Sermon: Sandcastle Virtues
Mike Ford (1955-2021)
Given 31-Oct-20; 34 minutes
The rock group Jethro Tull came out with a concept album in 1972 titled, Thick as a Brick. The leader and main writer of their songs, Ian Anderson, wrote in the liner notes (look it up, Millennials) that the songs were actually from an epic poem written by. “an ‘8 year old Gerald Bostock.’” He was poking a bit of fun at the pretensions of some of the rock groups at the time and their concept albums. Mixing humor and complex music, it was a medley of songs, each running into the other.
A single was released, also called Thick as a Brick. I have always been struck by its lyrics. It starts out:
Really don’t mind if you sit this one out,
my word’s but a whisper, your deafness a shout.
I may make you feel but I can’t make you think. . .
So you ride yourselves over the fields,
and you make all your animal deals,
and your wise men don’t know how it feels,
to be thick as a brick.
And the sandcastle virtues are all swept away,
in the tidal destruction, the moral melee...
You could look at this as convictions versus preferences.
Sandcastle virtues are all swept away.
Our previous morals are gone.
Our leaders, our ‘wise men’ are as ‘thick as a brick.’
Where am I going with this?
I want to talk about how firm our foundation might be, using child sacrifice as my example. From the 70s rock, the best music ever, to...
Wait! Did he just say, “Child sacrifice?” I did.
As we get into this subject, keep in mind the phrase, “sandcastle virtues.” I think this will dovetail with Martin’s sermon last week on diligence.
One of the very best kings of Judah was number 16—Josiah. He began his reign at age 8, but unlike the fictional “Gerald Bostock,” he was real.
II Chronicles 34:1-7 Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. And he did what was right in the sight of the LORD, and walked in the ways of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was still young, he began to seek the God of his father David; and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the wooden images, the carved images, and the molded images. They broke down the altars of the Baals in his presence, and the incense altars which were above them he cut down; and the wooden images, the carved images, and the molded images he broke in pieces, and made dust of them and scattered it on the graves of those who had sacrificed to them. He also burned the bones of the priests on their altars, and cleansed Judah and Jerusalem. And so he did in the cities of Manasseh, Ephraim, and Simeon, as far as Naphtali and all around, with axes. When he had broken down the altars and the wooden images, had beaten the carved images into powder, and cut down all the incense altars throughout all the land of Israel, he returned to Jerusalem.
This takes place about 100 years after the Ten Tribes of the Northern Kingdom were taken captive. But up in the mountains, remnants remained of those tribes, and they allowed Josiah to come in and do this—all this idol worship, altars to Baal and so on—how long had this been going on? Would you believe hundreds and hundreds of years? Longer than the United States has been a country they had been involved in syncretism and idol worship.
Let us change gears, and think back to Jacob and his family in Egypt. They were shepherds.
Genesis 46:31-34 Then Joseph said to his brothers and to his father's household, "I will go up and tell Pharaoh, and say to him, 'My brothers and those of my father's house, who were in the land of Canaan, have come to me. And the men are shepherds, for their occupation has been to feed livestock; and they have brought their flocks, their herds, and all that they have.’ So it shall be, when Pharaoh calls you and says, 'What is your occupation?' that you shall say, 'Your servants' occupation has been with livestock from our youth even till now, both we and also our fathers,' that you may dwell in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians."
They continued to be shepherds, keeping cattle, sheep, and goats through their time in Egypt and the 40 years in the wilderness. When the Israelites entered Canaan, the Promised Land, they found a land of farmers—a land of milk and honey—very fertile. Could the God of shepherds also handle being the God of farmers?
The Canaanites worshipped Baal and Ashtoreth—fertility gods—and gave them the credit for their crops. The Israelites worshipped the One True God, but they were immediately attracted to Baal, for many reasons—lack of faith being the prime one, but also the sexual promiscuity.
Israel has always had a problem with sex. (Do you remember Numbers 25 and the incident with the Moabite women?) It is not that they were not familiar with sex. They were a very prolific people. And they bred cattle and sheep. It was all around them. But God had rules—no premarital sex, one spouse, no adultery. What a drag!
Whereas, the Canaanites were an immoral people. They had temple prostitutes, no problem with sex outside marriage, or out in the open! The more indecent the sex the greater it pleased their gods and brought better crops—so they believed.
So, as the nation of Israel comes out of their desert wanderings, and begins to interact with the peoples of the land they will take over, they see how they worship their gods, and it looks like they are having more fun than they are.
The fight for the minds and hearts of the Israelites had begun.
