- Mark 5;
- 1Samuel 6:1-21
My dear brother and sister in the Lord,
We will learn about the holy God today. In the words of Hannah uttered in her pryer in chapter 2, we will learn, “There is none holy as the Lord.”
To this we add Hebrews 11:6
Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6, NKJV)
So, the penetrating, life determining questions we need to ask, are:
- Do you believe that God is?
- If you don’t believe, why not?
- If you do believe, why?
- If you do believe how do you believe?
In time before Samuel was born when Israel was in constant defeat before the Philistines They sought a solution to their problems in having a king like the surrounding nations. But in reality, everyone did which was good in his own eyes. Just do as you see fit.
Yet, through Hannah’s prayer and the ministry of the son God gave her, they were taken to another solution to live as a people of God: they had to once again learn that God is holy, and that He called them to holiness. For this reason God had to remove those who despised Him from temple service and replace them with someone He specially called to lead the people, Samuel.
I believe, but I keep God on my side for a rainy day
What did their faith look like then?
What we looked at last week and the week before—the defeat of Israel before the Philistines—was one way through which God would teach them to worship Him rightly. Their security and survival did not lie in them using God as a talisman or lucky charm—He is the holy God.
Let’s go back to the question about faith? Do you think they believed that God is? Why, why not? How did they believe? There Christians who fall in the category of Hophni and Phinehas—to them them God was a means of existence, a sort of a talisman, a lucky charm. They wear crosses around their necks, of even tattoo of a cross on their bodies, they say prayers, they even attend church—but all along it is about what they can get out of God. He is not holy and sovereign. They got Him in their pockets for the rainy day; He’s there only as a spare wheel in case the enemy shows up.
Does sort of faith describe you?
I think God is there, but who knows?
Before we go further, we need to make we know what exactly the Ark of the Covenant was?
It was a chest made of acacia wood that contained the two tablets of the Ten Commandments and, Aaron’s budding rod and a golden urn filled with manna. It was not big: it measured 45 inches x 27 inches x 27 inches.
The ark represented God’s presence with the people. The ark was referred to as“the ark of the covenant of the Lord of Hosts who is enthroned upon the cherubim” (1 Samuel 4:5; 2 Samuel 6:2). What seems to be imagined here is a throne whereby the God sat invisibly above the ark, on the outstretched wings of the golden cherubim, with the ark itself serving as God’s footstool.
God was not in the Ark, but was invisibly attached to the Ark only. The Law was the agreement, or covenant, or contract, between God and the people, as such God was faithful to be with his people as He promised. The people, on the other hand, had to be kept to their covenant promises too be a holy nation of priests before God.
The Philistines had to understand that they could not deal with God as they did with their dumb and deaf god. To them the Ark was Israel’s God. So, they locked the ark of God up in the place where their god Dagon was kept. Not only did God mock them by having had their god’s neck and arm broken, but He also tormented the people with a plague. What was this plague? Researchers are sure it was nothing short of a bubonic plague, also called the Black Plague or Black Death which caused the death of an estimate of up to 200 million people from Asia right through Europe in the 14th century.
The Bible gives us an indication that the episode mentioned in 1 Samuel 6 happened during the harvest. Rodents demolished the crops. With the rats came tiny pests in the form of fleas, which could live on the rats or mice without harming them. Somehow some of these fleas sometimes found a home in the groin area of a human being, and then it released a parasite into the bloodstream. It caused massive infection of the lymph glands, resulting in tumours the size of apples, and attacked, amongst other things, the reproductive organs of especially males, making life difficult, and—left untreated—it started to bleed, which made it spread even to other parts of the body, and a painful death set in quick and fast.
You have to get a picture of the way in which God humiliated the Philistines who dare treat Him like and idol. Keep in mind the Philistines worshipped a fertility gods. About any form of sex to them was a form of worship, and now they found themselves unable to worship!
See, God controls the rats and the fleas! He is almighty, wise, sovereign over all He made. Psalm 78:56-66, as translated by the KJV, most probably refers to this episode. Listen:
And He smote his enemies in the hinder parts: He put them to a perpetual reproach. (Psalm 78:65–66, KJV 1900)
He smote them in the hinder parts. And if you want to chuckle about this you’re in good company; those who oppose God will stand in a never-ending reproach.
But some thought it might perhaps be the work of the living God!
Their diviners came up with the idea that they should mould out of gold representations of the mice—and of the swellings of their backsides! One commentator thought just the idea of someone posing for the sculpture who casted the image was humiliating and hilarious. You have to agree.
