By the way – I’m taking the day off tomorrow, so I won’t be blogging till next week.
Hosea 4:1 Hear the word of the LORD, O children of Israel, for the LORD has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land; 2 there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed. 3 Therefore the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish, and also the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens, and even the fish of the sea are taken away. 4 Yet let no one contend, and let none accuse, for with you is my contention, O priest. 5 You shall stumble by day; the prophet also shall stumble with you by night; and I will destroy your mother.
6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. 7 The more they increased, the more they sinned against me; I will change their glory into shame. 8 They feed on the sin of my people; they are greedy for their iniquity. 9 And it shall be like people, like priest; I will punish them for their ways and repay them for their deeds. 10 They shall eat, but not be satisfied; they shall play the whore, but not multiply, because they have forsaken the LORD to cherish 11 whoredom, wine, and new wine, which take away the understanding.
12 My people inquire of a piece of wood, and their walking staff gives them oracles. For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray, and they have left their God to play the whore. 13 They sacrifice on the tops of the mountains and burn offerings on the hills, under oak, poplar, and terebinth, because their shade is good. Therefore your daughters play the whore, and your brides commit adultery. 14 I will not punish your daughters when they play the whore, nor your brides when they commit adultery; for the men themselves go aside with prostitutes and sacrifice with cult prostitutes, and a people without understanding shall come to ruin. 15 Though you play the whore, O Israel, let not Judah become guilty. Enter not into Gilgal, nor go up to Beth–aven, and swear not, “As the LORD lives.” 16 Like a stubborn heifer, Israel is stubborn; can the LORD now feed them like a lamb in a broad pasture? 17 Ephraim is joined to idols; leave him alone. 18 When their drink is gone, they give themselves to whoring; their rulers dearly love shame. 19 A wind has wrapped them in its wings, and they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices.
Verse 6a (My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge) is an oft quoted and familiar passage to many. In particular, we pastors are fond of quoting it when we see our people going astray in any number of ways. The need to get people reading and meditating upon God’s Word is a never ending place of frustration for many a good Pastor. In fact, I will attempt – on the basis of this passage – to make the case for Christians to actually know less. How in the world can I say that? Because in our day of mass, electronic media of all sorts, it seems to me we have encountered something of an information overload with a host of poor results on a number of fronts.
To be perfectly honest with you, this entire idea never even crossed my mind until just recently. In an effort to economize, my wife and I decided to give up satellite TV. Note, that we switched to satellite because it was already cheaper than cable. But re-examining our resources, both in terms of time, as well as money – we decided to pull the plug. Of real note was the strange reaction of Frank – the customer service rep when I called to cancel. It seems that TV is so much a part of the fabric of the American culture (and perhaps globally) that it was really quite unthinkable to him. He kept pitching me more and more creative and cost effective options to keep me on board. Chuckling, I finally stopped him just short of DishNetwork offering to pay ME to remain a customer, by telling him “Frank, I’m not going to a competitor, my wife and I have just decided to make a lifestyle change that doesn’t include television.” The phone went silent. The incredulity in his voice saturated the phone as he finally conceded defeat in his noble attempt to prevent my defection from the society of the televised.
Please do not misconstrue my motives here. This is not the equivalent of the newly liberated non-smoker who becomes the annoying crusader to stop all forms of tobacco incineration – good or bad. This is a personal decision Sky and I made for a number of reasons that seemed good to us and we do not have to opinion that the “one-eyed idol” has all the world bowing down to it. In the stillness of the unplugged aftermath – some things dawned upon me. Coincidentally, but not necessarily connected.
Back to our passage.
God’s charge through Hosea that His people were being destroyed through a lack of knowledge – at first blush might actually seem contrary to the case I am about to make. But I don’t think so. TV for instance (and we can add the incredible plethora of books, magazines, internet resources, newspaper, movies, lectures, theaters and even many Church meetings) can occupy the heart and mind in place of God. I’m not speaking of it as idolatry (though I’m sure some can and do go there) but in terms of merely examining WHAT knowledge the people are perishing by virtue of lacking.
You see, it isn’t knowledge per se that people lack, it is knowledge of God. Personal, first hand knowledge. In terms of thoroughness (we don’t know enough ABOUT God), content (we don’t know enough ACCURATELY about God), and experience (we don’t know God in terms of genuine FELLOWSHIP with Him). We know LOTS of stuff. I’m arguing in fact – too much stuff. And for those in the ministry who are constantly being told to be better read, better informed and more involved, the overload is interminable. The eye can only see so much, the ear hear so much, the mind process so much and the heart – feel so much. All of these are limited in some respect. So the onus rests upon us to determine – how much of what – we are actually going to be able to deal with in any effective way.
