Day 058: The Mandatory Retirement Age (Numbers 8-10)

23 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 24 “This applies to the Levites: from twenty-five years old and upward they shall come to do duty in the service of the tent of meeting. 25 And from the age of fifty years they shall withdraw from the duty of the service and serve no more. 26 They minister to their brothers in the tent of meeting by keeping guard, but they shall do no service. Thus shall you do to the Levites in assigning their duties.” (Numbers 8:23-26)

I had never noticed that God put an upper limit on the time a Levite could serve in the tent of meeting. Fifty years! In our culture that seems really young. But perhaps when you think about the heavy lifting involved with all those sacrifices, the upkeep of the tabernacle, and (at least until they were settled in the Promised Land), the work involved in breaking down and setting up the tabernacle whenever the Lord led them to a new place, it starts to make sense.

Add to that the wear and tear of being the representative of the people to God, and (for me anyway) you begin to see God’s grace in creating a mandatory retirement age for the Levites. I like what the Expositor’s Bible Commentary says about this regulation:

Again, in these regulations we sense the holiness and the mercy of God. His holiness demands that his ministers be fully able to do the work that is required for them. His mercy precludes a man doing the work when he was no longer physically able.

I agree, but I think the mercy goes beyond giving an aging priest a pass. Because notice what the Scripture says: even though they are not actively slaughtering the sacrifice, or carrying the utensils, or loading the oxcart, or maintaining the eternal flame, they aren’t just “pastors put out to pasture.” Instead, verse 26 says, “they minister to their brothers in the tent of meeting by keeping guard.”

Such kindness. Long before psychologist Erik Erickson developed his theory of developmental crises, God understood that a human being will deal with the desire to contribute, and the feeling that they still have something to offer as they get older, as opposed to simply stagnating.

And it isn’t just a token job. These aren’t Wal-Mart greeters here. Once a priest reached the age of fifty, they were to minister to their brothers by standing guard.

I read this in two ways. First, literally standing guard. Protecting the holiness of the tent of meeting. Ensuring that all the procedures and rituals were properly followed. Watching for intruders, troublemakers, and enemies.

But I also zeroed in on the “minister to their brothers” part. Anyone who serves as a pastor will tell you how important it is to have older mentors and accountability partners in their life. Someone who knows firsthand the temptations associated with pastoral ministry. Someone who will affirm them, encourage them, strengthen them, guide them, pray for them, celebrate with them, and correct them when necessary.

When you look at it this way, you realize that this isn’t just giving an old guy something to do in a patronizing way when they can “no longer do the work.” It is realizing that shepherding the shepherds is vital and crucial.

I am unbelievably blessed to have breakfast once a week with three older men. One is my former boss, Travis, the senior pastor with whom I served before becoming a lead pastor myself. He has been retired for a couple of years now. But I will never miss an opportunity to spend time with him. He is the finest example of ministry with integrity for the long haul that I know personally. And though he still actively serves as an interim pastor at a small church in the country, he has eased comfortably into his role of ministering to his brothers.

In many ways, he is what I want to be when I grow up. I hope that in ten or fifteen years, I’m going to be the one having breakfast with a pastor or two from the next generation, doing everything I can to stand guard over the care of their souls.

Day 56-57: A Memorial and a Name (Numbers 5-7)

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”
‭‭Numbers‬ ‭6:22-27‬ ‭ESV‬‬

After spending ten days in this amazing country, I’m realizing more than ever how you can’t overstate the importance of God’s Name to the Jews. On every mezuzah you will at least see a shin, if not the whole shin-daleth-yodh; the Hebrew letters that make up El Shaddai (God Almighty).

Mezuzah outside hotel room.

When Hebrew is read aloud, the reader will substitute Adonai or Ha Shem (“The name”) whenever they come to the Divine Name YHVH in the text.

But as important as God’s name is to us, our names are even more important to God. Our daily Bible reading may seem to be in the absolute driest part right now. Just endless lists of names and numbers. But each of those names represents a family, a clan, a tribe whom God has chosen.

Most of the time, I think about the prohibitions and restrictions associated with The Name. How scribes would use one pen to write The Name rather than a pen that had been defiled by any other word. How someone could lose their life for uttering the Name. How many people did.

