false-doctrine

1 Chronicles 24-25, Micah 3

Today we’re scheduled to read 1 Chronicles 24-25 and Micah 3.

This devotional is about Micah 3.

How do these guys who set dates for Christ’s return keep going in ministry after they are proved wrong? How do the prosperity preachers respond when someone says, “I sent you every dollar I had in my bank account but I never got the financial miracle you promised me!”

I don’t know how anyone who delivers a false message remains in ministry after the message proves to be false. Some of them are able to withstand being discredited and continue in their “ministries.” They shift the blame to others saying, “You didn’t have enough faith” or, in the case of false rapture predictions, “I made a mistake in my calculations.” Although they may continue in ministry for a season or longer, their audiences dissipate and their influence dwindles. This is as it should be, of course.

In this chapter Micah continued speaking on the same themes as in chapter 2. He confronted the oppression of the elites (vv. 1-4, 9-12) and the false prophets who tried to neutralize his message (vv. 5-8). His message to the false prophets was that they would run out of material: “Therefore night will come over you, without visions, and darkness, without divination. The sun will set for the prophets, and the day will go dark for them.” This prediction wasn’t so much that they would lack things to say; rather, it was that reality would make it impossible for them to keep up the false hype. Verse 7 says, “The seers will be ashamed and the diviners disgraced. They will all cover their faces because there is no answer from God.” The context for this is the coming judgment of God (v. 12). When you’ve been prophesying peace and prosperity, what are you going to say when Nebuchadnezzar sieges your city and people are starving? When you cry out to God to deliver his people from the Babylonians, but the Babylonians invade your city, kill a multitude of men, then ship the rest off to Babylon, what is your answer going to be?

Micah was confident in the Lord that God would continue to empower his message (v. 8) and that he would be vindicated when his predictions came true. Likewise, he knew that God would not allow false teachers to get away with preaching their prosperity gospel. It was only a matter of time before truth was established as fact and lies were debunked by reality.

The Bible always tells us that false prophets will be discredited by their results. Their predictions will not come true and/or their lives and the lives of their disciples will disintegrate into moral disaster. Keep your eyes, then, on the results of a religious teacher’s message; don’t be fooled by how positive and encouraging it is.

Are you looking for truth from someone who has already been discredited? If so, then these words to heart. It is safe--and right--to ignore what someone says if the results they predict don’t materialize.

1 Chronicles 23, Micah 2

Today we’re reading 1 Chronicles 23, Micah 2.

This devotional is about Micah 2.

Micah fought a two-front war in this chapter.

First he spoke out against powerful, greedy people who used power to take the land and homes of others (vv. 1-2). Because of their sins, God would take all the land and hand it over others (vv. 3-5).

The second front Micah battled was from false prophets who attempted to silence Micah’s message (vv. 6-11). The message of these false prophets was summarized in the last line of verse 6 and the first three lines of verse 7. I will paraphrase their false message this way: “Shut up! We’re not going to lose to another nation, Micah! God’s patience is infinite (vv. 7b). He will never turn on his people.” Their argument was that God’s promises to his people were completely unconditional. No matter how much God’s people sinned, they would be safe because God loves them just that much.

It is always more pleasant to believe the prediction that we’ll be OK. If one economist is predicting a recession and another is saying that current problems in the economy are temporary but then a big boom is coming, which one would you want to believe? If one doctor tells you that your cough will clear up in a few days while the other says you have lung cancer, which message is more appealing?

Micah’s situation was similar. He predicted pain and suffering for all of God’s people because the wealthy were exploiting average citizens. Meanwhile, the prophets of eternal optimism rebuked him and told these unrighteous businessmen that everything would be fine.

We want things to be fine; we want good times. God’s message, however, wasn’t that good times were impossible. Instead, he offered a better way to prosperity: “Do not my words do good to the one whose ways are upright?” (v. 7d-e). God wanted his people to prosper but he wanted their prosperity to come as a blessing for obedience to his word. “Take the medicine,” God was telling his people. “Repent of your greedy oppression and do what is right and then everyone will prosper because I will bless you.”

