Sunday, August 6, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 69, The Sacrifice Of Praise

Solomon tells us that we may have hidden sins in our hearts. We study the words of his father David who prayed for forgiveness for known sins and for unknown sins he might have committed. We also look at what God values most: the sacrifice of praise offered up by sincere hearts.

"The glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old." (Proverbs 20:29) There are things to rejoice in no matter what our age. The young man rejoices in the strength of his body and in his boundless energy, but the old man rejoices in the wisdom he's learned and the gray hairs he's earned by all the trials he's successfully made it through. God is able to use us for His kingdom at all stages of our lives.

"Blows and wounds scrub away evil, and beatings purge the inmost being." (Proverbs 20:30) Solomon believes in law and order. In his day the penalty for certain crimes might be a public beating. Some offenders probably learned their lesson and didn't commit any more crimes, so Solomon feels this punishment is effective in deterring crime. Even if the offender did not repent, his punishment caused others to think twice about breaking the law. Some citizens may not even have been aware a particular thing was against the law, so this was a way to inform one and all what would not be tolerated by the king.

"In the Lord's hand the king's heart is a stream of water that He channels to all who please Him." (Proverbs 21:1) A ruler can be a blessing to the people, if his heart is in the Lord's hand. Solomon didn't always lead a spiritually correct life, but at the beginning of his reign he asked God for the wisdom to rule the people in the right way, and God answered that prayer. So, being led by God, Solomon was able to make proper decisions in the cases that came before him. Through Solomon the Lord was able to channel blessings toward those in Israel who were living spiritually and morally upright lives. Their cases were being heard and their causes were being upheld.

"A person may think their own ways are right, but the Lord weighs the heart." (Proverbs 21:2) Sometimes we know for certain we're living in sin. At other times we might not realize we're making a mistake. This is why David said to the Lord, "But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults." (Psalm 19:12) David knew he might be making mistakes without knowing it. His faults might be hidden from him, but they weren't hidden from God, so he prayed for forgiveness for things he might have done wrong without realizing it. If we were to sit down at night and ponder everything we've done during the day, there will probably be a few things that stand out as being contrary to the word of God. Maybe we had ugly thoughts about somebody. Maybe we said some bad words. Maybe we were rude and impatient. Maybe we told a lie. But there are other things we might not be aware of, things we've even forgotten because life is so busy and the days go by so fast. This is why David asked forgiveness for both his known sins and for any sins he might have committed without realizing it.

"To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice." (Proverbs 21:3) One of the sins the nations of Israel and Judah committed was going through the motions of religious life without maintaining any connection to God. Many of the people who were still bringing sacrifices were doing it for all the wrong reasons. They were saying and doing all the right things outwardly, but they had lost their heart for God, which is why the Lord said, "These people come near to Me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me." (Isaiah 29:13a) What use are sacrifices to a God our hearts have rejected? How meaningless it would be to bring an offering for atonement when we aren't really repentant. The sacrifices of Israel and Judah were actually sinful because they were brought in the wrong spirit. They even dared to bring blemished sacrifices to the Lord, which was forbidden. Sick and tired of their false religion, the Lord said, ""Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on My altar! I am not pleased with you,' says the Lord Almighty, 'and I will accept no offering from your hands.'" (Malachi 1:10)

I am reminded of the offerings brought by Cain and Abel. Abel brought a blood offering, an atonement offering, because he was aware of being a frail mortal sinner in need of forgiveness from a righteous God. Cain brought something more like a first fruit offering, which was simply a thank offering and not an acknowledgement of sin. A first fruit offering is meant to honor God for an abundant harvest, but Cain was filled with pride over the work of his own hands. He had a hard and unrepentant heart, so God rejected his offering, saying, "If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it." (Genesis 4:7) God was not rejecting Cain; He was rejecting an offering brought in the wrong spirit. He knew Cain harbored sin in his heart and He was encouraging him to reject it and rise above it. This could have been an awesome turning point in Cain's life, but instead he gave himself up to the wicked desires of his heart.

The Lord judges us by what's in our hearts. He knows whether or not our praise is sincere. He knows whether or not our offerings are brought willingly. He knows whether we honor Him with our lips while our hearts are far from Him. God finds hypocrisy disgusting, which is made evident by the many times Jesus called out the religious leaders for their hypocrisy. The Lord takes delight in sincere worship. He rejoices far more in a "sacrifice of praise" (Hebrews 13:15) than in all burnt offerings put together. Let's worship Him in sincerity of heart. Let's not ever grow cool toward Him and simply go through the motions. The Christian life is an exciting life, for our Savior lives, and the word of God is living and active. We don't have to live stagnant lives. We don't have to go through the motions while feeling empty inside. Christ offers us abundant lives.

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