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'Backsliders of the Bible'

Jeremiah in the third chapter of his prophecy uses the word 'backsliding' to describe the condition/conduct of the people of Israel. The wicked sin of spiritual adultery was openly committed by the ten tribes of Israel and Jeremiah appealed to the nation to 'Turn thou unto me. But she returned not.' (Jeremiah 3:7) On five other occasions he calls for the return/repentance of backsliding Israel but they would not! The deliberately wicked and wretched sin of spiritual adultery, they literally 'played the harlot' by going after strange gods called here in this extended passage 'stones and stocks' (3:9) referring to idols and trees where the worship of Baal was commonly practiced. Going mightily after other gods, committing spiritual adultery, and playing the harlot might not be the way the sins of today's Christian is described, however, the principle of having other gods replace the God of the Bible in our lives is also just as commonplace as the Baal worship of Israel and therefore just as much the driving cause for backsliding in our lives today. When the child of God 'plays the harlot' by cramming his mind with the devil's doctrine and displays found in any number of electronic gadgets in the average Christian home, and adopts ungodly rebellious attitudes, becoming just another mass consumer of whatever the world has to offer, things move in and take over the place or priority of our heart, spiritual adultery is committed just as sure as the nation of Israel committed the sin of idolatry with strange gods in their day!! Backsliding is an Old Testament word with a modern day application, yes, backsliding is the word used to describe a child of God who is deeply settled into an ungodly habit of deliberately sinning against God! Comfortable in practicing idolatry was the sin for which Jeremiah condemned the Israelites! They refused to turn to God in repentance and therefore had to suffer judgment at the hand of a loving God, the one who had 'married' (3:14) them, and continued to call for them to 'return' (3:22) but they would not! However, backsliding can also be used to describe the ways of a child of God who has allowed their ungodly desires to become the controlling factor in their life, rather than the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible gives many illustrations of backsliders, one of the most notable being King Saul. Here is a man who was given great opportunity by God to succeed. He was anointed king of God's chosen people Israel by the prophet Samuel (I Samuel 10:1). 'The Spirit of God came upon him and he prophesied' (I Samuel 1:10), he was humble in the beginning hiding 'himself among the stuff' (I Samuel 10:22), but self-will restricted his influence for God (I Samuel 13:12). He became directly disobedient to God and was guilty of rash vows (I Samuel 15:11-23).

Jealous of David he tried to kill him even though David was loyal to him to the end (I Samuel 18,19). Irrational superstition led him to the forbidden adversary of God, the witch of Endor, an emissary of the devil himself! (I Samuel 28). Wounded in battle with the Philistines he chose to commit suicide, tragically ending his own life (I Samuel 31). The downward slide of Saul came about gradually to be sure, but the steps to his fatal end are clear. First of all he did not keep the commandment of the Lord. Instead of waiting on the Samuel the Lord's priest to offer sacrifice to God he 'forced' (I Samuel 13:12)himself intruding into the priest's office and offered a burnt offering! This total disregard for God's will is a definite indicator of the condition of Saul's heart. His open disobedience before all clearly shows that he was not right with God, he was not in communion with the Lord, he definitely was not controlled by the Lord as in times past, but instead his self-will caused him to blatantly sin against God and those under his authority! Samuel's verdict indicates Saul's disobedience: 'Thou hast done foolishly; thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God, which He commanded thee; for now would the Lord have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever.' (I Samuel 13:13) Secondly, his backsliding intensified as he continued to plunge into the depths of disobedience by literally rejecting the Word of the Lord! I Samuel 15:22,23 Samuel rebukes Saul for disobeying God for not completely following God's orders to 'utterly destroy' (I Samuel 15:3) the Amelekites and all their belongings. He instead spared Agag the king 'and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them'. 'Then came the Word of the Lord unto Samuel saying, It repenteth Me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following Me, and hath not performed My commandments, And it grieved Samuel: and he cried unto the Lord all night.' The next morning when Samuel went to meet Saul, Saul lied to him in an effort to cover the truth about his keeping the animals of the Amelekites blaming the people when Samuel confronted him! Samuel gave him God's verdict: 'Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubborness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the Word of the Lord, He hath also rejected thee from being king.' Saul confessed his wrongdoing, but Samuel holds to God's decision and repeats the sentence upon Saul: 'Thou hast rejected the Word of the Lord, and the Lord hath rejected thee from being king over Israel.' (I Samuel 15:26)