Ultimately, God does have good plans in store for his people (vv. 12) when Jesus comes as king (v. 13). Before that, however, they would pay a heavy price for their sins. The best course of action was to believe God’s word, pay the price to undo what they had sinfully done, and do what was right going forward. Instead, they chose to listen to the sunny-side up prophets. Verse 11 sarcastically describes the kind of prophets we all, in our sinful nature, want: “If a liar and deceiver comes and says, ‘I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer,’ that would be just the prophet for this people!”

Are you listening to the hard truths of God’s word? Do we pay attention and change our ways when God’s word rebukes us? Or do we change the channel and listen instead to a message that offers more encouragement? Encouragement is good unless it distorts God’s word (as in verse 7a-c) and comforts us in our sinful ways. Everyone would rather get a massage than have surgery but only one of those ways will remove cancer and put you on the road to health again. Let God’s word surgically address your sins and shortcomings; then you will walk more righteously and follow Christ right into his kingdom.

1 Kings 12, Ezekiel 41

Today we’re reading 1 Kings 12 and Ezekiel 42.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 12.

Just as God promised, the kingdom of David and Solomon was torn apart into two kingdoms: Judah and Israel (aka “the Northern Kingdom”). This division happened as a consequence of Solomon’s idolatry, a divine act of judgment, as we read yesterday. That was the divine side of the division. The human side was accomplished by the foolishness of Solomon’s son Rehoboam. Instead of lightening the burden of taxation on the people of Israel, he promised to make things worse than ever. The Northern kingdom rallied around Jeroboam, a capable leader from Solomon’s administration, and made him king.

David and Solomon reigned over Israel for a combined 80 years and the two of them centralized political, economic, and spiritual power in Jerusalem. Jeroboam was delighted to be king but he worried that his fragile kingdom would “likely revert to the house of David” (v. 26) if people kept going to Jerusalem to worship. Instead of trusting God, who decreed this division and prophesied about it before it happened, Jeroboam decided to make his own gods to keep people from traveling to Jerusalem. Verse 28 told us that he ordered the creation of two golden calves. If you’re making your own religion, you might as well make it easy for people and offer them two convenient locations (vv. 28, 29). Everything he did made sense on a human level. What does not make sense is his statement in verse 28: “Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

What?! These idols were so new, so freshly manufactured, that they were still warm from the gold smelting furnace. Yet somehow the people were to believe that these idols had led God’s people out of Egypt generations earlier?

Well, yes, if the calves represented gods rather than actually being gods. That seems to be what Jeroboam was saying to the people. “You don’t need no stinkin’ Ark of the Covenant to be the place where God is represented. Let these calves represent our gods instead.

This was a clear attempt to appropriate Israel’s redemption story for Jeroboam’s advantage and apply it to the idols he made. This is often what false doctrine, false religion does. It claims aspects of God’s true revelation and reapplies it some significant but false way. A little bit of truth can help people swallow a whole lot of error. Ask Jeroboam; he built his career on that principle.

Someone who knew God and wanted to be faithful to Him should have pointed out that the God who brought Israel out of Egypt was One Lord (Deut 6:4) not two calves. A faithful servant of the Lord should also have said that the God who rescued them from Egypt commanded no graven images. The same person should have pointed out what happened when Aaron made a golden calf for Israel to worship after the Exodus.

Instead, the Northern Kingdom liked the ease of having two convenient locations for worship as well as the ability to keep their redemption story without maintaining any connection to Jerusalem. As Christians, we should be very careful. Many self-help books quote scripture but are filled with advice that is directly unscriptural. Don’t allow our faith to be pasted like a label on a can of manmade ideas.