After the deaths of Joshua and Caleb, we have a succession of judges; then, the reigns of kings begins, starting with Saul; then David, the shepherd king; and Solomon. Things went well for the most part. Then came the split with Jeroboam ruling Israel, devising his own “holy” days, while Rehoboam began ruling Judah, and as II Chronicles 12:14 says, “He [Rehoboam] did evil.” So then, we have good kings and bad kings after that, mostly bad.
Then comes II Kings 17, Israel is carried away captive to Assyria. A good synopsis of why is given in verses 7-18:
II Kings 17:7-18 For so it was that the children of Israel had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt, from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt; and they had feared other gods, and had walked in the statutes of the nations whom the LORD had cast out from before the children of Israel, and of the kings of Israel, which they had made. Also the children of Israel secretly did against the LORD their God things that were not right, and they built for themselves high places in all their cities, from watchtower to fortified city. They set up for themselves sacred pillars and wooden images on every high hill and under every green tree. There they burned incense on all the high places, like the nations whom the LORD had carried away before them; and they did wicked things to provoke the LORD to anger, for they served idols, of which the LORD had said to them, "You shall not do this thing." Yet the LORD testified against Israel and against Judah, by all of His prophets, every seer, saying, "Turn from your evil ways, and keep My commandments and My statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by My servants the prophets."
Nevertheless they would not hear, but stiffened their necks, like the necks of their fathers, who did not believe in the LORD their God. And they rejected His statutes and His covenant that He had made with their fathers, and His testimonies which He had testified against them; they followed idols, became idolaters, and went after the nations who were all around them, concerning whom the LORD had charged them that they should not do like them. So they left all the commandments of the LORD their God, made for themselves a molded image and two calves, made a wooden image and worshiped all the host of heaven, and served Baal. And they caused their sons and daughters to pass through the fire, practiced witchcraft and soothsaying, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke Him to anger. Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel, and removed them from His sight; there was none left but the tribe of Judah alone.
Eventually Judah went into captivity as well. They worshipped the foreign gods with way more passion than they ever gave the true God, to the extent that they gave their own babies to be burned in a fire. Talk about sandcastle virtues! No convictions. Their preference for Baal went as far as killing their children!
Who were these people?
One source said that the earliest god of Canaan was the creator El. His mistress was the fertility goddess Asherah, and she gave birth to many gods, including Baal (Lord). There appears to have been only one Baal who was manifested in lesser Baals at different places and times. For purposes of this sermon I am not going to distinguish between Moloch, Molech, Milcom, or other names. I will just lump them all as Baal—false gods. Baal’s followers sacrificed their children, usually the firstborn, to gain personal prosperity—a practice God hates.
Deuteronomy 12:29-31 "When the LORD your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, 'How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.' You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; for every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.”
In Numbers 3:11-13, God appointed the tribe of Levi to be His servants, to be His priests. There was no need for Israel to sacrifice their firstborn to God. He had the tribe of Levi.
Tradition, as well as archaeological evidence and early writings, depict these false gods as a bronze statue with the head of a bull and the body of a man. The arms are either held out in front, where a child's body was placed into them, or held up and the child was placed into an opening in the statue. Some drawings of this idol show it with 7 chambers for sacrifices. Fires were heated inside the statue and “priests” would bang drums and blow on trumpets in an attempt to drown out the cries of the babies and the screams of the mothers.
What kind of a people were these you might ask yourselves? Such a sin God Himself did not envision.
Jeremiah 7:30-31 For the children of Judah have done evil in My sight," says the LORD. "They have set their abominations in the house which is called by My name, to pollute it. And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into My heart.
Jeremiah 19:5 (Good News Bible) . . . and they have built altars for Baal in order to burn their children in the fire as sacrifices. I never commanded them to do this; it never even entered my mind.
Ezekiel 23 tells of God’s judgment on Israel and Judah. Both nations sinned and left God. Both have been and will be punished.
Ezekiel 23:37-39 “For they have committed adultery, and blood is on their hands. They have committed adultery with their idols, and even sacrificed their sons whom they bore to Me, passing them through the fire, to devour them. Moreover they have done this to Me: They have defiled My sanctuary on the same day and profaned My Sabbaths. For after they had slain their children for their idols, on the same day they came into My sanctuary to profane it; and indeed thus they have done in the midst of My house.”
Can you believe this? They would place their children into the arms of a bronze idol, with a fire burning inside it, and watch that child die. . . then attend church services! Who were these people?
We read Jeremiah 7:31, where it said Judah built a “high place” in Tophet, in the Valley of Hinnom, “to burn their sons and daughters in the fire.” This is just outside Jerusalem.
Medieval Jewish commentators David Kimhi and Rashi claimed that the name Topheth is derived from the Hebrew word toph, meaning “a drum, because the cries of children being sacrificed by the priests of Moloch were masked by the sound of the beating on drums or tambourines.”
