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Do You Think You Are Unaccountable? – Isaiah 17:1-3, 7-9; 18:1-7

Do You Think You Are Unaccountable? – Isaiah 17:1-3, 7-9; 18:1-7
By Pastor Lee Hemen
February 2, 2014 AM

There are many in our day think they are unaccountable to anyone for what they say or do. This is simply misguided. Our choices affect not only our lives but the lives of others as well. Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks found this to be true much to his chagrin and the embarrassment of his teammates. Sherman made some wild comments following the NFC Championship Game in the heat of the moment and now is the focus instead of his team. When God’s people decide to circumnavigate God’s command, others, like family or friends, will be affected by our ungodly choices.

Some folks are continually sorry for the outcome of their actions, but their sorrow never leads them to change their lives. They blame others, family, society, income, education, physical or emotional disabilities. God’s people need to take responsibility for their lives. God wants to work in His people’s lives to transform them into a faithful followers, and this is what the church should be a part of helping folks to do. Let me ask, “Do you think you are unaccountable?” Let’s see what Isaiah teaches us…

READ: Isaiah 17:1-3, 7-9; 18:1-7

Isaiah prophesied against foreign nations primarily for the benefit of Judah. Judah trusted more in military alliances than in God’s protection. In fact, they seemed more willing to worship the false gods of other nations than God Himself. Isaiah hoped if his people knew God would destroy the faithless nations on whom they depended and feared, Judah might return to God. Babylon, Assyria, Israel to the north, Cush, and Egypt would all be destroyed. Isaiah teaches us whether great or small, even…

I. The Powerful Are Accountable! (Isaiah 17:1-3)

1. Like the prophecy to King Ahaz, Isaiah’s prophecy regarding Damascus (Syria’s capital) dates to 734 B.C. The two major roads connecting Mesopotamia to Egypt (the Via Maris or coastal road and the King’s Highway or interior road) both passed through Damascus. The strategic location of Damascus enabled the city to exercise influence far beyond its size. Isaiah’s prophecy of the complete destruction of Damascus came true remarkably quickly. In 732 B.C. the Assyrians captured Damascus, carrying many of its inhabitants into exile. For most of Old Testament history, Israel and Damascus experienced an uneasy relationship. One or the other dominated the other. Isaiah proclaimed God would create peace between the two nations, not by healing old wounds but by destroying both lands! “See, Damascus will no longer be a city but will become a heap of ruins. The cities of Aroer will be deserted and left to flocks, which will lie down, with no one to make them afraid. The fortified city will disappear from Ephraim, and royal power from Damascus; the remnant of Aram will be like the glory of the Israelites.” The folks who had aligned themselves with Damascus, Moabites and others would be “deserted and left to flocks” all the way from the northern kingdom of Israel (Ephraim) to Damascus! Their fortified cities would disappear and the royal court would be gone! Isaiah sarcastically compared the remnant of Damascus after its destruction to the faded splendor of Israel after its destruction. Assyria conquered Damascus in 732 B.C. and Israel ten years later, reducing both kingdoms to mere shadows of their former greatness. Those who think they are powerful and important today are so much dust tomorrow! Isaiah’s inclusion of Israel in his prophecies against foreign nations implied their rebellion against God had placed the nation among those who had never known God! Syria and Israel trusted in their power instead of God. God holds us accountable for our lives and our decisions! Isaiah teaches us that the powerful are accountable!
EXAMPLE: We see people like Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and Miley Cyrus using their fame and ungodly actions in order to gain financially and have greater personal recognition. Then there are those in politics who think they can continually fool people by promising them what they want to hear but not following through with their promises. The Bible teaches us that even the powerful are accountable to God!

Both Syria and Israel trusted in their power, believing they had no accountability before God. Their power did not exempt them and could not save them from God’s judgment. If we think position in the community or in church exempts us from accountability to God, we are mistaken. God holds us accountable for our lives and our decisions. In fact, Isaiah teaches us…

