Bible Study with Jairus- Deuteronomy 7
Do You Have Idols in Your Heart?
In Deuteronomy 7, God gave the Israelites a command to kill all the Canaanites (7:2), but he also commanded the Israelites not to destroy them quickly, lest the wild beasts grow too numerous for them (7:22). I believe God’s first command shows the importance of our attitude, and the second command shows the importance of our method.
The theme of Deuteronomy is to teach the second generation of Israel not to worship idols. God says that idolatry and disobedience to God are closely related, even synonymous. For example, when Saul did not obey God’s command to destroy the Amalekites, Samuel rebuked him saying, “Rebellion is equal to sorcery; stubbornness is equal to worshiping false gods and house gods” (ESV, 1 Samuel 15:23). Rebellion is disobedience, and sorcery is idolatry. That’s why I say that disobeying God is idolatry.
To expose our idolatry, God often gives us a command that seems unreasonable in order to test our obedience. When we obey this difficult command, it shows that God is most important to us and there are no idols in our hearts. But when we refuse to obey Him, it shows that something else is more important to us than God.
It’s not difficult to understand why God told the Israelites to kill all the Canaanites. The Canaanites represent the strongholds of evil and idolatry in our hearts. We must remove such strongholds from our lives, throwing aside the sins that entangle us (Hebrews 12:1-3). Obeying God’s commands to conquer these besetting sins is often painful and difficult. If we can’t overcome these entangling weaknesses, they continue to trap us and drag us into sin. God deals with our attitude as we remove the strongholds of sin from our hearts.
If our hearts are willing to obey God, He will help us overcome evil spirits and idols. This is a matter of method. Our attitude is important, but so is our method. Because of God’s wise methods, we can eventually overcome evil spirits and idols.
Obedience To God Is the Criterion For Judging Whether We Have Idols In Our Hearts
As I have said many times, the structure of Deuteronomy is a sandwich. At the beginning, Moses praised the Israelites for learning the lesson of faith in the wilderness. At the end, he blessed the Israelites again. The middle section reiterates the contents of the law and teaches the Israelites not to worship idols. The Israelites learned the lesson of faith in the wilderness, but not the lesson about not worshipping idols. Therefore, God’s next step is to test the Israelites and teach them not to worship idols. In addition to commanding the Israelites not to worship idols, God also tests them to see if they will obey His commands.
Let’s look at a few other times God tested people to see if they would obey him. In 1 Samuel 13, King Saul was waiting for Samuel to come and offer a sacrifice to God, but Samuel did not come on time. Saul waited a week, and his troops were beginning to desert him. So Saul decided to offer the burnt offering on his own. As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, Samuel came. Samuel rebuked Saul for not waiting for him. Saul then replied, “You did not come on time, the people were scattering from me. The Philistines had also mustered at Michmash to come against me at Gilgal.” (1 Samuel 13:8-12). Samuel said, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” (1 Samuel 13:13-14).
Why was God so offended when Saul did not wait for Samuel to offer the sacrifice? Saul was a king, not a priest. Only the priest Samuel could lawfully offer sacrifices to God. Saul overstepped his authority by offering sacrifices.
Why did Saul decide not to wait for Samuel to come and offer the sacrifice? Because he was afraid of his people and of the enemy. His eyes were not fixed on God alone, like David’s were. Instead, he reacted to his people’s preferences. Saul feared the opinions of his own troops and he feared his enemies, but he didn’t fear God.
God deliberately allowed Samuel to arrive late to see whether Saul would obey Him. If Saul decided to obey and wait on God in faith, it would mean that he magnified God above all other priorities. If Saul did not wait, it would show that he feared people more than God. Why did he fear people? Because he was afraid that they would desert him and stop supporting him as king. Being in power was his idol. Later, in order to keep his position of power, Saul tried to kill David on many occasions. This is proof that his position was his idol.
