsheba replied, “I will speak to the king for you.”

19 When Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him for Adonijah, the king stood up to meet her, bowed down to her and sat down on his throne. He had a throne brought for the king’s mother, and she sat down at his right hand.

20 “I have one small request to make of you,” she said. “Do not refuse me.”

The king replied, “Make it, my mother; I will not refuse you.”

21 So she said, “Let Abishag the Shunammite be given in marriage to your brother Adonijah.”

22 King Solomon answered his mother, “Why do you request Abishag the Shunammite for Adonijah? You might as well request the kingdom for him—after all, he is my older brother—yes, for him and for Abiathar the priest and Joab son of Zeruiah!”

23 Then King Solomon swore by the Lord: “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if Adonijah does not pay with his life for this request! 24 And now, as surely as the Lord lives—he who has established me securely on the throne of my father David and has founded a dynasty for me as he promised—Adonijah shall be put to death today!” 25 So King Solomon gave orders to Benaiah son of Jehoiada, and he struck down Adonijah and he died.

Wow, that seems like an overreaction on the part of Solomon. But the new king in his wisdom saw it for what it was, an underhanded attempt to gain the kingdom for himself. Abishag was a concubine of David, and having him as wife, along with being the older brother, would look to the eyes of the nation as the guy who should really be the king.

26 To Abiathar the priest the king said, “Go back to your fields in Anathoth. You deserve to die, but I will not put you to death now, because you carried the ark of the Sovereign Lord before my father David and shared all my father’s hardships.” 27 So Solomon removed Abiathar from the priesthood of the Lord, fulfilling the word the Lord had spoken at Shiloh about the house of Eli.

Joab was a mighty military man, but he had committed grave atrocities in his time for which justice cried out to be made right.

28 When the news reached Joab, who had conspired with Adonijah though not with Absalom, he fled to the tent of the Lord and took hold of the horns of the altar. 29 King Solomon was told that Joab had fled to the tent of the Lord and was beside the altar. Then Solomon ordered Benaiah son of Jehoiada, “Go, strike him down!”

30 So Benaiah entered the tent of the Lord and said to Joab, “The king says, ‘Come out!’”

But he answered, “No, I will die here.”

Benaiah reported to the king, “This is how Joab answered me.”

31 Then the king commanded Benaiah, “Do as he says. Strike him down and bury him, and so clear me and my whole family of the guilt of the innocent blood that Joab shed. 32 The Lord will repay him for the blood he shed, because without my father David knowing it he attacked two men and killed them with the sword. Both of them—Abner son of Ner, commander of Israel’s army, and Amasa son of Jether, commander of Judah’s army—were better men and more upright than he. 33 May the guilt of their blood rest on the head of Joab and his descendants forever. But on David and his descendants, his house and his throne, may there be the Lord’s peace forever.”

34 So Benaiah son of Jehoiada went up and struck down Joab and killed him, and he was buried at his home out in the country. 35 The king put Benaiah son of Jehoiada over the army in Joab’s position and replaced Abiathar with Zadok the priest.

It is a complicated story, but Abiathar being replaced here fulfilled an earlier word of the Lord that the priestly line of Eli would fade out, and it does so right here. Again, the issue was disobedience rather than following God’s word and prescriptive promises for blessing.

The next to be dealt with is Shimei, a man who mocked David terribly during the time when David was seeking to establish his legitimate reign following Saul. Remember that Saul was a Benjamite and that the line of kings coming from the tribe of Judah begins with David, descending ultimately to Jesus.

36 Then the king sent for Shimei and said to him, “Build yourself a house in Jerusalem and live there, but do not go anywhere else. 37 The day you leave and cross the Kidron Valley, you can be sure you will die; your blood will be on your own head.”

38 Shimei answered the king, “What you say is good. Your servant will do as my lord the king has said.” And Shimei stayed in Jerusalem for a long time.

39 But three years later, two of Shimei’s slaves ran off to Achish son of Maakah, king of Gath, and Shimei was told, “Your slaves are in Gath.” 40 At this, he saddled his donkey and went to Achish at Gath in search of his slaves. So Shimei went away and brought the slaves back from Gath.

