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Monday, July 9, 2012

Images of Pride

Images of Pride

Stephen compares the nation of Israel's rejection of Moses with that Jesus, despite signs and wonders that declared both to be heaven-sent prophets. God responded sternly to His people's disregard.

"God turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets: - Did you bring to me slain beasts and sacrifices, during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? You took up the tent of Moloch and the star of your god Rephan, the images that you made to worship; and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon." Acts 7:42-43 (ESV)

Stephen was quoting from the Book of Amos:

"Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? You shall take up Sikkuth your king, and Kiyyun your star-god, your images that you made for yourselves, and I will send you into exile beyond Damascus, - says the Lord, whose name is the God of hosts." Amos 5:25-27 (ESV)

Stephen was on trial for his life, facing angry, fearful Jews who were accusing him of heresy and blasphemy spoken against their holy prophet, Moses. Yet Stephen knew that their hearts were no different now than when their nation was younger, lost in the wilderness. Moses had led them out of Egypt with power miraculously granted him by God, yet the Israelites repeatedly disobeyed God's direct commands given to Moses for them. Amos prophecied of generations of idolatry and exile.

SIKKUTH: melek (a king); from malak (to reign, to ascend the throne)

KIYYUN: kiyyun (a statue, and idol); from kun (to be erect, to set up)

STAR-GOD: kokab (a star, round and shining) and elohim (gods, the supreme God, magistrates, or used as a superlative: exceeding); from kabbon (to heap up, hilly) and eloah (a deity); from el (strength, mighty); from ayil (strength, a chief, a ram, an oak); from ul (to twist, to be strong, a powerful body)

Stephen's defense has evolved into prosecution. Beginning with an argument showing how their revered forefathers trusted the words of God's promises of deliverance and freedom, Stephen showed how Jesus fulfilled those prophecies, coming to the Jews in the manner and power of Moses. But now the court's prey has become the hunter and the judge, throwing back into their faces their own history of spiritual adultery and insult toward God.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What personal situation can you imagine, or have you experienced, would be similar to this exchange of harsh and agressive words? What behavior in someone else, perhaps a child or friend, can you imagine requiring this level of finger-pointing and denunciation? When is it fair to dredge up ancient history?

Stephen quoted the prophet Amos predicting future worship of "images".

IMAGES: selem (a phantom, an illusion, a resemblance or figure, an idol)

The Old Testament describes several instances of image worship.

"When you pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you and destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their metal images and demolish all their high places." Numbers 33:51-52 (ESV)

The Cannanites had forsaken the Almighty Creator God, worshiping figures carved in stone and cast in metal.

In the face of terrible sickness and death, the Philistines believed images would turn God's wrath away.

"You must make images of your tumors and images of your mice that ravage the land, and give glory to the God of Israel. Perhaps he will lighten his hand from off you and your gods and your land." 1 Samuel 6:5 (ESV)

The Philistines had taken the Ark away from the Jews, hoping it would empower them in the same way it had seemed to empower the nation of Israel during the days of King David. Instead, the Philistines experienced tumorous disease throughout their region. Their priests and diviners recommended returning the Ark home to the Jews, with five golden images of the sickening tumors and five golden mice, expecting that this would express their submission to the Jew's god that had caused the epidemic.

The essence of images used for worship can be an expression of pride as well as submission:

"His beautiful ornament they used for pride, and they made their abominable images and their detestable things of it." Ezekiel 7:20 (ESV)

"His beautiful ornament" refers to the great temple in Jerusalem. Built to remind themselves of the greateness of God, it became a symbol of their own personal wealth and superiority over others.

God's response to proud self-worship?

"I make it an unclean thing to them. And I will give it into the hands of foreigners for prey, and to the wicked of the earth for spoil, and they shall profane it. I will turn my face from them, and they shall profane my treasured place. Robbers shall enter and profane it. - Forge a chain! For the land is full of bloody crimes and the city is full of violence. I will bring the worst of the nations to take possession of their houses. I will put an end to the pride of the strong, and their holy places shall be profaned. When anguish comes, they will seek peace, but there shall be none. Disaster comes upon disaster; rumor follows rumor. They seek a vision from the prophet, while the law perishes from the priest and counsel from the elders. The king mourns, the prince is wrapped in despair, and the hands of the people of the land are paralyzed by terror. According to their way I will do to them, and according to their judgments I will judge them, and they shall know that I am the Lord." Ezekiel 7:20-27 (ESV)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? How do you recognize pride in yourself? At what point do you have to admit that you are worshiping yourself? Have you ever experienced great loss and humiliation, similar to that experienced by the Jews when God responded to their pride?

Image by Jimmy Brown, Creative Commons Licence