God's Fatherly Discipline
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, June 19, 2005
Copyright © 2005, P. G. Mathew
"You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth."
The Father's Love
Deuteronomy 32 is a song that was to be memorized and sung by the people of Israel throughout their history as a witness for the covenant Lord against them. Moses prayed this song would give wisdom to God's people, refreshing them and renewing them like showers upon tender grass (v. 2). It is designed to cause God's people to praise him in word and deed as it reveals the attributes of the true and living God. In it God is described as the Rock, the Father, the Creator, the eagle, and the good shepherd, and Israel is seen as God's treasured possession, whom God created in love and provided with the finest of everything: "He made him ride on the heights of the land and fed him with the fruit of the fields. He nourished him with honey from the rock, and with oil from the flinty crag, with curds and milk from herd and flock and with fattened lambs and goats, with choice rams of Bashan and the finest kernels of wheat. You drank the foaming blood of the grape" (vv. 13-14). Nothing was lacking in God's care for Israel.
The Children's Response
How did Israel respond to God's loving kindness? They turned to idolatry. Verse 15 says, "Jeshurun grew fat and kicked." Jeshurun is a hypocoristicon, a pet name for Israel that means "straight one," taken from the Hebrew yashar, "straight" or "righteous." Because the Lord is righteous, his children should also be righteous. Here Jeshurun is used in reproach, for those who were supposed to be righteous had become corrupt.
Israel's terrible condition is described in verses 5-6: "They have acted corruptly toward him; to their shame they are no longer his children, but a warped and crooked generation. Is this the way you repay the Lord, O foolish and unwise people? Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you?" And in verse 20 God says, "I will hide my face from them, and see what their end will be; for they are a perverse generation, children who are unfaithful." Warped, crooked, foolish, unwise, perverse, and unfaithful-these people were the exact opposite of Jeshurun.
Jeshurun is used in a favorable sense in Deuteronomy 33:5, "He was king over Jeshurun," and 33:26, "There is no one like the God of Jeshurun." In Isaiah 44:2-3 we read, "This is what the Lord says-he who made you, who formed you in the womb, and who will help you: Do not be afraid, O Jacob, my servant, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen. For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants."
But in Deuteronomy 32:15 Jeshurun is used as a rebuke: "Jeshurun grew fat and kicked; filled with food, he became heavy and sleek." This translation is not correct. The emphasis is actually on the second person singular: "You grew fat, you grew heavy, you kicked." Instead of praising and worshiping their covenant Lord for his great love and rich mercy, God's chosen people were acting like ungrateful, undisciplined wild animals. These people gladly received the gifts God gave them, but instead of paying the tribute of heartfelt worship to their covenant Lord, they served Baal.
The Holy Spirit is speaking here of the problem of materialism. One of the worst trials for a Christian is not poverty, sickness, loneliness, or persecution, but prosperity. Martin Luther said, "A full stomach does not promote piety, for it stands secure and neglects God." Material prosperity is extremely dangerous, for it tends to produce the spirit of Laodiceanism. The Lord told the church of Laodicea, "You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked" (Revelation 3:17). Prosperity blinds us to spiritual realities, to that which is abiding and eternal, and tends to produce independence, self-sufficiency, and the illusion that we do not need God. So we kick God out of our lives and treat worship of him with contempt. We have no time for prayer and the study of God's word. We are too busy! We have many things to do-we have to eat and drink, marry and give in marriage, buy and sell, plant and harvest, demolish and build, take vacations and recuperate from vacations. Prosperity also causes many Christians to neglect daily devotions. If we do not have much, we will get up early in the morning to pray and seek the Lord. But when we have plenty, we tend to say, "Why do we need to read the Bible? What do we lack that we must pray for?"
"Jeshurun grew fat and kicked." To "kick" means to treat with contempt. This word is used in 1 Samuel 2:29, where the NIV translates it as "scorn." God asks Eli the priest, "Why do you scorn my sacrifice and offering? Why do you honor your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people?" How many parents think that indulging children demonstrates real love! But indulgence is ultimately to our children's detriment.
As he was blessed by God, Jeshurun grew fat, sleek, and heavy. Finally, he kicked against his covenant Lord. He abandoned God (v. 15); rejected the Rock his Savior (v. 15); made God jealous (v. 16); angered God (v. 16); and began sacrificing to demons (v. 17). The word translated "demons" in Hebrew is shedim, meaning "lords" or "authorities." When we abandon the Lord, we come under the authority of demons, who exercise rule over us. Jeshurun deserted the Rock who fathered him (v. 18), and forgot the God who gave him birth (v. 18). God is pictured here as both father and mother. When we kick God, we kick our father, mother, and every proper authority God has established over us.