Josiah turned the Hinnom Valley into the city’s garbage dump. But after he died, Judah returned to killing their sons and daughters there. Sandcastle virtues.
By the time of Jesus, it was back to being the city’s dump. Residents sometimes called it “valley of the sewer,” or “valley of the pagans.” With the perpetually burning garbage, the Greek translation of Hinnom, “gehenna” became a synonym for hell.
Now let us move forward in time. After the children of Israel were scattered into captivity, they were lost to history for the most part. We feel confident that we know where the tribes are. But that is really immaterial on the one hand, because all those obeying God, regardless of race, are part of spiritual Israel (Galatians 3:29, Romans 10:12, Galatians 3:7, etc.).
On the other hand, however, prophecy is given with physical Israel in mind. Punishment is coming on this land. Why? The whole world is evil, why single us out? Obviously, the whole world will be involved in the plagues of Revelation, but it is Israel that yet again goes into captivity. We profess to be a Christian nation; millions attend church; yet are we any different than ancient Israel? As a nation we worship the same idols as ancient Israel. They might have different names, such as climate change, cancel culture, women’s rights, and so on, but we bend our knees to Baal nonetheless.
God set out marriage between a man and a woman. He says very clearly in a dozen verses or more that homosexuality is a sin and will keep you out of His Kingdom. He sets forth very plainly that the seventh day is the Sabbath.
Once upon a time, as a nation, we adhered to this—not the Sabbath part—but we understood enough of the Bible to establish rules of society—do not kill, do not steal, do not tell lies, etc. But we had no solid foundation; we built on sand.
An example of this would be modern child sacrifice. We no longer heat up a bronze idol and place a baby in the fire. But since abortion in the United States was legalized in 1973 we have killed more than 60 million children. There are an average of 73 million abortions per year worldwide. In researching these numbers, I was struck by the clinical language used. We do not talk about the loss of a baby’s life. No, no, no! It is more “sterile.”
There are basically two types of abortion—medical and surgical. For instance, in 2017, 39 percent of U.S. abortions were “medical.” This is not the “morning after” pill, which is considered an “emergency” contraceptive. A “medical” abortion is where you know you are pregnant, usually under 10 weeks, and two types of pills are given. They work together “to terminate a pregnancy.” That is so “clean” sounding. The first pill causes the lining of the uterus to break down. A day or two later you take the second pill, “which causes the uterus to contract and expel the embryo and uterine lining.” Sounds easy does it not? No pounding drums to drown out the cries.
The other roughly 60 percent of abortions are surgical. This is done by curettage, either dilation and extraction, or suction procedures. They are just like they sound, and I am not going to describe them further.
What kind of people are we?
Women in their 20’s account for the majority of abortions, because a “career” is infinitely more important than raising the next generation. “A child might keep me from having a nicer car or home.” In 2016, women with one or two prior abortions accounted for 35 percent, and women with three or more prior abortions accounted for 8 percent of all abortions. Has become so easy that we do not even attempt birth control anymore? That we have come to believe that this is not a life? That this is not a sin? Women’s rights trump God’s laws? Or is the only sin anymore what is determined by social media?
Our sandcastle virtues are all swept away, in the tidal destruction, the moral melee.
My intention here is not to criticize or judge past mistakes. I do not want my sins aired out! God forgives sins repented of. And thank God He does! We all make wrong decisions and once God forgives, He forgets it. We have a harder time moving on and forgiving ourselves, so to speak. But that is what has to happen. We have to sincerely repent, learn from our mistakes, and move forward.
My concern is more in the arena of how do we, as God’s called-out people, make sure our foundation rests on rock and not sand? In this age of social media where what was permissible only yesterday is today taboo, how do we stay solid? Especially those younger going through high school and college where so much of what they are taught is just flat-out wrong? You send them off for further education, and when they come home on break, you do not even know who they are, you do not even recognize them.
When the physical nation of Israel witnessed the plagues in Egypt; were freed from slavery; made the 40 year journey through the desert; and even through the years of moving into the Promised Land, they did see God and in a big way. There was no social media; no cable news; so God did His miracles on a grand scale. Everyone could see them and they made an individual impact.
But as a whole, those people did not have God’s Holy Spirit. The impression they left was temporary. Along those same lines, the physical Israelites sinned in an ostentatious way—a stage show with lights, and horns, and drums, a huge burning bronze god, ritual sex, and the screams of dying children.
Jump to present times. We have God’s Holy Spirit, we see God daily, but on a more individual basis. We discuss the miracles performed among ourselves, but they are not out there for the world to see. That will come later.
Our sins are also more hidden. We know them, God knows them, but there is not a show made around them.