2 Samuel 4-5, Ezekiel 13

Today, read 2 Samuel 4-5, Ezekiel 13.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 13.

In today’s reading, Ezekiel receives a word from the Lord about the many false prophets that had infected Israel’s theology. As he typically did with Ezekiel, the Lord used Ezekiel’s vivid imagination to deliver this prophecy. God told him that they were “like jackals among ruins” (v. 4). Instead of fixing the walls (v. 5) by preaching repentance, the false prophets arrived to pick apart the carnage that was left after the disaster of brought on by God’s judgment. The source of their “knowledge” was themselves (v. 3: “follow their own spirit”), not God (vv. 6-7) though they spoke in his name and presumed his authority.

After pronouncing God’s judgment on these false prophets in verses 8-9, the Lord described the ruinous affects of their false words in verses 10-12. Their words provided a false assurance of God’s peace (v. 10a), but it is a whitewash (vv. 11-12). It is interesting that we still use the metaphor of “whitewash” today. It describes an attempt to cover serious problems by making everything appear to be OK. That’s what the false prophets were doing. Instead of calling people to real repentance and faith in God, they were giving false assurances of peace. Their message promised impenetrable security, as if they were safe behind a steel door when in fact the door was made of plywood and covered with aluminum foil. Those who believed these words would be swept away by the flood of God’s wrath along with those who gave the false prophecies (vv. 11-16).

One thing that was unique about Ezekiel’s prophecy against the false prophets is that he specifically called out some women who were speaking these lies in the Lord’s name (vv. 17-23). And why did they do this? For personal gain (v. 19: “a few handfuls of barley and scraps of bread).

So what do false prophets look like? They make stuff up and call it God’s word, they give a false sense of security by promising good things instead of warning of judgment and calling people to repentance for sin, and they do it for personal gain.

Not much has changed since Ezekiel spoke these words. Even today we have prosperity teachers and “possibility” teachers who speak encouraging, motivating words but these words come from their own ingenuity, not from God. They never speak of the need for repentance or call people to desire and follow holiness. They never warn of God’s judgment but instead promise his peace and favor. They profit at the expense of their listeners without conscience (v. 18b). The New Testament tell us that many such false prophets have gone out into the world (1 Jn 4:1), so be on guard. Watch what you read, whom you listen to and watch. Look for these things; a relentlessly positive message may be as palatable as candy, but it will cause you to rot spiritually.

1 Samuel 17, Lamentations 2

Today’s readings are 1 Samuel 17, Lamentations 2.

This devotional is about read Lamentations 2.

The book of Lamentations records the poetic but mournful outburst of the prophet Jeremiah to the overthrow of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. All that God had said through Jeremiah happened in his lifetime, before his own eyes. Unlike the victory of faith that God gave to David in 1 Samuel 17, which we also read today, there was only defeat and judgment for Judah, David’s people, a few hundred years later.

Jeremiah’s lament described the toll that the Babylonians exacted from Judah. Their pride as God’s people (vv. 1-4), their city and its magnificent temple (vv. 5-9), and the death of many people (vv. 10-22) were all causes for weeping by Jeremiah and the survivors of this battle. But why would God allow such devastation to fall on the people to whom he had promised so much? Of course the answer is their sin and rebellion against him, but Jeremiah speaks of that in a particular way in verse 14: “The visions of your prophets were false and worthless; they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity. The prophecies they gave you were false and misleading.” It was a lack of truth by those who claimed to be prophets that lead to this judgment of God. The key phrase in verse 14 is, “…they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity.” If the people had only repented of their sin, they could have received a great deliverance like David’s deliverance over Goliath. But many people did not know how angry the Lord was with them for their sin and those who did (because they heard Jeremiah and other true prophets like him) chose to believe the lies of the false prophets.

