Idols and Iniquity (Ezekiel 14:3)

“Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their hearts and have put right before their faces the stumbling block of their iniquity. Should I be consulted by them at all?”

Ezekiel 14:3

This verse offers me a question that bears some thought: Do I set myself up for God’s silence?

These men were elders in Israel, exactly the people who should be coming to God’s prophet for advice and guidance. They have come, God tells Ezekiel, for precisely that. They want a word from the LORD. It is entirely possible that they do not really want to hear from God, as they have set up their idols in their hearts and have put right before their faces the stumbling block of their iniquity. But it is also possible that they just want answers to their questions and they are going to someone who “has an ‘in'” with God.

This sometimes happens with non-believers when crisis hits — people looking for others who “have an ‘in'”. They come to believers and ask for insight or prayer or words of comfort, knowing that believers are supposed to have an open connection to God. That is not what God is upset about. Non-believers coming to believers to ask them to speak to God on their behalf may be the beginning of a non-believer transitioning to belief. God is all in favor of the lost being found. The men in question were elders of Israel — not just members of God’s Chosen People, but leaders of same. Of all people, these men should have had their own prayer life and devotional life and knowledge of what God would say. Instead, God notes that they have set up idols in their hearts.

All of this brings me back to my question. Do I set myself up for God’s silence? God gives two ways in which these men had done exactly that.

First, they had set up their idols in their hearts. Whatever it was that was more important to them than God, they were making no effort to remove it. Worse, it would seem, from the way God speaks of it, that they were fixing it in place; making absolutely certain that their idol would remain on the throne of their heart; preeminent in their mind and life. The location of the idol is a reminder to me as a modern that idols are not only statues and such, but are occupants of my mind and affections. Whatever consumes me is what I worship. If anything other than God consumes me, that is an idol. Jesus said plainly that a man cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13). Either I worship God and He will gladly meet with me or I worship something else and will find that God is as distant from me as I from Him.

Second, they had put right before their faces the stumbling block of their iniquity. First and foremost in their mind is what wrong they were doing or were going to do. I sometimes find that temptations are most persistent and powerful the moment I begin to pray. It becomes an act of discipline to push them out of mind and coming into God’s presence requires not only that I push them aside, but that I also determine not to do them when I have finished praying. If I waver, then my prayers do not leave the room. David said something very similar when he wrote that God would not hear if he (David) regarded wickedness in his heart (Psalm 66:18). I cannot plan sin and expect God to answer me when I come to Him. If I am trying to fight the temptation, I will find God a ready Defender Who is glad to save me from the temptation I am trying to fight. If I am trying to determine how to do something sinful, then I will find God silent and deaf to me.

God ends with a question: Should I be consulted by them at all? And it is a fair question. Would anyone want to talk with a spouse who was planning an affair during the conversation? Would a parent want to speak about reconciling with a child who was looking for a new way to rebel as they approached? Those sound like extreme examples, but they are more appropriate than I might like them to be. In both cases, the hurt I cause the heart of God is most properly communicated. Still, neither is quite as hurtful as what I do to God when I come to Him with an idol in my heart that I am not asking Him to help me tear down or while planning how I can do something that I know He has proscribed.

Until I am ready and willing to tear down any idols that may be in my heart, I will find God silent. Until I have decided that I will not do the thing I am tempted to do just as I begin praying, my prayers will not leave the room. I must determine that the idols will be pulled down and that I will obey and then I will find God ready to listen and answer and be my help.

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