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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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 reubenbredenhof.com
 
Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:The Knowledge Most Worth Knowing
Text:LD 47 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:The Glory of the Father
 
Preached:2022
Added:2022-10-31
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 119:22,24                                                                          

Hy 1

Reading – 1 Samuel 5-6

Ps 115:1,2,4,5

Sermon – Lord’s Day 47

Ps 97:1,3,4

Hy 84:1,2,3,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Brothers and sisters, there’s a line in Psalm 119 from our Book of Praise that’s always stuck in my mind. The Psalmist is praying to God for deeper insight into his Word, asking for a good understanding of the Lord’s promises and commandments. And then in stanza 24, he prays, “O LORD, reveal your statutes all to me/ and so unfold the knowledge most worth knowing.” I love that last line: “the knowledge most worth knowing.”

There’s a whole lot today that you can collect knowledge about. You can always learn more about hockey, about movies or motorbikes, or you can grow in the knowledge of your chosen trade and occupation—even become an expert. You can also get to know another person really well, inside and out. All that knowledge can have its place. But what comes of it? There’s only one kind of knowledge most worth knowing. Nothing will have a greater impact on your life than this: to know the Lord and to remember him always!

It’s the lesson of the first petition, where we pray “Hallowed be your name.” We look at this petition in connection with the Lord revealing his glory in 1 Samuel 5 and 6. Now, just prior to these chapters had been one of Israel’s darkest moments. There’d been a bad defeat to the Philistines, the priestly family was almost wiped out, and the sanctuary at Shiloh was destroyed. Worst of all, the ark was captured and taken into Philistia—that precious symbol of his presence was lost to the heathens! You couldn’t think of a situation more bleak.

But God is about to reveal who He is. That He is there, and He is not silent. That there is none is like him. What happens in these two chapters is actually an extended lesson on the character of God. First the Philistines, then the Israelites, need a refresher course in theology. For is God ever restricted in his power? Is God sometimes surprised by what his people do? Does the LORD ever change or go on leave?

Knowing the answers to these questions about God makes all the difference. It changes our hope and outlook on life. It really is the knowledge most worth knowing. This is why the first petition includes the request, “Grant us…that we may rightly know you” (Q&A 122). So this is our theme from Lord’s Day 47,

Get to know the LORD God and then honour Him:

  1. He is great
  2. He is powerful
  3. He is holy

 

1) He is great: Let’s first get into the story of 1 Samuel 5 and 6. It had all started so well!

Just before this, the elders and the priests had decided to bring the ark into the contest against the Philistines. They were sure that it would strike a heavy blow against their enemy, seeing as the ark symbolized God’s awesome power. Recall what happened when the ark was carried into the Jordan River years before, and all the waters piled up into the heap—so just imagine the heaps of dead Philistines when they got too close. Victory was sure!

So the ark was put on the front line, carried proudly by Hophni and Phinehas and their priestly colleagues. With confidence in their step, they walked into the surging tide of Philistines. Any minute now, God would start doing his thing.

But it didn’t happen. They thought they could weaponize God, manipulate him into fighting on their side. They were badly mistaken. The Israelites were cut down, the ark was taken, and the battle was lost. The ark was soon moved to the rear of the Philistine line of troops. One imagines the soldiers looked at it with a mixture of curiosity and awe: “So this was the God of the Israelites! Not much of a god to look at. Just a rectangular box with poles, and two kneeling angels. Still, it’s pretty fancy. Not a bad trophy of war!”

Why didn’t God destroy them the moment they laid their unclean hands on it? We know how God did that later to some of his own people, even when they had the best of intentions. Why not do that here, and zap a bunch of heathens? As we said, God had some theology to teach. He was going to reveal the glory of his name in an unmistakable way.

And so 5:1 says, “Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod.” They paraded their prisoner-of-war all the way to Ashdod, one of the five major cities of the Philistines. And there they brought the ark into the house of Dagon. We’ve heard of Dagon before, worshiped by the Canaanites as the god of corn and grain. Within their family of gods, Dagon was the father of Baal. He was quite an ugly god—depicted as half-man, half-fish—but considered most important.

