This article was originally published in the November issue of Mature Living.
Tel Dan, in Northern Israel, is at the foot of Mount Hermon. To be honest, I had no idea what to expect. I’d never been to Israel and, frankly, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the Nature Reserve as we approached this specific site. In my mind, I pictured all of Israel as more of a barren desert than this lush, green, thriving reserve. There were beautiful, yellow mustard bushes that grew above my head as we walked the trail to our videotaping location. My fingertips brushed the tops of the yellow garden, and Matthew 17:20 bubbled up from the depths of my memories: “If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, … nothing will be impossible for you” (ESV). At the same time, my cellphone was switching to a different tower that said, “Welcome to Lebanon,” while displaying the rates I would pay to use my phone. I turned my cellphone off.
THE RISK OF WRONG LEADERS
As we approached the site, it was hard to imagine what the culture and people were like thousands of years ago. However, as Lysa TerKeurst began teaching from 1 Kings, my imagination grew, and I could see the Old Testament come alive. In 1 Kings 12, Rehoboam, son of Solomon, is now king of the southern kingdom, and Jeroboam, son of Nebat, is king of the northern kingdom. The kingdom and the twelve tribes of Israel are divided. Neither king is obedient to God’s ways. And I wouldn’t say that Tel Dan is a place where most Christian travelers would choose to go to learn the foundational truths about their faith. For this site, at Tel Dan, is one of the altars King Jeroboam set up as an alternative place of worship—golden calves and all (vv. 26-30). Jeroboam is always on the list of bad kings and not someone you want to emulate.
However, this location really did come alive for me as Lysa read 1 Kings 12:31: “Jeroboam also made shrines on the high places and made priests from the ranks of the people who were not Levites.” The high places were exactly what they were meant to be—built up high—high places. They were not hidden or protected from sight. The sacrifices were offered on the altar, and everyone could witness what was happening. There is an area that almost looks like a stage or platform. It made me think of those who are lifted up on a stage today: performers, celebrities, and—for those living in ancient Israel thousands of years ago—the priests. Honestly, it may not be much different from what we do today in churches. Those teaching, preaching, or leading worship stand up on a raised platform. They lead and direct us to the One we are to worship. This ancient high place at Tel Dan was actually a good reminder of the influence those standing upon a platform have on the people they lead. What was true thousands of years ago is still true today. If the wrong person is on the platform, he can lead many astray.
THE TROUBLE WITH OUR THINKING
One thing that really resonated with me as Lysa was teaching was this statement: “Ultimately, what this passage points out is the danger of worshiping solutions of our own making. And isn’t that what these idols all represent? A departure from trusting God happens because we think too lowly of Him and too highly of ourselves.”
Jeroboam built alternate places of worship, made golden calves to worship, and even changed the time and season of worship. (See 1 Kings 12:33.) God was clear in His directions about worship, but somewhere along the way, Jeroboam thought he knew better than God.
And how many times do I do the same thing? I say I trust God, and I believe He is working, except when I don’t. It is clear when I intervene and try to modify plans or change situations to fit my schedule or my way. Ultimately, when I try to take control, I find myself in the same circumstances as Jeroboam—creating my own way; disobeying God; and sadly, unintentionally, leading others astray. It is painful to look at the truth of how often in my life I’ve departed from trusting God. I’ve thought too lowly of Him and too highly of myself.
So standing on the high place in Tel Dan, I confessed my sin against God. Although I didn’t stand side by side with Jeroboam and those who followed his lead, I had been impatient with God so many times. I’d made my own plans, followed my own ways, and trusted myself more than God.
OUR FAITH IN GOD’S FAITHFULNESS
For me it was captivating to look at all the various high places across Israel. There are so many places where the people worshiped false gods. Still, the land of Israel is a reminder of God’s great faithfulness. In spite of our looking up to the high places and trying to reach Him, God came down low. Jesus’ birth was in a lowly place to a humble couple, requiring angels to announce His arrival to the meek shepherds in the fields for anyone to take notice. Jesus lived the ordinary, and yet extraordinary, life as the Son of Man and the Son of God as we read the Gospels. Then Jesus ascended back to His Father from the Mount of Olives, one of the lower elevations on the Judean mountain range. (See Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:9-12.)
As we completed our taping at this site, we moved back through the pathway full of mustard plants. I thought back to the verse that had first come to mind as we entered the Tel Dan Nature Reserve and looked up Matthew 17:20 in my Bible to read, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will tell this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” The Lord reminded me that my faith only needed to be the size of one tiny mustard seed; and no high place, false idol, or mountain could stand against it.
Michelle R. Hicks is the manager for Women, Marriage & Family Resources at LifeWay Christian Resources. Michelle served as a freelance writer, campus minister, and corporate chaplain before coming to LifeWay. She is a graduate of the University of North Texas and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Michelle has a deep hunger for God’s Word and wants others to discover the abundant life they can have with Jesus as their Lord and Savior.