Some, polymaths like D. A. Carson, are gifted in ways I’m not. Their ability to study and take in, to a depth I’m incapable of on a myriad of fronts, is not only dazzling and wonderful – it is a manifestly glorious gift to the Church. I will suck every drop of digested brain juice from the likes of these giants I can. But I cannot BE them. I’m not a giant. I’m a normal guy, with normal capacities in areas I dearly do wish were much greater.
Once again, I want to make myself clear here. This is NOT a means whereby to exempt myself or anybody else from developing all the gifts God has given to us more and more. Learning to stretch and grow and improve, forcing ourselves beyond some of our preconceived limits is necessary. And the day we stop growing intellectually or spiritually under any pretense is a sad and disobedient day indeed. No, what I am driving at here is rightly discerning God’s imposed limits, and learning how to make the most of them, as we aim at the increase of the Kingdom both within and without.
Let me give you a quick example of what I’m driving at. All human beings have an imposed limit of time – 24 hours to the day. No one gets more, no one gets less. 24 is the universal allotment. The question then is, how do we manage that allotment? Another Divinely imposed limit will be sleep. Here, people greatly vary. My sister’s boss, a noted cardiac specialist, requires a mere four hours of sleep per night to continue functioning at peak performance. Most adults require 7 to 8 hours per night. Some, do to whatever other physical issues might be at play, will require more. If my memory serves me correctly, evangelical giant J. C. Ryle required somewhere between 10 and 12 in order to function. The question once again then is – how do I manage that time? For a Ryle to be as productive as say a Wesley (another 4 hour a night guy) he is going to have to narrow the focus of what he can devote time to. His time resource is limited. So he has to make conscious choices that enable him to maximize that time for the Kingdom. And that’s my point in a nutshell. Just because I CAN read 5 newspapers a day doesn’t mean I SHOULD. Yes, I can learn all the details of the recent levy breaks exacerbating the recent New Orleans disaster with Katrina, but at what cost? Each is going to have to think through how much of what kind of knowledge they can afford. And I am just learning at 52 that I need to re-shape that. We can add to the above limits, employment, worship and family responsibilities, etc.
Most of us are full of knowledge thanks to the Discovery channel, A&E, Biography, Animal Planet, CNN, C-Span, ESPN, FOX News, Court TV, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Boston Journal, Sacramento Bee, Drudge, UPN, SNN, AP, Reuters, Email, phone – on and on ad infinitum ad nauseum. Even the SciFi channel, the loss of which is the only one I shed a tear over.
God’s people are not destroyed through a lack of being informed, but through a lack of knowledge. More specifically, the lack of the knowledge of God, His will, His Word, His ways, His plans and His purposes. And I am growing convinced that I can well afford to be unfashionably ill-informed in some circles, in order to be truly informed in others.
Stop! Do not EVEN level the charge of anti-intellectualism. That is NOT the idea here. Anti-intellectual Christians are a blight on every generation. How I wish Christians everywhere would read a good book or two on logic, steep themselves in Church history, the development of doctrine and true Biblical philosophy. Muddle headed anti-intellectual Christianity is not merely foolish it is sinful. But given my particular limits, maybe I can do without the insightful reality that the reason mosquito-bites itch, is due to our allergic reaction to the anti-coagulant they spit down the tube to keep our blood from clotting. God will NOT be concerned if that critical set of facts was not high on my priority list to master when I arrive at the Pearly Gates. But knowing Him, here and now – that WILL have eternal value and ramifications. When I go to my surgeon, I really hope he spent more time and effort on his medical studies than he did analyzing the win-loss ratios of NFL quarterbacks in the latter decade of the 20th century – ya’ know what I mean? I want him really intellectually acute and as skilled as his brain and body can possibly be. I want him up on the latest techniques, the newest equipment and the state of the art in every nook and cranny of the world. But I don’t give a rip if he can quote Shakespeare. Seriously. I want him to spend his best time on the stuff that really matters, and that is probably going to mean he’ll neglect some other – really cool (and important in other spheres) stuff. So be it.
Now let me build off of some of that just a bit. Global information also takes its toll in another way. Just as I can only deal with so many issues in life at once, juggle so many intellectual and commitment balls at any one time – most of us have limits to the emotional involvement we can manage and this is seen – I believe – in spades in our day.
By virtue of the never ending stream of mass media, there are only so many tragedies I can care about, so many issues I can be informed about, and so many lives I can be invested in. You too.
I am convinced that many a wife has little emotional capital left over for her husband, kids, extended family and friends, if she is spending it on romance novels, soap-opera relationships, Dr. Laura’s call-ins and the suffering folks in Louisiana. Are all of those situations and persons legitimate? Absolutely! Each one matters just as much as my closest love. But I cannot take on the emotional burden of an innumerable host. Nor can you. Nor do I believe we are supposed to. Just as Scripture tells ministers to “shepherd the flock among you”, God is setting limits to those whose lives you can really be invested in. This doesn’t mean churches need to be small either. It means they have to have an increased number of shepherds to bear the burdens. And that we all need to be about the business of bearing one another’s burdens, but not EVERYONE’S burdens. Even Jesus in His earthly ministry – while preaching to thousands, had far fewer actual disciples, 12 who He invested in the most personally, and out of those – three He set even more aside for. The pattern becomes clear.