Saul's backsliding descent continues as evidenced in a series of irrational acts leading up to his tragic suicidal death! He tries to kill his loyal servant David, he also attempts to kill his own son Jonathan, he brutally murders fifty of God's priests, he resorts to the counsel of the witch of Endor in the process the witch 'by the familiar spirit' brings the prophet Samuel's spirit into view and Samuel soundly condemns Saul and prophecies Saul's doom which takes place the next day! (I Samuel 28). Saul's physical suicide on Mt. Gilboa is the tragic finale of a backsliders downward slide into the devil's clutches, totally abandoning his God and succumbing to the direct and fatal onslaught of the devil! The next Backslider of the Bible we will study is the prophet Jonah. Here is the picture of a chosen vessel of the Lord who exhibits at least ten ways or characteristics of a backslidden child of God. The first characteristic and the most likely the source of the others is found in 1:3. Jonah deliberately refuses to do the will of God! Here, the prophet 'rose up to flee from the presence of the Lord, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.' This attitude of rebellion against doing what is clearly known to be the will of God is one of the most common manifestations of the backslidden child of God. The Lord through His Word gave Jonah clear instruction to Jonah in 1:2: "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before Me." Jonah instead heads in the opposite direction in an attempt to run away from the omnipresent God of heaven ignoring the obvious fact of God's ability to know where he was regardless of how far he went from the place God wanted Him to be. Oftentimes the child of God will do the exact same thing in an effort to avoid doing what is explicitly known to be the will of God. That job, or position, the certain place God wants to you to move, that church the Lord wants you to be a part of and serve in all are ways many born-again Christians refuse to do the will of God! It happens every day after day in modern-day Christianity! The next characteristic that Jonah the backslider demonstrates is also found in 1:3. He conveniently removes himself from responsibility. When God gives him specific orders to go to Nineveh and 'cry against it' Jonah instead does a complete about-face and takes off in the opposite direction! This in principle is what many of God's children do when given an order to accomplish some undesirable task for God. Going on in the direction of our own choosing seems to salve the conscience, pushing the will of God to the back burner, blocking it from the mind, walking away from anything that even reminds us of God's pointed and clear command. Jonah, like Abraham before him when he was told not to go

down to Egypt, chose instead the direct opposite of God's will for his life. He removes himself from taking on the responsibility God charged him with, and that was to 'go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it'. Jonah's backslidden condition causes him to go to considerable personal expense in order to run away from God. 'He found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof' 1:3. Jonah's foolish attempt to get out of the land of Israel begins to cost him dearly. The trip to Tarshish was no small journey and must have been an expensive venture for the prophet. Here again the cost of refusing to do the will of God can reach deeply into our financial resources. Spending money to divert our thinking, our directions, our life goals can exact a heavy price both financially and spiritually, not to mention the time that we lose as we continue in our backslidden ways! Time, the only commodity that we cannot replace! God only gives us a certain allotted amount of time here on earth to serve Him. The eternal rewards we earn in this life will determine the level of blessing we will receive for eternity in heaven! That's right, there will be degrees or levels of blessing in heaven for God is a just God, he will reward each of us to the degree that we have served Him, and the time we have to do just that is running down with each tick of the clock, one day it will be over for each of us, therefore we must 'Redeem the time' buying up the opportunities God gives us, utilizing each moment in Holy Spirit-filled service for Him! However the backslider will instead squander the time, spending their resources foolishly just as Jonah did, buying the ticket to Tarshish! How many tickets to Tarshish have been purchased by a backslider in an attempt to divert their mind, will and emotions from doing the will of God! The direction of a backslider, just like Jonah's direction in chapter 1&2, is always down, continually further down into the depths of sin. 'So he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it (the ship) (1:3), 'But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship(1:5). He eventually went down further into the sea, and even further into the stomach of the great fish!! 'I went down to the bottoms of the mountains(2:6). And it wasn't until he 'came to himself' 'And the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.' (2:10) But until then, Jonah was on a continual downward slide until he reached the extreme end. And so it is with the backslider today, this downward direction continues to be the result of the one who runs away from God. Prejudice toward a person or group of people is also one of the signs of the backslidden child of God. Jonah's attitude toward the revived people of Nineveh was one of displeasure and anger (4:1). His obvious prejudice for these people