41 When Solomon was told that Shimei had gone from Jerusalem to Gath and had returned, 42 the king summoned Shimei and said to him, “Did I not make you swear by the Lord and warn you, ‘On the day you leave to go anywhere else, you can be sure you will die’? At that time you said to me, ‘What you say is good. I will obey.’ 43 Why then did you not keep your oath to the Lord and obey the command I gave you?”

44 The king also said to Shimei, “You know in your heart all the wrong you did to my father David. Now the Lord will repay you for your wrongdoing. 45 But King Solomon will be blessed, and David’s throne will remain secure before the Lord forever.”

46 Then the king gave the order to Benaiah son of Jehoiada, and he went out and struck Shimei down and he died.

The kingdom was now established in Solomon’s hands.

It is all messy stuff, isn’t it?  When we think of Solomon, we think immediately of the wisdom and riches, the greatness of his kingdom, and then only later of his “drift” from God and fidelity to truth. But we forget the messy beginning.

One of the most profound things I’ve ever heard came from Paul Bitner – a professional Christian counselor from our church family, who was on the Board of Elders some years ago. He said referencing the popular and famous feel-good book entitled “I’m OK, You’re OK” that the most truthful book title about the nature of man should be entitled, “I’m a Mess; You’re a Mess.”

Even at its best, our backgrounds are messy. And if you can’t find dreadful sinners in your immediate past, all you need to remember is that you have, like me, the ancestors of Adam and Eve. The curse of sin is that life is going to be hard in a sin-stained world, and our only hope is to follow the Lord closely in obedience.

But it is easy to drift away, and that is our theme in this series, and that is what we will look at in the life of Solomon this week.

Chasing After Nothing (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

I open today with an illustration that will REALLY tell you how terribly old I am and how long I’ve been on the planet. This one even stuns me.

Back when I was in middle school, I participated in every sport I could find. Some of them, I was pretty good; others, not so much. But every sport made us run some sort of distance run as a warm-up before practice or for conditioning at the end. And doing this was right up my alley. I always beat everyone without trying very hard. So, when they started a cross country team my freshman year of high school, I was recruited.

Understand that this was long before the running boom of the 80s. It does not strike us as odd whatsoever to see a person out running on the roadways for exercise. But about 1970, this was never really seen. When I would be out doing this on my own, it was not unusual for a car to slow down alongside me, roll down the windows and in total seriousness ask me what I was doing. Was I OK? What was I running from? Did I need a ride somewhere? So why again are you doing this? I finally came up with what I thought was a cute, albeit “snarky” answer, saying, “Oh, I’m timing my watch to see if it is accurate!”

Running for fitness seemed to everyone at that time as a silly chasing of the wind, a worthless pursuit. Even as a sport, why run without a ball to chase or person to tackle? I later came up with a saying in my running coaching years … “Even a dog likes games with balls, but the greatest athletes run distance.”  When it showed up on our team shirt that year, some of the other coaches in the school weren’t happy with me. Oh well.

The successful and vital Christian life is like running a race. Really? Yes. As was said on the 80s and 90s kids educational TV program called Reading Rainbow, “You don’t have to take my word for it, you can look it up in a book!”  The book is called The Bible; you may have heard of it. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9 …

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

I could go on and on with running themes, but the point to be made today is that this is the total opposite of drifting. Drifting away from God results in pursuits that are indeed a chasing of the wind.floating otter

And when you have drifted away from God and pursue illusive material world gains on your own, you will never be satisfied, because you are chasing something that does not really exist permanently.

Frankly, this is what the vast majority of people are doing in life … certainly those apart from faith who are only invested in this world. And yet even among people who claim to know God, so many are looking to find satisfaction in the stuff that can be held onto, experienced, touched and measured.

But when life is done, all we have to hold onto is God, as all the rest is passing away.

Is there anything more illustrative of the pursuit of the temporary than this game Pokemon Go?

