Tuesday, August 9, 2011

He Owns the Cattle on a Thousand Hills

The other day I was considering Jesus’ words in Matthew chapter 6.  Here Jesus says that we do not have to give ourselves over to taking care of the body or accumulating wealth for security since God is quite capable of providing for us.  This frees us up to focus on obeying and serving him even when it looks like doing so will put us into physical danger or need.

I was thinking of scriptures and songs that taught this and the song, “This Is My Father’s World” came to mind.  I also thought of the old song, “He Owns The Cattle On A Thousand Hills”.  But when I turned to Ps. 50 I noticed something interesting.  The context of this statement was not about God’s ability to provide for us but instead something equally if not more important.

Now to be sure, the fact that God owns all the earth and everything and everyone in it infers that we will be adequately provided for; so I don’t have a problem with this fact being used in the song to make this point.  But the context has to do with the silly and sinful notion that somehow we are impressing God or providing something for him when we bring a sacrifice to him.  The point is that some of the Israelites thought that the sacrifices were the end in themselves.  Evidently they thought that regardless of how sinful I am and how much my life is offensive to a holy God, as long as I bring him an animal he is happy. 

But God says in Ps. 50 that he already owns the animals.  They aren’t filling some need of his let alone pacifying his wrath against sin by offering a sacrifice to him that is already his to begin with.  He says, “Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?”  They were failing to realize that these sacrifices couldn’t be the main point but that they pointed to something else.  In other words, the very nature of God should have caused them to realize that such pitiful “gifts” couldn’t actually make things right with God. 

What makes our lives acceptable to the Lord is that we live to honor him.    This is primarily shown in that we find our joy and fulfillment in knowing him.  To think that we can bribe him with something that is his just makes our sin more apparent; it does nothing to attain forgiveness and fellowship.  He goes on to say that while you are bribing me you continue to walk in ways that I hate. 

Unlike all false gods, the True God isn’t satisfied as long as we jump through a series of moral or ritualistic hoops that he has arbitrarily set up.  The only thing that proves that we love him is that we long to be like him.  These Israelites were not interested in hearing what God had to say since they "hated discipline and cast his words behind them"; they were pleased when they saw people doing evil; they spent their time with the wicked; they gossiped and slandered and threw God a dead animal now and then as if God was so low, petty and shallow that he would be satisfied with this.

But he gives us a weighty warning in vs. 21, “These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you. Psa 50:22  "Mark this, then, you who forget God, lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver! Psa 50:23  The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!"

First of all anything we do and say that suggests that God is like us is wrong.  This happens a lot in our day when people suggests that God is evil or unjust in some way because he doesn’t express his love and justice the way we think he should.  Railing against the providence of God is bringing his wrath upon you at worst and refusing to rejoice always at best. 

Then he says to get his next point because if you don’t you are in danger of his eternal wrath.  He is much more concerned with what is going on inside your heart than the religious activity.  The sacrifices he wants are the ones that arise from hearts full of thanksgiving and worship.  But then he balances this out.  He did not make humans with two parts, a body and a soul, that can be viewed separately as if they can live independently from each other.  What makes us human is that they cannot be independent.  We cannot let our body do what it wants and pretend that this doesn’t arise from within.  So he finishes by saying that the one who is right on the inside will be right on the outside. 

We cannot live an ungodly life and be clean on the inside.  On the other hand, good works and religious activity won’t clean up an evil heart.  When the Lord saves us he gives us a new heart or a new nature and this necessitates a new walk.  Perhaps Romans 6:4 says it as well as anywhere,  “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”  Lest we think salvation is just positional and doesn’t have to affect the way we live in vs. 6-7 he adds some commentary, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.”

There are two things that the Old and New Testaments teach exactly the same; salvation is by grace alone and it comes with a new heart.  Nowhere does it teach that we can earn it or continue to live as we did before once we have it.

3 comments:

  1. Stellar Nathan. The idea that we can serve God with our sacrifices and then think we are free to live any old way we want is what is at the foundation of all idolatry. It is very much at the root of Romanism as well. Live your life any old way - but as long as you attend Mass, confession & the sacraments - who cares where the heart is? The sad thing is - we've got enough "Protestants" doing the same!

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  2. Thanks Reid, it is always fun to reread old text and realize you never really understood the context.

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  3. I have major issues with the line in the song:

    "He is my Father so they're mine as well".

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