So we see in this passage how much damage false teaching can do. It gives false assurance to people who need to repent. It tells people that God loves them and is pleased with them instead of calling them to look to God in faith to find their acceptance in the merits of Christ. We live in an era where enormous masses of people have been assembled into churches, yet there is little hunger for truth there. The message they hear may talk of salvation in Christ, but it is salvation from guilt, from financial hardship, from divorce, from childhood wounds, from addictions, from a meaningless life or whatever. Yes, Christ has the truth for all of these things, but that was not the core message he gave us to proclaim. Our message is not primarily about how to feel better and perform better; it is to bow in reverence and repentance before a holy God, loving him for his perfections, thanking him for his grace and mercy, desiring to become like him in our moral choices and in our attitudes toward others, and hoping for his kingdom over anything this life can deliver.

When people say that God’s judgment will come to America, I wonder what they think that means. Do they think that we will be conquered by some foreign government? It sure seems that way and, if the USA were the “new Israel” then maybe a passage like this one would lend itself to that. But God is not working with nations these days; he’s calling out of the nations a people for himself (Titus 2:14) whom he will bring into his kingdom at his appointed time. What we should be telling people to fear is not a political or military conquest but the final judgment, where God will punish each person—individually—who did not know him. Our message, then, is geared to do what Jeremiah condemned the false prophets for not doing: “they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity.” While preaching against sin is unwelcome and considered unloving in our world, it is what God uses to turn people in faith and repentance to himself.

1 Samuel 7-8, Jeremiah 44

Today’s readings are 1 Samuel 7-8, Jeremiah 44.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 44.

The remnant in Judah went to Egypt (v. 1) even though God told them not to do that. They dragged Jeremiah there, too (Jer 43:6c). I’m not sure why they brought him because he did what he had always done, namely, confront their sins and call them to repent.

Recall from Jeremiah 42 that God had promised peace and prosperity for the remnant if they stayed in Judah (42:10) and disaster if they went to Egypt (42:19-22). Despite the fact that God had done exactly what Jeremiah prophesied when Nebuchadnezzar defeated Jerusalem, the remnant still went to Egypt in open defiance to God’s word through Jeremiah. Why?

The answer to that question is contained in the way this chapter is framed: a direct confrontation between God and “the Queen of Heaven.” The people of the remnant reasoned that they were better off worshipping the Queen of Heaven. In verses 17b-18 we read, “...we had plenty of food and were well off and suffered no harm. But ever since we stopped burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have had nothing and have been perishing by sword and famine.” So they re-interpreted God’s judgment as a bad consequence for forsaking the Queen of Heaven.

Jeremiah knew that God was more than equal to this challenge. Put God’s word up against the Queen of Heaven and God will win bigly. Verses 27-28 say, “...the Jews in Egypt will perish by sword and famine until they are all destroyed.... Then the whole remnant of Judah who came to live in Egypt will know whose word will stand—mine or theirs.”

There are plenty of false religions offering false doctrine today. There are also a bevy of self-help gurus offering much different advice than God’s word does. They preach the message that happiness is not found in Christianity or in dying to self. Instead, they tell us to be true to ourselves, to follow our passions, to find a life that is worth living. In contrast to these false message, the Bible says that “All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23) and that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). The fact that everyone does wrong and suffers for it is daily proof that God’s word is true. Yet people still cling to the idea that truth to improve one’s life is available outside of God, outside of his word, and definitely outside of His church. When sinful life-happiness strategies crash, bringing disaster, sorrow, great pain, and death, God’s word is vindicated. When false doctrines fail to deliver what they promise, God’s word is likewise vindicated.

We cannot help but be exposed to false ideas and doctrines because we live in this world. But, are you believing their lies? Are you taking in those lies in greater number, not incidentally but deliberately? Be warned that God will prove his word to be correct; if you choose to sin because someone else is telling you that sin is the way to happiness, you will pay a heavy price as God’s word proves itself true again.

So, be wise. Believe God’s word and do what it says, even if someone makes a compelling argument for something else.