Let’s not be grouchy old folks about this, complaining about these young people with their phones.  But could there be a better spiritual metaphor for our generation?

A local person had a coworker who was playing Pokemon Go at the office. An older employee, observing his antics, couldn’t comprehend this. Trying to explain this app prompted the following questions: pokemon-1553971__340

  • “What are you looking for again?”
  • “Where are they?”
  • “You mean you can’t see them?”

There is something really funny about a generation of smart phone users spending so much time and energy chasing things that aren’t real.

And that is what being consummately driven to attain material happiness is like: it’s about chasing the illusion that if I can get just one more—just one more dollar, one more gadget, one more anything—then I’ll be happy. But it’s a lie. That is a fantasy.

Don’t drift into that errant current of thinking, because it was cause you to float unknowing toward the falls of destruction. Hang onto to God. Pursue truth. Know God’s Word. Obey him. Grab onto life eternal.

(This is the last devotional for this week. In preparation for Sunday you might want to read about Solomon in 1 Kings 11.)

Drifting: Then and Now (Judges 17 and 18)

The story we are studying this week about Jonathan (the Levite personal priest of Micah as related the past two days from Judges 17 and 18) is one that happened about 3350 to 3400 years ago. And I could imagine a modern person asking how in the world something from three millennia ago can have any bearing or wisdom for life today. It was such a different time, and to an extent that is true.

But the nature of man does not change over the millennia. Materialism is the same as it was. One people group dislodging another to take their land is the story of human history. People looking out for themselves rather than others is timeless.

Since the nature of man does not change, we can observe even Old Testament narratives from antiquity and gain from them some timeless principles that are true in any generation. I would make five such observations for your consideration from these two chapters.

Drift from God begins with ignorance of His Word and biblical truth.

We see this in every component of the story, and it is not just with Jonathan, but with all of the characters (who are all Jewish people and part of Israel). The mother is into idols. He son Micah also already had idols. Jonathan agrees to be a priest away from Israel’s center of worship, and he incorporates idolatry in a syncretistic way. The Danites are filled with superstition and readiness to set up a show of religion, devoid of truth. Every one of these people should have known better from their background and affiliation as God’s covenant people. They possessed the truth, but they did not let the truth possess them.

Going through life without knowing the Scripture is like having an owner’s manual on what life is about and how to live it successfully, but paying no attention to it. This would be like never looking at the owner’s manual of your car or taking care to do responsible things like oil changes and maintenance.

But people live life in this careless fashion and then they wonder why they have multiplied problems. Ridiculously, they then blame God like a totally irresponsible car owner would blame Ford or General Motors for manufacturers’ error.

Drift from God is accelerated by the allure of worldly gain.

Jonathan was from the tribe of Levi and was a grandson of Moses; so he had a calling upon his life to serve the nation in religious leadership. This did not include running around the country looking for a place to live as a sort of religious free agent.

The seduction of this world is, of course, that accumulating the securities and joys it offers will bring us satisfaction and security. We never really ever get completely away from this incipient tendency, not in any generation.

Drift from God is sedated and suppressed by merely outward religious symbols and rituals.

The mother of Micah has superstitions about curses and blessings. Micah is sure God will bless him because he sets up his own personal shrine, etc.  The Danites believe the idols will help them, even though these objects did nothing to protect their first owner from this tribal group!

Just because something is religious and is seen does not mean it is accurate or true or real. Within circles of theological liberalism, there is little belief in the Bible, Jesus as divine, objective truth, the need for salvation, and dozens of other truths of Scripture. They just sorta believe in some big, grand ideas about love and kindness. But it looks and sound good!

And whether liberal or evangelical, there are common views that going through the motions of religious duty and putting in the time is a sufficient effort to get “credit.”  It is similar to doing time for something like filling a “community service hours” sort of obligation. It’s a good thing, but more than anything, you just want to get them done and over with.

Drift from God may also be sedated and suppressed by apparent signs of success.

Micah could ask who else in Ephraim had their own personal priest?  And with the Danites, it was a long way to worship where God said to go, so setting up their own system made sense and looked good too.

