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Welcome back to our Worship series. I hope you listened to our last episode because it set the parameters for our study and discussed what the series is and is not about.
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Alright, today I have the unfortunate responsibility of discussing Failed Worship, but I’m going to do so only because I know that it should help us to better understand the Unified Worship that glorifies God.
And don’t forget that today’s episode notes and transcript are available at CelebrationOfGod.com.
Last time we discussed the reality that we spend every moment of every day worshipping either God or self. And we use everything in that worship. Our time, our showers, our clothes, our food, our transportation, our houses, our jobs, everything will either be offered on a pathetic little altar to self or on the altar to God.
In fact, anything in our lives can either be offered to self or to God, and it takes care and discernment to know to whom we’re offering our lives.
So, today we’re going to do a fly over of the books of I and II Kings and I and II Chronicles.
Those four books present a brief history of the kings of Israel, both in the unified kingdom and the split kingdom.
Some of the kings are discussed in great detail, and some are barely a footnote.
But what’s really interesting is that nearly every king was critiqued according to their worship.
Now this is where many modern readers from 1st World countries start to struggle. In the Old Testament times, formal religious acts of worship were very different from today.
The Old Testament Temple system is familiar to most Christians, but it’s still very foreign, but the heathen worship of the day was ever more so.
For example, many times throughout the Old Testament we encounter the term “high places.” These refer to geographical areas in which pagan religious rites were practiced.
The average high place would have an altar (II Kings 21:3; II Chronicles 14:3), a carved wooden pole that depicted the female goddess of fertility — called an Asherah — a stone pillar symbolizing the male deity (II Kings 3:2), other idols (II Kings 17:29; II Chronicles 33:19), and some type of building (I Kings 12:31; I Kings 13:32; I Kings 16:32-33). Now, I’m not going to cite all of the references right now, but while you’re listening or after the show you can go to CelebrationOfGod.com, click on our blog, and there you will find our free episode notes. All of today’s references and more will be cited on those notes.
Moving on, at these places of worship the people sacrificed animals, and — according to Jeremiah 7:31 — at some high places the horrific act of sacrificing children was practiced. They also burned incense to their gods, prayed, ate sacrificial meals, and were involved with male or female cultic prostitutes (II Kings 17:8-12; II Kings 21:3-7; Hosea 4:11-14 ).
Now, although most high places at this time were part of the worship of Baal, the Ammonite god Molech and the Moabite god Chemosh were also worshiped at similar high places (II Kings 11:5-8; II Kings 23:10).
And though Scripture speaks very negatively about these heathen places of worship; they still played a central role in the lives of most of the people who lived in Palestine before the land was defeated by Joshua.
Interestingly, archaeologists have discovered the remains of high places at Megiddo, Gezer, and numerous other sites in the Middle East.
Now, when the Israelites came into the land of Canaan, they were ordered by God to destroy the high places of the people who lived in the land — and we see that in five different places throughout Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy (Exodus 23:24; Exodus 34:13; Numbers 33:52; Deuteronomy 7:5; Deuteronomy 12:3). And the children of Israel were expressly commanded to destroy these high places lest the Israelites be tempted to worship themselves via the Canaanite false gods and participate in their immoral behavior.
Now, before we consider the Israelite kings who not only worshipped at the high places, but also encouraged their people to do the same, we need to contextualize this concept for us and our disciples.
Few of you are worried that you or your friends are going to create a shrine on a small hill in your community where you plan to offer incense and sacrifice cats to a pagan god.
To be fair, some of you listening to today’s show do live in countries where that type of religious rite is prevalent.
But the point is, we need to understand that whether you are participating as a cult prostitute or you’re wearing the most modest clothes you can simply so that you can appear more righteous than others — you’re still worshipping self.
It doesn’t matter if you work hard to get great grades in college if you’re simply pursuing your dream job even though you’re not really considering God’s will for your life or if you’re sacrificing animals to a wooden statue . . . in either case you’re not worshipping God . . . you’re worshipping self.
God hates false worship. He hates giving fake gods worth that should only be given to Him. He hates when we make choices for ourselves because that too is an act of worship to a false god.
So, when we read about these kings who worshipped at the high places, I don’t want you to get lost in the ancient pagan religious rites, I want you to understand that God is merely illustrating all kinds of false worship. And all false worship is identical in that it’s all about worshipping someone other than God.
So, who was the first Israelite king to worship at the high places?
Well, Saul was the first king, and he was followed by David.
David had a son named Solomon who was the wisest man who ever lived.
And yet, it was Solomon — the third king of Israel — who was the first king to initiate idol worship in the land.
