Honor The Lord

by Eric S. Love
podcast available for download

HONORING THE LORD...

In one single night, God perfected Israel’s freedom from Egypt. If anyone had any question about whether or not they were actually free, all they need do was refer to the giant flaming, billowing angel that protected their backs as they left Egypt: note, see story about Pharaoh and his army when he wondered if they were really free...

Set free in a single night. And yet, it took them 40 years of wandering through the wilderness before they were able to think like free people. It took 40 years for God to renew their minds - their way of thinking - enough for them to take possession of their promised land.

Let’s take a quick look at what the mentality of the Hebrews at this point looked like:

There are two major events at this point in Israel’s story that give insight into their mentality...
The first is probably the most obvious, because it is the reason they wandered around for 40 years before entering Canaan. When the spies went into Canaan and saw giants, they were afraid (all of them except for Joshua and Caleb). Fear is always an element of an unrenewed mind.
The second actually preceded the first chronologically. It is the point at which God, through Moses, is giving the ten commandments and the people basically say, “Moses - you tell us what God says because we are too afraid to go to God ourselves...” Again, the issue is fear - and more specifically, fear in the form of a lack of Trust in God’s character.

Let’s look at the progression of this mentality.
First, God did warn Israel not to approach the mountain - the fire, smoke and thunder probably helped cement this warning. So when we get to Exodus 20:18 and the people refuse to come any closer, it is understandable.

But Moses explains to them: (vs 20)
Do not be afraid, for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.

What? Don’t because afraid... because God wants the fear of Him to remain with you? Doesn’t that sound like a contradiction?

Here’s the deal... in the ancient world, gods were more or less indifferent beings whom humans could only hope to appease and keep from really making them angry. It was never relational, not before God visited Abraham.

Look at ancient Egypt, the nation Israel had spent the last 500 years among. Their gods were these grotesque creatures with lion bodies and human heads... the sphinx and others - and they were to be greatly feared and avoided. There was no element of relationship there.

So Israel, steeped in the mindset of the ancient world, and specifically influenced by that of Egypt, needed to understand God was a being to be reckoned with before they could understand their need for relationship with Him - or His desire for relationship with them. It is easy to see Israel’s fear of God disintegrate quickly into distrust - even while being surrounded by His demonstrations of power.

God’s point was not to keep them at a distance but to give them the evidence they needed to believe God was “god worthy” - a being to be respected. This fear alone was not enough. They trembled before Him and never moved forward. And they never really respected Him. Because of that, they never understood their need for relationship with Him.

By Exodus 32, Moses has been up on the mountain for over a month and the people - not understanding God is a relational god - believed they should do something or die without a god in the wilderness. What did they do? They created a god with their own hands - a golden calf - and worshiped it.

When people have only a mentality of fear before God without a relational context, they will inevitable INVENT a god to worship. (This may be tradition or some other idol... but it is a short trip from being afraid of God’s character, that is not trusting Him, and stepping into gross idolatry. This is what plagued Christianity in the dark ages.)

So by the time we get to Numbers 13, and the spies are sent in to Canaan to see what’s there, Israel has not relational context for God’s character and therefore do not trust Him to give them what He’s promised. This is why they wandered around for 40 years...

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO FEAR THE LORD?

I think fearing the Lord and honoring the Lord and inseparable, so I will use these two words interchangeably from time to time for the purpose of simplification. Let’s start in Psalms:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments; His praise endures forever.
Psalm 111:10

This verse is often referred to when talking about wisdom or the fear of the Lord. So what does the fear of the Lord, the kind that leads to wisdom - the kind God desires from us, look like? The context in the 111 Psalm is one of recognizing His ultimate goodness. This fear is a respectful reverence - an HONOR -  of God BECAUSE HE IS GOOD, not because He could crush us.

Israel’s fear of God in Exodus did not lead to a meaningful relationship. It led to an ambiguous and unstable commitment to an ambiguous and unstable god-form... a god they did not trust. It led them to create their own god and worship it... essentially they had done the same thing with God: they refashioned Him into a lesser god than He actually was (one that desired relationship), turning Him into nothing better than the creatures worshipped in Egypt. (Anytime we reinvent God to suit our own idea of who He is, it will lead us to reinvent Him again and again until, finally, there is very little evidence of His original character in the thing we worship.)

IS HE SAFE?

“Oh, yes! Tell us about Aslan!” said several voices at once.
“Who is Alsan?” asked Susan.
“Aslan?” said Mr. Beaver. “Why, don’t you know? He’s the King. He’s the Lord of the whole wood...”
“Is - is he a man?” asked Lucy.
“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and son of the great Emperor-beyond-the-sea. Don’t you know who is the King of the Beasts? Aslan is a lion - the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!”  said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he - quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, their either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King I tell you.”
C. S. Lewis; The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe (chapter 8: What Happened After Dinner)

When we don’t understand something, we fear it. Since we can’t fully understand God, we tend to fear Him in an unhealthy way: that is, fear outside the context of relationship. Even though we will never fully understand God, we can KNOW Him and thus understand His character if not His actions. We can TRUST  His heart.

Still, God isn’t going to safely fit into our reasonable expectations and illustrations of Him. That’s when, if we do not pass from knowledge about God into a knowing of God’s heart - or, in other words, have our minds renewed from a mindset of a slave to a mindset of free people in relationship with God - we will reinvent Him in a safe and tidy way that suits our needs and expectations. (The crazy thing is, with this process comes a real limitation of what we expect - we begin to expect very little from God.)

In this kind of reality, we begin to place an inordinate amount of importance on respecting God. We feel so compelled to respect Him that we forget to approach Him. This comes in the way we pray or talk about Him, where we never really get honest.