There is no shortage in our time of folks being satisfied by having the apparent symbols of success. People who have a lot of material gain may think that this is the symbol of God’s blessing and pleasure with them.

And in the religious world we are really into the symbols of success, most often measured in America 2016 by numbers of people, physical structures, and offerings totals. The bigger the better, the bigger being obviously the blessing of God.

Rather, we should look for long-term patterns of faithfulness and consistency in Scripture and the growth of the lives of people connected to a local church family, noting the presence of people oriented to truth, and folks who are walking and growing together through the good and bad of life.

Drift from God may have the long-term result of generational consequences.

The story in Judges ends with the information that for generations there was an alternate worship of idols that took place that rivaled the true worship of God at Shiloh. Generations of Jonathan’s family facilitated this fraudulent activity.

Religious indifference and a lack of valuation for the things of God (due to drift) will surely be seen and felt by rising generations. If faith is nothing more than the thing you do when there’s nothing else better to do at that time, or that you do as an obligation to get it out of the way … this will be noted, and it is highly likely that the next generation will value it even less.

Yes, drift is drift. Whether it is from the descendants of Adam and Eve, the period of the Judges in Israel, or the Tri-State area in 2016, drifting from God looks pretty much the same. And you don’t want to look like this.

The Lack of a Compass Leads to Drifting (Judges 18)

Though there is a chapter break between chapters 17 and 18 of the book of Judges, it is really one extended story that features this character we introduced yesterday named Jonathan. And again, this entire story is the beginning of a sort of appendix in the book of Judges, where the writer gives several illustrations of the lawless conditions that so often prevailed during this time of Israel’s history.

In fact, the first verse of chapter 18 is again an editorial remark by the writer about the prevailing problems of that era. 18:1 – In those days Israel had no king.

It is not actually that an earthly king was an end-all solution. More often than not they brought a new set of problems, and in fact every last one of the kings in the eventual northern kingdom after the reign of Solomon (when the united kingdom split, north and south) was evil in the sight of the Lord. God himself wanted to be their king, desiring them to live under his prescribed law and covenant.

The story now goes on to talk about one of the 12 tribes of Israel, the tribe of Dan. Named after the 12 sons of Jacob, Dan was the fifth of the boys, born next after Judah. Again, this story happens in the very early years of the occupation of the Promised Land, and this tribe was not yet truly settled into a geographically-defined place of their own.

And in those days the tribe of the Danites was seeking a place of their own where they might settle, because they had not yet come into an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. 2 So the Danites sent five of their leading men from Zorah and Eshtaol to spy out the land and explore it. These men represented all the Danites. They told them, “Go, explore the land.”

The two towns of Zorah and Eshtaol were west of the area where Jerusalem is in Judea. The Danites needed a more spacious place to be, and in the vein of the 12 spies who went from Moses into the Promised Land, five men were sent to head far north to find a place to live. One of the first regions they would go through on their journey was the hill country of Ephraim …

So they entered the hill country of Ephraim and came to the house of Micah, where they spent the night.

Let me share today the same illustration I used on Sunday to describe what is happening here. This is like some people from Montgomery County, Maryland, being tired of living in the D.C. suburbs, sending some representatives north to explore if Maine might be a place they could live. Passing through the hill country of Ephraim would be sort of like these guys passing through Allentown on the way to the northern border of the country.

3 When they were near Micah’s house, they recognized the voice of the young Levite; so they turned in there and asked him, “Who brought you here? What are you doing in this place? Why are you here?”

4 He told them what Micah had done for him, and said, “He has hired me and I am his priest.”

5 Then they said to him, “Please inquire of God to learn whether our journey will be successful.”

6 The priest answered them, “Go in peace. Your journey has the Lord’s approval.”

On their journey these five men hear an accent they recognize as from where they’ve just come from. It is this fellow Jonathan. Surprised by this, they hear his story about what he is doing in being away from the place he more appropriately should be. What an opportunity for them to find out if God will bless their journey! There is no mention that Jonathan actually sought the Lord on the matter; it does not appear so. But, being a positive fellow, he assured them of blessing and God’s approval.

