Rev. Toh Nee Lim | On 03, Oct 2010
Scripture Reading: Psalms 81:9
If you study the history of Israel, you will find that when they put away their strange gods, God visited them and there would come a mighty work of restoration, renewal and revival.
What Evangel wants these days is a true and deep revival in the church of God. God is not going to let a cold, formal church serving strange gods be the agent of restoration.
In Psalms 81:9, God warns us to put away strange gods. Also in Genesis 35:1-4, the term ‘strange gods’ was mentioned by God during Jacob’s time and in Joshua 24:20-23, during Joshua’s time when he had conquered great territories of Canaan and was already old. Again it was mentioned in 1 Samuel 7:3. Actually it was frequently mentioned in the books of Kings and Chronicles. But this morning I want to concentrate on the strange gods in the life of Jacob and Joshua.
The word ‘strange’ in the Vine Dictionary means “foreign, alien, unusual, belonging to another and contrary to received opinion.” Now let’s study the strange gods found in the Bible.
(1) During the Time of Jacob
Read Genesis 35:1-4. You will recall that when Jacob fled with Rachel and Leah, Rachel slipped out with the family gods. Apparently she had sat on them while riding the camel – she just crawled on top of the luggages that were on the camel’s back and sat on them because these little images were underneath. These strange gods were definitely foreign, belonging to another culture, the religion of her father, Laban and contrary to God. When Jacob finally realized that Rachel did take the strange gods, he didn’t get rid of the images and then the next moment we find the entire family worshipping these strange gods, as implied in Genesis 35:2. These images or strange gods had stayed in the family. Rosenmuller, the historian thinks that these strange gods must have been many because otherwise they would not have used the phrase ‘all the strange gods’. Most probably it was worshipped by Rachel and the twelve children could have also worshipped the images in the house. Jacob was obviously aware of the presence of the strange gods and he had done nothing about it. Probably he tolerated Rachel because he loved her too much. We must not tolerate sins in our family. The worst is to allow it to be openly displayed in our house. You will remember that Eli, a priest of God, tolerated the stealing, the womanizing, and the carnality of his two sons. The Bible says Eli’s sons were wicked men, involved in sexual immorality and greed. Eli allowed them to openly display their wickedness. It is a frightening thing when sins become opening displayed in the house. And Jacob had chosen not to do anything about the strange gods. I believe that this time the strange gods were no more hidden in the house but openly displayed and worshipped.
Are sins openly displayed in your household?
Then something bad happened. There was catastrophic results. In the process of time, while the strange gods were in their house, things began to go out of hand. Their only daughter, Dinah was raped. Two brothers in the house, Simeon and Levi, became instruments of cruelty, men of wrath who killed Shechem, a prince of Hivites of the country. Shechem’s father, Hamor and the whole clan of the Hivites was also massacred. Their anger was fierce and their wrath was cruel. These two children were very self-willed. The reputation of Jacob’s household had become questionable. Actually, danger of destruction was imminent for Jacob’s household. That’s what strange gods does to our household. Jacob knew in his spirit and his heart that the terrible things that had happened in his house had to do with the strange gods. Of course daily Jacob was aware of the corrupt practices of the family. Now how to turn things around?
It is all mentioned in Genesis 35:1. All these troubled Jacob and God instructed Jacob to go to Bethel. He was troubled in his soul, in his spirit and even physically it drained him. He was agitated, afflicted concerning things around the house. He was so troubled that he actually said to his sons, ‘You have troubled me, to make me stink among the inhabitants of the land.’ Definitely Jacob’s conscience was pricked. And God knew he was troubled. He heard the voice of God inwardly. We must believe that God speaks and He does speak when something is wrong around us. God said in Genesis 35:1 ‘Arise, go up to Bethel.’ And God told him to go to Bethel. Bethel held a unique attraction and significance for Jacob. “Bethel” represents the house of bread, which is the Church of Christ. May Evangel always hold a unique attraction and significance to you. Because it is here that God manifest Himself to you. During your ups and downs you must never forget the goodness, the touch of God, the conviction, the glory of God that transpired all these days in the house of God. The house of God is the most appropriate because it affords an opportunity for spiritual renewal. That is why God calls us to Bethel.
