“And all for the countless whorings of the prostitute, graceful and of deadly charms, who betrays nations with her whorings, and peoples with her charms.” (Nahum 3:4)
Sorry for raining on the parade here, but after all, this is a book about the doom of Ninevah. It’s not like Ninevah didn’t have a choice. From Scripture and a reluctant prophet named Jonah, we know that once before, Ninevah chose to repent before God. But here she has returned to her sin. And returning to her sin, means choosing sin as her lover over God who is her Lover. The truth is that Your desire was for Ninevah. That’s why You call her a prostitute guilty of countless whorings. You were her betrothed also, because You had invited her into relationship with You, but she turned from that invitation to others who could not fulfill and she influenced others by her desires instead of Yours.
Somehow, this nation’s prosperity and power urged others on and now is turning on itself. I read of her charms and think of something that attracts others. But that’s not what this word means. The Hebrew word is kesheph and it’s all about witchcraft, sorcery, magic. She has no care for other nations which include other people. She doesn’t even care for relatives, her tribe or others. She is so engrossed in her magic that she has become lost in it.
What in the world does that mean? Witchcraft is serious stuff before the Lord. God judged King Saul for his rebellion and said of it, “For rebellion is like the sin of sorcery, stubbornness like the crime of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of ADONAI, He too has rejected you as king.”( 1 Samuel 15:23) But let’s come a little closer to home by looking to what Paul has to share about this issue. “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envying, murders, drunkenness, reveling, and such like…” (Galatians 5:19-21) These things are so serious to God that He actually tells us if we practice these things over and over again, we won’t inherit the kingdom of God. We’ll have to depart God’s company.
Here are 17 actions and we better get a little pre-battle intel on these things here. Four are about sex, two about sorcery, six about anger, one about beliefs, two about inappropriate intoxicated behavior, four are connected to the Ten Commandments. So anger and sex seem to be the biggies. But the fact is that practice of any of these destroys our fellowship with Him. But those biggies do seem to be inter-personal sins, about how we treat each other. So maybe He’s trying to tell us that how we respond to each other really matters.
So what is adultery in Your eyes, God? The original word, moicheia, from the Texts Receptus, means “illicit sex with someone who is married to another.” But it’s not just about intercourse. It’s about seduction, about using “deception and cunning to get control of someone.” The Greeks and Romans basically applied this only to women who were married. It was a basic expectation that men would have sexual relations with single women outside of marriage. It was so prolific that a Roman emperor tried to pass a law against it, to no avail. But that is defiance in the face of God. You tell us that we are to be committed to our marriage partners. It’s a picture of Your relationship with us. You are ever faithful so we are to be ever faithful. Jesus and Paul both granted the same responsibility to men and women. Sexual exploitation even before marriage was an affront to the other person and to God. It’s a matter of the heart over hormones. Paul shares, “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” (Hebrews 13:4) God is holy so we are to be holy not only after marriage, but always. Sexual seduction is an affront to God. He has sovereignty over our bodies. He has the right to say how we should treat it.
Now fornication, porneias, means to sell. It’s like when Greek slaves were items to be used and sold for sexual abuse. It came to incorporate sexual abuse “including intercourse with either female or male prostitutes, sexual favors with or without actual intercourse, and homosexuality.” The sad thing was that this was promoted by religions of the day. So the Greek view of life equated sex with eating and drinking. What a far cry from God’s view, which we see in Hebrew thought. Yes, there was prostitution, but it was condemned. Sexual purity all went back to that idea of a pure and holy God. It’s His reflection on our lives. The cults believed sex insured prosperity. But the truth is that God provides prosperity. God rules, pleasure has no control, but God can give pleasure. Sexual intimacy inside the boundaries of marriage is a picture of God’s faithfulness and intimacy with His people. Jesus so agreed with this that He even condemned sexual activity outside of marriage even in ones thoughts! Paul and Jesus both tie sexual impurity to an impure heart. It stands in opposition to God.
Pluralism and accommodation may be the way of a culture but then so will they join in the fate of Ninevah. “Sex is about life and God says life is sacred. Therefore sex reflects a sacred relationship, a divine encounter blessed by the Creator. Anything that treats it otherwise is suspect.” (Skip Moen) There is just no way to justify what God condemns. If your lifestyle is against what God says, change it, because you are wrong and He is not. God doesn’t care why we sin, because we could justify our actions in our own minds until kingdom comes. Whatever He says is wrong is wrong. That’s that. Sin is sin and He will treat it as such. But He loves us so much that He has promised that no temptation is too much for us to endure. When we surrender our lives to Him, He delivers us and draws us to Himself and His purposes.