So the five men go to the northernmost borders of the Land, and come to what is essentially Caribou, Maine … in this story a place called Laish …

7 So the five men left and came to Laish, where they saw that the people were living in safety, like the Sidonians, at peace and secure. And since their land lacked nothing, they were prosperous. Also, they lived a long way from the Sidonians and had no relationship with anyone else.

The five research spies find a town in a fantastic location that is rich in natural resources, isolated and relatively safe, populated by people who were enjoying life without any alliances with other peoples … like the Sidonians – a city to the northwest of them that was just beyond the Promised Land. On one hand, these people were living the life of Riley; but on the other hand, their isolation made them vulnerable to attack.

8 When they returned to Zorah and Eshtaol, their fellow Danites asked them, “How did you find things?”

9 They answered, “Come on, let’s attack them! We have seen the land, and it is very good. Aren’t you going to do something? Don’t hesitate to go there and take it over. 10 When you get there, you will find an unsuspecting people and a spacious land that God has put into your hands, a land that lacks nothing whatever.”

11 Then six hundred men of the Danites, armed for battle, set out from Zorah and Eshtaol. 12 On their way they set up camp near Kiriath Jearim in Judah. This is why the place west of Kiriath Jearim is called Mahaneh Dan[c] to this day. 13 From there they went on to the hill country of Ephraim and came to Micah’s house.

So the Danites determine to make Laish their own, to attack it and claim it. They put together a large force that heads north, once again passing through the area in Ephraim where Micah and his precious personal pet priest Jonathan lived.

14 Then the five men who had spied out the land of Laish said to their fellow Danites, “Do you know that one of these houses has an ephod, some household gods and an image overlaid with silver? Now you know what to do.” 15 So they turned in there and went to the house of the young Levite at Micah’s place and greeted him. 16 The six hundred Danites, armed for battle, stood at the entrance of the gate. 17 The five men who had spied out the land went inside and took the idol, the ephod and the household gods while the priest and the six hundred armed men stood at the entrance of the gate.

18 When the five men went into Micah’s house and took the idol, the ephod and the household gods, the priest said to them, “What are you doing?”

19 They answered him, “Be quiet! Don’t say a word. Come with us, and be our father and priest. Isn’t it better that you serve a tribe and clan in Israel as priest rather than just one man’s household?” 20 The priest was very pleased. He took the ephod, the household gods and the idol and went along with the people. 21 Putting their little children, their livestock and their possessions in front of them, they turned away and left.

As a warm-up exercise for conquering Laish, they hear about the good luck charms within the shrine of gods and objects in the home of Micah. So they decide to steal them. At first, Jonathan protests … that is, until they make him an offer he can’t refuse. This is a mega-promotion, from serving a family as priest, to being the priest over an entire tribe of Israel – the Danites. This would be like being a bookkeeper for a local gas station to being offered the job as Chief Financial Officer of Exxon.

22 When they had gone some distance from Micah’s house, the men who lived near Micah were called together and overtook the Danites. 23 As they shouted after them, the Danites turned and said to Micah, “What’s the matter with you that you called out your men to fight?”

24 He replied, “You took the gods I made, and my priest, and went away. What else do I have? How can you ask, ‘What’s the matter with you?’”

25 The Danites answered, “Don’t argue with us, or some of the men may get angry and attack you, and you and your family will lose your lives.” 26 So the Danites went their way, and Micah, seeing that they were too strong for him, turned around and went back home.

Micah and his mighty men … well, maybe not so mighty … went after the Danites to retrieve his possessions. Catching up to them, Micah quotes Elvis and says, “There goes my EVERYTHING!”

Ah … Micah my man … if your everything (idols) could be taken, doesn’t that mean that they really aren’t very powerful to help you out?

Ah … Danite dudes … if you think these gods are going to help you out, why weren’t they strong enough to keep you from stealing them? They sound defective!

27 Then they took what Micah had made, and his priest, and went on to Laish, against a people at peace and secure. They attacked them with the sword and burned down their city. 28 There was no one to rescue them because they lived a long way from Sidon and had no relationship with anyone else. The city was in a valley near Beth Rehob.