Into Dagon’s shrine, the Philistines place the ark. They did this for a couple reasons. For one, they were probably open to worshiping this new god from Israel. For the Philistines, like so many pagan people, adopted new gods quickly. If you had two dozen gods in your collection already, what was one more?

They put the ark into Dagon’s temple probably for another reason, too. It showed that Dagon was superior to the God of Israel. After all, who had won the battle so convincingly? The LORD was like a prisoner-of-war being humbled before Dagon.

No doubt the Philistines gloated over this great triumph. But God saw it a declaration of war. They were challenging him to show his ability. And God won’t back down. For “When the people of Ashdod arose early in the morning, there was Dagon, fallen on its face to the ground before the ark of the LORD!” (v 3). By some miracle, Dagon’s image has toppled to the floor, right in front of the ark. You can’t miss the symbolism. The LORD refuses to be humbled, but  it is Dagon who has to bend down before the ark, God’s earthly throne.

The Philistines quickly restore Dagon to his place of honour. Maybe they don’t realize how silly it looks, that he needs propping up. But it gets worse. Next morning, Dagon has fallen again. And this time his head has been knocked off, and his hands. Being dismembered like this was very telling. In ancient warfare, to cut off your enemies’ head and hands was to show your total domination. Heads and hands were gruesome trophies of war. Looking at that idol in pieces, it’s very clear: Dagon is no god. The LORD dismantles him in his own house!

Here was the first unit in the Philistines’ theology lesson. It was the same thing the Israelites had to learn: God is great, He is sovereign and free. He can’t be contained by anything here on earth, not by the ark, or by a shrine, or a church building, or a creed or anything else. God’s greatness far exceeds all our thoughts of him, shatters all our preconceived ideas!

There is none like the LORD, and He loves to show that man-made gods are nothing. They first need to crafted with our hands. Then they need worshipers to build them a house. They even need their followers to prop them up and to fight their battles. This is why Paul says, “We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one” (1 Cor 8:4). Man-made gods like Dagon are nothing.

But that doesn’t make idolatry a harmless thing. For Paul goes on to say, “The sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons” (1 Cor 10:20). So it wasn’t Dagon that the Philistines were always worshiping, it was the devil. They didn’t realize it, but it was true. For whenever Satan gets us to worship something other than God, it fulfills the devil’s purpose. That’s his goal, that God’s name isn’t hallowed, that the true God isn’t being honoured as He should be.

Dagon, of course, has long been forgotten. They Superglued him back together, but the Philistines eventually moved on. Yet Satan fills the spiritual void, whether with Allah, or Buddha, or the myriad gods that you don’t find in fancy shrines or temples. For in the hands of Satan, idolatry is an infinitely flexible thing. There are so many things that can be trusted and worshiped and served instead of the true God.

We do it too. Praying the first petition should mean that we want to hallow God above all, to glorify the Lord and make the name of Christ great in our life. But then we make much of this world. We hallow hollow things. We rest in something or someone or some idea (apart from God) as the key to our happiness and peace. That’s the challenge of the first petition, just as it’s the challenge of the first commandment: Who is being served by my life, in the primary place? Do I make much of God, or make much of something besides him?

Here’s where we all need a refresher lesson in theology. We have to return to the knowledge most worth knowing! Your private gods, your earthly ambitions, the goals and goods that seem to swallow up all your thoughts—these are nothing. All these things are worthless in themselves. Open your Bible so that you get to know that God is the Lord, and there is no other.

The good news is that God is always ready to show this about himself. The Catechism speaks of God “shining forth” his greatness by his works (Q&A 122). When we really see how great God is, and cherish what God has done in Christ, it is almost guaranteed that our hearts will have less room for idols. It’s been called “the expulsive power of a new affection.” Idols expelled, and God glorified in our hearts.

Even so, God sometimes likes to show how empty our gods are. He knocks them over, just like He knocked Dagon to the ground and took off his head. By the way that He directs our life, God can shatter our man-made dreams and show them up as worthless.

