Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, “Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words, saying, ‘This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.'”
While it is obvious from reading Scripture that Israel could not for the life of them remain faithful to their Lord and God, it may not be entirely clear why they could not. I believe the main reason they could not keep the faith is the same reason Christians today can not keep the faith. And that is what I call Culture Worship as opposed to God worship.
I’ll deal with Christians momentarily and discuss Israel first because it she a remarkable creation. After all the promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and four hundred years oppressed and enslaved in Egypt God brought her out in overwhelmingly dramatic fashion. It couldn’t have been even remotely possible that she could not be hugely impressed by what God did to obtain safe passage for a million people. Add to that all the other miracles they knew came only from the Lord on their travels in the wilderness. So then came the Promised Land and time passed and they mingled with the other nations and what happened? They saw all the little enticements, the delectables and delicacies the other guys had and they now desired. Never mind that Israel had God Himself for their very own, the Creator of the universe, the Keeper of all the promises of good things He would do for them! But they really didn’t see God. He wasn’t visible. Yes, they had a tent of meeting, but really, how cool was that compared to all the glorious shiny pagan stuff all those other nations around had with their bangles and beads and things.
So then came the big letdown. “Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah; and they said to him, “Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.” 1 Sam. 8:4 Never mind that the Lord God was their King, they really wanted to be like all the other nations. They had not exterminated the nations as God had commanded, they had instead become appreciative of them, had intermarried and were intermingling with them. Their culture really wasn’t so bad after all, was it? So they reasoned.
Look at King Solomon, not so many years later. Spoken of as the wisest King in history (Kings 4:29-34). And what was his end of days? His later years were apostate, degrading, fallen away from his Lord and God. And how did that happen? He married a lot of wives! And those wives were of many different cultures (1 Kings 11:1-8) and his heart turn to their gods so that Solomon could please his wives, appreciating their cultural heritage more than the Law of the Lord and His truth, power and glory.
And so it goes, all throughout the course of Israel’s history. God sent His prophets but the people were more interested in their entanglements, in their cultural enticements to be concerned with the wrath to come. Even when the tragedies unfolded in front of their faces they refused to see the light and lay the blame on God and the prophets instead. (Read with wonder this exchange between Jeremiah and the remnant left behind in Jerusalem in Jeremiah chapter 42-44!)
So we see that Israel had really substituted Form in place of Person; Ceremony in place of Relationship. They had the Temple, the Law, the ceremonies that gave them structure and organization and they could be religious automatically, on autopilot, as it were. They really didn’t have to think about the person of God through any of it. They just had to develop rules and processes that covered any contingency and the machinery would basically run itself.
This is what the verses at the top of the page are saying. You can’t just say “we have the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord.” This was the whole attack of Jesus against the Jews of His day. Nothing had changed in the four hundred years after Jeremiah. They just had a different Temple. But they ignored the same Lord and God that their Fathers had. They placed more importance on their culture that they did in the Living God. The High Priest in Jesus day said as much: “nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.” John 11:50 In other words, we can kill Jesus and keep our Temple, city, ceremonies, vestments, songs, processions. Throughout her history it is the Jewish culture that is worshiped instead of her Lord and God. And all kinds of bad things have happened to her because of it. She has been warned time after time after time – a majority of the Old Testament is just that, dire warnings against apostasy and pleadings not to abandon her God. But to Israel the organization and culture was more important than the Omnipotent One. She preferred the trappings of Ceremony to her Creator.
Today, to many many Christians things are the same. Their church organization is more important that the One in whose name that organization stands. They have the ceremonies just like the Jews had, but are devoid of the Spirit. They’ve learned to memorize the chants and prayers without the heart. But on the outside their actions speak louder than their words. I know, I’ve been there. They too should listen as the Lord speaks, “Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words, saying, ‘This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.'”
So if you are warned not to trust in deceptive words in what words are you to trust? Here is the crux of the matter. You are going to have a rough time of it if you are not familiar with the right words. I promise you if you are not immersed in God’s Word, from Genesis to Revelation, you are making life very difficult for yourself. And I do mean immersed. You need to be reading the Bible through and through so that you are familiar with how God has worked every step of the way through history. Only by reading over and over again from the beginning to the end can you really have an appropriate idea where God’s work with man started and where it is going, to be able to appreciate living in the present. If you don’t know how God has worked throughout history in Scripture, all that He has said, what promises He has made, you can have no idea how God can work in your own life. And if you don’t know how God can work in your own life you are truly adrift in this world.
I was sorely tempted at this point to point out cultural particulars that in my opinion are antithetical to the things of the Spirit and of the prosperity of the Church, and to say if you watched these TV shows, watched these movies, read these books, did these activities you must be a struggling or failing Christian. But I know this is not my job and I would be grievously mistaken if I attempted to do this. One, because others could point to things in my own life they would say fails the test, and two, it is the job of the Holy Spirit to show people how to sanctify themselves to a more holy calling as saints and excel in fellowship in Christ.
The thing I must do is this, share one section of verse from the Old Testament as a guide for all of us. It is a virtually unknown portion of the Ten Commandments, but, in my opinion, the most important part, because if followed all the rest would follow as a matter of course. Here are the verses from Deuteronomy 6:5-9
“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
“These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.
“You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.
“You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.
“You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
It is not difficult to see the emphasis on loving God with all you heart, mind, soul, and might. Can you think of anything on earth you really love that much? What is there on earth that you love so much that is pretty much constantly on your mind as you go about your daily business? Every day? Day in and day out? Week after week? Do you really think about the Lord that much? Or is He pretty much forgotten except for Sundays, if you do go to Church? Are you diligent to teach God’s Word to your kids or family or is that not possible? Are you diligent to talk about His Word sitting around your house or does the Word never come up? Is Christ the first person you think of when you fall asleep at night and wake the next morning, or are are all the trappings of the world choking God out of your life? Is He on your mind all throughout the day as you work and play and rest and relax? And if not, how would you define this sentence:
“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.?
All the TV shows, movies, activities, are they influenced by how you think our Lord would be involved in them or through them or could influence them, or is He as far as possible from them? Remember Paul’s admonition that “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Cor. 10:31
But again I emphasis that without immersing yourself in the Word you are handicapping yourself as you are not availing yourself with the tools for spiritual success. Paul tells us “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Col. 3:16
So I implore you, if you are not currently reading the Bible from cover to cover please start. It is a truly awesome journey, it is exciting to see how God has worked in thrilling ways directly in the history of mankind in his fabulous grace and kindness, and yes, also His awesome judgement. Reading from cover to cover helps you get to know Him like you never thought you could. Start today. Pick up a Bible now. Find a current, accurate translation, one done in the last few decades, not from a century or more ago, because if you don’t read a translation in your own colloquial language, one that you easily understand, you will be less likely to maintain the reading habit. (See the Resources page on this site.)
If you are not now reading daily the Word of God you need to ask yourself why that is. Why are you not devoted to the most direct communication from the mind of God to human beings that we have today, basically God’s love letter to mankind? Why wouldn’t you want to know everything that is between these covers and find out everything you can possibly know about the God who is there and is not silent, who has not been silent for thousands of years, but has been speaking to us for generations on every topic of life that is still relevant today?
So immerse yourself in the Word, not just your culture. Jesus plainly stated, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” Matt. 24:35 These verses are reported in all three synoptic Gospels, giving you a good indication of how important His Word is compared to the world and our cultures. Delight yourself in His Word. It will change your life for good!
[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]