Idols Change Your Behaviour

We have been looking at the last part of the first prophetic words given to Ezekiel for his first ‘official’ prophetic task. They can seem dark words, and yet still there are positive aspects and encouragements for us.

So, we continue with reading from Ezekiel 7:14-22:

They have blown the trumpet,
they have made all things ready,
but no one will go into battle,
for my wrath is on the whole crowd.
Outside is the sword;
inside are plague and famine.
Those in the country will die by the sword;
those in the city
will be devoured by famine and plague.
The fugitives who escape
will flee to the mountains.
Like doves of the valleys,
they will all moan,
each for their own sins.
Every hand will go limp;
every leg will be wet with urine.
They will put on sackcloth
and be clothed with terror.
Every face will be covered with shame
and every head will be shaved.
They will throw their silver into the streets,
and their gold will be treated as a thing unclean.
Their silver and gold
will not be able to deliver them
in the day of the Lord’s wrath.
It will not satisfy their hunger
or fill their stomachs,
for it has caused them to stumble into sin.
They took pride in their beautiful jewellery
and used it to make their detestable idols.
They made it into vile images;
therefore I will make it a thing unclean for them.
I will give their wealth as plunder to foreigners
and as loot to the wicked of the earth,
who will defile it.
I will turn my face away from the people,
and robbers will desecrate the place I treasure.
They will enter it
and will defile it.

Not a scripture for the feint-hearted. Not the most encouraging aspects of God revealed here, or so it would seem at first glance.

This is indeed an example of how context is very important, and we need to be reminded, once again, that this prophecy is against a people that the Lord has shown his patience to for 390 years.

As a Christian I am, frankly, appalled at how quickly I see or hear Christians saying to each other that they are under judgement and going to hell. I often hear such utter rubbish, and I feel the need to pray for the persons on both sides of the argument. There is judgement there, and this is forbidden by Christ.

Yes, I know all the verses, and I know the bit that is often ignored – how much out of context they all are! The one about ‘by their fruits’ refers to prophets and the wolves in sheep’s clothing – specifically referred to as false prophets by Jesus. Then there is ‘telling the truth in love’, which I have never seen to be with love and very rarely is the truth. This is even a misquote of a verse that actually says, “speaking the truth in love,” and is more about the confession of one’s personal faith in the truth so that you will not be distracted by the rubbish and false doctrines that surround all of us.

Context again and always, brothers and sisters, is the way to correct many false ideas that have invaded the church.

Love is the victim. She has been raped and strangled and left for dead in the naves and isles of our churches. She has stained the carpets with her blood in the chapels and the house groups. But the real victim here is each and every one of us, who fail to experience the love of the brethren as it should be and as was appointed by Jesus himself.

Love will never judge – remember that the love chapter of 1 Corinthians 13 includes the instruction that love covers a multitude of sins. These verses have been used so much to help instruct marriage relationships and close friendships that the true context is almost completely forgotten by many. These words were written by Paul about proper conduct in the church! So the eye should not be one of judgement when looking at your brothers and sisters. If you notice something you do not agree with, you allow love to cover this – and you do NOT use it as a cause to break a fellowship or to condemn a brother or sister.

So please remember the context of these verses, that these are the words after 390 years of patience from our Lord. Verses taken out of context cause error, false doctrines and sin.

But what is the positive thing that I take from the actual verses of our text? There is so much that is a repeat of things Ezekiel has already said in these first chapters. I looked at these verses that spoke so much about fear and self-loathing, and it is hard to find a positive message.

Yes, there are those who will point out how ‘positive’ it is that our Lord is a God of justice, and that even means judgement against his own people. But Moses had a good point to make to God himself about this: that it does not look good to choose a people only to destroy them. The same with us today, that Moses has this point for every one of us – that it doesn’t make sense to lead someone to the gospel, give them faith, and then destroy their lives. And Moses was speaking of a people in gross sin, and we must not forget that aspect…

But then I found that the Lord was speaking to me about the attitude to wealth, or, indeed, to ‘bling.’ I deliberately use that word ‘bling’ because, in our modern crazy world, people want to demonstrate status, ‘one-betterness’, or simply ‘look what I’ve got.’ So why get only a simple ring that says all that it needs to, when you can get a wide ring with enough sparkling jewellery on it that you need sunglasses to look at it. Or why wear one simple attractive bracelet when there is room for at least 20 on each arm. Or why wear a simple cross on a chain around your neck, tucked into your shirt or blouse, when you can wear several thick gold chains with giant lockets and jewels on top of your clothes…. And so on.

Even advertising leads people into this way of thinking. They speak of buying things that ‘make a statement’ rather than just something that is beautiful and meaningful, or that serves a purpose well. And what is that ‘statement’? People may have varying answers to that, but it all boils down to ‘look at me!’

