Israel Had An Incurable Wound
In the book of Micah we learn that Samaria (the capital of Israel) had an incurable wound and like untreated gangrene it had spread to Jerusalem (the capital of Judah). What was the wound that was so loathsome to God? The northern kingdom’s idolatry had reached a level from which judgment would no longer be withheld. As a result, God proclaims to the whole earth that he will make Samaria a heap of rubble.
A Portrait of National Decline
What was it like living in Israel prior to their judgment? The Israelites, for the most part, ignored God’s warnings delivered through the prophets. Though unconcerned about their own wickedness, they were certainly aware of the threat that lurked to the northeast. Towers built with the heads of conquered soldiers and rows of captives impaled on stakes outside of captured cities served as a warning to others who might resist the advancing Assyrians.
Everyday life in Israel wasn’t much different from that in surrounding pagan nations. They worshipped Baal, sold debtors into slavery and practiced divination and sorcery. They even sacrificed their children, burning them in the arms of Molech (2 Kings 17:15c-17).
Though God had disciplined Israel so they would return to him (Amos 4:6-11), he remained a stranger to them, so much so that he declares they will become re-acquainted with their God through judgment (Amos 4:12,13)! It was too late to avoid disaster. Having reached the point of no return, God raised up a nation that would destroy them. Though its kings boasted of their conquest of Israel, it was not Assyria from whom Israel would not escape; it was God (Micah 2:3)(Isaiah 10:5-15).
By What Standard Will Our Nation Be Judged?
We live in evil times.
Many American Christians fear that we, as a nation, may be nearing a time of God’s judgment. Human nature, being the way it is, leads us to point fingers at each other and blame our impending judgment on others whose sins are more heinous than ours. Of course, it is not wrong to confront sin and evil wherever it lies, but we do well when we heed Jesus’ rebuke to first take the log out of our own eye.
The Old Testament prophets chronicle what led to God’s judgment of Israel and surrounding nations. When trying to discern how the lessons from these scriptures might apply to our nation, we must be careful not to make comparisons or draw parallels to Israel that do not exist. For example, the United States does not have a national covenant relationship with God, as did Israel. Therefore, we must be careful not to cling to promises God made specifically to Israel as if he made them to the United States.
Nevertheless, we can see for which sins God judged Israel and know that He has not changed. It is still true that “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people” (Proverbs 14:34).
America’s Problem with Idolatry
The Idol of Money
Money has long been identified as an idol in American life. Christians are aware of the danger, knowing that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil and that we cannot serve both God and money. But how does that actually play out in our lives? It is easy to let cultural influences drown such knowledge in a pool of worry about our future. It is easy to let misguided concepts of stewardship lead us to the conclusion that we serve God best by focusing on multiplication of our resources so we can give from our excess. How many of us make an idol out of work, filling our emptiness with inner praise for our abilities, abilities that God reminds us come from him? In short, how many ways do we forget God, his faithfulness, his kindness, and his providence and settle for a substitute?
The Idol of Entertainment
Consider our infatuation with entertainment. One of my favorite authors, A.W. Tozer, made astute observations about this form of idolatry in The Great God Entertainment. He said the essence of sin is the abuse of a harmless thing. Entertainment can be relaxing and refreshing. But, it can also be a waste of time and distract us from considering our life before God.
Our entertainment competes with God for our time and money. Many of us grab our cell phones first thing in the morning to check our email or favorite social media. Thanking God for the new day can wait. After a hard day of work, if we don’t go out for dinner or a movie, we may escape from the realities of our life by spending whatever free time we have watching television. Instead of serving God with our money, we redouble our work efforts so we can afford our next dose of entertainment.
The Idol of Self
Our economy is based on discontent. In our society, there is almost no concept of having “enough”. This is true for many Christians, too. God’s Word is a lamp unto our feet until we can’t get what we want. Then, unsatisfied with our “daily bread”, we succumb to society’s call to buy a bigger house, the newest model car or the latest fashion. The problem, at least according to our culture, is that God isn’t a good provider. Ever ready to rescue us from our stingy God, creditors entice us to borrow so we can obtain what we want on our own timetable. Some of us never think of waiting on God and trusting him to provide as long as we have the option of going into debt to get what we covet.
This kind of idolatry, often accompanied by an ungrateful and fiercely independent spirit, focuses on gaining the whole world with little concern for losing one’s soul. The covetous and greedy man may say he doesn’t agree with the philosophy that he is captain of his own soul, but his actions say otherwise.
Many in America, having discarded any notion of a God to whom they are accountable, imagine themselves to be a god, making their own rules and doing as they please. Postmodern thought that truth is relative is really just a warmed over restatement of Judges 17:6 – “in those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.” NASB
When we do right in our own eyes, we do evil in the eyes of the Lord and serve a false god (Judges 2:11). Our clever, enlightened worldview calls evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20,21). Drug usage is common; pornography and sexual sin provoke no shame unless children are exploited. At least we protect our children, right?
How different is sacrificing children to idols in Israel’s day to gain economic favor with the gods and choosing abortion because we want to maintain our selfish, indulgent lifestyle and cannot be bothered with the expense or inconvenience of a child? Is burning a baby any worse than dismembering one and crushing its head so it can be removed from the womb? Those who protect the practice of abortion draw the same ire from God as those who perform them (Leviticus 20:4,5).
The Idol of Power
Thinking our own power can deliver us (Judges 7:2) and imagining that our wealth is an impenetrably high wall (Proverbs 18:11), our nation trusts in its military might and economic strength, seemingly unaware that it is useless against God when he brings judgment.
The Severity of America’s Wound?
Only God decides when a nation’s wound is incurable (Genesis 15:16). Our next president, our military might or our level of prosperity won’t determine our fate as a nation. We must not place our hope in them. Our task, as Christians, is to trust God and seek healing of our wound, however severe, with the balm of repentance before it’s too late (Jeremiah 8:6,22).
This portrait of America’s decline, already grim, is not yet finished. Does America Have an Incurable Wound, Part 2 further explores Micah’s description of Israel’s incurable wound and the possible judgment our own nation faces.