The Danites rebuilt the city and settled there. 29 They named it Dan after their ancestor Dan, who was born to Israel—though the city used to be called Laish. 30 There the Danites set up for themselves the idol, and Jonathan son of Gershom, the son of Moses, and his sons were priests for the tribe of Dan until the time of the captivity of the land. 31 They continued to use the idol Micah had made, all the time the house of God was in Shiloh.

The Danites are successful in their attack and conquest. They establish their tribal home there, which would exist for generations. Naming it “Dan,” it would be the northernmost establishment in Israel. Throughout the Old Testament you read the phrase “from Dan to Beersheba.”  This was the OT writers’ way of saying “from the farthest north to the deepest south” … or like saying “from Caribou to Key West.”

And then we get to the climatic purpose of the story being told:  Jonathan is named, it is revealed he is the very grandson of Moses, and the generations of his family would lead the Danites in a pagan worship of idols for generations that would rival the true work and worship of the God of Israel. Unbelievable.

This was a long story to tell, and let’s just make one point here now. Where do you see anywhere in this story where anyone at all has a moral compass? Where is anyone even trying to obey God and live in accord with his covenantal word and law?

But that is how most people honestly live. They are like being on a raft in the middle of a large body of water beyond view of land … and without a compass. Where are they drifting? Toward land? Away from land? Toward danger? It would be nice if an albatross or something would fly by and drop a compass and map upon them.

Since we have a compass and map for life – the Scriptures – why would we allow ourselves to just drift?  Don’t be a dope and do that.

 

 

 

Nothing Easier Than Drifting (Judges 17)

This week our devotionals will come from the story of a biblical character named Jonathan. I will confess that right away when I saw how Chris laid out this sermon series and included the name Jonathan (without the Scripture reference to the book of Judges), I at first thought of the more common person of that name – the son of King Saul, David’s BFF. And running that narrative through my mind was thinking where he had been any sort of illustration of drifting from God. This more well-known Jonathan is very highly regarded in the Scriptural record. And I honestly forgot about this other character of the same name.

Our study this week needs a lot of set-up and background conversation, beginning with the name itself. Throughout this extended two-chapter story, our main character is talked about with titles like “young Levite” or “priest.”  It does not come out until the very end of the account that his name was Jonathan and that he was a grandson of Moses.

So this story occurs very early in the period of the Judges in Israel. Whenever we turn to the book of Judges, it is good to recall the history of this period in Israel’s life as a nation. It was after the time that they had conquered the land under Joshua, but before the time that kings were established as leaders under Saul/David/Solomon. The nation had been blessed by God in the conquest of the Promised Land, given the Law with God’s covenant promises of blessing for obedience, but curses for disobedience. They went through periods of disobedience/judgment/revival, etc. under leaders called Judges. The summary phrase of these several centuries was “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”

Chapters 1-16 give the history of this time. Chapters 17ff could best be thought of as an appendix. The story we are looking at today is therefore presented as a sort of “Illustration A” of the craziness that went on during this period.

And there is another main character whose name is Micah. Again, this is a common Jewish name and is not the person who wrote the prophetic little book of that title. This fellow lived in Ephraim, describing an area somewhat to the north of Jerusalem, a region settled by the largest of Israel’s 12 tribes. Our story also later involves a group called the “Danites,” who would be another of the 12 tribes – a much smaller group who at the time of this account were not yet permanently settled into an inheritance in the Promised Land.

So here is the first part of our story for this week that introduces the two characters Micah and Jonathan (spoken of here as a Levite from Bethlehem) …

17:1 – Now a man named Micah from the hill country of Ephraim 2 said to his mother, “The eleven hundred shekels [about 28 pounds] of silver that were taken from you and about which I heard you utter a curse—I have that silver with me; I took it.”

Then his mother said, “The Lord bless you, my son!”

3 When he returned the eleven hundred shekels of silver to his mother, she said, “I solemnly consecrate my silver to the Lord for my son to make an image overlaid with silver. I will give it back to you.”

