I’m a few chapters deep into Beale’s new book We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry, so I figured I’d share some of the wealth that I’m mining out. To give you a feel for the book, chapter 1 is 35 pages long and loaded with great exegesis and detailed footnotes–not a quick read. But it’s the foundation of the book, and we find Beale using Isaiah’s commission in Isaiah 6:1-13 as the paradigmatic (his word, not mine!) example of how we really do become like what we worship.
Throughout the chapter you’ll find how Isaiah 6 is either alluded by or alludes to other critical passages that warn of the dangers of idolatry such as Psalm 115:4-8; 135:15-18 and Isaiah 1:29-31; 42:17-20; 65:2-7. But for now here’s a quick summary:
Israel’s problem was idol worship, and the idea of Isaiah 6:9-10 is this: Isaiah is to tell these idolaters that they have been so unrepentant about their idol worship that God is going to make them as spiritually insensitive, as spiritually inanimate and lifeless, as the idols. God is saying through Isaiah, his prophet, “You like idols, Israel? Alright, you are going to become like an idol, and that is the judgment.” (p.47)
So there you have it–God’s judgment equaled giving his people what they wanted. On the one hand, they thought that worshiping God was a dead end street. On the other, they thought that their neighbor’s idols would lead to an “enhanced life and prosperity, but in reality it resulted in further deterioration of their spiritual life and ultimately their material prosperity.” (p. 49)
After finishing this chapter, i didn’t immediately dive into chapter 2. Instead I lingered on these texts and some of Beale’s observations in hopes of finding out what these truths might look like in my life. Here’s what I found.
- Exegesis matters. Thinking hard and thinking long about God’s Word is not a luxury; it’s a necessity. With all of the demands of ministry and life, it’s tempting to sit down with books that are immediately practical. This book is not. It’s not meant to be. Beale does two things that are helping me love God with all of my mind, heart, and soul. 1. He exemplifies a deep reverence for the Word of God; he treats Scripture as though every word matters, for life and death. 2. He models thoughtful study of Scripture in its context and there fore discovers things that many have not before because they were not looking (and probably had their minds made up already!). I need this type of teaching and I need this extended time to think about God’s Word.
- Every doxology has an anti-doxology. As a gathered worship leader it’s tempting to think only positively about worship, “Let’s worship God together this morning!” As though worship only applies to the Triune God. But to paraphrase Harold Best, “Even when we sin, we are still worshiping; it’s just that our worship has changed directions, off from God and onto sin.” And so, Israel is a good example. When they worshipped the idols of their neighbors, they were stating something very pointedly at God–“you cannot offer me what these ‘god’s can!” What a vivid reminder–our sin in not just “breaking God’s rules”, each and every sinful though and action is an act of idolatrous worship, treasonous rebellion agains God. It’s not that we just stop worshipping God. No! When we sin, we worship at the feet of some substitute savior, some would-be god, some idol. We offer grandiose praise and thankfulness and power and glory to something other than the One who is infinitely glorious.
- Idols offer life, but deliver death. Isaiah taunts all idol worshippers with the reality of their present stupidity and ensuing ruin. Because they worshipped god’s with eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear, their spiritual eyes would become blind and their spiritual ears would become deaf–incapable of recieving God’s Word and thus his blessing and protection. No doubt the people of Israel were told by their neighbors “Man if you lived liked us, you’d be happier!” Meaning, if you worshipped my god, you’re wife would be pregnant, your crops would be bountiful, etc. But what they got was destruction and exile. Our idols today may not look the same but they just as common, perhaps more subtle, and just as dangerous. David Powlison’s “X-Ray Questions” have been a huge help in detecting and destroying the idols of my heart. Essentially they help get to the heart to find out if I’ve been loving or trusting or desiring what God hates or loving or trusting or desiring a good thing too much! May the vision of the eternal glory of God who is “Holy, Holy, Holy!” far surpass the fleeting, lying, ruinous pleasures of blind, deaf idols.
Sorry that’s bit longer than normal. That said, I’m enjoying We Become What We Worship and hope to share more soon.