Let me take this in a slightly different direction. One reason why pornography (besides the obvious heinousness of the sin itself) takes such a toll on the depth of a husband and wife relationship is because the man is giving emotionally, sexually and mentally what belongs to his wife alone – and he is meant to support those things for ONE PERSON ONLY. Not only is he betraying her, but he is spending on a second person, what “capital” God has given to him to be spent on only one person. He is depleted and thus robs his wife. All of this not to mention the secrecy, immorality, lying etc. All of which spells NO INTIMACY. “I’ve got nothing left to give.” No foolin’! Many a man caught in the trap of sexual sin starts resenting his wife for what she every right to expect from him.
Yes, of course there are disasters, the very magnitude of which demand an outpouring from as large a mass of people as is possible. But in the day-to-day theater of personal operations – we need to know less about the needs of folks far away, whom we neither can nor will impact, and focus upon those near at hand which we not only can impact meaningfully – but ought to. This is true financially, and especially – emotionally. I cannot stress this emotional component enough. Some other time I will delve into my thoughts how this is even more perniciously aggravated in the realm of reality TV – where the emotional investment in the lives of these pitiful people is incalculable. How CAN we have enough left over for those who ought to be getting the full of our emotional involvement?
There are the Susannah Wesley’s of the world who can swing 19 children with some measure of success. But these are few and far between. Yes, Cotton Mather published over 400 books and tracts in his lifetime when few of us will ever publish one. Spurgeon could maintain multiple lines of thought in his head while preaching with alacrity. I forget my PIN number on a regular basis. Calvin published the first version of his Institutes in his 20’s, carried on massive correspondence, designed the sewer system for Geneva and suffered non-stop pummeling from his detractors all while living like a pauper, cringing often from kidney stones and enduring frequent and violent migraines. These are exceptions which prove the rule. I don’t how most of them did it! But this much I do know, these were all focused people who had learned to place the chief of their efforts in the things that truly mattered, and didn’t fritter away their time, emotions, efforts and money on things that didn’t. That’s what I’m after.
Now we must return to our text one more time to set yet one more idea in motion. In fact, it is the principle idea in this passage. And though different than the way we have developed all of the above, nonetheless tied to it in a most intimate way.
When it is all said and done, the charge here isn’t primarily against the people for their lack of knowledge – though every man will give an account for himself. The bigger issue at hand is, that these people perish through lack of knowledge because their priests have abdicated their primary responsibility.
Here are those words again: 1 Hear the word of the LORD, O children of Israel, for the LORD has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land; 2 there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed. 3 Therefore the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish, and also the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens, and even the fish of the sea are taken away. 4 Yet let no one contend, and let none accuse, for with you is my contention, O priest. 5 You shall stumble by day; the prophet also shall stumble with you by night; and I will destroy your mother.6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.
The people were perishing, unfaithful to their God, loveless toward Him, swearing, lying, murdering, stealing and committing adultery, because the Priests “have rejected knowledge.” This is it! A priesthood, a ministry that had abandoned its first call to their own knowledge of God, and by default passed the lack on to their people! 1 Timothy 4:16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
The problem here is no doubt manifold. It is true that the people can demand of their ministers what they shouldn’t. Pastors and Elders are not supposed to be social or cruise directors – for what God judges is their failure to give the people the knowledge of God they need. In turn, Pastors can just as easily capitulate to those demands, and opt for more pleasant and immediately rewarding activities on their own. Reveling more in the responsive embraces of their grateful flock, than the sound of the Master’s voice saying “well done you good and faithful servant.”
Here is the greatest need of men, knowledge of God – without which His people perish, which in turn defines the highest priority of the minister: To give his people as much knowledge about God, His Word, His plans, His purposes, His person and His work, and to encourage the growth of that knowledge on every front, steeped in the rich soil of personal fellowship into to which he longs for them to bask in too. 1 John 1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life––2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us–– 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
That is what I want to devote the rest of my own life to. Flooding my own soul with the knowledge of God, passing it on to others, and doing everything I can to get them to do the same thing. That’s the best I can do for myself – and the best I can do for them. If that isn’t good enough, then I do not know what to say.
At least that’s where I am today.
All things subject to further reflection, revision, correction and complete recantation if I’m pressed too far.
God’s people will not perish due to a lack of warm fuzzies – but they sure will from a lack of knowledge. I have that on pretty good authority.