Deuteronomy 29, Isaiah 56

Here are today’s OT18 readings: Deuteronomy 29 and Isaiah 56.

This devotional is about Isaiah 56:10-12.

Everyone wants to feel optimistic about the future. Because there are always problems and struggles in this life, we always hope that things will be better in the future. There is a market, therefore, for teachers and prophets who will tell you that things are going to get better. They assert that God’s blessing is coming even if his people are living in sin or worshipping idols.

In these verses of Scripture, God confronted Judah’s leaders. Although these leaders are not directly specified, they are called “watchmen” (v. 10a), “dogs” (v. 10c, 11a), and “shepherds.” These titles suggest spiritual leaders. They might mean false prophets, priests, Levites, or all of the above. What are these spiritual leaders like?

  • They are supposed to be watchmen but they are blind (v. 10a-b) so they are unable to see spiritual danger when it comes.
  • Similarly, they are called “dogs” in verse 10c. Dogs were despised in ancient Judaism, so they were not bred and kept as pets but as helpers to shepherds. Instead of being on alert for predators of the sheep, however, these dogs “cannot bark... lie around and dream” because “they love to sleep.” Like the blind watchmen of verse 10a, they were worthless for alerting God’s people to spiritual danger.
  • Finally, “they are shepherds who lack understanding,” meaning that they do not care for the sheep but for their “own gain” (v. 11e) and pleasure (v. 12a-b).

The greatest indictment of these bad spiritual leaders is what they teach which Isaiah gave us in verse 12c-d, “tomorrow will be like today, or even far better.” Instead of warning Judah that God’s judgment was coming like a good shepherd, a good watchdog, and a good watchman would, these false spiritual leaders prophesy better days to come. Their intention is not to get God’s people to repent but to reassure God’s people that the best is yet to come.

One sign of a false teacher in any age, then, is a relentlessly positive message. When someone speaks for God but prophesies prosperity and hope only, with no discussion of sin, no warning about God’s judgment, and never a word (in this age) about the blood of Christ, that person exhibits the signs of false spiritual leadership described here in Isaiah 56.

I know what kind of teaching you get in our church but I also know that my voice is not the only spiritual influence you hear. Whether you read stuff on the Internet, listen to radio preachers or watch them on TV, think carefully about what you are being taught. Turn off anyone who prophesies only better days ahead with no call for repentance, no warnings of God’s judgment, no offer of hope through the death and resurrection of Christ. The good news, the best news, is that Christ died for our sins not that Jesus wants you to be rich and free from pain. So get your good news from that kind of teacher.

Romans 16

Today we’re reading Romans 16.

This closing chapter of the book of Romans was quite personal. It began with Paul’s personal recommendation of Phoebe (vv. 1-2), then a long list of personal greetings (vv. 3-16). Just before his closing remarks, Paul warned the believers about “those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way” (v. 17b). The word “heretic” actually means “one who is divisive.” It has become a specialized term reserved for false teachers, but that is because of passages like this one. In verse 17c, we learn that the “divisions and obstacles” were “contrary to the teaching you have learned.” It was false doctrine that Paul was concerned about because that false doctrine would divide the body of Christ. Verse 18 told us that these false teachers would divide the church because of “their own appetites.” In other words, their doctrine was deliberately chosen and differentiated from the truth in order “to deceive the minds of naive people” for the personal profit of the teachers.

Think about that long list of personal greetings in verses 3-16 and this warning in verses 17-19. Paul had seen many churches where there was once warm fellowship and strong friendships torn apart by these false teachers. This entire letter was written to establish a doctrinal base, to teach the gospel Christ gave him to this church that had formed apart from Paul’s direct ministry. Paul wanted each person mentioned in this letter to fully understand the gospel, to believe it themselves and to welcome all--Jews and Gentiles alike--who believe it. It would be a bad, sad thing if “Ampliatus” (v. 8) pulled away from and stopped talking to “Rufus” (v. 13) because Ampliatus had departed from the gospel or because he had stopped accepting Jewish beliers as genuine Christians or because he broke fellowship over which day was the Sabbath and how that Sabbath was to be observed. A proper understanding and acceptance of the gospel, a commitment to serve rather than be served, and an understanding that Christ has accepted many who don’t hold all the same convictions about everything should unify believers, not divide them.