God also tested the Syrian general Naaman to see if he would obey a difficult, seemingly nonsensical command. Naaman had traveled all the way to Israel to ask Elisha to cure his leprosy. But when he arrived, Elisha didn’t even come out to speak to him personally. He just sent a messenger to tell him that if he bathed in the Jordan seven times, he would be healed. This angered Naaman. “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper,” Naaman said (2 Kings 5:11). Elisha’s behavior was completely different from what Naaman had imagined. Naaman said angrily, “Aren’t the rivers in Damascus better than Israel’s? Why should I wash in the dirty Jordan river?” Naaman was angry, but his servant persuaded him to obey God. The servant convinced him that washing in the Jordan was an easy assignment; he might as well try it. So Naaman obeyed God, went to the Jordan river, and washed himself seven times. Because of his obedience, God healed him of his leprosy (2 Kings 5:11-14).
God’s commands may sometimes seem unreasonable. As Pastor Bill Johnson used to say, “God often offends our minds to reveal our hearts.” His commands may seem unconventional and offensive. But our obedience to these commands reveals whether we are willing to obey God. And our obedience to God reveals whether or not we have idols in our hearts.
God’s command to exterminate the Canaanites seemed cruel and difficult to understand. But it would reveal whether the second-generation Israelites were willing to obey God or whether they were still loyal to their idols. The Canaanites represent evil spirits and idolatry and the strongholds they build in man. Therefore, God asked the Israelites to get rid of them.
God often uses the same method today to see if we will obey Him. His difficult commands reveal whether or not we have idols in our hearts. God wants to break down these strongholds. If we don’t obey him, these strongholds will entangle us.
Canaanites Represent the Strongholds of Evil and Idolatry.
The Canaanite towns were full of evil spirits and idolatries. God knew that their idolatry would rob the Israelites of their ability to worship God. If the Israelites were to unite with the Canaanites and marry their children, they would join their idolatry and be captured by the stronghold of evil. This is why God commanded the Israelites to destroy the Canaanites, not to marry their children, to break down their altars, to dash in pieces their pillars, to chop down their Asherah poles, and to burn their carved images with fire (7:3-5). The Israelites were to destroy every single idol of the Canaanites.
But the Israelites were reluctant to do so, just like we are often reluctant to give up the sins that entangle us. Why? Because we enjoy the pleasure of sin.
Let’s return to the story of Saul. Saul failed God’s first test when he did not wait for Samuel to offer the sacrifice. Then God tested him again. In 1 Samuel 15, Samuel told Saul that God wanted him to kill the Amalekites because they had resisted the Israelites with all their might when they came out of Egypt. Samuel specifically instructed Saul not to show mercy to the Amalekites, but to kill all men, women, children, and livestock.
Saul followed God’s instruction to fight the Amalekites, but he did not follow the command to destroy them completely. He spared Agag, the king of the Amalekites, and the best of the sheep and oxen. They destroyed everything in the city that was despised and worthless, but he saved the good things. Because of Saul’s disobedience, God sent Samuel to rebuke Saul. God said he regretted making Saul king. And he spoke the famous words equating idolatry and disobedience: “For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.” (1 Samuel 15:23).
Many times, our experiences mirror Saul’s. God commands us to completely destroy the sin that entangles us. We’re happy to destroy the sins that we don’t care about, but we hold onto the ones we enjoy. For instance, a brother said he was struggling to overcome the temptation to watch pornographic videos. Clearly, this is an entangling sin that should be destroyed completely. So why is it so hard to destroy? Because we enjoy it so much. The main reason we cannot overcome a certain sin or weakness is that we still love it. If we truly hated it, we would be able to quickly overcome it.
Deuteronomy 7:25-26 says, “The carved images of their gods you shall burn with fire. You shall not covet the silver or the gold that is on them or take it for yourselves, lest you be ensnared by it, for it is an abomination to the Lord your God. And you shall not bring an abominable thing into your house and become devoted to destruction like it. You shall utterly detest and abhor it, for it is devoted to destruction.” God knows we must hate sin in order to overcome it.
Lessons of Faith and Obedience in Our Spiritual Experience
As Christians grow spiritually, God teaches them lessons of faith and obedience. Like the Israelites, we must first learn the lesson of faith, and then move on to the lesson of obedience.
Learning the lesson of faith helps us get to know God, his goodness, and his sovereignty. God’s goodness never changes, no matter how our circumstances may change. We will encounter storms in our lives, but the sun always shines above the clouds. In the same way, God’s goodness and sovereignty always shine above the difficulties of our lives. God made known his nature to Moses, and he will make known his nature to us (Psalm 103:7). When God appeared to Moses long ago, He revealed his goodness: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6).
