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Out Our Way: Along the Covenant Trail with Goliath

The empty corral - Jeremiah 7:1 -14


November 10, 2017

Out our way, I saw a sad sight last week. For many years I boarded Goliath and Babe at a friend's place just outside of town - and what a place it was! In addition to my horses, the back corrals were filled with horses and goats and there were cats and various dogs all around as well. There was hay in the shed, chickens in the coop, a garden, a round pen for lunging and working horses and a large indoor arena for those cold days when ice and snow got in the way of a good workout.

But no more.

The animals are gone and a for sale sign now graces the front yard. You come down the dirt rode toward the stable and all you see are empty corrals and the emptiness fills you with a hollowness that is hard to describe. Where that spirited stallion used to charge out and snort and stomp when you drove up; where the dogs ran in their kennel and barked their greetings; where the other horses gathered and whinnied if they knew you ... is all empty and silent now. Everything there is as it was except for the life. Only the ghosts of the past are to be found and that makes the emptiness even worse. For what was and is no more is harder to face than the mere nothing that stands in its place.

The foolishness of Israel and Judah as they replaced God with human rulers and the law of corruption above the Law of the Lord is the story told in the books of the Kings and the Chronicles and, above all, the writings of the prophets, warning after warning was given and ignored, and the consequences of which the prophets spoke came to pass

In the Northern Kingdom, which retained the name of Israel, secularism and worldliness so entertwined with the faith that soon, like weeds choking off the wheat, the faith was strangled and lost. And so were the people. Apart from God they lost their focus and purpose and began to blend in with their pagan neighbors. When the empire of Assyria began to conquer their neighbors and redistribute the captives throughout the empire, the Israelites, who had already abandoned their identity as God's people, were quickly absorbed into the pagan world and ceased to exist.

In the southern Kingdom, which called itself after the largest tribe, Judah, things were not much better. The Temple of the Lord remained and the trappings of faith were still to be seen, but God was not. In the prophecy of Jeremiah, the prophet clearly saw the empty Temple where the Lord no longer dwelt. Ezekiel saw a similar vision in which the Lord rose up and abandoned the Temple because so many had abandoned Him.  Others saw the same and warned of the destruction that was coming - not so much as the wrath of God as the consequence of the peoples' choice to allow religion to become a mere formality and therefore a meaningless ritual.

How sad that similar things happen today in our world. When I was in serving a church in Indiana, the movie "The Passion" had just been released, and the most vocal critics of the movie and the message were supposedly religious people. A professor at the local seminary condemned the movie because he felt it supported the idea that all four Gospels told the same story. Apparently, to hold such an astounding view, he himself had not read them for himself, or at least failed to understand their message. Yet he was a professor at a supposedly Christian seminary teaching young ministerial students.

Another critic of the movie, the pastor of a large mainline denomination church, complained that the film taught that Christ died for our sins and that was only one interpretation of the Gospel message. One suspects she attended the seminary where the agnostic professor taught. Of course, if these were isolated events, one might be appalled but not overly concerned by such bad theology sneaking into the church. After all, as has been said, "a mouse getting into the cookie jar doesn't make it a cookie." But when hordes of mice start invading the pantry, maybe its time to start plugging some holes.

That is what the prophets saw and called for the people to do, but they refused. Pagan practices, secular corruption, immoral religious leaders were winked at and the situation grew worse and worse. Read Kings and Chronicles and get the overview. Then read one of more of the prophets and hear the accusations God made against His people for their failure to be His people. When the chosen refuse to be chosen, God will choose someone else. And that is the history described in the Old Testament as first israel and then Judah were destroyed, along with the Temple and the holy city.

Jeremiah saw the beauty and magnitude of the Temple of the Lord in all its glory and wept, for despite the magnificent structure and the strutting priests and Levites, it was an empty corral, for the Lord was no longer there. 


John Bruington and Goliath serve First Presbyterian Church in Havre. Their book "Out Our Way: Theology Under Saddle" is available at Amazon.com.


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