For us, we should recognize that truth is something to be explored and that exploration involves questions and sometimes debate. But when God’s people know what they believe and why, it should unify us rather than divide us. When others come in with different teaching, we should examine their teaching carefully but also be suspicious about their motives. Too many believers uncritically accept different teachings from some bestselling Christian author or TV personality or webpage they read. False teachers can be very persuasive; hold on to the gospel and reject everything that departs from it. The unity of Christ’s body is at stake.

2 Samuel 4–5, 1 Corinthians 15, Ezekiel 13, Psalms 52–54

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 2 Samuel 4–5, 1 Corinthians 15, Ezekiel 13, Psalms 52–54. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Ezekiel 13.

In today’s reading, Ezekiel received a word from the Lord about the many false prophets that had infected Israel’s theology. As he typically did with Ezekiel, the Lord used Ezekiel’s vivid imagination to deliver this prophecy. God told him that they were “like jackals among ruins” (v. 4). Instead of fixing the walls (v. 5) by preaching repentance, the false prophets arrived to pick apart the carnage that was left after the disaster of brought on by God’s judgment. The source of their “knowledge” was themselves (v. 3: “follow their own spirit”), not God (vv. 6-7) though they spoke in his name and presumed his authority. 

After pronouncing God’s judgment on these false prophets in verses 8-9, the Lord described the ruinous affects of their false words in verses 10-12. Their words provided a false assurance of God’s peace (v. 10a), but it is a whitewash (vv. 11-12). It is interesting that we still use the metaphor of “whitewash” today. It describes an attempt to cover serious problems by making everything appear to be OK. That’s what the false prophets were doing. Instead of calling people to real repentance and faith in God, they were giving false assurances of peace. Their message promised impenetrable security, as if they were safe behind a steel door when in fact the door was made of plywood and covered with aluminum foil to look like steel. Those who believed these words would be swept away by the flood of God’s wrath along with those who gave the false prophecies (vv. 11-16).

One thing that was unique about Ezekiel’s prophecy against the false prophets is that he specifically called out some women who were speaking these lies in the Lord’s name (vv. 17-23). And why did they do this? For personal gain (v. 19: “a few handfuls of barley and scraps of bread").

So what do false prophets look like? They make stuff up and call it God’s word, they give a false sense of security by promising good things instead of warning of judgment and calling people to repentance for sin, and they do it for personal gain.

Not much has changed since Ezekiel spoke these words. Even today we have prosperity teachers and “possibility” teachers who speak encouraging, motivating words but these words come from their own ingenuity, not from God. They never speak of the need for repentance or call people to desire and follow holiness. They never warn of God’s judgment but instead promise his peace and favor. They profit at the expense of their listeners without conscience (v. 18b). The New Testament tell us that many such false prophets have gone out into the world (1 Jn 4:1), so be on guard. Watch what you read, whom you listen to and watch. Look for these things; a relentlessly positive message may be as palatable as candy, but it will cause you to rot spiritually.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Judges 17, Acts 21, Jeremiah 30–31, Mark 16

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Judges 17, Acts 21, Jeremiah 30–31, Mark 16. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Judges 17.

