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Sun, May 31, 2009

60 - The Path to Tyranny [c]

1 Kings 18:1-5 by Robert Dean
Series:Kings (2007)
Duration:57 mins 53 secs

Tyranny and Syncretism

 

We have to remember that the ultimate source of all tyranny is the sin nature, as Scripture says. Every single human being since Adam has been born with a sin nature and is spiritually dead. Because we were born spiritually dead we are enslaved to that sin nature. We have volition, we make choices, but as a spiritually dead unbeliever there is one realm of choice that is completely foreign to every human being, and that is a choice that is truly righteous, a choice that is truly good in the sight of God, a choice that has any merit in terms of His righteousness. So we are limited, as it were, in our volition and in our exercise of choice until we are born again. At the instant that we put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, at that moment, we are regenerate, the Scripture says, and at that moment God creates and imparts to us a new spirit that enables us to have a relationship with God, to understand eternal truths and to be able to live and apply them in our lives. In the church age we are also given at that moment of salvation God the Holy Spirit, and it is God the Holy Spirit who is the one who energizes and empowers us, and by whom we walk and mature spiritually. For that new life that we have when we trust in Jesus as our savior is given to us but it is compared in Scripture to the life an infant, a baby, and so the Bible uses this analogy in terms of human experience in terms of growth from human infancy t0 maturity. Everyone is born a spiritual infant, they have no knowledge or understanding of eternal things other than what they have just learned, that God has provided through His love a savior who died on the cross and paid the penalty for sin, and that because of that we can have eternal life.

 

So bondage is ultimately an individual problem. It is not a social problem, not a group problem, not an education problem, not a national problem; it is an individual problem. To solve that problem and its serious implications for all realms of human society the ultimate solution and the only real solution begins at the cross. It is only when people have true freedom that comes through Jesus Christ (Galatians 6:1, freedom which isn't political but spiritual) that we can ever come to understand what real freedom is in other areas of life. Even if we live under political tyranny, or if we live in circumstances or organizations where there is very little freedom, we have freedom in our soul. Every believer has true freedom in the soul because of that relationship to God.

 

When we understand that as our broad understanding for what is the basis for tyranny and bondage in human experience, and what that solution is, then we can begin to see in history and in the out workings of individual relationships, whether it is in a small community or a large community, whether it is the production of the sin nature towards corruption and bondage or the outworking of spiritual truth in terms of understanding and experiencing freedom in the course of life. One of the things we have in the Bible is not only a focus on the spiritual problem and the spiritual solution, but God in the way He has put together this revelation from Genesis to Revelation the kind of information we need in His divinely edited observations on history so that through studying that we can come to understand many different principles related to every area of life. The Bible is not a mono-thematic book, it is not just focused on salvation and the spiritual life; it is designed to teach us how to think about every area of human experience from God's perspective, and how to be able to bring that grid to bear to interpret and understand circumstances so that we can then apply the problem-solving rationales to the situations we face in life, thinking about them in a biblical framework without allowing the circumstances we face to overwhelm us, discourage us, make us feel hopeless and helpless.

 

We understand as believers that God is in control and circumstances vary down through history. Christians have lived and flourished under many different kinds of political environments. Christians have also suffered and have also been persecuted under many different political environments. In the northern kingdom of Israel at the time of Elijah believers are going through a time of unprecedented suffering, hostility and persecution as Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab, is sending out her hit squads to seek and destroy the prophets of God who are living in the northern kingdom, and to destroy any witness or evidence of the truth of God. One of the lessons that we can learn and trace through the study of Elijah is how God protects, how He provides for, believers who are living under not merely a political tyranny but also in an environment of spiritual hostility where their very lives are threatened.

 

One of the questions that has been raised in the northern kingdom's history is how they got there. How did they get into this mess? By understanding the dynamics of the development of tyranny in this period we can understand the connection between spirituality and freedom. We can understand the connection between what many people today want to isolate as religious perceptions and religious thought and social consequences and political actions. In God's world is interconnected; in the mind of modern and postmodern man everything is disconnected, especially when it comes to religion. There are many secularists in this nation of all political stripes who do not think that religious belief should have anything to do with how somebody thinks about economics, literature, art, music or politics, because there things are different from religion. So somehow you Christians, you just keep your Bible studies and your churches on Sunday morning because these don't have anything to do with how we make decisions in a nation. What we see in the Old Testament is that political and economic circumstances are the consequences of spiritual decisions, and at the very core of life are those spiritual realities because those spiritual realities have to do with how we understand ultimate reality. Ultimately reality is either the God of the Bible, a personal, infinite, righteous, loving God, or it is something less than that. And if we look at the culture around us that which is ultimate reality is nothing but impersonal matter, and at its most extreme opposite these are the options that are presented: the impersonal matter that operates on principles of pure random chance or, on the other hand, we live in a universe that was created by a personal, infinite God who designed every aspect of the universe—whether it has to do with life, human interaction, social institutions, or whether it has to do with the physics, chemistry and biology of all the aspects in that universe.

