“But my people did not listen to my voice;
Israel would not submit to me.
So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts,
to follow their own counsels.
O that my people would listen to me,
that Israel would walk in my ways!
Then I would quickly subdue their enemies,
and turn my hand against their foes.”
From Whom Do You Take Counsel?
One of the consistent themes in the Old Testament is God’s frustration with the people of Israel for going after other gods - golden calves, even! - and not following the commandments that Yahweh gave them. This is found in many places but summed up quite well in Isaiah 53:6, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way...” We have ignored the Good Shepherd, and the implication is clear: “Our own way” is not God’s way. “Our own way”, when we mean a way that excludes God, leads to us getting quite lost - physically, morally, spiritually, and in our relationships. The fruit of this “own way” is usually exclusion of others, injustice toward others, violence, and destruction. And the result for Israel when they forget about Yahweh and strike out on their own is predictable: some sort of exile. Exile does not only mean a foreign power coming in, conquering Israel, and the people of God being separated from the Promised Land. It does mean that, but it means more than that. It also means the internal exile that occurs when individuals are separated from God and from one another. This is what we might call the isolation of hell on earth.
Another message from Scripture is just as common: God longs for the people of Israel to return to Yahweh. Repent! Come back! Return home! Listen to my Word - my counsel, my commandments - once again!
We hear this in the portion of Psalm 81, quoted above. The verses reference Yahweh’s relationship with Israel, but they apply just as much to us today. We don’t listen to God’s voice; we are unwilling to submit to God. God gives us over to our “stubborn hearts” and lets us follow our own counsel, even when this counsel is woefully deficient and life-destroying. And, all the while, God keeps calling, “O that my people would listen to me, that Israel [St. Ambrose or Peter or _________] would walk in my ways!” (Psalm 81:13) God, like a loving parent, yet even more so - multiply by 1,000? - keeps calling us to listen... and to walk in God’s ways of love, gratitude, generosity, and justice.
From whom do you take counsel? Are the people that you seek out for advice well-versed in the ways of God? Are they seeking God’s guidance and direction for their own life? Are they some of the most loving people that you have ever met? Are they striving to bring light, love, and healing to the world? Are they seeking to do God’s will? Are they merciful and pure in heart? Are they folks who make peace and who hunger and thirst for righteousness? (see Matthew 5:6-9) Are they folks who pray regularly, listen well, give thanks to God daily, and read Holy Scripture on a regular basis, so that they can know and practice the ways of Jesus?
God says through the Psalmist that if we listen to God’s voice and walk in God’s ways, then our enemies will be quickly subdued - by God! So... what is your biggest enemy today? Fear? Contempt for others? Contempt for yourself? Anger? Lack of confidence? Lack of faith? Seek God’s voice! Walk in God’s ways, through the power of the Spirit. And be on the lookout for God to subdue every enemy - quickly!
God is calling out to all of us - as beloved, sanctified children. “Seek after me. Listen to my voice. Submit to me. Step out in faith and do the things that I ask you to do. Love me with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. Forgive your enemies. Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with me, the Lord. Be thankful in all circumstances.”
Let us forsake the path called “our own way”, and instead pursue God and God’s ways. And then let us see what God has in store for us. I know - because God is loving and faithful - that what God has in store for us will be good!