But what I noticed in the reading today is that The Name is associated with blessing more than cursing. Through Moses, God told the sons of Aaron to bless the people of Israel by putting God’s name upon them. Look how often the word “bless” is used in this passage:

  • “Thus you shall bless the people of Israel…”
  • “The Lord bless you and keep you…”
  • “I will bless them.”

To bear the name of God is an unspeakable blessing (Literally!)! I suppose the closest we can come to understanding this is to think about the perks of being part of the royal family in England. The name Windsor definitely opens some doors. Closer to home, I guess it’s a little like being named Kardashian. Or, an example we can all relate to: when we land in the United States in a few hours, I will feel incredibly blessed to bear the name “United States of America” on my passport.

God’s Name matters to us. But here’s what amazes me about these lists of names in Numbers: our names matter to God!

By far the most gut-wrenching stop on a tour of Israel is the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. Yad Vashem is a phrase taken from Isaiah 56:3– “I will give them a memorial and a name.” The memorial honors the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis. The last room one enters is the Hall of Remembrance, a circular room lined with hundreds and hundreds of file boxes, each containing information about the individual victims.

The Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, Jerusalem Yad Vashem translates to “a memorial and a name,” part of Isaiah 56:3. Four million names are recorded in the files around the walls.

Each one had a name.

Standing in that room gave me a new perspective on these first chapters of Numbers. It reminded me that the Bible is about God, but it is also a record of God’s people. it records their names.

God’s name is not to be taken lightly. But to bear God’s name should never be seen as a burden. We sing “Blessed be the Name,” in part, because we live in the blessing of the Name. We are called by His name. He calls us by our name.

And He never forgets our names.

Day 365: Four Gardens (a poem from the Garden Tomb)

41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 
John 19:41

Through the Bible: Revelation 19-22

I wrote this poem in February, 2022, on the way back to the airport after a week in Israel. The day before, we had started the day at the Garden of Gethsemane, and ended the day at the Garden Tomb. Our pastor for the trip shared that John’s gospel is the only one that mentions that the tomb was in a garden. He helped me see that God’s great story begins and ends in a garden. We fell in Eden. We will be with God forever in the new heaven and the new earth (Revelation 22:1-2). And what guarantees our entry into the new Garden after being driven from the old one are the two gardens we had visited the day before. .

Four Gardens

Once, in the cool of the day, God walked into a Garden; 

Where a serpent hissed, 
and man hid, 
and half eaten fruit lay fallen on the ground. 

Adam, where are You? said the Father. 
And the man was driven out of the Garden, 
head down, 

Once, in the dead of night, Jesus walked into a Garden; 

Where Judas lurked, 
and disciples slept, 
and sweat like blood fell to the ground.

Father, where are you? cried  the Son. 
And Jesus was led out of the Garden, 
head down, 

Once, at the dawn of the morning, Mary walked into a Garden; 

Where angels sat, 
and rocks were split, a
nd soldiers fell stunned on the ground.

Jesus, where are You? Said Mary. 
And the angel said, He is not here. He is risen. 
And Mary ran from the Garden, 
Head spinning, 

Soon, at the last trumpet, I’ll stand at the gate of a Garden;

Where water of Life bubbles, 
the Tree of Life blooms, 
and paving stones  like gold lie shimmering on the ground. 

“There you are!” cries the Son
“Here You are,” weeps His child
And I am led into the Garden, 
Head high, 

Day 055: “My Father Was a Rabbi, and His Father Before Him…” (Numbers 3-4)

“Take a census of the sons of Kohath from among the sons of Levi, by their clans and their fathers’ houses, from thirty years old up to fifty years old, all who can come on duty, to do the work in the tent of meeting. This is the service of the sons of Kohath in the tent of meeting: the most holy things.”
‭‭Numbers‬ ‭4:2-4‬ ‭ESV‬‬

In our hotel here in Jerusalem, there is a convention of rabbis from New York. I had the privilege of sharing an elevator ride with one of them this evening (I know, it sounds like the beginning of a joke: ‘A pastor and a rabbi get on an elevator…”)

The rabbi was kind and gracious, and we wound up having a wonderful conversation about ministry. The challenge of communicating our faith to the next generation. The expectations of “edutainment”— where you have to be part educator, part entertainer if you want to keep their attention. I guess for us preachers it would be evange-tainment.

Then I asked him, “So when did you know you wanted to be a rabbi?”

He looked puzzled. “What do you mean?”

“You know,” I said. “How old were you when you felt the call?”