We don’t feel right about telling God we are angry with Him or that we don’t understand. We feel it is disrespectful. So our prayers are masked with forced respect that isn’t really respect at all. Our talk with God becomes riddled with phrases like “if it be your will” or “Lord willing....” And it sounds proper and good on the surface, but really it is an excuse for having little expectation of what God will do.

WHEN DOES CAREFUL BECOME CARELESS?

Who was more careful with the birthright and blessing passed down from Isaac, Jacob or Esau?

Jacob lied and manipulated his way into getting Esau’s birthright and Isaac’s blessing.  Yet Esau lost his inheritance and could not find a way to repent of this loss, even though he “sought it with tears.” (see Hebrews 12:17)

Esau was careless whereas Jacob wanted it so bad he was willing to do whatever it took to get it. He even lied for it. Is that the way to go about getting God’s blessing? No, but God honored Jacob and changed him from a liar into a prince (Jacob meant deceiver, Israel meant prince of God).

This happened later when Jacob is returning home and Esau is up ahead read to kill him for being a liar and Laban is behind him ready to kill him for a being a liar - and Jacob has the encounter with the Angel of God. The Angel said, “Let me go!” And Jacob said: “No. Not until I get what I need.”

And you know what: He got it. Doesn’t it sound rude to tell God no? Like when God told Israel, “Don’t approach the mountain” and then later watched to see if they would be willing to approach it anyway - like Moses did - in order to be close to Him. Or Elisha refusing to do what Elijah told him - “stay here” - because he wanted a double anointing so bad - “no, I have to see you go up.”

Or how about when Abraham negotiated with God over the destruction of Sodom and Gomorra? Over and over he stretches his point - are you willing to destroy all the people for only five? - until God promises to deliver Lot and his family - who were FAR from righteous.

Or how about David when he threw off his kingly robes so that he could dance better to celebrate the return of the Ark of the Covenant to Israel? Michel, his wife, certainly thought it was careless... David said he was willing to debase himself even further. Look: someone had already lost their life because proper respect wasn’t given to the Ark... but David’s dance was not careless. It did not offend God. God even called David a “man after God’s own heart.”

Or for a N.T. reference, how many times did Peter get rebuked by Jesus for sticking his foot in his mouth? All the time. Yet Peter was the one who took a risk and walked on water. Peter was one of the few who saw Jesus transfiguration on the mountain and who Jesus took deep in the garden with Him before His arrest. And Peter was the one Jesus said would be the foundation of His church - and immediately after this statement, Jesus had to rebuke him again.

Still, Peter’s inability to keep his mouth shut or to have his theology all straightened out did not keep Jesus from trusting him above all the others... It was because of his reckless commitment that he became - eventually - able to bear the fullness of his amazing calling.

SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK

Think back to Israel’s fear when the spies checked out Canaan. If a slave mentality is one of fear, what does the mentality of someone who knows and trusts God look like?

Think again of David. When David killed Goliath he picked up five smooth stones - but he only used one of them. Why did he pick up five? Jewish tradition says it’s because Goliath had four brothers and David wanted to be ready for their retaliation.

What the Bible says is that later on, after David became an old man, four descendants of Gath - the giant race from which Goliath came - sought to kill David. You know what David did? He trusted his “mighty men” - those whom he entrusted literally with his life over and over again, those in a divine alliance with him - to protect him. And they did.

What happens when the ghosts of our past come back for us? If we know God’s heart, we trust. If we simply fear Him outside the context of relationship, we lose it. We reinvent. We walk away. (I often see bitterness come from difficulty when people follow an idea of God rather than knowing God for themselves.)

When Jehoshaphat was king of Judah, three nations allied together to defeat him. Moab, Ammon and Mt. Seir: two of these were the descendants of Esau and the other were the descendants of Lot’s incestuous relationship with his daughter. In other words, they were ghosts from Judah’s past.

How did Judah respond? With trust and confidence; praise. And their enemies were defeated.

PURE HEART: HOW DO WE HONOR THE LORD?

Psalm 24:3-4
Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? And who may stand in His holy presence? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted his soul to falsehood.

There is a connection between purity and honesty. We think of purity in the sense of being clean of sin... but 2 Samuel 22:27 (and Psalm 18:26) says: ...with the pure you will show Yourself pure.

Is there any way in which God could show Himself to be connected with sin? No. So how can purity be an issue of sinlessness?

The word (in Psalm 24) does mean to be pure, empty, radiant and bright and (in 2 Samuel 22 and Psalm 18) to purge, sharpen, polish and cleanse... and to keep clean.

It is fairly presumptuous, I believe, to think we could ever be totally sinless... but it is not at all presumptuous to believe we can be totally honest. This is how we are pure: to not lift our soul to falsehood - in other words to be genuine and honest and have a genuine and honest relationship with the Lord.

Jacob was cleansed from dishonesty and became God’s prince. Esau could not find repentance from his sin in order to reclaim his birthright.

Israel’s great sin in Exodus and Numbers was that they didn’t trust God’s character... their fear was based on an image of God - not based on God’s character through relationship. The result was falsehood: an idol created by their own hands whom they worshipped as a god.

The greatest honor we can bestow upon God is to worship Him in “spirit and in truth”... to trust Him because He has proven His heart for us - His character - and to come before Him with no falsehood or pretense, whether our own or that which we ascribe to Him. And as we come to Him in the purity of our honest though flawed selves, He shows us Himself - pure and undiluted.

The most respect you can show God is by being genuine. The greatest way we can honor Him is to trust Him.

Eric Love, 5/16/2010