How One Can Chase a Thousand
Robert Wurtz II
And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. (Joshua 24:15)
Our passage is a continuation of the first commandment that God’s people must have no other gods before Him. The statements “choose you this day whom ye will serve” and “as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” are often quoted independent of the full context of the verse. When taken together we all have a timeless choice to make, whether we will serve the One True God, or the gods of the land.
It would be superfluous to list all the passages from both Old and New Testament scripture that warn us against idols and idolatry. In fact, a cursory reading of the Bible will demonstrate how frequently God warned His people about it. Perhaps the most sobering warning of all was given in Judges 2 after the people refused to hearken to Joshua’s warning in Joshua 23. Here we read:
Then the Angel of the LORD came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said: “I led you up from Egypt and brought you to the land of which I swore to your fathers; and I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you. And you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall tear down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed My voice. Why have you done this? Therefore I also said, “I will not drive them out before you; but they shall be thorns in your side, and their gods shall be a snare to you.’ ” So it was, when the Angel of the LORD spoke these words to all the children of Israel, that the people lifted up their voices and wept. (Judges 2:1–4 NKJV)
Under Joshua the people had been careful to put away all the idols and false gods from their midst. Just before he died he commanded them to “cleave unto the LORD your God, as ye have done unto this day.” (Joshua 23:8) In fact, so profound was their devotion to God that he drove some of their enemies out of the land with hornets. They didn’t even have to fight. Nevertheless, with Joshua gone they were going to face challenges. You will notice in Judges 1:1 that the people seemed to inquire of the Lord concerning who would go up first to take the land. However, they did not seek the Lord for details as would be characteristic of their fathers. By the time we get to the last verse of chapter 1, the whole thing is in a compromised mess. A close read reveals how God simply took His hand off of them and they started losing the battles. This led to more compromise until they were in near total disobedience. This is what gave rise to our passage above in Judges chapter 2
Transition To Compromise
How did the children of Israel chase a thousand with one man or less and now they can’t even fulfill the commission that God had given them? The answer is clear. When the children of Israel obeyed God and “clung to Him” they prospered. While they made God their only God — He would fight their battles. In other words, the battle belonged to the Lord. However, as they disobeyed and allowed other gods to creep in — or they risked allowing them in by allowing the people to stay around — the battle became theirs. Why? God told them. But you have not obeyed My voice. Why have you done this? Therefore I also said, “I will not drive them out before you; but they shall be thorns in your side, and their gods shall be a snare to you.” This is an awesomely sobering truth. They broke their covenant with God, therefore, He did not follow through with His benefits.
When we arrive in the New Testament we have the fulfillment of all of the types and shadows of the Old Testament. Some things never change. God is always faithful, but people fall into compromise. They do well when a strong leader is around, but when put to the test they often falter. This was Paul’s fear when he was leaving Ephesus. He commended the elders to God and the word of His grace. (Acts 20:32) That is to say, just as when Joshua died, the church was to gather together and inquire of the Lord for direction. Though he warned them night and day for three years with tears, he knew that when he left, grievous wolves and politicians would come in to destroy the flock.
Just as with Joshua, heretofore the Ephesians had thrown down the idols. In time they would move away from their first love (Revelation 2:1ff). The Lord Jesus commanded them to go back and do the works they had done at first; that is, to repent and get rid of all the “idols.” They were taking the love that belonged to God and giving it to other things. This is the essence of all idolatry; to take the love that belongs to God and give it to something else. Paul also dealt with this at Corinth. He wrote:
And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. (2 Corinthians 6:16–18 KJV)
This reads like the book of Joshua and the rest of the Old Covenant in terms of exclusivity with God. There is an ongoing danger of becoming involved with this world and the people of this world in such a way that we adopt their gods as our own. This does not necessarily mean we bow down to carved wood, stone, or gold. It means we allow other things or people to have God’s place in our affections. Covetousness is idolatry; our belly (stomach) can become our god. In fact, any number of things that we find our fulfillment in — other than the One True God. Anything or anyone who we respond to rather than God has become our idol.
What would the consequences be for allowing idolatry into a church? Surely we can learn from the example of Israel who no longer had God driving out their enemy. Understand that Israel had befriended the enemies of God and as a consequence He would not drive them out of the land. He allowed them to become thorns in the side of the people. This is the risk in any church. As idolatry increases God’s power decreases.
It is disturbing to know that we live in a time when idolatry is marginalized or even celebrated. This is even true in the western world. The time would fail to list all the places where idolatry can be found. Nevertheless, we must be keenly aware of the consequences of idolizing people or anything else. We risk causing God’s presence to depart from the churches and our individual lives. If left unrepentant, we risk our own souls.
Just because the world worships “it” or “them” doesn’t mean the Saints can do it. Israel chased a thousand with one man when they did two things:
1. Lived separated to God and away from idolatry.2. Inquired of the Lord for direction in life.
So long as Israel sought the Lord, He made them prosper. When they decided to compromise He refused to drive their enemies out from before them. For Christians this means we risk forfeiting the finger of God on our lives. No presence of God. No unction. No conviction. No revelation. No direction. No healing. No miracles. No casting out devils. No “anything” spiritual. It was a problem in Israel. It was a problem in the 1st Century. It is a problem today. May we take the words of John the Revelator to heart in this crisis hour and retain all that is so precious to us.
Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.
(1 John 5:21 KJV)