This porneias includes “pornography, sexual promiscuity, titillation, seduction, homosexuality, indifferent attitudes toward sex, immodest behavior, careless disregard and uncontrolled actions.” This isn’t just a problem with ancient cultures. This is a problem with our culture today. Just like Ninevah, we’re saturated with this thinking. Even sex is about self-satisfaction and possession when approached man’s way, instead of God’s way. But God’s way is about self-sacrifice.
Uncleanness is from the Greek word akatharsia. It’s about not being ritually clean. But the truth was that it wasn’t the ritual cleaning that cleansed. God was always the one to make them clean and to clean them up on the inside. Your the one who takes away the guilt and judgment and forgives. We need to allow You to wash us. All self-justification does is keep us unclean. We can’t do it ourself, our own way. Only God can do it His way. Practicing self-justification is about denying God’s sovereignty over our very own bodies that He created. It’s saying that I am in control. “I decide my life and my fate.” “I serve myself, not God. Therefore, I can have intercourse any way and any time I want and I can abort the consequences of those actions.”
But I can be guilty by association. If I don’t speak up for God, I stand tainted within their justification. I am called not to allow this misconduct. Have I really thought about the contagiousness of impurity? To not resist is to allow an epidemic.
The epidemic continues with lasciviousness, aselgeia. This is sexual excess. Think of the picture of the condition of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah and you have a picture. There’s an “insatiable desire for sex.” It’s so strong it outweighs all other thinking. Conquest and pleasure are the goal. Sex becomes an addiction. It alters the mood and impairs the thinking. But it’s not just a physical battle; it’s spiritual. Imagine, there are 25 million sexual addicts in the U.S. alone! “They fight battles with affairs, prostitution, pornography, voyeurism, masturbation, exhibitionism, and multiple relationships.” It’s a battering of the heart and of the soul. And we don’t even realize it. Paul tells us no one on this road is headed toward God’s kingdom. Not one person addicted to sex in opposition to God’s way is going God’s way. Guilty is guilty. Excuses don’t matter. Thank God that Your grace is stronger than addiction and Your power is able to save and rescue.
So from sexual sins, we move to idolatry, or eidolotlatreia. It’s a compound word formed from servant and image. Even sexual sins are a form of idolatry because we wind up worshipping our “insatiable self.” Lust worships the idol of “just one more time.” The problem with idolatry is that our heart serves another god. I want to control my own fate for my own desires. I placate my god and I appease him so that I get things the way I want. It’s discontent with God so I take matters in my own hands. I want more than You provide or something different than You provide. It denies that You are sovereign in my life, that You know what You are doing.
Now finally, we come to witchcraft, that word that started everything today. It’s pharmakeia and it’s root is in drugs. Our minds are seduced. We attempt to manipulate the world and control it. We manipulate our moods and others. We manipulate reality. Instead of submitting to Your control, we turn to self-control. The whole problem with witchcraft, which is accompanied by the influence of drugs is that we choose to be under the influence of something other than You, God. We’re just not content with Your provision. We choose to be our own god.
And that poses a problem for us which leads to hatred. Because whenever I have my own will that I am god over, there will be someone whose will is different. Conflict will cause enmity. Echthrai is the Greek word meaning enemy. Self-deification cause enemies. The truth is that there is only room for one God. And even though we fight over that position, there is no way we can fill it. We are gods but You are GOD. Manipulation that doesn’t work, leads to frustration, which leads to hatred and all the ugly stuff that goes with it. See, God is never frustrated because His will WILL be done. He doesn’t have to worry about that like we do. He doesn’t manipulate, He just continues being God.
We learn more about those enemies suffering in this conflict in variance, emulations, wrath, strife, and seditions. Variance, eris, means fighting. God converts attitudes into submission to Him so that it becomes an opportunity for grace. We want our enemies to be converted to us. That takes force and battle. It’s natural to show eris. It’s unnatural to show self-sacrifice. But God’s way is supernatural and that’s what we’re called to.
Zeloi, or emulations, is about having intense feelings. In the positive sense, it’s good and it’s how we’re supposed to feel about God and how You feel about us, sin, and holiness. There’s a good jealousy and a bad jealousy. Instead of wanting good for someone so badly that it burns intensely inside you, it’s about evil intensity that burns instead toward someone. Instead of wanting good toward the other, it’s an intense desire to take away. You want to rule the other and all they have. I want to control things and not let God be in control. He’s not doing it right. Instead of good feelings toward another, we harbor malice, vindictive feelings. I’m willing to hurt another for what I “deserve.”