II. The Privileged Are Accountable! (Isaiah 17:7-9)
1. God’s people had turned away from Him to such a degree that the designation of God as the “Holy One of Israel” emphasized the great separation between God and His people. God is pure, but they were sinful. Israel had rejected its “Maker”. As Creator, God had made all things and all peoples, but He also had made Israel, His people, into a nation (Exodus 19:4-6). Israel had forgotten its birthright! God’s judgment of Israel had a positive goal. God hoped in difficult times His people would look to Him rather than to false gods. They had fallen so much that they had begun to stare intently at false gods, things, and the works of their own hands to save them instead of the Living God! Isaiah reminds them, “They will not look to the altars, the work of their hands, and they will have no regard for the Asherah poles and the incense altars their fingers have made.” God desired Israel to focus on Him and experience life, but accomplishing His goal required the drastic measure of punishing Israel for its rebellion. God will do the same in the life of Christians who continually reject His teaching and instead depend upon themselves and the ungodly world to live their lives! This is why over and over Scripture reminds us that God will not be mocked. God’s judgment would accomplish His goal. Israel would turn from false gods and to the true God. Israel had altars to many false gods, choosing to worship what they made rather than their Maker. “In that day their strong cities, which they left because of the Israelites, will be like places abandoned to thickets and undergrowth. And all will be desolation.” Asherah and her husband El served as their highest gods, with Asherah being the important fertility goddess. Asherah supposedly gave birth to 70 gods, including Baal, who demanded child sacrifice! Worship sites often featured Asherah groves or poles erected at high places. God’s punishment would prove Asherah had no power to provide life. God had chosen the Israelites to be His special people, but as the years passed both Israel and Judah abandoned their faith in God. In response, God sent judgment to punish His people for their sin. Their privilege did not remove their accountability before God. Chillingly, in the following verse we read, “You have forgotten God your Savior; you have not remembered the Rock, your fortress.” This should remind us as believers; even the privileged are accountable to God!
EXAMPLE: There are believers who think that because they have placed their faith in Christ, they can live their lives on the edge of disobedience. There is no such thing as minor disobedience in God’s kingdom because if you are disobedient in what you consider minor things, you are still disobedient! Thinking we can do whatever we want in our personal lives without consequence is dangerous thinking. Jesus taught, “That men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37 NIV) and that, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden…let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14, 16 NIV) This should remind us as believers; even the privileged are accountable to God!

God sent judgment to punish His people for their sin but even more to encourage them to return to faith in Him. Being a member of the church today also does not exempt us from accountability before God. Having taken the name of Christ, we need to grow in faith and let our words and deeds match our commitment. Isaiah teaches us that…

III. All People Are Accountable! (Isaiah 18:1-7)

1. God says there will be “woe” to all people who ignore His promise. In fact, God tells His people to send, “swift messengers, to a people tall and smooth-skinned, to a people feared far and wide, an aggressive nation of strange speech, whose land is divided by rivers.” His people were to take His message to every corner of the world! Just as in all four gospels and the Book of Acts where we are commanded to “go therefore into all the earth”! God’s judgment would come and “All you people of the world, you who live on the earth, when a banner is raised on the mountains, you will see it, and when a trumpet sounds, you will hear it.” Cush wanted Judah to join them and promised help if Assyria attacked. When the Assyrians moved against Judah Cush quickly retreated, leaving Judah to suffer the consequences. Judah sinned by trusting in human alliances rather than God. Judah willingly went to the ends of the earth to secure help but refused to turn to God. Isaiah appealed to all people to notice the hand of God at work and to turn to Him. God told Isaiah, “I will remain quiet and will look on from my dwelling place, like shimmering heat in the sunshine, like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.” Nothing escapes God, including any opportunity to call His people back to Himself. Even though we may not see action, God is at work watching and waiting. However, “before the harvest, when the blossom is gone and the flower becomes a ripening grape, he will cut off the shoots with pruning knives, and cut down and take away the spreading branches.” God would act before the fruit of their disobedience could fully form! “They will all be left to the mountain birds of prey and to the wild animals; the birds will feed on them all summer, the wild animals all winter!” Corpses would fill the fields and scavengers would enjoy a year-round feast because not enough people would remain to bury the dead! Where Israel failed, Cush would understand God’s actions as indicating His sovereignty over all people and their accountability to Him. Cush would journey to Jerusalem bringing a gift to God, “At that time gifts will be brought to the LORD Almighty from a people tall and smooth-skinned.” Do you understand what God is telling Isaiah? Those who were not originally the chosen people would recognize God! They would understand all people are accountable to God!
EXAMPLE: As Sovereign Lord of the world, God justly holds all people, including Christians accountable. God does not excuse believers from accountability; but like a loving Father, He judges our rebellion and seeks to guide us along a better path. Accountability functions positively to lead us away from a destructive lifestyle separated from God so we can live for God, blessing others and guiding them to find faith and life in Christ.

Conclusion:

The powerful, the privileged, and all of us are accountable to God!

This article is copyrighted © 2014 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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Corruption: A path to nowhere! – Micah 3:1-12

Corruption: A path to nowhere! – Micah 3:1-12
By Pastor Lee Hemen
June 23, 2013 AM

One of my assignments for a course in seminary was to observe different kinds of worship services. They do this in order for students to not only experience different kinds of worship, but to also see how not to do worship. In one instance, students went to a church that met in an old theater. The service began with upbeat music that lasted about 30 minutes. The pastor came out following the music and announced he had received a vision from the Lord that 20 people would give him $20 and those who did so would receive a special blessing. He asked everyone to close their eyes and told those who would give the $20 to raise their hands. He then pretended to count and announced falsely that 20 had raised their hands. He then made the same false claim for those who would give $10!