Moses knew God personally, spoke to the Lord face to face, and mastered the lesson of faith. But it took a lifetime to learn the lesson of obedience. Near the end of his life, Moses disobeyed God’s clear instructions when bringing water out of the rock at Meribah. God disciplined Moses and would not let him enter the land of Canaan (Numbers 20:12).
Like Moses, Christians today often learn the lesson of faith more quickly, and the lesson of obedience more slowly. The lesson of obedience is often harder than the lesson of faith. Personally, I experienced a difficult wilderness experience in which I learned the lesson of faith. Through ten years of infertility, I experienced God’s faithfulness and learned to trust him through suffering.
After God had taught me this lesson of faith, he began to teach me the lesson of obedience. The Lord Jesus appeared to me one day and challenged me to obey Him completely. After being taken to heaven, I heard the Lord say, “Surrender to me completely.” I cried, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41) Through the mouth of a prophet, the Holy Spirit told me that I was too strong-willed and that I needed to learn to obey God. Many people and things in my environment made it difficult for me to obey. I was struggling so hard. I felt like I could not surrender. But the more disobedient I was, the more severely the Holy Spirit disciplined me. I was really suffering. It was hard for me to fight God’s will. When I finally surrendered to God, I realized that obedience is a blessing.
Unfortunately, there are many spiritual leaders who have attained great success and then fallen into great sin. If we observe carefully, we will realize that the root cause of their sin is that they failed to deal with some weakness in their spiritual life. After they become successful, they start slacking off spiritually. This weakness becomes a snare and traps them in sinful patterns. Whether it is David committing adultery with Bathsheba, or apologist Ravi Zacharias committing sexual assault, we can see that their weaknesses were not fully dealt with. They failed to totally destroy the evil strongholds of sin in their lives, just like the Israelites failed to totally destroy the Canaanites. After these men became famous and successful, their weaknesses came back to haunt them. The weaknesses became idols in their hearts. Eventually, they were trapped, snared, and overwhelmed by a lifestyle of sin.
When I first believed in the Lord, I asked God, “Why didn’t You allow me to grow up in a Christian home? Why did you allow me to fall into so many sinful failures?” I felt very confused. But gradually, I came to understand that God sovereignly allowed these experiences for a reason. Because I had experienced failure, I had also experienced the process of breaking down idols and learning to obey God. The sins and weaknesses I experienced before salvation showed me the horrific nature of sin and exposed my weaknesses. I saw very clearly the evil strongholds in our family. Because of these early realizations, I believe I am less likely to fall into sin down the road when I’m in the process of fulfilling God’s call. I would rather have made mistakes and learned from them than fall into unsuspected sin later on in life. It’s better to have my sins exposed early, rather than exposing them later when they would do more damage to the people I am serving. I am truly amazed at God’s wisdom.
The earlier our sins can be exposed, the better. We don’t need to wait until later for our weaknesses to be exposed.
God’s Methods for Overcoming Evil Spirits
After our hearts and attitudes are dealt with, we need to wait for God’s leading about the method for overcoming the specific sin we are struggling with. God will lead in different ways for different people, using different methods for different circumstances.
For instance, God gradually removed the Canaanite nations, commanding the Israelites not to destroy them too quickly, in order to prevent the wild beasts from growing too numerous for them (7:22). People generally interpret the beasts here as evil spirits. The Lord Jesus once told a parable about an unclean spirit coming out of a person. It could not find a place to go, so it returned to the person from whom it came. When it saw that the house was swept and put in order, it brought seven other spirits more evil than itself to dwell there. And the state of this person was worse than the first (Luke 11:24-26). The Canaanites represent the strongholds of evil spirits on earth. After destroying the strongholds and casting out the evil spirits, we must invite the baptism of the Holy Spirit into our lives so we can continue to experience transformation. If we do not grow spiritually, our freedom won’t last long. The power of sin may return, and we may still fail.
We must rely on the power and leading of the Holy Spirit to defeat the strongholds of idols and evil spirits in our lives. In this way, our weaknesses won’t be as likely to become snares in the future. Bless those brothers and sisters who are called by God to deal with their weaknesses and impurities so they can become God’s strong warriors.
 All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.