Judges 17 begins the last cycle of stories in the book of Judges, and it is a very dark series of stories. Like dominoes, one evil triggers another and things get bad for the people of Israel. The cycle starts with a man named Micah—not the one who has a book in the Minor Prophets named after him. This story begins with Micah confessing to his mother that he stole eleven hundred shekels of silver from her (v. 1-2a). She had responded to this theft by asking God to punish the thief with a curse (v. 17b). Maybe her words scared him or at least made him feel guilty about what he had done; whatever it was, something motivated him to confess. His mother’s response is perplexing to us. First she prayed a blessing from YHWH (the personal, covenant name of God) on Micah (v. 2c). Then she dedicated the silver Micah returned to the Lord, but as a gift to Micah. She made a graven image out of it, violating the Second Commandment but in the covenant name of God (vv. 3-4). Already we see that there is spiritual confusion among God’s people. Just a few generations removed from Joshua, people think they are worshipping God by violating his commands about idols.

Micah installed this idol in his little home shrine along side other idols (v. 5: “some household gods”) and made an “ephod,” which is a garment for Jewish priests to wear. God’s law taught that there is only one God, that God’s people were not to make graven images, that all sacrifices to God were to be made at the central sanctuary, the Tabernacle, and that those sacrifices were to be offered by the priests—sons of Aaron from the tribe of Levi. Against all these commands, Micah decided to worship many gods, in the form of idols, at his own home shrine and with his son installed as the priest (v. 5). Verse 6 described why this was so: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” The rule of Law should have been sufficient, but without a central leader to enforce the Law, people did their own thing.

In verse 7, a young man left Bethlehem looking for a new home (v. 8a). Notice that at the end of verse 7 the Bible tells us that he “been living within the clan of Judah.” Remember that all the priests were Levites—from the tribe of Levi but that the tribe of Levi had no land assigned to them. Instead, they were to spread out through all the tribes and towns of Israel and only go to serve in the Tabernacle during the times assigned to them. This is subtle, but really important. The priests and Levites were supposed to be everywhere, scattered all over Israel. The purpose was so they could teach God’s law to the people so that they wouldn’t do what Micah did here, namely whatever he “saw fit” (v. 6). This unnamed priest was looking for a new home, but when Micah heard his pedigree, he eagerly offered him a place to live and financial support (v. 10b). In exchange for this, he wanted the young Levite to “be my father and priest.” In other words, he wanted personal spiritual instruction and guidance (that’s what “my father” is suggesting) as well as someone to offer animal sacrifices to his collection of idols. This man, who knew better as a Levite, agreed (vv. 11-12). And Micah was very happy; having an honest-to-goodness authentic Levite as his personal priest legitimized, in Micah’s mind, his whole spiritual arrangement. In verse 13 he said, “Now I know that the Lord will be good to me, since this Levite has become my priest.” Once again he used the covenant, personal name of Israel’s God, YHWH in this statement. This indicates that he saw his actions not as idolatry but as evidence of his deep devotion to Israel’s God.

This chapter is just the beginning of the story of Micah; there is more to come. But it should serve as a warning to us. On one hand, here is a man who appears to have a deep commitment to worship because he was willing to devote some serious resources to worship. He put his money where his religion was, so spirituality was a strong concern for him. He even had some good, pious talk to go with it, invoking the covenant name of Israel’s God and claiming his idol and his whole religious thing to be devoted to that God. But despite his dedication and godly talk, he was sinning against the Lord. His approach to worship was manmade; it violated so many of the key tenets of Israel’s faith as revealed by Moses. 

Furthermore, Micah’s motives were clear from his statement, “Now I know that the Lord will be good to me, since this Levite has become my priest.” There is nothing wrong—and everything right—with wanting God’s goodness. What assured him of God’s goodness in his life, however, was not the thing God promised to bless. It was not his deep faith in God, manifested in careful obedience to God’s laws. Instead, what assured Micah of God’s goodness to him was “…since this Levite has become my priest” (v. 13). In other words, when the Levite agreed to become his priest and sacrifice to his gods, Micah felt sure that things would go well for him in life. He saw the priest, in effect, as his “good luck charm” and he was certain that, with this Levite onboard, more and more prosperity would be headed Micah’s way.