We live in a world where greedy people use unscrupulous methods to reap dishonest gain. Pretended good is often an effective cloak for evil. Christians should examine their motives at home, at work, at school and the church to make sure they do not exploit others. In Micah’s day, the leaders of Israel were guilty of using people to obtain power and wealth for themselves. They failed in their God-given responsibilities to promote justice and the welfare of the people who trusted them. Micah graphically teaches us about how corruption is a path to nowhere! Let’s discover what he says…

READ: Micah 3:1-12

Micah introduces a broad condemnation of the leadership of Israel (also referred to as “Jacob”). Micah rebuked the leaders for failing to do what they knew was right. They were aware of their responsibilities to provide for and protect the citizens of Israel. However, they ignored their duties and savaged the people like wild animals devouring their prey. Micah predicted they would suffer for their crimes. Micah teaches us that…

I. Corruption is moral cannibalism! (Vv.3:1-4)

1. Micah spoke prophetically against the corrupt leaders of both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. Jacob and Israel are used synonymously for both in this verse. God’s people had two basic categories of leaders in Micah’s day. The civil rulers were the king and those who served him as officials. The religious leaders included priests and prophets. Micah focused on the civil rulers in verses 1-4. God was to be the ultimate ruler; and the civil and religious authorities were to serve as He directed. This rule is called a theocracy. The leaders were to care for the people as shepherds do for a flock. The rulers were to lead the people to obey the laws both civil and God’s by godly example. These leaders were expected to “know justice”! Yet they hated good and loved evil! A godly king would appoint judges who would dispense justice impartially for all. These civil authorities however were ungodly and failed in their responsibilities. Their failure denied justice for the people and established a culture of corruption in the nation. (Sound familiar?) We live in a day whereby our court system is reinterpreting our Constitution to suit their own political agenda. The corrupt rulers of Israel reversed the moral code of God for their nation. They were supposed to pursue righteousness and avoid wickedness. Yet, like wild animals, they tore the skin off their victims and the flesh from their bones! The actions of the leaders were hypocritical and opposed to God’s will and His laws. The leaders were anything but shepherds of the flock. They were like wolves in sheep’s clothing! In very descriptive terms, Micah related that these cannibals “eat my people’s flesh, strip off their skin and break their bones in pieces; who chop them up like meat for the pan, like flesh for the pot!” When God’s final judgment came on them Micah warned, “Then they will cry out to the LORD, but he will not answer them. At that time he will hide his face from them because of the evil they have done!” Corruption is moral cannibalism!

EXAMPLE: All believers function as moral leaven in a spiritually corrupt world. We set examples for others, our families, our classmates, or at our workplace. The question we must keep in front of us is what kind of example and influence are we. Does it measure up to the ethical standards God has revealed in His word? We see evidence in our day that some civil and political authorities have lost their moral compasses and no longer know the way of truth. They call evil good and good evil. People suffer in a nation that will not honor the Lord and the basic principles of righteousness. What can Christians do when justice is denied and civic rulers fail to lead wisely? First, we can speak out as Micah did about the ungodliness in society. Christians who speak out about the sanctity of human life, the value of the traditional family, and other moral issues follow a long tradition of courageous believers who stood up for truth in the past. Second, we can vote and be active in the process of choosing our leaders. We are to be the salt of the earth and light of the world. We should use every opportunity to bring our biblical convictions to bear on the election and conduct of our leaders. Remember, Micah teaches us that corruption is moral cannibalism!

Micah condemned spiritually weak and corrupt prophets who failed to warn the people of the consequences of sin. He warned these disobedient prophets that they would not receive guidance from the Lord because of their rebellion. Their sins made impossible their receiving any revelation from the Lord. Micah contrasted his ministry with theirs, describing himself as a true prophet who spoke with the power of God’s Spirit. Micah reminds us that…

