Going to Bethel

Morning in the Word

In Amos 4:4-5 I read “Go to Bethel and sin; go to Gilgal and sin yet more. Bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three years. Burn leavened bread as a thank offering and brag about your freewill offerings— boast about them, you Israelites, for this is what you love to do,” declares the Sovereign LORD.

You can hear in His tone that God is obviously displeased with this worship, this way of approaching him.

Deuteronomy 12:4    You must not worship the LORD your God in their way. 5    But you are to seek the place the LORD your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go; 6    there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, what you have vowed to give and your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. 7    There, in the presence of the LORD your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the LORD your God has blessed you. 8    You are not to do as we do here today, everyone doing as they see fit.

There is only one way to do it right, He is saying, and that is His way.

We use a lot of words in our worship and prayer, words to prove our acceptability to God, words of which it is a question if we actually believe. Do we stop to ask if all this is pleasing to Him? Are our words and worship methods really arm-twisting to get a leg up? God obviously does not expect every believer on the earth to go to Jerusalem. His Spirit departed from the temple there centuries ago, but is still active today in the lives of millions. So what exactly is the right way, the God-ordained way to worship?

Thinking about the power of our words, and where I could find Scriptural basis for my thesis of their importance, I was then led to search for “the word is nigh thee” and came to Matthew 12:34    You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35    A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36    But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37    For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Jesus undoubtedly knew the Scriptures in Deuteronomy 30:11    Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12    It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 13    Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 14    No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

This led me to Paul’s statement in Romans 10.
Romans 10:3    Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4    Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. 5    Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.” 6    But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?'” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7    “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?'” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8    But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: 9    If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10    For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

Ok, so I had read this passage hundreds of times without ever truly understanding what Paul’s illustration in vs 6 and 7 had to do with his point of confession of faith being connected with being righteous.

So what does one do then? Ask Holy Spirit for the clarification.

When we ask for someone to ascend to heaven to bring us righteousness, we are establishing our own way of approaching God, just like those who went to Bethel with their strange fire. We “bring him down” by declaring our goodness, our works, our sacrifices, our right behavior. We want someone like a priest to offer us holy food, holy ritual, holy anointed service to confirm our (self-made) righteousness.

We are in “the deeps” knowing our unworthiness, sin and defilement which has to be covered; our self flagellation, our self punishment, our hours of good works and suffering toil serve in our mind to atone for us. We look for someone who will be a priestly go-between, a buffer between our unholy selves and a holy God. Every time we beat ourselves up and shrink back from God because of what we have done, we are crying out “Who will descend into the deep?”

And Scripture declares the Jesus provides all the righteousness we will ever need. Ever.

Our attempt at works to prove to God our worthiness to be accepted is just the same to Him as the worship offered by the Israelites at Gilgal and Bethel. There is no worth in it. The only way is Jesus’ work and righteousness. We don’t have to tramp to Jerusalem to offer our sacrifices; we need only to believe in Him and speak it out.

This should bring a huge sigh of relief. I don’t have to be good, or hide my badness. I can just BE and move on from there. There is a life to be fully lived, not spent in endless self-justification. What a concept!

This of course means we have come into agreement with God with our words (thoughts, heart). And coming into agreement is another whole topic.

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