“Well, my father was a rabbi. And his father before that. And his father before that. I married the daughter of a rabbi. I don’t know that I answered a call. It’s just who we are in my family.”

It dawned on me as I was reading today’s passage that I was hearing in 2022 what the Lord commanded Moses over four thousand years ago. I didn’t ask the rabbi’s last name, but there are several modern Jewish surnames that have linguistic connections to ancient Levitical names:

  • Cohen: Koath
  • Gershwin: Gershom
  • Meyer: Merari

Our guide told us that if you meet a modern day Cohen, chances are they are either a rabbi, or they were supposed to be.

It’s a different way to look at calling. And, yes, it has some drawbacks. A few days from now in our reading plan, we will meet some Koathites that clearly weren’t happy with their jobs. I’ve sometimes wondered about Levites who didn’t want to be priests. Or Reubenites that did. Could there even be an option?

And for me, I love that I can point to the moment when I knew God was calling me into the ministry. I was in fourth grade. We had career day at our school. I dressed in a three piece, baby blue suit and carried my Bible, because I wanted to be a preacher.

But there’s something beautiful about meeting a man who, pretty much from birth has known what he is going to do. For whom the very idea of “calling” is a little confusing. It’s just who he is. Like his father, and his father’s father, and his father before him.

Oh, and one more beautiful thing about this gathering of rabbis. As I watch them here in the hotel, I see that many of them are here with their sons. Which means that there is another generation coming up after them.

Parents, if you want to know what it takes to lead the next generation to love and serve the Lord, then perhaps we can learn from the Levites: make it so much a part of your family’s identity that your children could not imagine being anything else.

Day 054: On Going to War (Numbers 1-2)

M&R Photography
...Every man able to go to war... (Numbers 1:20, 22, 24, 26, 28, 30, 32, 34, 36, 38, 40, 42, 44)

Too long have I had my dwelling
    among those who hate peace.
7 I am for peace,
    but when I speak, they are for war! (Psalm 120:6-7)

I have a confession to make. I have never shot a gun.

I feel weird saying that, because I live in the great state of Alabama, which ranks number five in the nation for most guns per thousand people (33). For reference, Wyoming is #1 (229 per 1000) and #50 is Rhode Island (3 guns for every 1000 people).

I have a lot of men in my church who, when they find out I have never shot a gun, offer to cure me of that.

Our men’s ministry planning team did a survey, in which, among other things, we asked the men in our church what kind of activities they would like us to plan on a quarterly basis. Every one of them listed “shooting” as an activity.

Every. Single. One.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t begrudge anyone else owning a gun. I really don’t. I take comfort in knowing that on any given Sunday, there are lots of people packing heat.

Along with their husbands.

I just choose not to. I choose not to have a gun in my house. I choose to have prayer be my only defense against any intruder. If I go to my grave never having fired a weapon, I will be okay. I don’t have the itch to fire a weapon. Not even at a tin can.

Does my man card have an asterisk on it? Or do I not get one at all? I saw a shirt recently that said, “If you know how many guns you have, you don’t have enough.” Perhaps I can tell people, with complete honesty, “Dude, I can’t even COUNT how many guns I have!

In the first chapter of Numbers, the only ones that were counted were the ones who were able to go to war. And I do sometimes wonder if my unwillingness to own a gun or even learn how to handle one somehow makes me… not count.

Am I “less than“ because I don’t go to war? For most of Numbers 1, it seems that way. The people who weren’t able to go to war weren’t counted. Children, women, the old, and the crippled didn’t count in the official census.

So I start off kind of hating the book of Numbers.

Until I get to verse 47. That’s when I read that there was one tribe that was NOT counted by the number of men that were able to go to war. The Levites were exempt from the census. Instead, they were to handle the holy things. They were in charge of the tabernacle, its furnishings, and the Ark of the Covenant itself.

“But appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the testimony, and over all its furnishings, and over all that belongs to it. They are to carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings, and they shall take care of it and shall camp around the tabernacle.”
‭‭Numbers‬ ‭1:50‬ ‭ESV‬‬

And when Israel set up camp, the Levites were in the very center.

The men in my church might scoff. “Yeah… those Levites needed to be in the center. They needed to be surrounded by the warriors, so the fighting men could protect them.”

But I like to see it a little differently. The Levites stayed in the center of camp–closest to the Tabernacle, so they could continually intercede for the people. They could continually offer sacrifices. They could constantly stand in the breach between holy God and sinful man.