From this comes wrath, thumoi. Actually, a better translation is orge. It’s an outburst of anger, like an explosion. You can’t hold it back. Boom!
Rivalries, eritheiai, is more like “self-interest.” It’s all about selfish motivation. It’s like working but only working for what you get out of it. “Watching out for Number One” means doing whatever it takes to promote myself. If I have to cheat or take advantage of another, or defraud, or do away with honesty or self-sacrifice, I will do that to get what I want.
Seditions, dichostasiai, means division. Enemies divide themselves from others. If you can’t agree, move away. Dissension comes. It breeds heresy, haireseis, which means “to choose, to have a contrary opinion.” It effects the group because these stay within the group and destroy unity because everyone is choosing a side. I think of Jesus’ reminder, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” But we choose our own way and throw out His way and we reap the consequences thereof. Assemblies split or are lifeless, families are broken and destroyed, life is plagued with selfishness and self-rights and lacks love.
And it keeps getting worse. Our behavior plummets more the deeper we allow ourselves to go. We go so deep into envy, this time the word phthonoi, and now there can be no good in it. There is never good in this form of envy. It is always evil and always explosive. It’s despising someone else because you can’t control them.
Murders, phono, doesn’t just mean murder; it means slaughter. There is no mercy and no consideration. I destroy what doesn’t conform to me. Does it sound like the Islamic Jihad response? Does it sound like the shootings of the police officers? Unfortunately we need to be reminded that we can murder in our hearts also. And that probably happens more often than those other instances. Think about it. Murder destroys God’s image. What else can we be destroying that is God’s image? Doesn’t adultery murder that image? Can I murder someone’s image by the way I speak about them or think about them? Weren’t they created in His image? We don’t have the right to erase His image.
Skip Moen shares, “We can trace the chain of sin. The desire for pleasure (the sins of sex) leads to the desire for power (the sins of control) that leads to the creation of enemies (sins of conflict). The next step in this line of self-deification is the destruction of those who will not submit (sins of subjection).”
Drunkenness, methai, isn’t just about alcohol. It’s about boundaries and limits. Alcohol wasn’t forbidden. The sin is about not knowing your limits. Sin is going too far. You can go too far with alcohol, or sex, or anger, or other things. God has set proper limits for our behavior. It’s been clearly delineated for us. Violating those limits is sin. It’s all about boundary control. God’s set this safety fence around us, like the garden of Eden. There was abundant freedom within the boundaries of the garden, but overstep the boundary and what a mess!
And that kind of mess reminds me of the aftermath of a frat party. That’s where revellings, komos, comes in. It’s the “word used for festivals in honor of the Roman god Bacchus, the god of wine.” It’s all about “borderless behavior.” It’s a drunken orgy. In starting off by desiring someone else more than God, we wind up disregarding our own limits and safety and everyone else’s as well. We throw away the borders designed for our own good and pleasure. God doesn’t forget.
Paul says there’s only one remedy to get out of this cycle. There is only one remedy to get off this bus that is heading us over the cliff of destruction. “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13) As long as you are alive, you and I still have a choice. God has re-offered to us the Tree of Life found in Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of mankind, and the glory of God. I can return to His boundaries and I can repent of and forsake those boundaries of my own that I’ve created. And it doesn’t ever start with the nation, it always starts with me. I can make a difference in my nation if I learn to submit and live within Your boundaries because then You can make a difference through me. I can die on the bus or I can get off. I can kill the flesh and live in You. I don’t know how to explain it but that’s ok. Because God, You make it clear in our hearts. You make us know what is necessary and You give us the heart to respond when we surrender to You.
Just like in Ninevah, sin may seem charming and intoxicating for a while, but it leads to a dreaded end every time. Sure, it looks desirable, and it even controls our desires, but that’s the problem. Our wants outweigh You. Our wants aside from You drive us to sin and sin keeps growing and expanding and controlling until it is fully blown. And then it deals the final blow- death. It’s inevitable if we don’t turn. God, You love us and You warn us. You love us and You draw us to You. I don’t want to refuse that drawing like Cain, or Ninevah finally did. I want to be sensitive to You and Your will and Your ways no matter what is going on around me. And I pray that others will respond to Your drawing also. I’m so glad You don’t give up on the prostitutes and the whores, or there would be no hope for any of us. So draw us back as we respond to Your words and Your way.