For our morning Bible reading, my husband has been reading one section each day from Psalm 119. The Psalmist declares his great love of YHWH’s commands, but he sounds a little lonely to me.
“I am a stranger on earth; do not hide your commands from me. My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times. You rebuke the arrogant, who are cursed and who stray from your commands. Remove from me scorn and contempt, for I keep your statutes. Though rulers sit together and slander me, your servant will meditate on your decrees” (Psalm 119:19-23).
I don’t know who wrote this Psalm. Maybe it was King David, or maybe not. But as much as he was “consumed with longing” for God’s laws,
- He felt like a stranger on the earth.
- He felt like the only one.
- He certainly felt “scorn and contempt” which came on him only because he kept God’s statutes.
- He saw important, influential people sitting together and slandering him. (They didn’t even bother to slander him secretly!)
I can’t even imagine how lonely he must have felt.
Have you ever felt like you were the only one trying to do right? Have you ever felt like a salmon swimming upstream against a rushing, mighty current? Have you ever felt your cheeks burn, hearing others laugh and wondering what they were saying about you?
When the day comes that you are tempted to turn around and follow the crowd, here are some examples to remember.
Abraham Left Family
“YHWH had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you…’ So Abram went, as YHWH had told him” (Genesis 12:1, 4).
It must have been very difficult for Abram to leave everything he knew. He wasn’t a young man when he left his native country, culture, and even his own father’s household. He was 75 years old! Usually, people at that age are stable, not likely to pick up a new religion or turn from their cultural heritage.
I don’t know exactly why YHWH asked him to leave, but I can guess. Usually He only asks people to leave a place that is sinful. For instance, in the book of Revelation, people are warned to leave the idolatrous world system of Babylon.
“[Babylon] has become a home for demons and a haunt for every evil spirit, a haunt for every unclean and detestable bird. Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues” (Revelation 18:2-4)
As we’ve studied in our homeschooling world history course, Abraham lived in Ur, which was patterned after that mighty city of Babylon and founded by the Chaldeans. Josephus writes that Abraham was a learned scholar who angered the Babylonians when he gave credit to YHWH God as creator rather than to the Babylonian idols.
I don’t know if it’s legend or fact, but the book of Jasher tells us,
“And Abram knew YHWH, and he went in his ways and instructions, and YHWH his God was with him.
And Terah his father was in those days, still captain of the host of king Nimrod, and he still followed strange gods. And Abram came to his father’s house and saw twelve gods standing there in their temples, and the anger of Abram was kindled when he saw these images in his father’s house.
And Abram said, ‘As YHWH liveth these images shall not remain in my father’s house; so shall YHWH who created me do unto me if in three days’ time I do not break them all.’
And Abram went from them, and his anger burned within him. And Abram hastened and went from the chamber to his father’s outer court, and he found his father sitting in the court, and all his servants with him, and Abram came and sat before him.
And Abram asked his father, saying, ‘Father, tell me where is God who created heaven and earth, and all the sons of men upon earth, and who created thee and me’
And Terah answered his son Abram and said, ‘Behold those who created us are all with us in the house.’
And Abram said to his father, ‘My lord, shew them to me I pray thee;’ and Terah brought Abram into the chamber of the inner court, and Abram saw, and behold the whole room was full of gods of wood and stone, twelve great images and others less than they without number.
And Terah said to his son, ‘Behold these are they which made all thou seest upon earth, and which created me and thee, and all mankind.’
And Terah bowed down to his gods, and he then went away from them, and Abram, his son, went away with him…
And he called out and said, ‘Woe unto my father and this wicked generation, whose hearts are all inclined to vanity, who serve these idols of wood and stone which can neither eat, smell, hear nor speak, who have mouths without speech, eyes without sight, ears without hearing, hands without feeling, and legs which cannot move; like them are those that made them and that trust in them.’
And when Abram saw all these things his anger was kindled against his father, and he hastened and took a hatchet in his hand, and came unto the chamber of the gods, and he broke all his father’s gods.”
I’m sure that didn’t go over so well! Yet Jesus tells us to follow Him in obedience, no matter who else goes with us.
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).
Aaron Wanted the Crowd’s Approval
You would think that Aaron would have been most likely of all people to follow YHWH’s commands, no matter the cost, for he saw his brother Moses go up the mountain to be with God and receive the law written on tablets of stone.
They had “come to a mountain that cannot be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: ‘If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.’ The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, ‘I am trembling with fear'” (Hebrews 12:18-21).
