The essence of the Jewish faith and the law can be summed up in a few words. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as (in the same way) you love yourself. Those words can summarize the Christian faith, too.
Embracing that essence is hard to do. It's more love than most of us want to give without condition. It's more submission than we desire. It's more goodness than we have.
Since the heart of our faith requires more of us than we want to give, it's easy to embrace the trappings of religion instead.
That's what happened to Israel in the time of Samuel. Everyone knew he was a prophet confirmed by God. They knew his words were true, but they didn't want to follow them.
So they didn't.
Israel went into battle against the Philistines and they were soundly defeated. 4,000 men died. Afterward, the elders did not go to Samuel for a word from God. They went to themselves.
"Why has the Lord defeated us?" they asked. They did, at least, recognize that victory and defeat come from the hand of God.
Instead of saying, "He defeated us because of the sin in our lives," they decided to devise a plan of their own.
Since they knew that God had allowed their defeat, they decided to take the Ark of the covenant (the covenant between them and God) into battle as a kind of good-luck charm.
They believed the power of the Ark could save them since God (they thought) had not.
When I read these words, I am utterly astonished. Didn't they understand the connection between God and the Ark? Apparently not.
They carried the Ark into battle, just as they planned. The Philistines mistook the presence of the Ark for the power of God (just as Israel had done) and it terrified them. They fought harder than ever, captured the Ark, defeated Israel, and killed 30,000 of Israel's soldiers.
Even after that terrible defeat, Israel did not seek God's face. More than twenty years passed before the people came to Samuel for a word from God.
Samuel had a simple solution. Repent. Get rid of the idols. Turn your heart to God alone.
At last, that's what the people did. They removed the idols from the land and from their hearts. They turned back to God, and He forgave them and blessed them with freedom.
Israel lived in defeat for decades when the peace and victory only God could give was one bent knee, one changed heart away.
We are certainly no different from those early Israelites. We, too, sometimes prefer the trappings of religion to the totality of a heart utterly committed to God.
Peace and freedom cannot be found in the props of religion. Peace and freedom can be found only when we are willing to submit our will to His and bind our hearts to His heart.
If we want the kind of victory God promises, we will have to do things His way. Confess our sin. Repent. Relinquish our sin. Cling to Him alone.
We cannot have all the blessings of God without bending our will to His.
Which will we choose? Freedom or bondage? Peace or turmoil? Surrender or rebellion? The choice is ours, so let's choose well.
In case you missed it, here's the link for yesterday's post: Taking the Nazirite Vow and Having a Nazarite Heart
If you're interested in the new Bible study starting May 1, let me know. It will be an online study of the book of Hosea designed to teach us how to go deeper in our understanding of Scripture and how to use available study aids. Message me or leave a comment if you're interested. We've had a great response so far.
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