II. Corruption brings spiritual poverty! (Vv. 3:5-8)

1. Micah then turned his attention to the corrupt spiritual leaders of Israel. The prophets represented an office of spiritual leadership. True Old Testament prophets received revelation from the Lord and preached it to the rulers and the people. True prophets rebuked civil rulers when they personally failed to live moral lives. In Micah’s day, however, God identified the prophets as those “who lead my people astray.” They should have cared for the flock entrusted to them! Instead, they had become hirelings who would prophesy what the people wanted to hear. Micah related that, “if one feeds them, they proclaim ‘peace’; if he does not, they prepare to wage war against him.” These ungodly men were motivated by greed and lacked integrity. Their work was not a ministry but a way to gain wealth and power. They lacked courage and were no longer guided by the truth. They became prophets for hire who would say anything for profit. Many years later, Paul warned Timothy to, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:2-3 NIV) Micah warned that spiritual darkness would be their punishment, “Therefore night will come over you, without visions, and darkness, without divination. The sun will set for the prophets, and the day will go dark for them.” The darkness would fall on them because they failed to warn the people to repent. It also represented the judgment that would come. In fact, “The seers will be ashamed and the diviners disgraced.” Why? In shame, “They will all cover their faces because there is no answer from God!” Judgment fell on the nation despite these leaders’ promises of safety and security. On that day, everyone would know just how corrupt these men were! Their false lies would amount to nothing! Corruption brings spiritual poverty!

EXAMPLE: Greed and materialism continue to shape the messages of many false religious leaders in our day. Many offer cures or guaranteed prosperity if contributors will give money to them. Some of these individuals align themselves with corrupt business or political leaders to defraud people through false offers of hope. Spiritual leaders today also need to be warned by the example of those in Micah’s day. The love of money offers many temptations that can corrupt a pure ministry. The fear of rejection can lead some to preach or teach only those principles that people want to hear. Avoiding sin and judgment is a way to be popular with sinners but not with God. The false prophets were the most popular religious leaders until judgment overcame the nation and the true prophets like Micah and Isaiah were revealed. We must always convey the truth without regard for the cost. There can be no permanent success when we suppress the truth of God’s Word. We must never forget that corruption brings spiritual poverty!

Micah condemns Israel’s political leaders for their injustice and bloodshed. These judges perverted justice by taking bribes. They exonerated the wicked and failed to protect the innocent. Micah condemned the spiritual leaders for condoning the sins of those paying them and for falsely promising safety from divine punishment. Micah warned of a devastating judgment that would destroy the nation.

III. Corruption demands accountability! (Vv.3:9-12)

1. Micah next summed up his condemnation of the corrupt leaders and identified the failures of civil and religious leaders. Those who abhor justice have no respect for God. God declares Himself to be an impartial Judge who is no respecter of persons (2 Chronicles 19:7). Justice is denied when bribes or partiality corrupt the process. God desires human judgments to reflect His fairness and equal treatment of all. Money, position, power, friendships, or other considerations must never be allowed to deny justice through punishing the innocent or releasing the wicked. Micah accused the leaders of perverting everything that is right. Sin is a perversion of something good. Lies are a perversion of truth. Adultery or same sex marriage is a perversion of traditional marriage. Betrayal is a perversion of loyalty. These officials had fallen down a slippery slope of personal ambition and everything they did was tainted by their sin. They despised “justice and distort all that is right” and had built “Zion with bloodshed, and Jerusalem with wickedness.” The leaders judged “for a bribe” and the spiritual leadership, the priests, taught the people “for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money”! WOW! The acceptance of a bribe in exchange for a political favor was prevalent in Micah’s day; nowadays we refer to it as political action! The disobedient priests and prophets had become so spiritually blinded to their own ungodliness they falsely professed loyalty to the Lord! They knew they were corrupt but wanted to continue their charade by displaying a false confidence by telling the people, “Is not the LORD among us? No disaster will come upon us.” All is well, no problems here! Spiritual leaders are supposed to be like watchmen on the wall who would warn the people of impending judgment. Micah alone warned that, “because of you, Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets!” The people could not imagine such destruction. The majority of the civil and religious leaders told them God would never allow such to happen. They were wrong. The prophecy of Micah would occur and the fulfillment would be exactly as he described. Yet, we learn that corruption demands accountability!

EXAMPLE: Corruption continues to be a major problem in our world, demanding vigilance and oversight by authorities. When the government becomes complicit in the bribery, justice is not possible. Money and greed have historically been the cause of much of the corruption in the judicial and political system. After all, a million here and a million there adds up to real money when it becomes billions! A major source of misery around the world continues to be governments that allow or participate in a corrupt judicial or political system. Western democracies have sought to include checks and balances to eliminate bribes and maintain a fair judiciary and government. Even so, the temptation to subvert justice for financial gain is too much for some, and they cash in on it. The church and its members must be above reproach in seeking any financial gain. Those who proclaim God’s truth must be people of integrity who would be willing to risk financial loss rather than compromise the message. We are ultimately accountable to the Lord for our ministries, and we can be sure He will judge us impartially. Micah teaches us that corruption demands accountability!

Conclusion:
Remember, Micah teaches us that corruption is moral cannibalism! We must never forget that corruption brings spiritual poverty! Micah teaches us that corruption demands accountability!

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 27 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2013 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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