October 20 | Daily Devotion

Lectio Continua: a continuous reading of every verse

Lectio Semi-continua: shorter reading selections from the passages

Lectio Divina

“…‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the Lord; ‘I will not look upon you in anger. For I am gracious,’ declares the Lord; ‘I will not be angry forever.’” ~Isaiah 3:12

OLD TESTAMENT

The concept of idolatry can be a little hard for modern people to understand so let me provide an explanation. First, pagan religions possessed a certain seductive beauty. Ornately carved figures, idols made from wood and stone, graced cities and towns like outdoor art in a city park. They became part of the art of a culture and were considered to have powers of protection and blessing. Pagan worship ceremonies were also quite attractive filled as they were with pleasing sights and delightful smells.

Moreover, pagan religions adopted practices that appealed to human proclivities or glorified human appetites. For example, sex was incorporated into pagan religious observances and celebrated as an act that pleased the gods. Many religious sects employed sex workers. Their vocation was pleasing the worshippers who brought sacrifices to the gods. This prostitution is likely the reason God often referred to idolatry as “adultery.”

Finally, idolatry was so much a part of the surrounding cultures that there was social pressure for God’s people to fit in. The fact that neighbors near and far embraced gods of the earth, the sky, and the sea was a source of great temptation for Israel and Judah. The people wanted to fit in and keep a friendly relationship with the Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Assyrians. The power and the pressure of idolatry must not be minimized.

As we learn from today’s reading, God’s people are so caught up in idolatry that they don’t even see their sin. They dismiss it as no big deal. The people of Judah saw their sister Israel disciplined by God for taking up idols, but they blindly continue the practice anyway. In fact, they wonder why God is so upset with them (Jer. 3:4-5). Even when a prophet comes to point out the failure to keep the commandment about having no other gods, they still they don’t see the problem!

Jeremiah calls on his people to acknowledge that their hearts have strayed from God. In their devotion to other gods, they have left their first love (Jer. 3:13). Israel and Judah have transgressed in ways that even foreign cultures serving false gods would never do. Pagans don’t turn their back on Dagon, or Marduk, or Baal, but the people of God have rejected the one true God (Jer. 2:11-13)! Wow!

When reading Jeremiah’s words, we have to ask the obvious question: What in this world seduces our hearts? “Our contemporary society is not much different from the ancient ones,” writes Timothy Keller in Counterfeit Gods. “Each culture is dominated by its own set of idols. Each has its ‘priesthoods,’ its totems and rituals. Each one has its shrines—whether office towers, spas and gyms, studios or stadiums—where sacrifices are made (time, money, energy) in order to procure the blessings of the good life…”

Are there idols in your life? Are there things, perhaps even good things, competing for the devotion that belongs to God alone? Think about it.

NEW TESTAMENT

There were some people in the church who were living with such expectancy of Christ’s imminent return that they quit their jobs! With nothing but time on their hands, they were going from house to house causing trouble. Paul warns against such idleness and tells people to get to work. The fact that Jesus is returning is not cause for doing less but rather for doing more. We should be found faithful and fruitful upon His return. We should “never tire of doing what is right” while we wait for Him.

 “Hope is one of the theological virtues,” wrote C. S. Lewis in his seminal work, Mere Christianity. “This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.”

Let us look forward to Christ’s return while working with all of our might.


Lectio Divina is written by F. Lionel Young III, who serves as the senior pastor of Calvary Church in Valparaiso, Indiana. He is the author of A New Kind of Missionary, a popular introduction to global Christianity.