You need to be careful when purchasing anything of value. You have the process laid out in the verses of our reading. It speaks specifically of jewellery, but I think the principle can be extended. First there is the over-valuing of something, which turns into a worship of it. Then the remoulding of it into an idol. This becomes something that affects life (and has already affected the relationship with God). Behaviours change, and practises are added to life – and the Lord does not mince his words in this prophecy, because he called the practises detestable.

These days, it is less likely to happen for us with ‘bling’ jewellery. But it can be the latest smartphone – worshipped and taking over your life. Maybe making it hard to have a conversation with someone without being rude. I mean by this that you allow the fact that your phone is ringing to command you, instead of you being in control of what you do.

For example, when you are out having some time with a friend, is it really polite to break the conversation to have 30 minutes on the phone with your mother/father/son/daughter/friend/relative? By then, the thread of conversation is lost. The person you are with has received a statement to their face that they are of very little value to you. There becomes an added distance in the relationship, whether you intended it or not.

Some of you may not have thought about this, and maybe it is because I am of an age when I can remember no-one having a phone to carry with them. In fact, when I was a child, only very few people had a phone in their home and most would go to queue at a public phone box if they wanted or needed to make a call. In those days, when you were in conversation with another person, your focus was on each other and the conversation.

Is is just me that wants an adjustment to this behaviour that has become, frankly, very rude in modern times? What’s wrong with turning your phone off when with a friend and having a conversation? Or if you want to be available for a son/daughter or father/mother in case of emergencies, then how about the following suggested behaviour: First to say, “Excuse me, do you mind if I see what my father/mother/son/daughter wants?” Most people would not object to this polite statement that shows some respect. But next, if it is clear that it is not an emergency, what is wrong with saying over the phone, “OK, we will talk later, I am busy now. Goodbye.”

This is something that seems to be dying out… It would show the person you are with that your time together is important. It also shows the person who phoned you that you are also thinking about them. And here is a third idea: if the person who is phoning you is not an immediate relative, there is nothing wrong with ignoring the call!

I am puzzled when I see a group of people together in a bar or restaurant, who are obviously friends with each other, yet every one of them is speaking on the phone or typing something in chat with people who are not there in the room. So what was the point of these people arranging to be together? I am honestly puzzled by this.

Maybe I am just an old fuddy-duddy reminiscing the ‘good old days.’ Or maybe there actually is something that needs to be learned here.

When I was a child, most people in my neighbourhood did not own a car. But if they did, it was noticeable how much time was spent, every week, cleaning and polishing this prized possession. But more than that, you could see every week, or even more often, the checking of the oil, the water levels, the tyre pressures, and so on. So this purchase, that was meant to make life more convenient and to save time, is now consuming more time from life than the time that could have been saved.

Our attitude to things of value, or the things that we may personally value – even if it is of no intrinsic worth to anyone else – can affect many things in life. It is not necessarily evil, and it will not automatically condemn you to hell. But we need to check the way our possessions affect the way we behave in our lives. How does it affect our time? How much is it in our thoughts? How does it affect our relationships?

Those last three questions really do need to be asked of ourselves more often than we think. And we need to ask such questions before a purchase sometimes. Maybe we may find an answer that will make us think that perhaps it is not such a good idea for us to own a certain something.

Possessions in the time of Ezekiel’s prophecy would mostly be valuable for sentimental reasons, and there would be little monetary value to most things. But jewellery of course was the exception, and the more jewellery, the more ‘status.’ God was not speaking out against the possession of jewellery. He was not saying that there was anything wrong in the purchasing or the ownership. He was speaking out about how behaviour changed, how values were placed out of the normal and good, and of how idolatry begins.

There is the challenge for me, especially as I look at my purchases and my possessions. Have any of these things caused my behaviour to change or introduced new behaviours or habits into my life? If so, what and in what way? – because there is nothing automatically wrong with something new.

You may have your first computer and your first email account. So now you check your email once each day, and this is something you did not do before. Nothing wrong with this. But are there other behaviours introduced as a result of this purchase, and are they equally benign? Or should I think again about this?

The second thing is, how are my values affected by my purchases and possessions? These values include factors like good or bad manners, respect for others, and so on. So do I show less respect to others because I have a mobile phone? Do I spend time with other people less, because it is easier to spend some time talking on the phone? Do I think that doing this can replace a journey to my mother/father/son/daughter? Be honest! And ask questions about values with all your more valuable possessions, including your television and more.

The third thing is, has idolatry entered my life? Maybe I have not bought something yet, but I spend so much time thinking about something and really wanting it, that effectively it has become an idol. Or maybe, with the television, I do not attend a church meeting, or I do not visit a person who really would benefit and be happy for having some time with me, because I make the excuse that I am ‘too busy.’ But really the truth is that I do not want to miss that program on the television, and I do not want to wait to see it later by recording it in some way.

So in this way, the television is governing your behaviour instead of the other way around! This is idolatry, plain and simple. And how many other things can govern your behaviour in this way or in other ways?

I very much find that this text we read above is a wake-up call for all of us!

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