Maybe we’ve made an idol out of our career and position, or we live for the praise of other people. We idolize our health, or our productivity, or our dear family. We hallow our own name and expect to be honoured by the people around us. But then in one way or another, God comes and He knocks our idols flat on their faces. Our health is suddenly in question. Career in shambles. Reputation in tatters. By hardship or rejection or suffering, God breaks apart what we were trusting in, leaves them useless. And it’s an act of grace! God helps us to see the folly of treasuring anything but him, the folly of all knowledge apart from the knowledge of God.  

Have your idols ever saved you from distress, or have they given you true comfort in sorrow? On the worst day of your life—or on the last day of your life—will it be enough to say, “Well, at least I have my nice house. At least I had a lot of friends. At least people think I’m good looking.” These are hollow words, a hollow comfort. Sooner or later, we need to learn that God is the only god to hallow, honour and glorify.  

All the while, God keeps pointing to himself. What more do you need? God is greater than you can ever imagine: eternal and unchanging, sovereign and wise, good and gracious. So hallow his name! Pray that petition, and live that petition, making your life all about this one great truth: God is your God, and Christ is your Saviour.

 

2) He is powerful: The second unit in the Philistines’ theology lesson was much harder than the first. Chapter 5:6 summarizes, “The hand of the LORD was heavy on the people of Ashdod.” Dagon’s hands had been broken, so now it was time for God to show the power of his hand! The LORD brings a plague upon the city and afflicts them with tumors.

We don’t know exactly what it was. Because rats are mentioned later, some think that it was an early appearance of the bubonic plague, or the Black Death. The plague is terrible, for you get these large and painful swellings in your armpits and in your groin. If it’s not treated, it’s fatal more than 50% of the time.

Whatever it was, this affliction brought a panic to the Philistine hearts. So they move the ark to Gath. But again, an outbreak of tumors. The people of Gath don’t want it either, so off it goes to Ekron. No one wanted the ark because God’s judgment came with it. It was becoming obvious that Israel’s God was mightier than first thought, that He holds the powers of health and sickness, of life and death. Before this God, the Philistines can only tremble.

So they seek to appease him by returning the ark to Israel. They call the religious experts, and they advise that a guilt offering be sent: to atone for their guilt in taking the ark. See how they’ve learned very quickly to revere this God. Just listen to what the leaders says, “Therefore you shall make images of your tumours and images of your rats that ravage the land, and you shall give glory to the God of Israel” (6:5). Underline that last phrase: now even the Philistines know that they need to hallow God’s name. Give glory to him!

Still, they set up a test to see whether God has been responsible for the plagues or not. They take a new cart, and two cows that had never been yoked, and place the ark onto the cart. The question was whether the cows would go on their way, with the young calves needed their milk. The overwhelming instinct of the cows would be to return.

But: “The cows headed straight for the road to Beth Shemesh, and went along the highway, lowing as they went, and did not turn to the right hand or the left” (6:12). These cows won’t go back. This gives another glimpse of God’s power. He can dissect man-made gods; He can humble an entire nation; He can even control the slow plodding of a cow.

God “shone forth” his glory to the Philistines. And at the same time, He showed his own people that He can take care of himself. The Israelites had lost the ark, but God didn’t need them to do anything to recover it. He needs no propping up or rescuing like Dagon. For our God is great in power! God can still humble the nations with a plague, or with an earthquake, or an economic crisis. God just has to say the word, and the world falls silent. He always seeks the glory of his name.

Maybe you’ve been learning this about God, that just when you underestimate his ability, He proves you wrong. Just when you forget who God is, He reminds you of his grace and mercy. The Catechism says that this glorious power of God fills the lives of his people. That doesn’t mean we get superpowers like God. But God uses his power to help and save us.

In his great power, the LORD even works all things “for the good of those who love him” (Rom 8:28). This means that in every single event in our lives, we should have open eyes, for God is busy showing his glory and might. We don’t always see it, or we don’t always believe it, but God is near and He is showing his glory. Sometimes through our blessings, often through our troubles, by our prosperity and by our need.

