People are always people, no matter where they are or when they lived. Anyone else notice the amazing lack of differences in this ancient story and ours?
From last week (Tuesday, to be exact) in Numbers 25, Israel falls into idolatry again with their Moabite neighbors (page 191). Look at the order of events:
- Proximity to sin. The passage begins byindicating that Israel was “staying in Shittim.” It seems logical enough to infer that this run-in with idolatry might have been avoided had Israel been camping somewhere else. Kind of like Judah running away to his friend Hirah the Adullamite or Judas hanging out with the priests and Sanhedrin who happened to have a money bag with the name of Christ’s betrayer on it. Maybe Aaron wouldn’t have been so surprised by the calf that “came out” of the fire if he hadn’t put the people’s gold into a mold of a giant calf! Sometimes it’s best to heed Paul’s advice to Timothy: “Flee youthful lusts.” (2 Tim 2:22). He who fights and runs away lives to fight another day! :)
- The promise of pleasure. John Piper, a self-described “Christian hedonist” writes quite a bit about this, and quotes some interesting people to support his position (C. S. Lewis, Jonathan Edwards, et al). His point of preaching is that we don’t learn to find the pleasure in being servants of God that God intends there to be! He takes the ancient creed and modifies it to say that the chief end of man is to glorify God in all things by enjoying him forever…and there’s some merit to what he says.
We’re often fools for the trades we make. People trade family for work, friends for things, and eternity for a moment. The children of Israel, just like us today, made one of those bad deals. They were enticed by the promised pleasure of the Moabite women who offered them sexual favors, and their pleasures were cheapened and standards were lowered. Were it not for God’s mercy, they could have lost everything! After proximity provides opportunity, pleasure (1 John 2:15-17) provides the bait concealing the hook.
- The Practical Paradox comes next. The children of Israel have bitten the bait, and now they’re in relationships with two masters: God and Baals. In their own families, they’re serving two wives (an explicit example is provided in Numbers 25:6-8 when Phineas kills a man named Zimri who brought his illegitimate wife TO his family in their time of mourning for sin!) Now the people face a dilemma: which is more painful? To cut off relationships with their real families or their new flames? To repent and serve God only–facing immediate consequences, or to try to keep on making it with the Moabite women? Temptation likes to keep us trapped in a lose-lose thanks to our own mistakes, like Jepthah. Does he break the vow he never should have made to God (a no-no) or sacrifice his daughter in keeping with that bad vow (also a no-no)?
The final step is the tough one: do we repent, or do we continue? This time, the Israel repented, but each time this cycle repeats, the chances of repentance and real change get smaller and smaller. Lewis once said that the human heart is a lot like concrete: on that rare occasion that it is broken and moistened by tears and is finally pliable, if a real change isn’t made, the only likely outcome is a hardening that will become more and more permanent. Softening the heart becomes more difficult with each passing attempt, and before long, we’ve become nothing more than another Pharaoh, an instrument by which God will display his power, instead of an instrument for whom God will bring blessings.