4 So after he returned the silver to his mother, she took two hundred shekels of silver and gave them to a silversmith, who used them to make the idol. And it was put in Micah’s house.

5 Now this man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and some household gods and installed one of his sons as his priest. 6 In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.

7 A young Levite from Bethlehem in Judah, who had been living within the clan of Judah, 8 left that town in search of some other place to stay. On his way he came to Micah’s house in the hill country of Ephraim.

9 Micah asked him, “Where are you from?”

“I’m a Levite from Bethlehem in Judah,” he said, “and I’m looking for a place to stay.”

10 Then Micah said to him, “Live with me and be my father and priest, and I’ll give you ten shekels of silver a year, your clothes and your food.” 11 So the Levite agreed to live with him, and the young man became like one of his sons to him. 12 Then Micah installed the Levite, and the young man became his priest and lived in his house. 13 And Micah said, “Now I know that the Lord will be good to me, since this Levite has become my priest.”

This story is filled to the brim, even at the very beginning, by people who exemplify “drift” from God and truth.

Micah is a good bad boy (a grown son with a family of his own). He was bad because he stole his mom’s silver, but was good because he confessed. Apart from the issues of theft, we see tremendous superstitions about curses, everyone afraid of divine retribution from the God of Israel or some other god or gods. Yes, they had these thoughts all combined in their heads and life practices, with the mom making an idol that would find its place with other idols and pagan objects in the home of Micah.

Yes, this sounds a little whacky, doesn’t it?  It did as well to the person writing the book of Judges years later and looking back on this history, as you see him various times adding a statement like that in verse 6 – In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.

God did not stutter when he talked about them not having “any graven images” that they worshipped. But having such objects to trust in was such a big part of the surrounding culture of the rest of the world, and Israelites who were “drifting” from God would appropriate them into their faith system. That seems rather crazy to us, but we do the same thing – the idols are just different sorts of things.

And then we see this young Levite straying away from Judah where his responsibilities of service would be as part of the spiritual worship of the nation. Recall that the Levites (the tribe of Moses and Aaron the priest) were set aside as dedicated to God. It was not within the job description for a Levite to go wandering around the countryside as a free agent priest looking for a place to serve. So he too was drifting from God, as well as from home.

The two characters meet, and Micah sees a great opportunity and offers Jonathan a deal he can’t refuse – to be a personal priest for hire. Beyond the issue of this being outside God’s plan for Israel’s worship, we see that Jonathan is apparently not at all troubled by syncretizing (mixing) the idolatrous elements of Micah’s shrine with Jewish worship. And Micah is internally much comforted at the thought that he now has all the bases covered, and surely God will be good to him and bless him.

Wow. Just wow!  This represents a lot of drift. But drifting is easy to do. Nothing is easier, and that is why we need to be alert.

I told the illustrative story yesterday of being on the beach with my boys when they were little and playing in the surf. There is a phenomenon that happens in the Jersey surf – as I remember getting yelled at by my parents for the same thing when I was a child. Coming in with the waves, then going back into the water and coming in again … over time, one tends to imperceptibly be moved in a direction parallel to the shoreline. If you are not aware of this and watching, after a time you will find yourself hundreds of yards away from where you began. It you are a child, you are now disconnected from your family and their location on the beach.

I would warn the boys about this “drift” before they went into the water. But sure enough, in the busyness of playing, they would forget. Standing on the shoreline I would watch them “drift” down the beach, keeping an eye on them. After a while, one of them would suddenly realize they might be displaced and I would see them looking for home base, not realizing at all how very far away they had gone. Other times I would have to go rescue them from their own drift.

That is such a good illustration of how we can be spiritually. Without the regular discipline of looking to Christ on the solid shoreline of truth, the waves of life will cause us to drift away. It is incredibly easy to do; it just happens unless we prevent it from happening.

And again, drift can especially occur especially when we are away from normal life rhythms and disciplines … like in the summer months. Watch out for “drift.”  It is an enemy of the soul.