In other words, they could continually fight for the warriors.

Again, no disrespect to the hunters, and shooters, and collectors among whom I live and work and minister. I love you. And I am thankful for you. And I also mean no disrespect to other ministers who enjoy responsible gun ownership.

But I don’t need you to “cure me” of never having shot a gun. I’m going to continue to wage war for the souls of the lost. I’m going to keep on waging war against the devil. And I’m going to continue to let the Lord fight for me.

I will be a warrior. But the weapons of my warfare will not be of the flesh (2 Corinthians 10:4)

And maybe God’s ok with that. After all, the ones that were closest to His presence were the ones that didn’t count.

Day 053: The Land Will Have its Rest (Leviticus 26-27)

The Golan Heights, northern Israel
“Then the land shall enjoy its Sabbaths as long as it lies desolate, while you are in your enemies' land; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbaths. 35 As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, the rest that it did not have on your Sabbaths when you were dwelling in it" (Leviticus 26:34-35)

As I write this, I am in Jerusalem. We’ve been in Israel since February 17. This country is absolutely beautiful. Even though it is roughly the size of New Jersey, there is more diversity from north to south than any country of its size in the world. The Golan Heights in the north are lush and green, similar to the Blue Ridge or Appalachian Mountains in the States. The area around the Sea of Galilee reminds me of the Napa Valley.

As we traveled from Galilee to Jerusalem the landscape shifted from green to brown, beginning to resemble New Mexico and Arizona.

Finally, south of Jerusalem is the weird and wonderful landscape of Qumran and the Dead Sea, the lowest elevation on the planet.

It truly is a beautiful land. The Bible is right (of course it is!) when it describes the Promised Land as a land “flowing with milk and honey.”

And I love that God does not bring a curse on His Promised Land when He describes the consequences of not obeying Him in Leviticus 26. People will suffer the consequences of disobedience. They will suffer sickness (v. 16). They will be overrun by their enemies (v. 17). They will be attacked by wild beasts (v. 22). There will be famine (v. 26), so severe that the people will resort to cannibalism (v. 29). Ultimately, the people will be led away into exile (v. 33).

We will see as we continue through the Old Testament that all these things took place. But notice how God protects the land of Israel. In verse 34, God promises that the land will enjoy the rest that the people of Israel refused to give it. Yesterday we talked about how there is no record that the year of Jubilee was ever observed. This was the mandate that every fiftieth year, no crops would be planted and land would revert back to its original ownership. This was in addition to the law of the Sabbath year described in Leviticus 25:1-5, which described a rest for the land every seven years. Was this also neglected? There are some scholars who conclude that since the Babylonian exile lasted 70 years, there must have been 490 years of the people ignoring Leviticus 25. This seems to be what 2 Chronicles 36 implies:

20 He [the Babylonian king] took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, 21 to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years. (2 Chronicles 36:20-21)

Regardless of whether you conclude that God’s people ignored the command for exactly 490 years or not, it is clear that they had ignored it for a long time. But it is also clear that God had a special place in His heart for this land.

And having spent this last week here, I can certainly understand why.

The Church of the Nativity

When I went to Israel in 2018, Bethlehem was not a highlight, if I am being honest. It was packed wall to wall with people. The Church of the Nativity felt like a line at Disney World, only without a ride at the end. Our guide gestured over to the steps you could descend to touch the fourteen pointed silver star in the floor, marking the traditional spot of Jesus’ birth. But it would have been a two hour wait to get down there, for little more than a few seconds.

This year, I almost pulled out of the trip. But what convinced me to hang in there was when the trip coordinator said that because of the pandemic, it would be far less crowded at the sites. And I thought, “I’ll go again, if it means I can spend more time at the church of the Nativity and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

And, oh my God, what a difference. I say that in complete reverence. We walked into the Church, and the feeling of awe and reverence and history and holiness and nearly two millennia of prayers lifted up in this place was very nearly tangible.

I put my hand on the star in the floor. I ran my hand across the rough stone above me. I descended the steps toward the room in which St Jerome first translated the Vulgate from the Greek and Hebrew.

Listen, I know we Protestants are skeptical about whether any of these are the “actual” places where the events took place. And I know it can be hard for a lot of people to cut through the layers of tradition and trappings. And in any other year, I probably would have been ok with skipping Bethlehem altogether.