But while Moses was up on the mountain, Aaron allowed the people to worship idols!
“When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, ‘Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’
Aaron answered them, ‘Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.’ So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt'” (Exodus 32:1-4).
Like so many, he sincerely believed his was still worshiping YHWH correctly and even defended his actions.
“When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, ‘Tomorrow there will be a festival to YHWH'” (Exodus 32:5).
Maybe the people didn’t know any better, but that didn’t save them from YHWH’s wrath and from death. Aaron knew better, but he cared more about the people’s approval.
“‘Do not be angry, my lord,’ Aaron answered. ‘You know how prone these people are to evil. They said to me, “Make us gods who will go before us…” Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!'”
“Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control…” (Exodus 32:22-25).
People can be very opinionated. It’s difficult to care more about following God’s commands exactly than to change them just a little, thinking that it’s still an appropriate way to worship Him.
How to Stand Firm
There are so many more examples I could write about. Caleb and Joshua were the only ones who gave a truthful report of the Promised Land, standing up to ten other spies and potentially millions of people who chose to be afraid rather than trust. Gideon destroyed the idols worshiped by his family. Daniel and his three friends would not eat unclean foods that were served to them by the king. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow the knee to the golden statue, though threatened with a tortuous death. Many of the prophets spoke up to the people, telling them to their faces of their sin and then receiving various punishments and ridicule.
“Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong…” (Exodus 23:2).
How were they able to stand firm, to avoid following a crowd to do evil?
They knew the Scriptures.
Like the Noble Bereans, each of these examples knew God’s commands first-hand, because of study and a desire to follow YHWH. For instance, of Abraham God said, “For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of YHWH by doing what is right and just, so that YHWH will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him” (Genesis 18:19).
In the New Testament, Jesus rebuked the Sadducees, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God” (Matthew 22:29). This was quite a cutting remark for leaders who prided themselves on their correct interpretation of Scripture! But just because a group has a history of being correct doesn’t make them always correct! Each individual is responsible to know the Scriptures individually.
The confusing thing is when wrong looks right, and right looks wrong. Even Aaron sincerely believed he was celebrating a festival to YHWH by giving the Israelites a golden calf! We tend to blindly follow our leaders, rather than knowing the Scriptures.
They held fast to the Scriptures, just the Scriptures, and nothing but the Scriptures. (Sola scriptura!)
An excellent verse to memorize and hold fast to is this:
“See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it” (Deuteronomy 12:32).
It’s really that simple. We first know what God commands, then we don’t add to or take away from it. Rather, we carefully guard it and keep it close to us.
But as soon as we see someone taking away from God’s commands, telling us “Did God really say?” (Genesis 3:3), then we’re in dangerous territory. Or if someone adds to God’s commands, putting on us a yoke that no one can bear (Acts 15:11), then we’re in just as dangerous of a territory.
Scripture only! No matter what the crowd does!
“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men… You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!” (Mark 7:6-9).
They decided to obey, no matter what the consequences.
Obedience is a choice made before the test comes. I am certain that it was this way for Daniel and his three friends! While very young, someone carefully trained them in YHWH’s commands, and then they made a personal choice to obey, even with the destruction of their homeland and the traumatic removal to Babylon.
“Be good to your servant while I live,
that I may obey your word.
Open my eyes that I may see
wonderful things in your law…
My soul is consumed with longing
for your laws at all times…
I run (!) in the path of your commands,
for you have broadened my understanding” (Psalm 119:17, 18, 20, 32).
They were careful whom they listened to.
“Your statutes are my delight;
they are my counselors…” (Psalm 119:24).
Jesus warned that it would be very difficult to know whom to listen to.
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:13-20).
A prophet is someone who claims to be speaking the words of God. In Deuteronomy 18:14-22, we learn that if a prophet did not speak the words that God had commanded, he should be put to death! We can’t do that in our society, but we must still be “fruit checkers” of those who claim to speak the words of God.
How is their fruit? Do they obey the commands of God?
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-19).
In conclusion, when you feel like you’re the only one doing right, remember Elijah.
“I have been very zealous for YHWH God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too” (1 Kings 19:10).
Yet God’s reply to him was the same as it is to us today.
“Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel — all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him” (1 Kings 19:18).
It’s not likely Elijah ever met those 7,000 people — and it’s not likely you’ll have a crowd of people doing right beside you either. But that’s okay. Just keeping on doing right!
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58, KJV).