A couple, whose marital problems was apparently leading to a divorce, went to see a pastor. After a long and not particularly fruitful conversation they left the office. But some time later when the pastor went to the sanctuary in which the couple were married and where for four years they had worshipped together, found them sitting together deep in conversation. Their return to the house of God was having more impact on them than all their conversation and debate concerning their marriage.
So when Jacob came to Bethel, the house of God, he said to his household in verse Gen 35:2 ‘put away the strange gods that are among you and be clean’. When Rebecca’s nurse, Deborah, died as shown in Gen 35:8, he knew something had to be done to stop the curse going on in the family. Then and only then did he deal with the issue of these strange gods which for a long time he had treated with neglect. So Genesis 35:4 says ‘they gave unto Jacob their strange gods and all their earrings which were in their ears.’ Putting earrings in your ears as men is a type of strange gods. Please there is only one daughter in the house of Jacob, so the mention of earrings was especially referring to the males. The earrings worn in Jacob’s days were often worn as good luck charm to ward off evil but the men of today wear it for fashion. Whatever it is, it is a strange god. I believe God does not approve of putting earrings in our ears as male; it is a type of strange gods.
There is a house cleaning in Jacob’s household. Many Christians, even fundamental believers, have their strange gods. In Gen 35:17, Rachel died. To me Rachel’s death is an untimely death. It should not have happened but it happened. Please remember that Rachel was pregnant when she sat upon the strange gods. We know that pregnancy lasted for around 9 months. She died in pregnancy. It was fast. The worst was she sat upon it. Of course Rachel was the one who brought the strange gods into the household. If you are responsible for bringing strange gods into your family, if you do not repent, the curse will finally fall upon you. Don’t play with strange gods.
Strange gods is literally the gods of the strangers. The strangers are your neighbors, your friends in school, your barkada, and your colleagues who don’t believe in the same faith as you, who doesn’t believe in the true and living God you served. Oh they have their strange gods alright. During Rachel’s time it was the stolen teraphim. Today their strange god is the scapula they wear, the picture of a well designed, lighted up Virgin Mary kept in their purse. They are their good-luck charm. If your good luck charm is the scapula, then where is the place of God in your life? You mean they bring better luck than God? Of course God is jealous and angry.
Strange gods is also the harboring of a special sin in the household. The sons of Jacob had inward evil propensity. They were treacherous, cruel, lustful, envious, and murderous. Some of the boys in your family are just like that. As parents we have to stop that. This evil propensity is manifested in gang fights, wild drinking, and sexual trysts, robbing, gambling. Your sons and daughters create scandals in your barangay for people to “chissmiss”. They cause jealousy, and opposition in homes. You know what is a scandal? It is a disgraceful and discreditable action. It brings damage to reputation and public disgrace to the household. One of the most popular web searches is Pinay Scandal. Joy had a classmate in Saint Joseph Grade School, a valedictorian who is intelligent and pretty. She created such a scandal that her grandmother died of heart attack when the scandal broke out here in Iloilo City and she had to stop school in Iloilo and go to Manila to escape the nastiness of this scandal. We have to stop them.
We just read that in Manila, a law fraternity group consisting of students, mind you, law students, planted a bomb and it exploded among a big group of law students who just finished their last paper of their bar exams and came out to celebrate. One young girl, who had just finished her law papers, was seriously injured and need to have both legs amputated. This fraternity group has an inward propensity for evil. Just recently, two group of Rzone from our church went into a gang fight along the corridor opposite SM Delgado that security guard near the vicinity had to beat them up because they wouldn’t stop. They had gun and sharp weapons. We thank God that none died. They have an inward propensity for wickedness. I was talking to one of the young people of our church just this week. I was in his neighborhood and the place looks scary. He told me that one time, neighbors crept through a small window into their house and stole their DVD players. Brothers and Sisters, let’s be honest this morning. You mean we can do all these wickedness like Simeon and Levi and still pray for revival in our church? 1 Timothy says the children of the last days are lovers of themselves, disobedient to parents, fierce, heady, who creep into houses and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers’ lusts. They are the strange gods and parents have to put away the strange gods in them. One of the strange gods in many of the people’s life is the inward evil propensity. It is a person full of lust, murder, deceit and wretchedness. You are simply cruel, lustful, and murderous. You have to let God set you free. Some girls have an evil flirtatious inclination, waiting to flirt and sleep with any man that comes along. Do you know that that is a strange god? This strange god is the gods of the strangers, people outside and there are millions like that everywhere. To others it is cool, very adult, very contemporary, very in sync with every neighborhood, every eatery stall, to sit with bottles of Tanduay, San Miguel beer, in the center of the table, laughing, chatting smoking and feeling very cool. That is a strange god. Some of us have certain habits of ridicule, sarcasm and temper and that is strange god. That will be the cause of their destruction.