 

What flows out of that, understanding of ultimate reality affects how we think about knowledge; and the ultimate issue in knowledge is the ultimate issue in the universe, in the history of man and in the history of angels. The second issue that flows out of ultimate reality is how do we know anything about ultimate reality? When we come to answer that question of how do we know we have to go to the issue of authority. How do we know something is true means what is the ultimate authority in our life? Is the ultimate authority in our life what other people think, the opinion of those around us? Is the ultimate authority in our life that which is derived through the scientific endeavor, through the use of rationalism and empiricism within the scientific method totally apart from any external input where the universe is viewed as a closed system and there can't be presuppositionally any information coming into that closed system from an external authority such as God; we have to be able to find our answers totally and completely from within that closed system. So knowledge ultimately involves this question of authority. What is the authority when you say that something is right or something is wrong? Whenever we use value judgments it involves a system of knowledge in order to make those evaluations.

 

What lies behind making these evaluations is a system of values that presupposes a system of knowledge and an authority base. So who is our authority? Is it God, a personal infinite God who speak to man and who has spoken to man to give man a complete framework of thought so that he can then evaluate and understand the issues of life, or is the ultimate reality something that is within creation itself, something that comes out of man's own thought based on rationalism, empiricism, or even mysticism? When we put our ultimate authority on God who exists outside of creation as the infinite personal creator, who stands completely separate from creation, then that is part of worshipping God. But when we put our ultimate authority within creation, in human opinion, in the results of a closed system, a scientific system based on rationalism and empiricism, or the intuitive insights of people who think that they are getting messages from God in mysticism, then what we are doing is saying that ultimate authority lies within the creaturely realm. And when we put the ultimate authority within the creaturely realm the Bible has a word for it: idolatry. Idolatry is not simply the worship of external images made out of wood or metal or stone, idolatry ultimately derives from a mental attitude where we are putting the ultimate authority in our life in something that is created over against the creator of all things.

 

Once we get involved in idolatry then we are basically feeding and following—the two operate together—the lust patterns of our sin nature. We know that that which drives the sin nature at the very core of its makeup are the lust patterns—all kinds, such as power lust, materialism lust, money lust or greed, sexual lust, lust for recognition and approval, which are the prime lusts. When there is no restraint on the lust patterns of the sin nature then those lust patterns are free to operate at their fullest extent. That's called the tyranny of the sin nature. The sin nature is in the driver's seat and is in control. The only thing that can minimize the sin nature for creatures, apart from salvation, is going to be some form of discipline, ethics or law, all of which bring to bear a value system. So whenever we start talking about value systems it takes us back to the whole issue of how we know what is right or wrong and what our ultimate authority is. It is human reason or human experience? Is it getting insights, flashes from God? Or is it in objective revelation from God in His Word?

 

That is interesting, because all issues in life ultimately come down to this whole thing about authority. We might scratch our heads and ask why authority is such a major issue, such a factor in the Scriptures. It is because the original sin in the universe is the sin of rejection of authority, the sin of God's highest and most intelligent angel whom we refer to as Lucifer or by his post-fall title Satan or the devil as he sought to make himself the ultimate authority in the universe. He wanted to be God; he wanted to be the one who would determine what right and wrong would be, and the one to whom and through whom everything in creation would ultimately refer. So the ultimate battle, the ultimate revolution, in the history of the universe was an authority issue; and this is what we always have to come down to as believers whenever we start talking about this whole issue of freedom and tyranny, when we start seeing how these spiritual issues work themselves out within the framework of human government.

 

How did Israel get into the mess of the time of Elijah? The first reason, as we have seen, was the syncretism of Solomon. But what went hand in hand with the syncretism of Solomon as he rejected God and began to blend various other religions together, was the arrogance of the people. It was not just a problem of government in terms of Solomon's abuse of it as he turned toward idolatry, rejecting the mandates God had put in to the law, it also involved the arrogance of the people. Early on, in 1 Samuel 8 when they first demanded of God that He would give them a king "like all the other nations," and God gave them such a king, a king who operated under carnality. But God warned them that when they had a government established, the trend of the government when there is an unrestrained atmosphere, it would lean toward tyranny. It would move toward gaining greater and greater control of the people and this would be demonstrated through excessive taxation which would ultimately enslave the people. Just as a ball will roll downhill there is always the trend in governments and in society for there to be a trend toward the loss of liberty and freedom, a loss of the value of the individual, and an emphasis on promotion of the power of governing body.

 

When we look at the history of Israel preceding the time of Elijah we see that this trend into the tyranny of oppressive government really began with Solomon. But it didn't begin with political action, it began with spiritual decisions on Solomon's part. Solomon had been devoted to God and spiritually mature at a very young age and he had been blessed richly by God n accordance with God's promises in the Mosaic law during the first twenty or thirty years of his time as king. But as he began to fail the test of prosperity more and more (and no nation has ever passed it) then Solomon got his eyes off of God and on to other things, including his numerous wives. It was through his intermarriage with these various other women from different nations and religious backgrounds that we see Solomon giving into syncretism. He begins to pick and choose his religious beliefs, it is no longer to completely and totally worship God. This is where we see the problem develop.