Is it really the God of Israel? Let’s put the whole idea to the test. To make sure, they ordered fresh cows with new-born calves to draw a newly-made cart with the Ark of the Covenant and the golden representations of the swellings (or tumours, or haemorrhoids—pick you choice!) in a box beside the Ark to take to Beth-Shemesh just within Israelite territory. If He is really God, this will give glory to the God of Israel (verse 5). This would be a sign that they were not hardening their hearts like the Egyptians. Really? Can you worship the holy God of Israel with gifts of man-made images? Can any man buy the favour of God while one’s heart is not really in it?
Well, they thought they’d give it chance. So they put God to the test.
If it [the cart with the cows] goes up to its own territory, toward Beth Shemesh, then the Lord has brought this great disaster on us. But if it does not, then we will know that it was not his hand that struck us but that it happened to us by chance.” (1 Samuel 6:9, NIV)
The cows went straight up the road followed by the lords of the Philistines, who witnessed it. It was indeed the God of Israel! Listen:
So when the five lords of the Philistines had seen it, they returned to Ekron the same day. (1 Samuel 6:16, NKJV)
They most probably went straight back to their people and told them everything they saw. Did they believe? Well, sorry, we sent Him away. Let’s carry on with our lives.
They were humbled, they experienced devastation, they witnessed, they knew—but they did not worship God! Well the crisis is averted, who needs God now? Maybe it was just a fluke. I once did pray for someone who was sick and he got better, but it might have been the doctors and the medication. So, I’m not going to put my life on hold for God. There might be another day on which He will show Him more clearly to me personally; maybe then. For the moment I’m agnostic—which means I’m not willing to commit to anything—but I might change my mind.
Does this perhaps describes your faith?
I believe in God, but I’ve got my own way of worshipping Him
The cows arrive in Beth Shemesh and the people were overjoyed to have it back. They immediately sacrificed to the Lord the cows and the cart. But some of them went further that what they were supposed to. They pried into the Ark, which was forbidden, and God struck them dead.
There are some places we just should not find ourselves. More so should we refrain from assuming privilege into things which God forbids us. Deuteronomy 29:29 teaches us:
“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 29:29, NKJV)
It is forbidden for sinful man to trample on the holiness of the eternal holy God. He who does not honour the Lord God through Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour, being forgiven by grace, does exactly that—no sinner can approach the holy God on his or her own. Only the High Priest, once a year, after he made sacrifice for himself and the people in the sprinkling of the blood of the sacrificial animal could enter into the Most Holy; and that’s precisely why the curtin of the temple tore when Christ paid the price and died on the cross for our sins—we now have entrance to the throne of God in his Name.
You ask, “How do I worship God?” I worship God, but in my own way. After all, He knows my heart, and He knows I try my best. Is God holy? Maybe He is, but one should not take Him too seriously! If He really wants more of me, then He is simply too holy for me. The people in Beth Shemesh said the same thing: And the men of Beth Shemesh said,
Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God? And to whom shall it go up from us? (1 Samuel 6:20, NKJV)
And they, so to speak sent God on. They could not bear his holiness; and they did not repent either. The same thing happened when Jesus healed the demon possessed man. People saw the miracle of the man completely healed and the demons cast into the herd of pigs. Now listen:
And those who saw it told them how it happened to him who had been demon-possessed, and about the swine. (Mark 5:16, NKJV)
Just there they could beg for forgiveness and peace with God. But what did they do instead?
Then they began to plead with Him to depart from their region. (Mark 5:17, NKJV)
Is God too holy for you? Do you think yourself too sinful for Him? Or do you God to just move one and leave you alone with your own life?
I this maybe you?
I worship Him because He is
The first statement in Hebrew 11:6 stops abruptly:
Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is.
So, the starting point in worshipping God is nowhere else to be found but bowing before the holy and sovereign God of all creation. Before a sinner does not understand who and that God is, to such a person He will evade their search and peace will not enter their lives.
True worship is not connected to what we can expect from Him, or what we can gain from Him. Worshipping God on our own terms, is not worship at all. True living faith is to say, “I believe, because He is—the holy God, and I am a poor sinner saved by grace through Jesus Christ!”
Is this a picture of your faith?
How do you believe, why? Let’s complete Hebrew 11:6
…he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6, NKJV)
Sermon preached by Rev D.Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 23 July 2017