This morning I want to speak to families. I think you know what is the strange gods in the family. Because the strange god is no more hidden underneath but openly displayed by members of the family. And for too long you have connived with them. Your conscience is stirred as I speak this morning. There is good reason to believe that the trouble into which your family or you have fallen into is immediately due to these particular strange gods that is there. Now you have to take authority and command your household and all that is with you to put away the strange gods. A man with a family is an accountable man. You must not be too tender with the defects you see among your household members. Members of household who are pleasure seekers, tendency to have bad company are examples of strange gods in the house. Because you are trifling with temptation and can only end in evil and disaster. Psalms 81:9 is so clear; ‘There shall no strange god be in thee; neither shall thou worship any strange god.’ Unless we remove these strange gods from our lives, they will ruin our faith, which they have already. Please realize the depth of the spiritual deterioration brought about by the strange gods in the house and command all the members of the household to get rid of the foreign gods you have with you.
We have been talking about the need for spiritual revival, Pentecost, the Shekinah glory of God, the strong presence of God. God is not going to let a cold, formal church serving strange god be the agent of restoration. Spiritual renewal or revival consists of removing from our home everything that offend God, committing ourselves to personal holiness, renewing our vows to God, renewing our devotion and worship to God. Because of Jacob’s renewal he again experienced God’s protection, presence, revelation and blessing. Well, because Jacob got rid of the strange gods in the house, Simeon and Levi were restored back to God. The tribe of Levi became Priests. If you take action against the strange gods, you also can experience God’s protection, presence, revelation and blessing.
(2) During the Time of Joshua
Read Joshua 24:20-23. It was Joshua’s last days. It was actually a farewell address. In ancient Israel and indeed among ancient nations in general, the parting words of national leaders and heads of families were very highly regarded. He declared that Yahweh is a holy and jealous God and is therefore not to be worshiped or served lightly. He solemnly asserted, He will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. He told the children of Israel that God would not tolerate any strange gods or apostasy. That if ‘ye forsake the Lord and serve strange gods, then he will turn and do you hurt, and consume you, after that he hath done you good.’ And when the people insisted on serving the Lord, Joshua said ‘Now therefore put away, said he, the strange gods which are among you.’ (Joshua 24:20-23). I believe that there were strange gods among the children of Israel even in the midst of God conquering so much land in Canaan.
Let’s be honest today. I also speak to myself. We can be serving God in this church, attending the services and yet we have strange gods in our lives. We must remember that Israel suffered its first defeat at Ai was all because there was a certain Achan that hid strange gods in his household.
What is this strange god in our lives today that Joshua is talking about? When we marry an unbeliever, we are also serving strange gods. Malachi 3:11 says ‘Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed is Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the Lord which he loved, and hath the daughter of a strange god. The Lord will cut off the man that doeth this’. I had a full time staff once, in my early ministry. She was very hard headed and it was not easy dealing with her. One day she said that she would only continue to be my fulltime staff if I’d stop correcting her. Of course I had to let her go. When she was in her secular world, God used a worldly boss to correct her. She not only was corrected by her boss but literally beaten up badly by her and had to file a police report against her. Then she enticed many of my church planters to be involved in business like Natasha, multi-level selling. Many of my church planters could not collect back their commission and when money became tight, they resigned. I had to bail out quite a number of them. She even enticed others to sell cemetery lot through St Peter’s Plan. Just imagine, we are believers of life and we are told not to touch even dead people. Yet she is asking people to sell cemetery lot for dead people. Just imagine how contrary she has been in her ways. We’ve already defined “strange god” as “foreign, alien, unusual, belonging to another and contrary to received opinion”.