But when I walked through the tiny, narrow door into a church that was completely empty, my spirit soared to the ceiling.

And Lord Jesus, I believed.

Day 313: In Praise of Saint Incognita (Matthew 26, Mark 14)

The nave of the Church of the Nativity (Orthodox side)
9 And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” (Mark 14:9)

In the Greek Orthodox sanctuary of the Church of the Nativity, there are two rows of ten columns. Each column bears the image of a different saint in the Orthodox Church. Not being Greek Orthodox, I had no idea who any of them were.

Detail from one of the columns

So I was super grateful for this handy guide on the wall as we were exiting.

Some of them I recognized. Stephen. Elijah. John the Evangelist. Others I had no idea who they were. There was a Saint Olaf? The patron saint of Disney voice actors, perhaps. Saint Theodosia? Saint Humphrey? Who knew?

The key also tells you which saint is where. Ingressus is Latin for “entrance” Navis major is the nave, and basilica is where the altar is. So columns 1 and 11 are closest to the door. Columns 10 and 20 are closest to the Cross.

I was about to turn away from the key when one more image caught my eye.

Saint Incognita. The Unknown Saint. Now, full disclosure: I don’t know if Saint Incognita is simply unknown to the guy who made the answer key, or if her name has been lost to history.

I tried Googling Saint Incognita. There is nothing about him or her that I could find on the Internet.

And if Google doesn’t even know who you are, well, it doesn’t get much more incognito than that!

Of course, the original unknown saint is this anonymous woman who anoints Jesus in Matthew 26 and Mark 14. I know John tells a similar story where Mary sister of Lazarus is the one doing the anointing, but I think this woman was Mary’s inspiration (see Day 284: How Many Times Did a Woman Anoint Jesus?). Jesus prophesied that wherever the gospel was proclaimed what she did would be remembered. And two thousand years later, here we are, still talking about her.

Again, I can’t say for sure that this woman is the one on the column in the Church of the Nativity. But I do think that there are Saints Incognita in every church, everywhere. There are, in fact, numberless infinities of unknown saints:

  • St Incognita: the maker of coffee for the Thursday night AA group.
  • St. Incognita: Stocker of Shelves and folder of clothes for the benevolence ministry.
  • St Incognita: Sweeper of Floors.
  • St Incognita, Keeper of the Nursery.
  • St Incognita: Preparer of Casseroles.
  • St Incognita: single mother working two jobs, who still manages to get her kids to church every Sunday.

Our churches are full of unknown saints. They have never preached a sermon. Not at the pulpit anyway. They have never seen their name on an order of service. But they are there every time the doors are open. They are up before the dawn, praying, interceding, lifting up their pastors in prayer.

They are quietly teaching their kids to love Jesus. They are going to their jobs, living lives of integrity in front of their coworkers and neighbors.

When they pass from this world, streets are not likely to be shut down. Business will not close. Flags will not be flown half mast.

But know this, beloved unknown Saint: you are canonized by the miracles you perform every day. You, O Humble Saint, have bent the ear of the King of the Universe by your tireless prayers. You, Saint Incognita, have accomplished the work of Christ through your calloused hands and weary feet.

And in the oldest church in the world, there is a column with your name on it. If you ever come to Bethlehem, it will be easy to find:

It is the one closest to the cross.

Day 052: Common Sense-ing Ourselves Out of Obedience (Leviticus 24-25)

10 And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan. 11 That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of itself nor gather the grapes from the undressed vines. 12 For it is a jubilee. It shall be holy to you. You may eat the produce of the field. Leviticus 25:10-12

We’ve been having a few conversations over the past couple of days about whether or not the year of Jubilee was ever observed. I spent a little time digging into this question this morning, and still can’t find anything definitive. I do know that in all the books of history within the Bible it isn’t mentioned.

Maybe it’s because I’ve sat in lots and lots of church committee meetings over the years, but it is easy for me to imagine how the Israelites could talk themselves out of obedience for the sake of what they would see as common sense. How many times have you seen someone’s great idea never get off the ground because someone in the meeting said, “Well, that sounds interesting, but how would it work?”

So… yeah. How would Jubilee “work?” In 25:4, God commanded to let the land rest for seven years. Okay… but in the fiftieth year, you let it rest again. Oh, and you free all your slaves. So that would mean that the year AFTER Jubilee, you have two years’ worth of rocks and weeds, and no one to help you cultivate it and get it back into shape.

