September 5, 2017
(Before I begin, a reminder of my goal. I am working my way through the Psalms one-by-one, and picking out one highlight from each that the Holy Spirit uses to continue the process of producing the character of Christ in me. We are just past the half-way point.)
Psalm 78:35-38 35 They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God their redeemer. 36 But they flattered him with their mouths; they lied to him with their tongues. 37 Their heart was not steadfast toward him; they were not faithful to his covenant. 38 Yet he, being compassionate, atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them; he restrained his anger often and did not stir up all his wrath.
In ancient Greece, the politically crafty philosopher Aristippus had learned to get along in court by flattering the tyrant Denys. Aristippus looked down his nose at some of his less prosperous fellow philosophers and wise men who would not stoop that low. One day Aristippus saw his colleague Diogenes washing some vegetables and he said to him disdainfully: “If you would only learn to flatter King Denys you would not have to be washing lentils.”
Diogenes looked up slowly and in the same tone replied, “And you, if you had only learned to live on lentils, would not have to flatter King Denys.”
Like Aristippus, the people of Israel had not learned to live in contented trust of God. They had fallen for the Satanic deception that God was nothing more than a means to their own selfish ends. They knew in their heads the truth about God’s nature and character, but they used that knowledge to satisfy the desires of their own hearts rather than to transform their hearts. They could say with their lips that God was their Rock and their Redeemer, but their hearts were not loyal to Him and they were not faithful to keep His covenant. They turned to God only when they needed deliverance from affliction, not realizing that their own selfish hearts were the cause of those afflictions.
It may be true that we get caught up in the same cycle of selfishness. We lose patience with God’s purpose and want more immediate results. We lose strength to endure the hardships of this life and want relief, having defined relief as prosperity. We want God to make our lives better according to our perception of better. And because of our knowledge of His nature and character, we put on the appearance of loyalty and faithfulness with elements of praise and worship hoping that God will grant us what we want.
We have to some degree become flatterers. We use our knowledge of God to tell God what we believe He wants to hear so that we can receive from Him what we want to receive. But our selfishness has blinded us to the reality that God knows the intent of our heart regardless of our words.
I ran across a simple definition of a flatterer – a flatterer is a person who tells you your opinion and not his own. That’s what the people of Israel were doing, and it may be that’s what we do also. It would be spiritually healthy for us to evaluate the true condition of our heart.
The knowledge we have of God is intended by God to transform our fleshly hearts into spiritual ones where the Spirit of God resides with full authority and access to every part of our life. At times, however, our knowledge of God is used to strengthen to position of our flesh and to seek the desires of our fleshly hearts.
This is dangerous.
Be careful not to take advantage of the mercy and forgiveness of God. Yes, He was merciful and forgiving to the people of Israel, but He did not withhold judgment. Time after time He restrained His anger and did not stir up His full wrath, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t stir up any wrath at all. He did not utterly destroy them but He did discipline them.
Maybe the difficulties you are experiencing right now are the result of your own sin. Maybe you have been using God to accomplish your own goals.
Maybe the time you spend in Bible study and devotions is primarily to discover more things God should be doing for you rather than just learning more about who God is so you can love Him more completely.
Maybe your participation in worship at church is to enhance your sense of spiritual well-being rather than to humble yourself before Almighty God and seek His face.
In humble repentance, do we dare say that anything we do that we hope will please God so that God will be pleased with us is flattery, and it is done from a selfish heart?
If only we would learn to trust that God is our Rock and our Redeemer, and let that truth transform our hearts. Then we would be content in the sovereign care He promised in verse 72 – With upright heart he shepherded them, and guided them with his skillful hand.