She has become a strange god to my church planters. Recently she wants to marry an unbeliever, which I consider as marrying to someone of a strange god, according to what the Bible says. The saddest part is two of my church planters (who are her relatives) want to be her official witnesses of her alliance with a man serving strange god. You remember that during Jacob’s time where there was strange gods, many bad things happened to his family and there was death constantly in the house? These two church planters literally experienced accident after accident and constantly had to be hospitalized. Both husband and wife saw the death of their loved ones. The children had accidents and had to be hospitalized. The wife had accident on the face that became disfigured for a long time. The husband had accident and had plate installed in the body. Now when I think of it, I realize all these bad things have to do with their alliances with strange gods.
Not only marrying an unbeliever is equivalent to serving a strange god, but going after strange women is serving strange gods. The Bible mentioned a lot of time about the danger of strange women. Strange woman are loose women. Strange woman are called strange flesh. The Bible says the mouth of a strange woman is honey and is a deep pit. We must be careful and be delivered from strange woman. Jude 7 warns us ‘Even as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.’ It is saying that if you continue to go after and sleep with strange women (hooker/prostitutes), you will even lose your eternal soul one day. Visiting prostitution is going after strange gods.
(3) The Way Out
Sometimes we ask, “Where is God all these while? Why has God forsaken us?” The people during Jeremiah’s time asked the same question and they received the answer. Jeremiah 5:19 ‘And it shall come to pass, when ye shall say, Wherefore doeth the Lord our God all these things unto us? Then shalt thou answer them, Like as ye have forsaken me, and served strange gods in your land, so shall ye serve strangers in a land that is not yours.’
There is a way out:
(a) You have to humble yourself
Manasseh was probably the most wicked king among all the kings of Israel and Judah put together. He made grooves like many Filipinos do, and worshipped all the host of heaven. He worshipped the stars, the suns and the moons. Then he also built altars in the house of God and altars for all the host of heaven. He sacrificed his children through the fire. He was a believer of astrology, necromancy, witchcraft and entertained witches. God therefore allowed the Assyrians to conquer Israel, bound Manasseh with chains to Babylon. Manasseh was an example of a man with multiple strange gods in his household. Yet when Manasseh humbled himself greatly before God and took away the strange gods, the Bible says after he entreated God, all his sins and his trespasses were forgiven because he humbled himself. (2 Chronicles 33:15). Today you need to humble yourself before God. Humility is the most powerful weapon before God. Humility pleases God and soften God’s heart.
(b) You have to go back to Bethel
God says to Jacob, ‘Arise, go to Bethel and built and altar’. Bethel as I said earlier is the house of God. You have to go back More importantly it was an experience for Jacob in Bethel where he saw the vision of the ladder, where angels were coming down and going up the ladder to heaven. You have to get back to that spiritual vision of God again. Bethel is known as the “house of bread”. You have to go back to church.
(c) You have to be clean
Jacob said, ‘Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean’. Jacob said, ‘Be clean’. Another translation says ‘purify yourself.’ The purification dealt with complete washing of the body as both a literal and symbolical cleansing of sins. This means confession of sins. You have to deal with the sins and the strange gods in your life. You must be a Daniel who got that wonderful answer to prayer recorded in the ninth chapter, when he was confessing his sin. It is one of the best prayers in the whole bible. Daniel said ‘While I was speaking, and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel (for you it is your household), and presenting my supplication before the Lord my God for the holy mountain of God; yes, while I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation (prayer). And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, O Daniel, I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding.’ God will hear our prayer and turn our captivity when we take our true place before Him and forsake our transgression.
(d) You have to change your garment
Jacob also said ‘change your garment’ or ‘change of clothes’. Change of clothes is a metaphor derived from Paul for the changed life. Paul says ‘to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and put on the new self.’ Garments speak of habits. Maybe the strange gods has become your habits already. Put off the bad evil wicked habits and put on Christ.
If you study revival and church history, there is always a condition. The best definition of “revival” is the phrase: “Times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.” The understanding that a revival is an awakening among Christian people is possible when a condition is fulfilled. I Samuel 7:3 let us know the conditions under which revival is given. Actually I have read so many revivals in the Bible and it is always possible because the people put away the strange gods. I Sam 7:3 says “And Samuel spake unto all the house of Israel, saying, If ye do return unto the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you, and prepare your hearts unto the Lord, and serve Him only: and He will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” God’s blessing is conditional upon our wholehearted desire. God says, “If you really want revival, here are My conditions.” — “Put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you.”
End of Sermon