For the most part, people do not change. We listen to the stories about ancient Israel co-opting pagan religion, temple prostitutes, child sacrifice, and we say, “Who were those people?” In many ways, they are us—at least as a physical nation! When the story of our time is written, will our descendants say, “Who were these people?” in the same puzzled way?
I have some ideas on how to keep ourselves steady during these turbulent times.
Never forget that we are ambassadors for Christ.
In II Corinthians 5, the apostle Paul describes our physical bodies as a “tent” (verses 1-8), and if it is destroyed, we have eternal life coming. No matter what happens in this life, we look to another. He then goes on to speak of our appearing before the judgment seat of Christ (verses 9-11) where we will have to answer for our actions in this life. The rest of the chapter has to do with reconciliation with God.
II Corinthians 5:20 Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God.
In Philippians 3, Paul speaks sadly of those who have left the church, who “set their mind on earthly things”:
We are living in a foreign land, you might say, and we represent Jesus Christ. I think if I were an ambassador to Japan, I would take my shoes off when entering a Japanese home. I might even sit on the floor to eat (as long as someone is around to help me up). But I would not eat their Basashi (horse meat), nor give offerings to trees in their Shinto shrines. Not to pick on Japan, I could have used numerous other countries as examples.
My point is I would, hopefully, adhere to my internal moral compass—never losing sight of the fact that I have knowledge God has not given them at this time. Many people are sincere in their beliefs, but as Mr. Armstrong used to say, they are sincerely deceived.
We are not their judge. We are responsible for our own lives, our own spiritual development. We hate the sin, not the sinner, as the saying goes. But in all that we think, do, and say, we represent Jesus Christ.
It is so important that we give our kids a foundation—solid and unchanging—so that if they ever stray, they know exactly where home is. We must first show them a strong example, and follow that with teaching.
Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.
I think all of us, at one time or another, get side-swiped by life. A huge wave knocks us down. We drift a bit, spiritually. This can happen at any time of life but in particular when we are young in the faith.
When we are also young in age, in our teens and twenties, peer pressure is intense. We must say the right things, wear the right things, and we are expected to think the right things—those things that social arbiters have dictated.
But those things do not often jibe with God’s way.
How long a child might wander varies. For some it is just a moment in time, for others it might go on for years. But God hears our prayers and sooner or later the events of life will pin them down, and they will wonder where they can possibly find relief. And they will look to the foundation they were given.
But what if that foundation was built on sand, and has been swept out to sea? What if you are no longer there, that you are no longer an ambassador for Christ, you are now the ambassador for Sunday worship, or internet porn, or whatever? Where, then, will they turn?
It is, therefore, incumbent on us to be convicted of our beliefs—they are so much a part of us that they cannot be separated from us.
Identify and eradicate idols in our lives.
Time and again we have seen God’s anger against idolatry, syncretism, and conforming to this world. What have we picked up from this world that comes between us and God? The “works of the flesh” are listed in Galatians 5. Let us go there. This time from the Good News Bible:
Galatians 5:19-21 (GNB) What human nature does is quite plain. It shows itself in immoral, filthy, and indecent actions; in worship of idols and witchcraft. People become enemies and they fight; they become jealous, angry, and ambitious. They separate into parties and groups; they are envious, get drunk, have orgies, and do other things like these. I warn you now as I have before: those who do these things will not possess the Kingdom of God.
How much of this present, evil world have we taken on, or never really gotten rid of? Just because we are not gathered in a group in the Valley of Hinnom, worshipping phallic symbols and burning children, does not mean we will fare well before the judgment seat of Christ! Again, our idols are not as visible. Just as sometimes we cannot tell what a foundation is made of until a storm comes.
Deuteronomy 4:5-9 (GNB) "I have taught you all the laws, as the Lord my God told me to do. Obey them in the land that you are about to invade and occupy. Obey them faithfully, and this will show the people of other nations how wise you are. When they hear of all these laws, they will say, "What wisdom and understanding this great nation has!' "No other nation, no matter how great, has a god who is so near when they need him as the Lord our God is to us. He answers us whenever we call for help. No other nation, no matter how great, has laws so just as those that I have taught you today. Be on your guard! Make certain that you do not forget, as long as you live, what you have seen with your own eyes. Tell your children and your grandchildren. . .
Deuteronomy 7:6-11 "For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Therefore know that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments; and He repays those who hate Him to their face, to destroy them. He will not be slack with him who hates Him; He will repay him to his face. Therefore you shall keep the commandment, the statutes, and the judgments which I command you today, to observe them.”
Our faith is in Christ, the Rock, and God the Father.
No sandcastle virtues here; no wave can topple us with that kind of faith!