This is a condensed transcript of my July 10, 2011 sermon.
We humans sure have a knack for messing things up, don’t we?! I tried to avoid the Casey Anthony trial at all costs, but I broke down last week at the gym when I turned on the TV at the machine I was using and saw these words: “Breaking News: Sentencing To Come Any Minute.” I decided to watch while working out, but I never made it to the actual sentencing because of all the legal maneuvering on both sides. It made for a very long and boring workout! All of the legalese reminded me of my three months on a grand jury a few years back. I was reminded of some of the horrific cases we were exposed to. My time on the grand jury reinforced a deep theological truth I was taught early on in my Christian upbringing: we humans sure have a knack for messing things up.
I’m leading my congregation on an overview of the story of God and the story of God’s people in the Bible – because in all reality, it’s our story too. A couple of weeks ago, we saw that the story of Cain (Adam and Eve’s son who killed brother) demonstrates clearly that humans – after the fall – have a terrible capacity to misdirect their lives. Sadly, this is still true to this day. Throughout the history of God’s people (beginning in the Old Testament), we have been stuck in a vicious cycle of sin, and unfortunately, this cycle continues with us. But as we will see (and as we know from our own experience as well) God is faithful – even when we aren’t. Are there consequences for our unfaithfulness? Yes, as we will see. But through it all, God remains faithful.
We pick up the story in Exodus 25 where God gives Moses instructions for the building of the tabernacle, which will be a portable sanctuary where God’s presence will reside with His people as they move toward the Promised Land. As we have seen from the beginning, God has always intended to be present with His people, and the tabernacle is proof of this for the Israelites. And because worship of God is what His people should be all about, God goes into great detail to describe exactly how He wants the tabernacle to look. The great detail laid out in Exodus shows that the worship of God is not something that should be taken lightly by His people. God continues to be faithful to His people by blessing them with His presence as they journey to the Promised Land…but His people do not reciprocate.
In Exodus 32:1-4 we read, When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”
In an unthinkable act of rebellion and faithlessness, God’s people directly violated the first two commandments that they had just been given by the Lord: 1) You shall have no other gods before me. 2) You shall not make for yourself a carved image. God had been so faithful to His people. He had freed them from slavery, set them on their way to their own land, and promised to dwell among them via the tabernacle, but they were not faithful in return. And this is our story too. God is faithful – even when we’re not.
God’s anger burned against His people for their betrayal. Three thousand people perished at the swords of the Levites, and God sent a plague on the rest of the people for their sin. The consequences were devastating, BUT the Lord forgave them of their sin and renewed His covenant with them once again. And God said, “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the Lord, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.” (Exodus 34:10) In spite of the people’s sin, God makes good on His promise to be present with them even after their great betrayal with the golden calf.
Self-Confidence Leads To A Devastating Defeat at Ai
Moses dies, and Joshua is placed in charge of leading God’s people into the land that God promised their forefathers. The conquest begins with God renewing His promise and covenant with His people. He tells them that if they are faithful to Him and His word that they will be successful in their conquest and will be prosperous in the land. But, after God’s great victory at mighty Jericho, the people get confident and apathetic toward the Lord and decide to take on the next battle at tiny Ai on their own. They don’t wait for God’s strategy; instead they pursue their own strategy and attack, and in so doing, they suffer an astonishing loss of life. Their disobedience cost them (as it does with us)…but God was still faithful. They repented, He forgave them, and they eventually conquered Ai – this time under His direction.
Over time, Israel becomes established in the land that God promised them. God leads them to mighty victory after victory, and they gain more and more land, but Judges 2:12 reveals where the hearts of the people were after much of the conquest was over: They abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. The cycle of sin and rebellion, repentance and forgiveness continued – even after ALL that the Lord had done for them. Because of this, they experience the hand of discipline from the Lord, but we also see that the Lord does not give up on them – nor does He give up on us in spite of our sin and rebellion.
Rejection of God As King
God appoints judges through whom He rules and leads His people. Some judges are good. Some are not. Sometimes the people listen to the judges. Sometimes they don’t…but God remains faithful to His people. His presence remains with them, and He continues to bless them – so that they will be a blessing to others. But, the book of Judges closes with these sad words: In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21:25)
In 1 Samuel, we’re introduced to the last judge: Samuel. He’s the last judge because the people of God decide they no longer want to be ruled by judges…they want a king – just like everyone else. Instead of recognizing God as their king and submitting to His rule through the judges He appoints, they decide they want a human king so that they will be like all the other nations around them. Shockingly, God tells Samuel to let the people have what they want. However, He tells Samuel to warn the people of what a human king will do to them. Samuel does, but even after his dire warning recorded in 1 Samuel 8:10-18, the people persist in their desire for a king. So, God agrees to give them what they want – on one condition: He chooses the king. God’s faithfulness is evident amidst the unfaithfulness of His people in that when God chooses Saul to be king, He places His Spirit in him. God gives the people what they want even though He knows that it will be bad for them…and then He still blesses them by filling their human king with His Spirit! God truly is faithful to us – even when we’re not.
David and Solomon: The Unfaithfulness Grows
As the children’s Bible I used to read to my kids so pithily states, “Saul started off as a good king, but he quickly became bad.” That pretty much sums up Saul in a nutshell. His disobedience led to God removing His Spirit from Him and placing it in a small shepherd boy named David. After years of fighting off King Saul’s murderous attempts, King David assumes the throne. He was a more faithful king than Saul, but he did not obey the Lord as He was instructed. He had multiple wives and committed adultery which led to murder. The Lord declared that the “sword shall never depart” from his house, and because of David’s sin, his family was riddled with strife.
His son, Solomon, followed as the next king, and even though he came from a family where the sword would never depart, God was faithful to Israel and unified them under his reign. During Solomon’s tenure as king, there was a cohesive government in place, peace ruled the land, and a temple for the Lord was built. However, the problem was that Israel was supposed to draw all other nations to God, but under Solomon’s rule, Israel seemed more interested in national pride and building their empire than in drawing other nations to the Lord. Solomon also fulfilled Samuel’s warning from 1 Samuel 8 that the king would “take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work.” In 1 Kings 5:13-14 we read, King Solomon drafted forced labor out of all Israel, and the draft numbered 30,000 men. And he sent them to Lebanon, 10,000 a month in shifts. They would be a month in Lebanon and two months at home. Adoniram was in charge of the draft. Solomon lived in excess and forced God’s people to serve him. Rather than trusting in the Lord, Solomon made alliances with foreign kings (and foreign women) to secure Israel’s safety.
Through It All, God Is Still Faithful
King Solomon was unfaithful to God in many ways, yet God remained faithful to His people. During Solomon’s reign, he oversaw the building of the Lord’s temple, and eventhough faithlessness to the Lord was rampant in Israel under his rule, notice what happened once the temple was completed: When the priests came out of the Holy Place, and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the Lord, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever,” the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God. (2 Chronicles 5:11-14)
God STILL blessed His people with His presence! His design from the beginning has been to dwell among His people, and even in the midst of their devastating unfaithfulness, He was still faithful. This is the God we serve. He still desires to be with His people – so much so that He came and lived among us in the form of Jesus Christ – Immanuel, God with us. While we were yet sinners, Christ came. While we were yet sinners, Christ lived. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. While we were yet sinners, Christ arose. While we were yet sinners, Christ redeemed us. While we were yet sinners, God sent His Spirit to fill us and live in and thru us.
God has always been faithful to His people – even when they’re not. And He’s faithful to us today – even when we’re not. This is His story…and it’s ours too!