Life is full of choices. Emily and I thought we were prepared to leap into home ownership. We had a lot of decisions already in hand. But as we’ve been working on the house this week, we have been confronted with a whole host of choices we were unprepared to face. One decision we were unsettled on was whether or not to paint the trim in the house. There’s a lot of trim. And we just didn’t know whether we were going to take the time to paint it before moving in.
We finally did decide to paint the trim. And we even quickly decided to paint it white. So I went to the store to pick up the white trim paint so we could get going on it. “Just a nice can of semi-gloss in white, please.” To which the salesperson replies, “Which white?”
This whole episode reminds me of a series of Crankshaft comic strips that ran in the News & Advance a few months ago. Two of the characters were building an addition on their house. When it came to pick paint colors, they decided to just go with white. In a later strip, the husband came in to his wife, who was staring at a table full of paint chips, dozens of them. He said to her, “I thought we were going with white.” She replied, “These are the white samples. All 50 of them.”
The dizzying array of choices for just one particular color can be daunting. Of course, we face the same kind of challenges in all kinds of areas in our life. One of my mother’s least favorite questions was, “What’s for dinner?” Cooking was not an activity she relished to begin with, and having to decide something that fit all of our moods at once frustrated her to no end. The choice bazaar extends to education, career choice, car, neighborhood, friendships, clothing, vacation spots, and loaves of bread.
Whatever the topic of a choice may be, and no matter how few or how many options there may be, eventually we have to reach a decision. You cannot visit Myrtle Beach and Gatlinburg at the same time. You have to choose. The fifty choices of white options must be narrowed down to a single paint selection. (Our trim is going to be a lovely Powdered Snow.)
Last week, we read about Samuel, Israel’s demand for a king, the failed kingship of Saul, and the anointing of David to lead the people of Israel back to God. As promising as David was, described as a man after God’s own heart, the nation did not take long to return to the fickleness displayed in the days of the Judges.
Having brought the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob out of the land of Egypt by such miraculous displays, God proceeded to instruct Israel in the ways that they should probably honor and worship Him so as to relate to the holy God who loved them so. We call the basic summary of these commands the Ten Commandments, and they start like this, in Exodus 20:3, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Later on, the next generation was given the summary statement of their faith, known by it’s first word as the Shema: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”
This radical notion of monotheism – that there is only one God – was a stark difference between Israel and all of the other peoples around them. Egypt had a whole pantheon of gods, with one or another variously taking its place as the supreme god most to be revered in the kingdom. Most nations believed that the many gods of the world attached themselves to a particular kingdom, and as long as that people adequately fed, worshiped, and honored their god, that god would defend them and provide for them. So each country picked its premier deity based on its deepest desires or need. And, of course, there were plenty of gods, and they were everywhere.
Such gods were behind them, in Egypt. They were to the north, to the south, to the east, and to the west.
And all of these nations not only held to their various gods – of the sun, of the harvest, of fertility, of the moon, or whatever. They also had buildings erected to house them. In the buildings, they had statues of their god or gods so that they could see them, touch them, feed them, talk to them, and so on. Such a building and such a statue allowed the people a measure of comfort. They knew who their god was, where he (or she) was, and they knew that their god would stay there.
But not Israel. Israel had a tent that moved from place to place where the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob accepted sacrifices for atonement, thanksgiving, peace, and so on. There was no statue or image of God. That was strictly forbidden. The God of Israel could not be seen or touched. He could only be accessed by one tribe, and only one member of that one tribe could go into the Most Holy Place where God’s seat was. And that could only be done once per year.
When Israel had entered the Promised Land of Canaan, they were instructed to either utterly destroy or to drive out all of the people that were there so that they would not be tempted to worship the foreign gods or allow their sons and daughters to intermarry with those people and so become worshippers of foreign gods.
Joshua did not finish the task. And even though he told the people just before he died, “Choose this day whom you will serve, “ and then went on, “but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” we read in Judges how the people quickly turned aside to the attraction of the worship practices around them. God even decided to leave some of the foreign peoples in place as a test of Israel’s faithfulness. They failed, miserably.