Even though God used Solomon to construct the first Temple in Jerusalem, and even though the people were to worship God at this place which He had chosen (Deuteronomy 12:1-14), Solomon also built high places for his foreign wives and even worshiped there himself!
I Kings 11:4-8 says, "For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods."
Now, again I want to point out that Solomon’s false worship started in his heart. The Bible says that “his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God . . . and did not wholly follow the Lord.”
That is the seed of all false worship. For Solomon, that seed grew into many areas in his life. Yes, it grew into constructing high places and offering sacrifices there, but it also manifested itself in all of the wives he had. It worked its way into his parenting and his leadership.
As wise as Solomon was, he didn’t offer all of his life to God. He sacrificed many of his daily choices on an altar to Solomon.
Now because of the seriousness of all idolatry, God divided the nation by removing ten tribes from the kingdom of his son Rehoboam (I Kings 11:9-13, I Kings 11:29-38).
Consider that consequence of that false worship. The nation of Israel — God’s chosen people — was torn in two. Among other things, this rending of the Jews was symbolic of the effects that Failed Worship has on all people.
Because false worship is a sin, it destroys everything.
Following this depressing account, each new king that ruled in the Southern Kingdom of Judah and in the Northern Kingdom of Israel was evaluated in the books of Kings and Chronicles according to what they did with the high places where false gods were worshiped.
In I Kings 12 we learn that Jeroboam was the first king that initiated idol worship in the divided kingdom.
And then Nadab, Baasha, Omri, Ahab, and Ahaziah all did the same.
Please take a moment to listen to these chilling proclamations.
Nadab “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and walked in the way of his father, and in his sin which he made Israel to sin.” (I Kings 15:26)
Baasha “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and walked in the way of Jeroboam and in his sin which he made Israel to sin.” (I Kings 15:34)
“Omri did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did more evil than all who were before him.” (I Kings 16:25)
“And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him.” (I Kings 16:30)
Ahaziah “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and walked in the way of his father and in the way of his mother and in the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin. He served Baal and worshiped him and provoked the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger in every way that his father had done.” (I Kings 22:52-53)
So, what does this have to do with you and your fellow disciplees — whether they be your kids, friends, church members, classmates, or students?
I want to draw out 6 implications.
1. When we worship self, we sin against God.
False Worship is failed worship because it’s evil.
Each of the verses said that the king “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.”
It’s so easy to view our lives in the grey. And — yes — I do believe that “grey areas” exist. There are places where we have liberty to make a right choice that another person wouldn’t make.
However, when it comes to actual sin . . . there are no grey areas. It’s either righteous or it’s wicked.
And when we choose to offer anything in our lives on the altar to self, it’s an evil, wicked thing.
Now, this make sense when a person high-handedly sins against God. It’s a conscious act of defiance. But what makes this even more troubling is the reality that we can unconsciously sin against God.
This is where we get into a lot of trouble, because I believe we have many High Places in our lives and we don’t even know it.
How many decisions do you make in a day that are made only because of how they’ll affect you and — about which — you give little to no thought about God?
I guarantee your fellow disciples make many such decisions as well. This is why we make such a big deal about the motivation for our worship.
If we’re doing the right things in the right ways for the wrong reasons, we’re sinning against God.
I could spend a lot more time on this point, but all we need to do is acknowledge the fact that every word we say, food we eat, item we buy, emotion we feel, thought we have, and desire we pursue that is not consciously and biblically worked out for God’s greatest glory is likely a High Place in our lives and is part of the reason we have Failed Worship.
2. When we worship self, we provoke God to anger.
As with the first point, this one seems obvious on one side and counter-intuitive on the other.
It’s easy to admit that God is not pleased by our high-handed sin, but we equally provoke Him to wrath when we do all of the things we just mentioned.
Consider these two verses:
Ecclesiastes 10:3 says, “Even when the fool walks on the road, he lacks sense, and he says to everyone that he is a fool.”
The word “sense” refers to our mind, our heart, our spirit, the core of our being. In this context, to lack sense means that they are completely devoid of Christ-honoring glory . . . and all these people are doing is walking down the road.
And then there’s Proverbs 21:4 which reads, “Haughty eyes, and a proud heart, and the plowing of the wicked, is sin.”
There’s a rule in many art forms — including the art of story-telling and magic — that you introduce a concept, and then take a second opportunity to solidify the concept, but then on your third opportunity you break the previous conception.
God says that haughty eyes are a sin, and then He says that a proud heart is a sin, and we naturally see a correlation and progression from the first to the second. And it makes sense because those sound bad even within a secular context.
