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Baal

I was reading Psalm 106 the other day. It describes some of the Exodus story and the back and forth nature of Israel’s relationship with God as a way to showcase the faithfulness of God. I had to stop about half way through and re-read this one section because I felt like it was saying something more than just the story of Israel and God. There was something there for our lives now as followers of Jesus.

“Then they despised the pleasant land; they did not believe His promise. They grumbled in their tents and did not obey the LORD. So He swore to them with uplifted hand that He would make then fall in the desert, make their descendants fall among the nations and scatter them throughout the lands. They yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor and ate sacrifices offered to lifeless gods; they provoked the LORD to anger by their wicked deeds, and a plague broke out among them. But Phinehas stood up and intervened, and the plague was checked. This was credited to him as righteousness for endless generations to come.” (Psalm 106 24-31 NIV)

Let’s break it down. First Israel despised the pleasant land. This is in reference to when Israel decided not to take the Promised Land in fear of the Canaanites (Numbers 13-14). They allowed overwhelming circumstances to sway them away from what God had for them. So that generation lost the second half of their promise and blessing, which was given to the next generation instead.

How much do we do this too? The challenges and heartache that come along in life and in the walk of faith end up persuading us to reject the promises and callings of God. When we get to the border of our Promise Land we say, “This is not what I was expecting. It’s harder than I thought it would be. If this is the blessing of God, no thank you.” We end up despising that which was meant for us and it is instead passed on to someone else.

Second, Israel did not believe His promise. God promised to go with them against the Canaanites, He promised this land of blessing was good. But they did not believe Him. I mean, despising a promise and disbelieving a promise kind of go hand in hand. It is really hard to spurn something and believe it is good at the same time.

I think the only way of holding those two things in your heart at once is to put conditions on the promise. Like, “Oh, I hate what’s going on here. But I’ve made a list of addendums to your promise. If you make these changes I’ll still believe you.” The problem is that isn’t really believing in the word of God. That’s trying to control the promise of God, trying to be equal with Him. Which never works. We are the creation and He is the creator. He makes the promise and we believe or we don’t believe. Those are the options, and all the stuff in the middle is usually some kind of sin when you get to the heart of it.

Third, Israel grumbled in their tents. Once they reached this state of disillusionment over the promise and started questioning whether they could really trust God, they started to complain. Not in the open, not before the LORD, in their tents. The place where they were in charge and felt comfortable. There was little risk of losing face or looking ungrateful in front of others in their temporary homes. So they let it all out. What was in their hearts came out before the small sympathetic audiences of family and close friends.

The rot of doubt grew and spread like mold in the dark of the tents. Complaining reinforced the doubt and quickened the spread of that doubt among the people. How true is that still today? Complaining strengthens doubt every time, and if two or more are complaining together in agreement it makes that doubt like steel in our hearts. Hard to bend or break, creating a structure of interpretation that throws the shadow of doubt on everything else in our faith and our life.

Fourth, Israel did not obey the LORD. Once doubt had taken hold through despising the promise, disbelieving the promise, and grumbling in secret, they trusted their own judgement rather than God’s word. This lead to disobedience. They did not go up into the Promised Land and take ownership of it. Instead they stayed in the perceived “safety” of the wilderness. They chose the trouble they knew rather than the trouble they didn’t know.

I get it. When I have allowed doubt to take root in my heart, and stop trusting the promise of God in one area it is excruciatingly difficult to trust Him in other areas and other promises. When the doubt is yelling in my ear to stop when God says, “Go,” in that moment I don’t want to obey God. At that point there’s a choice to go anyway, even with the pain of carrying the fear and doubt. Or to stop and live in disobedience and live with the consequences like the Israelites did.

The Israelites who doubted and grumbled did have a consequence. They fell in the desert. They died in the wilderness of doubt and petty control. They spent their days just outside of the blessing God had for them, homeless and discontent. Israel allowed fear and doubt to be their god rather than letting God be God and going forward in trust. Despite their perceptions and feeling about the situation at hand.

The problem is, sin that takes root in the heart inevitably leads to more sin. Fear and doubt make for terrible gods. So Israel went looking for a better option. They found the Baal of Peor and decided to try their luck with that god. They let the various cultures they encountered in the wilderness influence them. It didn’t stop with Baal. The Psalm says, “They ate sacrifices offered to lifeless gods.” Israel started trying everything to find the security and fulfillment they lost when they rebelled against God.

I can’t help feeling like we do the same thing when we stall out in our faith. Though many have tried, you can’t just stay in one place, one moment, forever. Life moves on and we are carried along with it. So even though we said we were going to stop, we don’t. We just move in a different direction. When we stay when God says, “Go,” we end up getting swept up in the current of culture and caught up in sacrifices to the lifeless Baal of work, or the Baal of status, even the Baal of child-rearing.

As a mom, I can testify that a woman can completely lose herself in MOM and everything that goes into raising kids with all the school and cooking and behavioral theories, etc. However, child-rearing isn’t everything and at some point they grow up and leave. What’s left in the women who gave herself to the Baal of child-rearing when the children are gone?

A whisper inviting us back to the Father. Jesus has paid the price for redemption from sin. If we accept the invitation of that whisper Jesus speaks to the Baals in our lives and says, “They’re not yours anymore, they belong to Me.” We can stop making sacrifices to those Baals and remember the promises of God. We can return to the shore of the Jordan, the river of decision, and cross over into obedience. We can face our giants with God and receive the land of promise and find all the blessing God has for us there.

-Etta Woods

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