If every single event is a kind of display of God’s power, we bring glory to him when we acknowledge this. We bring glory to God when we confess that his hand is always moving in our life. God is hallowed when we pray with all our heart, believing in what He can do. He is hallowed when we pray, “Almighty Father, I know that you can you do this. You can grant healing to the sick. You can give repentance to the hardened, and faith to the doubting. For I know that you are able!”

And when we trust in God’s great power, we’ll also be less afraid to do something hard. Think of what Paul writes, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Phil 4:13). With a trust in God’s power, we can even do the things that seem difficult.

Like what? You can a hard thing like sharing the gospel with your neighbour. You can do a hard thing like starting to get more involved in church life. You can do a hard thing like repenting from the sin that you’ve been cherishing for too long. If you ask him to, God will help you! We can do all things through Almighty God who gives us strength.

For in our lives, we want to “sanctify, glorify, and praise” God (Q&A 122). We don’t always know how to. Or we feel like we don’t have the strength to, or the opportunity, or the courage to. But God is faithful, so He who calls you will do it: He will give power and wisdom to hallow his name.

           

3) He is holy: The final part of the story sees the Philistines set the ark on the road to Beth Shemesh, a small Israelite town near the border. And the ark arrives to great rejoicing. What a sight: those mooing cows pulling the cart; and on the cart, the ark of the covenant; and next to the ark, a box containing bizarre gifts from Philistia. The people of that town respond rightly, worshiping God. The cart provides wood for a fire, and the cows become burnt offerings.

But then something terrible happens. In 6:19 it says, “[God] struck the men of Beth Shemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the LORD.” What’s the big deal? Why did God turn this sweet moment into something sour? Because God’s presence was in the ark, and it had to be treated with great respect. You can’t be careless with God’s holy things. A hard lesson: God’s people failed to give him proper honour, and they paid a heavy price.

We need that lesson too. When we forget the LORD in our daily living, when we ignore God and what He has said to us, to him there’s no greater offense. When we make little of God in our lives, He is deeply insulted. The Bible says that He is displeased by our lack of attention. Beloved, the very worst you can do is to be indifferent about God. It’s when you’re not really interested in God’s ways, not engaged with God’s people, not busy with his Word. That’s a deep offence to the holy God, for it shows you don’t really care about him, or respect who He is.

I know this is a difficult truth to accept. We like the idea of God being ever-friendly and kind. God is a nice God, isn’t He, just waiting for us to show up? Yet God is holy and wants to be honoured as holy. That involves action, and commitment, and a change of life. We pray that “we may so direct our whole life… [so] that your name is not blasphemed because of us but always honoured and praised” (Q&A 122). Direct your whole life to honour and praise him!

After being judged for their irreverence, the people of Beth Shemesh respond in much the same way as the Philistines had. They ask a question that carries a tinge of despair: “Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?” (6:20). And they’re right in what they say: the LORD is the holy God. In every way, God is set apart. In no aspect of God’s character does He fall short. In no quality is God ever on our level.

This holy God must be served by a holy people—He must be hallowed. Think of the close connection between those two words: holy and hallowed. If a person is very great, set apart by his ability or his position or accomplishment, then it’s only right that he be respected and honoured. That’s why you bow to the King. You take your hat off when you meet the Prime Minister. You get down on your knees before the LORD. The holy must be hallowed.

And then what about their question? “Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?” If this is what God is like—so great, so powerful, so holy—who could draw near? If this is how majestic and fearful the true God is, do you even dare to approach his throne?

But here’s the miracle and goodness of who God is: Through the blood of Jesus Christ, He lets us draw near. God forgives us, God makes us holy, and He lets us dwell in his awesome presence every day. He lets us talk to him in prayer, even to call him “Our Father.” He meets with us in public worship, even speaks to us by his Word. In short, God lets us know him.

So seek to know the Lord, and to know him better. Knowing God begins, continues and progresses with the opening of his Word. Show that you hallow God’s great name by pursuing the knowledge most worth knowing!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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