But then the Lord throws in the idea of plowing — and I use this verse a lot in my counseling because it’s so powerful — the unsaved person cannot please God even when doing the most virtuous or noble of tasks.
This is why Romans 8:6-8 says, “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
I say all of this to say that the foolishness and wickedness and fleshliness of our personal High Places displease the Lord just as much as our direct disobedience.
This should give us pause and not allow ourselves to give ourselves a by just because neither we nor our friends have murdered anyone lately. We need to be intentional, we need to really search our hearts in order to root out the self-worship.
3. When we worship self, we invite destruction into our lives.
Solomon’s example shows us that there are consequences for our sins.
Now, remember, there are Primary Consequences and Secondary Consequences of sin. The Secondary Consequences like going to jail and hurting ourselves and getting pregnant out of wedlock and the like don’t always occur when a person sins.
But the Primary Consequences always happen. We always break fellowship with God, it always hurts us spiritually by separating us from God and His blessing, and it affects our relationships with those around us.
Solomon — and the other kings on the list — experienced Secondary Consequences in their lives, but the worst consequences were often not visible on the outside. And the same may be true of our worship.
As a whole, you and your fellow disciples may be experiencing the Primary Consequences of your Failed Worship and you don’t even know it.
In order to rectify this you need to identify the High Places in your lives and start addressing them biblically.
And this is incredibly important to do in your own life because . . .
4. When we worship self, we make it easy for others to do the same.
Consider I Kings 15:26 and 34 and 22:52-53, “[Nadab] did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and walked in the way of his father,” and “[Baasha] did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and walked in the way of Jeroboam” and “[Ahaziah] did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and walked in the way of his father and in the way of his mother and in the way of Jeroboam. He provoked the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger in every way that his father had done.”
As we’ve mentioned many times on this show, our fellow disciples learn from our sins better than we’d like to admit. This is uncomfortable for us to accept because it shows that all of us have a propensity for mimicking sin better than we do righteousness. It also reveals that we’re not the amazing examples we like to think we are.
If there are High Places in my life, then not only am I not glorifying the Lord, but I am also teaching the other people in my life to erect their own High Places.
But this point has an even more distressing reality . . .
5. When we worship self, we make it easy for others to be even more sinful than we were.
For this point we need to be reminded of I Kings 16:25 and 30, “Omri did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did more evil than all who were before him.” “And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him.”
Our fellow disciples not only learn our ways, but they have an amazing ability to sin better than we did.
This concept could take a whole episode to unpack, but for now let the painful reality motivate us to tear down our own High Places and help our fellow disciples do the same.
I hope you’re starting to see that worship really has a very communal aspect to it. Unless we never come in contact with any human beings ever, our worship — good or bad — is affecting everyone in our lives.
And lastly . . .
6. When we and our fellow disciples worship self more than we worship God, it’s Failed Worship because we’re serving anti-gods.
Our Failed Worship may produce driven, capable, smart, achieving individuals, but our lives will fail spiritually because we’re worshipping self, and our gods are puny, anti-gods.
We humans cannot bear the divine weight and responsibility of doing God’s job.
When we call God a liar and choose to follow our own hearts, we’re dethroning Him, trusting ourselves, and playing god.
But we’re not really gods, we’re anti-gods. We’re pathetic, tiny little puny mortals. How can we expect that kind of worship to succeed?
Consider James 4: “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses,” this term, adulteresses is not referring to people who cheat on their spouses, it’s referring to self-idolatry that cheats on God.
Consider all of those terrible consequences of tolerating High Places in our lives.
So, what’s the fix?
Normally, I take the time to provide hope and encouragement and set forth a plan to rectify the issue — and to a certain degree I’ve already done a little of that.
But the answer to Failed Worship is the focus of our third and fourth episodes in this series.
So, please join us for our future installments of this series. Just know that we’re taking a short break next week to talk about how we can prepare for, celebrate, and disciple during Family Day.
But — before we wrap this up — I do want to end on a note of hope. Solomon and his kin failed because they worshipped themselves at the High Places.
But all they had to do was tear them down.
And to that end, I’ll see you next time.
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The Year Long Celebration of God is a dynamic, holistic resource that utilizes the Bible, our holiday calendars, and even the most average moments of the most normal days to equip Christians to worship God all year long
and disciple others to do the same.
AMBrewster is the creator and host of the Celebration of God. He originally designed the COG to be a discipleship tool for Christian parents to train their children to know and love God, but he quickly realized how valuable it is for all Christians. Whether it's a small group, church, classroom, one-on-one, or community relationship, this resource is guaranteed to draw people closer together as they draw closer to God.
Aaron is the President of Truth.Love.Parent. and host of its podcast.