1 Kings 11:4-6 NASB "For when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father {had been.} For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians and after Milcom the detestable idol of the Ammonites. Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and did not follow the LORD fully, as David his father {had done.}"

There is no concern in syncretism for logic or rational consistency. We live in that kind of era. Under postmodernism there is a rejection of historic logic. Postmodernism is really a reaction to modernism. Modernism said that man on his own efforts and energy could come to solve man's problems, apart from God—from reason and experience using logic. Man hasn't done that and so there was a rejection of modernism, it didn't really solve the problem. The reaction called postmodernism makes everything relative and everything of equal value, whether it is the thought of some prehistoric or stone age tribe, or it is the thought of some educated elitists from Harvard; it is all of equal value; it all means the same thing; if it works for you it is okay. There is no ultimate reference point; it is just whatever you like, your own emotion or your own feelings.

Definition: Syncretism is the joining or assimilating differing or opposite doctrines and practices, especially between philosophical and religious systems, resulting in a new system altogether in which the fundamental structure and tenets of each have been changed. Syncretism of the gospel occurs when its essential characteristic is confused with elements from the culture.  (That is, the Christian take in all these different ideas that are part of the culture around them and blends them because he is not going to be in contrast or conflict with the ideas and culture around him.) In syncretism the gospel is lost as the church simply confirms and conforms to what is already present in the culture. So Christians don't look and act any different from the culture outside of the church because they have basically brought the thinking of the world into the church, rather than not being conformed to the world but being transformed by the renewing of their minds. 

So we can say that in syncretism the ethics that produce the virtue and integrity needed to preserve a righteous government and honest business are destroyed. In a syncretistic culture and when you think in a relative way you cannot produce the kind of ethics that will support liberty and freedom because you have eviscerated thought of any kind of ethical system that the government can rest upon. When you remove the people from an external reference point, from their thought in terms of absolutes, then the Constitution cannot continue, cannot stand. We have perverted the system of this nation by an unrestrained sin nature. That is the tyranny of the sin nature. The result of this syncretism is that nothing is left to restrain the lust patterns of the soul. They are free to be exploited to their fullest. The increase of the power of the sin nature increases the tyranny of the sin nature of the nation's leaders, whether they are political, in business, or religious. They are operating on the unrestrained sin nature and this leads to the tyranny of the nation.

The second stage in the slide to tyranny in Israel in the ancient world occurred in the time of Jeroboam I. After Solomon led the nation into idolatry God removed his blessing. God had blessed the people greatly under Solomon. As they were obeying the law and learning the Word, applying the Word, and because they were doing what God said to do, He was fulfilling the promises in the Mosaic law to bless them richly in material things. So the nation accumulated a vast amount of wealth. God had promised Solomon that He would establish his house and create a dynasty for him just as He had promised David. David's promise was unconditional but the promise God made to Jeroboam was conditional: "if you obey me." Jeroboam did not obey Him. There was the same problem that Solomon had, the problem of syncretism. 

Amos 5:25, 26 NASB "Did you present Me with sacrifices and grain offerings in the wilderness for forty years, O house of Israel? You also carried along Sikkuth your king and Kiyyun, your images, the star of your gods which you made for yourselves." From the time they came out of Egypt they had this problem with syncretism, it wasn't God alone. So we read also in 2 Kings 17:32, 33 NASB "They also feared the LORD and appointed from among themselves priests of the high places, who acted for them in the houses of the high places. They feared the LORD and served their own gods according to the custom of the nations from among whom they had been carried away into exile." Jeremiah described this problem of syncretism in Jeremiah 19:5 NASB "and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, a thing which I never commanded or spoke of, nor did it {ever} enter My mind." 2 Kings 17:40, 41 NASB "However, they did not listen, but they did according to their earlier custom. So while these nations feared the LORD, they also served their idols; their children likewise and their grandchildren, as their fathers did, so they do to this day." The problem is syncretism; the issue is, Are we going to believe in the Scriptures alone, or are we going to follow the same pattern as Satan's rebellion against God's authority and say, Okay, the Bible has authority in some areas but not in every area? Are we going to get this idea from this area and another from another area, mix them all up and make our own truth?  

By the time of Elijah, just two generations from the separation of the two kingdoms the king in the north is Ahab, and the king in the north has married into the family of the high priest of Baal in Phoenicia. He has married Jezebel and she has brought as part of her dowry her religion and is imposing that upon the northern kingdom. So now they are under an even worse tyranny. This is where we find ourselves as come to chapter eighteen. We discover that she has been attacking those who believe in the true God. 1 Kings 18:4 NASB "for when Jezebel destroyed the prophets of the LORD…" There is this hostility to the truth, and this is what always happens anyone gives themselves over to their sin nature, whether it is individuals or whether it is the corporate entity. When people give themselves over to the sin nature then they seek some other "truth"; they suppress the truth in unrighteousness, Paul says in Romans chapter one. So if there is going to be any solution it is a solution that starts with the individual in turning to God in subordination to His authority. Salvation doesn't start with the nation, salvation starts with the individual.    

Illustrations