King David had been a mostly faithful follower of God. He secured Israel by military might. He captured Jerusalem and established the nation’s capital there. And, though he was forbidden by God from constructing it, he also gathered all of the necessary materials to build a permanent temple for the worship of God. David’s son, Solomon, went on to construct that temple. In 1 Kings 8, Solomon dedicated the temple. 1 Kings 9, then, we read God’s response.
God accepted Solomon’s temple as his dwelling place. He promised to be with Solomon as He had been with David. He promised to maintain Solomon’s royal house, just as God had covenanted with David. But all of it was conditioned on choice. But this time, there are just two options, not fifty like my choice of white paint.
Option 1: follow the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, just like David had done. Obey the law as it was given to Moses. Should Solomon and all of his descendants do this, then God promised to establish his throne and his royal line forever.
Option 2: turn away from the God of Israel to other gods, worship them, obey them, and serve them. Should Solomon or his descendants do this, then God would cut them off, flee the temple Solomon had built, and the people would be driven from the land to become a curse among the people of the world.
Reading through the rest of the history of First and Second Kings, we read the sad story. Solomon did not remain faithful to God. He turned aside in his later years to serve the gods of some of his many wives and concubines. As a result, the kingdom of Israel was divided in the next generation into the ten northern tribes of Israel, centered in the city of Samaria, and the two southern tribes of Judah, centered in Jerusalem.The northern kingdom of Israel never again followed the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jeroboam, its first king, made idols for the people to worship. And they served the other gods and followed the other practices of the people that were around them.
The tribes of Judah and Benjamin that made up the southern kingdom of Judah did not fare much better. Every now and then a king would rise up and restore the faithful worship of God, but it would fail again after his reign and the people would turn aside. And in the end, God did abandon the temple. And the people were driven from the land.
Ten chapters after Solomon’s dedication of the temple, in 1 Kings 18, the kingdom was divided and northern ten tribes were ruled by Ahab and his queen, Jezebel. At that time, one prophet of the living God remained alive in those northern tribes and spoke God’s word to them. His name was Elijah. Ahab and Jezebel had led people to worship Baal and the Asherahs. Elijah met them and proclaimed to the people: Stop being fickle! If the Lord is God, follow him. If Baal is God, follow him. He then went on to demonstrate that there is only one God, and His name is not Baal.
Today, we are left with the same two choices as Solomon and the people of Israel. Who are we going to follow, worship, and serve? The truth is we are going to serve and worship something or someone. We cannot help it. We are worshippers to our very core. We can choose the God who revealed himself to Moses, David, and Solomon and then most fully revealed himself in Jesus, or we can choose something else. But we are going to choose something.
There are many other, distracting options. There are the hundred million gods of Hinduism. There is the empty oneness of Buddhism. There is the judgmental Allah of Islam. There is the paganism of Wicca. Or there is the worship of self or humanity that is secular humanism. But there are also other, more sinister options that we may follow, serve, and obey almost without realizing it. There is the god that masquerades as a sport or team, demanding all of our attention and loyalty. There is the god that masquerades as health and beauty. There is the keeping up with the Joneses. There is politics. There is money, which even Jesus warned us about serving.
So today, like Elijah, I warn you: choose your God today and be intentional about it. Either God is God, Jesus is His Son, His Son died for our sins on a cross, and is going to come again for His bride, or else He isn’t god and something else is. Either you will be fully devoted to God, or you will be fully devoted to something or someone else – perhaps even just yourself and your own interests. You will worship something.
God is a jealous God who does not share the limelight or the position of devotion. Choose your God and then accept the consequences or your choice. Do not “limp between different opinions” like the people of Israel would do, sometimes serving God, sometimes serving another so-called god. Who do you want to follow? Who is worth serving? Who is worth obeying? Who can bring you everlasting peace, everlasting life, forgiveness of all your sins, and a hopeful future no matter today’s circumstances? Choose your God today.
 Deuteronomy 6:4