Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Lessons Learned, Lessons Forgotten

I love reading Old Testament texts. Mostly I like reading these, I think, because the stories of Israel usually leave me feeling like I am doing pretty well with this whole Godly life thing. The nation of Israel, after all had God personally speaking to them and working on their behalf, and the STILL got it wrong. Almost constantly wrong it seems. In some cases it is just flat out humorous at how quickly they go from "we love and worship God" to "who is God?" But, I think the other reason I love reading the Old Testament is how crystal clear I see myself doing EXACTLY the same things as Israel. Talk about the text speaking to you, or coming to life; that is how I see those Old Testament texts. They literally show me the lessons I have so quickly forgotten about how to live for God. Furthermore, they also show me just as clearly the price we pay for that disobedient life.

The easiest place to see this "love God" turns "no God" spin is in Judges. The whole book of Judges seems to be a generational flip-flop for Israel. And each time they flip their lives away from God, they end up enslaved to another oppressor. They are oppressed for a time, realize their oppression is due to leaving God, and they begin to cry out for God to save them. God, in His grace and love sends another Judge to restore them once again. Then Israel just goes right back through those same motions over and over again.

Of course this model doesn't end with the move from Judges to kings for Israel. The period of the kings basically follow this same model as well. With Saul for instance, the model actually plays out within the life of that one king. He flips from devotion to God in the early days of leadership of Israel to complete disdain for God in the latter days of his reign. Even after the period of kings when Israel is constantly under control of other nations, this model still holds true.

In the last warning of the prophets given in the book of Malachi, God again calls His nation back to Him. Malachi points out many specific areas where Israel has rejected God. He also points to their history and "brother" nations (Edom) to show how this departure for God can end. But, he also points to the hope of Christ that will restore them to God. So, what are the lessons we can learn from Malachi? First, look at a couple of the specific issues Malachi points out.

The first one I look at is the lack of devotion/commitment to God (1:7-9). Israel had fallen into a pattern of sacrificing unacceptable items to God. The nation of God suddenly did not see fit to give of their first fruits, their best animals. God, in their eyes wasn't really doing much for them anyway, so why give all of the best to Him. In verse 8, you can see also that clearly Israel would not even think about doing the same for their earthly masters. So, in essence, their oppressors were being elevated above God. And don't we really do the same today? While I know there are exceptions out there, I think we mostly give God what is left in our budgets. We justify/rationalize the "needs" we have for our flat screens, our fresh cool cars, and flush 401k accounts just as the Israelites justified "needing" to give the best of their items to the governors who oppressed them.

Another critical point made in this text comes in 3:13-15 where Malachi says Israel no longer appears to believe God is relevant. This is a similar mistake we make today as well. We look at the world around us and think if God is still around (or ever was) then certainly "evil" people should not prosper as they do. This is a temporal and untrusting view though. And God has proven time and again He is 100% trustworthy and faithful to us. We just need to learn to be trusting of and faithful to Him.

As He did with the Judges time and again for Israel, He is still doing with us today. When we follow Him, and we are truly committed to Him, He is faithful to us and His promises. As He says in Malachi 3:10, "Bring all the tithes into the storehouse…and try Me in this…If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it." Can you trust that? Are you willing to fully commit to God and trust Him with your life? Me, well, as I have said – I am moving that way. I will keep you posted on how He guides me along.