Second Samuel 11 describes the effect of prosperity on King David. After God gave him great victory and peace, David no longer wanted to go and fight, although it was his kingly duty to do so. But what was the consequence of his remaining in Jerusalem? He committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered his faithful soldier, Uriah.
Solomon, the most prosperous king in the history of Israel, was loaded with gold, silver, and wisdom. Yet he became a pervert and introduced syncretism into Israel by building altars to foreign gods (1 Kings 11:1-8). That is the general effect of prosperity, especially on those who yearn for it. So instead of praying for more money, I hope we will pray, "O God, please keep me from experiencing prosperity if it turns me away from you. Thank you for the adverse circumstances you give me, for they keep me closer to you."
Why God Hates Idolatry
Jeshurun abandoned the God who made him and began to worship foreign gods. Every creature, whether angel or human, is created to worship, and every creature will worship something. Either we worship the one true and living God, or we worship the devil and his demons. Idolatry is the worship of creation rather than the Creator. When we engage in idolatry, God becomes angry for several reasons.
1. Idolatry is a violation of the first commandment. Idolatry dishonors the personal God, ignores his word, and disregards his generosity to us. The last thing John wrote in his first epistle was "Dear children, keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21). Idolatry is not just outward worship of physical idols; the Bible teaches that covetousness is idolatry of the heart. Jesus said one's life does not consist in the abundance of things; rather, God himself should be our life.
2.Idolatry is detestable to God. Verse 16 says, "They made him jealous with their foreign gods and angered him with their detestable idols." Idolatry is like a married woman having an adulterous relationship with a man who is not her husband; such a relationship is utterly detestable to the husband. In the same way, God hates all God-substitutes, whether money, children, husband, wife, one's own life or ideas that are contrary to divine revelation.
3. Idolatry is demonic. Not only is idolatry rejection of the Lord, it is also worship of the devil and his demons. Many scriptures speak about worshiping demons, including Leviticus 17:7; Psalm 106:37; Revelation 9:20; and 1 Corinthians 10:20.
Satan and his demons greatly covet our worship and will offer us anything to entice us to worship them. That was one of the profound temptations of Jesus. Matthew 4:8-9 tells us, "Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 'All this I will give you,' he said, 'if you will bow down and worship me.'" Satan may not take us to a high mountain to tempt us, but the principle is the same.
Whenever we sin and turn away from the Lord, we automatically come under the authority of the devil and his demons. Everyone who practices sin is in reality worshiping the devil and his demons, and all who oppose the authority of the kingdom of God come under their authority. Satan deceives millions every day into worshiping him.
4. Idolatry is the worship of novel gods. Every day new idols are manufactured, and we are easily fascinated with them. The Athenian spirit is everywhere, even among church people. We don't want the one true and living God, so we abandon him for new ideas and new gods. But what is the real reason people worship such new gods? Because idolatry "liberates" them from the constraints of God, especially in the area of sexual behavior. But such freedom is actually enslavement to sin; the wages of idolatry is death.
5.Idolatry is worthless. In Jeremiah 2:5-6 we read, "This is what the Lord says: What fault did your fathers find in me, that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves. They did not ask, 'Where is the Lord, who brought us up out of Egypt and led us through the barren wilderness, through a land of deserts and rifts, a land of drought and darkness, a land where no one travels and no one lives?'" When we worship God, we become like him; but when we worship worthless idols, we become worthless.
6.Idolatry makes us stupid. In verses 28-29 God says the Israelites "are a nation without sense, there is no discernment in them. If only they were wise and would understand this and discern what their end will be!" Senseless! Stupid! Idolaters cannot understand how to interpret reality and discern between right and wrong. But if people do not interpret reality correctly, they will inevitably make bad decisions. (PGM) They will stumble and fall as they walk in ever-increasing darkness.
Why have many modern people lost their ability to reason and properly interpret reality? Because they have rejected the word of God. In verse 2 Moses said, "Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants." God showers upon us the refreshing rain of his revelation that we may discern and interpret reality correctly, that we may walk aright in the way of truth.
Prosperity can cause people to reject God's word and become stupid. Exchanging truth for a lie, their thinking becomes futile and their foolish hearts darkened (Romans 1:21). Paul says of such people: "They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts" (Ephesians 4:18). If such people continue in sin, they lose their bearings and become stupid. And what is the result? They end up embracing pitch darkness. "Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more" (Ephesians 4:19).
7.Idolatry is the antithesis of salvation. The Gentile Thessalonians were demon worshipers, but when Paul preached the gospel to them, they "turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God" (1 Thessalonians 1:9). Idolatry is the exact opposite of repentance and faith-it is turning away from God to worship idols. That is why it makes God angry.