God seems to anticipate the naysayers in 25:20-21, when He promises a bounty in the sixth year that would carry them for the next three. It anticipates Malachi 3:10 (the only time God ever invites us to test him):

“Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.”

I can imagine the deacons shuffling their feet until one of them says, “Pastor Moses, it sounds good, but I don’t know if that’s the right direction for us to take right now…”

And while it is an argument from silence to say that no mention of Jubilee is proof that it wasn’t observed, it’s a pretty loud argument.

The question for me, then, is what will I allow to rule the day? When God’s command conflicts with human wisdom, will I trust the command or default to “common sense?” Because the unstated but inescapable conclusion is this: if the Israelites did not trust the Lord enough to observe Jubilee once every generation, then not only would God withhold His blessing, but the debts that were to be forgiven would remain outstanding, and the slaves that were to be set free would remain in bondage.

And it’ true for us today. Forgiveness and freedom begin with obedience.

Day 174: Altars of Convenience (1 Kings 12)

Entrance to Tel Dan, in the northernmost part of Israel. About 243km from Jerusalem
“And Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom will turn back to the house of David. If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the temple of the Lord at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn again to their Lord, to Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.” So the king took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” Then this thing became a sin, for the people went as far as Dan to be before one. He also made temples on high places and appointed priests from among all the people, who were not of the Levites. And Jeroboam appointed a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month like the feast that was in Judah, and he offered sacrifices on the altar. So he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he made. And he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places that he had made. He went up to the altar that he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, in the month that he had devised from his own heart. And he instituted a feast for the people of Israel and went up to the altar to make offerings.”
‭‭1 Kings‬ ‭12:26-28, 30-33‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Through the Bible: 1 Kings 12-14

Today we visited Tel Dan, in the northern part of Israel. We walked to the site of Jeroboam’s altar, mentioned in the passage above from 1 Kings 12. They have constructed a metal framework of the altar to give you a sense of the size of the thing. It must have been quite impressive.

Yair, our guide, explaining the Tel Dan site

1 Kings makes it pretty clear what Jeroboam’s motivations were for building an altar. He was afraid that if people continued to go to Jerusalem three times a year for the annual feasts, he would lose control over them (v 26).

So notice how he sells the people on his alternative altar: “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough” (v 28).

It occurred to me that Jeroboam didn’t make a command. He didn’t forbid people to go to Jerusalem. He just gave them an easier, more convenient alternative.

I can imagine the sales job: “Aren’t you tired of having to pack up your whole family three times a year and going all the way to Jerusalem? It’s a long journey, filled with peril. Wouldn’t you rather stay home? After all, it doesn’t really matter where you are worshiping, so long as your heart is in the right place, right?”

So Jeroboam builds a substitute altar. He appoints substitute priests. He creates a substitute feast week, “after the day he devised in his own heart” (v 33).

He did this not just in one place, but in two. And the people flocked to these altars (see verse 30). They seem to have loved getting six weeks of their lives back. It’s easy for me to imagine them saying, “This is so much easier! I can just stay home and worship. I don’t have to worry about getting the kids ready. I don’t have to fight the traffic. I’m still worshiping, right?

Sound familiar? How many of us have said the exact same things about our own church, ever since we all went online after Covid?

There was just one little problem. Maybe because it was just so convenient, the people didn’t seem to notice…

  • That the priests weren’t Levites, like they were supposed to be (verse 31; see also Numbers 8).
  • That the feast week wasn’t on the fifteenth day of the SEVENTH month, like Leviticus 23:39 specifies. It’s a month later (v 32).
  • That there was a FREAKING GOLDEN CALF on the altar (verse 28). Did they learn NOTHING from their own history (see Exodus 32).

But this is what happens when we decide we can approach God on our own terms. In yesterday’s post, I talked about the temptation of compromise (see Woe to You, Chorazin!). Today, we saw what happens when we yield to the temptation of convenience. We neglect the object of our worship when we start rearranging it because of what is convenient to us.

It was never supposed to be about what fits our schedules, or which church in our town has the most to offer our family, or what church is most convenient to our neighborhood.

It is about authentic, biblical worship of the sovereign, holy God. And if any other factor is the determining factor for where or whether you attend church, then you are no longer worshiping God. That golden calf up on the altar?

It’s name is convenience.

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