Turn your hearts to the Lord

Today’s Reading: 1 Samuel 5:1-7:17, John 6:1-21, Psalm 106:13-31, Proverbs 14:32-33

As they did in the book of Judges, Israel fell away from the Lord, began serving other gods, and was conquered by another nation – in this case the Philistines. When they had had enough trouble, they appealed to Samuel, their judge, for help. His instructions were simple:

Then Samuel said to all the people of Israel, “If you want to return to the Lord with all your hearts, get rid of your foreign gods and your images of Ashtoreth. Turn your hearts to the Lord and obey him alone; then he will rescue you from the Philistines.” So the Israelites got rid of their images of Baal and Ashtoreth and worshiped only the Lord.

For them, as for us, there are two parts to the process.

  1. Return to the Lord wholeheartedly; obey God alone.
  2. Get rid of all other gods.

For them, the other gods, were Baal and Ashtoreth (or Asherah), who has been described as the “consort of Baal.” Baal was a god of power and was represented by a bull. Ashtoreth was a goddess of fertility and sexuality who was represented by poles; perhaps these were carved poles similar to the totem poles of the Pacific northwest.

Idols were a big enough deal to God that the second of the ten commandments was a prohibition on making any graven images. Our version of Baal today may be politics or authority – maybe the corner office or the parking space closest to the building.  Ashtoreth could take all kinds of forms, ranging from pornography to our vanity or simply the desire to look good in our society.

For us, as for them, we are called to return to God with our whole hearts, obey only Him, and permanently destroy and abandon all other gods. Why is this such a struggle? It is our nature to worship – it is obvious in the way we treat public figures, celebrities and sporting champions. God knows that we were meant to worship Him and when we do so, the rest of our lives are in good order. If we worship other gods, then we will become like the things we worship. Psalm 115:8 warns us that we will become like the things we worship, but also tells of God’s blessings when we turn away from idols to worship Him.

Not to us, O Lord, not to us,
    but to your name goes all the glory
    for your unfailing love and faithfulness.
Why let the nations say,
    “Where is their God?”
Our God is in the heavens,
    and he does as he wishes.
Their idols are merely things of silver and gold,
    shaped by human hands.
They have mouths but cannot speak,
    and eyes but cannot see.
They have ears but cannot hear,
    and noses but cannot smell.
They have hands but cannot feel,
    and feet but cannot walk,
    and throats but cannot make a sound.
And those who make idols are just like them,
    as are all who trust in them.

O Israel, trust the Lord!
    He is your helper and your shield.
10 O priests, descendants of Aaron, trust the Lord!
    He is your helper and your shield.
11 All you who fear the Lord, trust the Lord!
    He is your helper and your shield.

12 The Lord remembers us and will bless us.
    He will bless the people of Israel
    and bless the priests, the descendants of Aaron.
13 He will bless those who fear the Lord,
    both great and lowly.

14 May the Lord richly bless
    both you and your children.
15 May you be blessed by the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.
16 The heavens belong to the Lord,
    but he has given the earth to all humanity.
17 The dead cannot sing praises to the Lord,
    for they have gone into the silence of the grave.
18 But we can praise the Lord
    both now and forever!

Praise the Lord!

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