God's Response to Idolatry
As our heavenly Father, God does something when we engage in idolatry. Verse 19 begins, "The Lord saw this. . . ." We find the same expression in Genesis 6:5: "The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time." God sees not only our words and deeds, but our very imaginations. We think in his presence. The Lord sees our idolatry, our ingratitude, our kicking and spitting in his face.
When the Lord saw Israel's idolatry, he rejected them. The consequences of this rejection are specified by a string of "I will's": "I will hide my face" (v. 20); "I will make them envious," and "I will make them angry" (v. 21); "I will heap calamities on them" (v. 23); "I will send wasting famine," and "I will send against them the fangs of wild beasts" (v. 24) and so on. This is God's response to idolatry.
The Aaronic blessing of Numbers 6:24-26 says, "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace." But in Deuteronomy 32:20 Lord said, "I will hide my face from you." We find this idea throughout the Scriptures. In Deuteronomy 31:17-18 the Lord told his people, "On that day I will become angry with them and forsake them; I will hide my face from them and they will be destroyed. Many disasters and difficulties will come upon them, and on that day they will ask, 'Have not these disasters come upon us because our God is not with us?' And I will certainly hide my face on that day because of all their wickedness in turning to other gods." What a miserable fate! God says he will no longer be with his people to guide them, provide for them, protect them and be their hiding place. Romans 1:24, 26, and 28 tells us that when people exchange truth for a lie, God hands them over to a reprobate mind, to think and to practice wickedness.
God's love is limitless; his anger is also limitless, so there is eternal death as well as eternal life. Verse 22 describes the all-consuming fire of the limitless wrath of God as a great conflagration from which no one can escape on one's own. Just as in the Flood no one was saved except through the ark, so also no one can hide from the raging fire of God's wrath except in Jesus Christ.
In verse 23 God says, "I will heap calamities upon them and spend my arrows against them." God himself takes action against his people when they treat him with contempt: he sends wasting famine, consuming pestilence, deadly plague, wild beasts, venomous serpents, and war. "In the street the sword will make them childless; in their homes terror will reign. Young men and young women will perish, infants and gray-haired men" (v. 25). This is total destruction.
Leviticus 26 tells us of God's covenant blessings (vv. 1-13) as well as his curses (vv. 14-46). God knows how to bring pressure to bear on us by pouring out judgments, one after another. For instance, in verse 27 he says, "If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me, then in my anger I will be hostile toward you and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over. You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters." This literally happened several times in the history of Israel (cf. Lamentations 4:10).
Leviticus 26:8 says that when God's people walk in obedience to him, five of them will chase a hundred, and a hundred will chase ten thousand. But Deuteronomy 32:30 speaks of Israel's enemies overpowering them, and asks, "How could one man chase a thousand, or two put ten thousand to flight?" The answer should be obvious, but because God's people became senseless, they could not interpret reality correctly. So God also gives the answer in verse 30: "[T]heir Rock had sold them . . . the Lord had given them up." God deals with our stubbornness and rebellion by giving our enemies power over us.
We find this idea in many places throughout the Scriptures. In Judges 2:14 we read, "In his anger against Israel the Lord handed them over to raiders who plundered them." Judges 3:8, 4:2, and 10:7 each say of Israel that God "sold them" into the hands of their enemies. The same expression is used in Romans 1:28: God "gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done." In the church of Corinth a man was living with his father's wife; the church was told to "hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed" (1 Corinthians 5:5). The Sovereign God will not be mocked. He will discipline his people and deal decisively with all who treat him with contempt.
What Must We Do to Be Saved?
Jeshurun grew fat and kicked, becoming a pervert and an idolater. Now the wrath of God must fall on him, for a just God must punish evil. Jeshurun is representative of us all, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). How then can anyone be saved?
There is hope for wicked, miserable, wretched sinners! The gospel reveals a God who justifies the ungodly. Because God loves sinners, he made a way of saving them from his eternal wrath. We needed a substitute Jeshurun-one who is truly straight and righteous-and we have such a one in Jesus, who knew no sin and yet became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him. That is the message of the gospel: Jesus Christ, who is both holy God and sinless man, freely took our sins upon himself and suffered God's wrath in our behalf. In him we are freely given the righteousness of God.
What will make us true Jeshuruns in God's sight? We must turn from our sins and turn to Christ in saving faith. Trust in him now and forevermore and you shall be saved. You shall be straightened out and delivered from senselessness and deception. The greatest sin in the whole world is to reject this Savior. Look to him and be saved, all the ends of the earth, for this is God's unfailing promise: "Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved" (Romans 10:13).
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Copyright © 2005, P. G. Mathew
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