Unfortunately, the kind of self-made spirituality in the name of the true God was not confined to this horrible episode in Israel’s history. Instead, there are always people in every era who proclaim to want to worship the true God but in their own ways. They may have the right name for God and some correct theology. They may desire deep spirituality and devote significant time and attention to it. They may have nice, pious talk; but their approach is all selfish. It is an approach to God that “clicks for them,” that makes sense to them, regardless of the fact that it violates a number of the clear commands of scripture. They may even employ well-pedigreed religious leaders and earnestly seek their wise counsel. But, despite all of this, their worship is vain; it is empty because it is a perversion of the true worship of God, not the true substance of biblical worship. We should beware of anyone who wants to baptize their approach to God in Christian language. It doesn’t matter if is a church that is 2000 years old or 2 years old; if it departs in its worship from God’s word, it is idolatry. Let’s be discerning, then, in the kinds of “Christian” authors and leaders we allow to influence us. Let’s be like the Bereans, listening carefully to those who purport to teach God’s word but, after listening carefully, do their own investigation of the scripture to see if the teaching is true or not.

Finally, this Levite was totally compromised as well. Instead of teaching this man what God’s law required and urging him to forsake his gods and follow after the true God of Israel, he accepted the nice stipend that was offered to him. He was more than willing to legitimize this man’s idolatry and disobedience because there was a steady paycheck in it.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Deuteronomy 13–14, Psalms 99–101, Isaiah 41, Revelation 11

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Deuteronomy 13–14, Psalms 99–101, Isaiah 41, Revelation 11. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Deuteronomy 13.

There was no freedom of speech in ancient Israel; however, the only banned speech was blasphemy and false doctrine. Deuteronomy 13 sets forth the regulations against false doctrine. Verses 1-5 told God’s people not to believe a false prophet, even if he performed some kind of miraculous sign (vv. 1-2a). Miraculous signs were used by God to authenticate his messengers, especially Christ himself, but they were not the measuring stick for what was true or false. Just as Pharoah’s magicians were able to do some miracles (see Ex 7:11-12 for one example), Satan can sometimes do impressive things with his supernatural powers. But God taught here in Exodus 13 that He sometimes would allow false teachers with supernatural signs and wonders to come to Israel. His purpose for allowing them was to test “you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and all your soul” (v. 3). No matter how impressive a supernatural demonstration was, God’s people were to remain obedient to his written word (v. 4). False teachers, on the other hand, were a threat to God’s people because they incited “rebellion against the Lord your God” (v. 5a). Given all that God had done delivering his people from Egypt and protecting and guiding them through the desert to the promised land, Israel should have had no problem with restricted theological speech. If you know the true God, there is no reason to dabble in false doctrine; only danger can come from that. God’s prescription, then, for false teachers was the death penalty (v. 5a). 

Not only were false prophets with impressive supernatural powers to be refused and punished in Israel, but verses 6-11 tell us that even if you have a personal connection to someone who tries to turn your heart to another god,  you should still see that they are punished (vv. 6-11). “Show them no pity,” God’s word said. “Stone them to death, because they tried to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (v. 10). Verses 12-18 describe how to handle false teachers once Israel has been established in the land. After investigating charges of heresy in a nearby town fully (v. 14a), God’s people were to publicly and completely purge the town of it’s false doctrine, then permanently destroy that town itself for not obeying God’s commands about false doctrine (vv. 15-18).

These sections remind us how seriously God takes his word and how destructive false doctrine is to true worship. While we live in a free society and do not impose such serious penalties on false teachers as Moses commanded in this passage, we should not toy with or tolerate deviations from God’s written word. It provides the standard for what is true or false; to entertain false doctrine just because there were signs and wonders involved or loved ones involved is to tolerate that which God says is destructive. Watch carefully where you turn for spiritual information; your spiritual life (not to mention anyone living in your home under your authority) depends on holding fast to the purity of God’s word.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.