was the reason he ran from God in the first place. His heart was clouded with anger and displeasure causing him to be unable to clearly see God and His will. Even after the horrific incident with the great fish and the revival of Nineveh Jonah backslides once again displayed through his prejudicial actions and emotions toward the people of Nineveh. In our culture today, prejudice is running at a rampant pace, racial prejudice is the most common, although prejudice toward people of other ethnic backgrounds is also prevalent. Religious prejudice toward people of other religions, denominations, or beliefs can also be found in the backslidden child of God. All prejudice must be rejected and repented of in order for the love of Christ to have it's way in our heart. This great love is a supernatural phenomenon and can not be accomplished without the working of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and lives! God's treatment of the backslider is always dependent on each individual situation and each individual child of God. In Jonah's case the chastisement from God was severe! 'So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea; and the sea ceased from her raging' (1:15) Jonah's terrifying plight had just begun! Imagine with me the shock of being thrown into the ocean even though it was at his own request ! Jonah knew he was the cause of this horrendous storm: 'Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you; for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.' (1:12) He understood that God was dealing with him through the ordeal taking place onboard the ship. Being thrown overboard was only the beginning of the severe testing he would soon face. The three days and nights in the stomach of the great fish where he would undoubtedly be changed both physically and spiritually was the climax to Jonah's chastisement from God. He was definitely changed physically, modern-day marine biologists assert, due to the digestive fluids in the stomach of the great fish. 72 hours in this environment would certainly have effected the appearance of Jonah's skin, probably causing it to become discolored, possibly bleached white! Whatever the color/condition of Jonah's skin, it surely was not normal and could well have been peculiarly terrifying to the residents of Nineveh! But, his change spiritually, at least for the time being, is definitely seen in chapter 2 when: "Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God out of the fish's belly I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord, and He heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and Thou heardest my voiceI will look again toward Thine holy templemy prayer came in unto Thee, into Thine holy templeBut I will sacrifice unto Thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.' (2:1-9) Jonah's prayer brought him to the place of obedience to God and God

responds: 'And the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.' (2:10) During this account of Jonah's ordeal, another symptom of the severely backslidden child of God is evident. The tendency to become suicidal is seen in 1:12 & 4:3,8. Jonah's request to be thrown into the sea is an obvious attempt to commit suicide, for there would be no hope of anyone surviving in a stormy ocean. After the revival of Nineveh Jonah's desire to die surfaces again: "Therefore now, O Lord, take, I beseech Thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than live" (4:3). Later Jonah repeats his desire for death: "The sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die that to live." This is not an uncommon attitude in the backslider that allows themself to fall into deep despair from a Godless pattern of thinking. King Saul eventually committed suicide after a prolonged lifestyle of not keeping the commandment of the Lord, rejecting the Word of the Lord and the resultant commission of heinous sins including attempting to kill his own son Jonathan & his loyal servant David, mass murdering the priests of God, consulting the devil's emissary the witch of Endor and finally ending his life in shameful, cowardly suicide!! Today, suicide is still the ultimate goal of Satan for the lives of God's children and he will do anything he can to bring it about. The number one cause of teen deaths in the USA is in fact suicide! In addition, the backslider will always bring the lost souls around him into great jeopardy. Jonah's negative effect on the men of the ship he boarded is obvious. He actually brought them into life-threatening danger through the storm that God used to chastise Jonah. Instead of being salt and light to these men, instead of displaying a Godly testimony Jonah revealed his backsliding attitude and actions. Although the circumstances God created also caused these men to beg God for mercy (1:14) they knew they were about to perish if God did not intervene! In the same manner, the child of God that is consumed in backsliding can and will jeopardize the eternal souls of those he comes in contact with, simply because they will not be an effective witness for the Lord Jesus Christ, in fact the opposite effect occurs just as in the case of Jonah. What was it like on board the ship after Jonah was thrown into the sea? Did these men come to know the God of heaven as their Saviour because of this terrifying event? We don't know the answers to these question, but Jonah surely was not an effective witness of the grace of God that brings salvation, no, these men only witnessed the terror of the Lord upon a backslidden servant of God. If anything occurred to them, it was the awesome fear of this God of Jonah, a fear that most likely kept them from wanting anything to with Him at all!

The experience of the prophet Jonah, the backslidden servant of God, also reveals that anger was his primary controlling emotion after he brought revival to the people of Nineveh. "But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry." (4:1) Out of control anger is an emotion that is usually very prevalent in the life of the backslidden child of God. Angry with God for allowing something perceived by the backslider to be against their good. Perceived to be, not really against the backslidden one's good, just perceived to be, for 'All things work together for good to them that love God' and therefore regardless of what is perceived, God will cause all things to work for good! 'If God be for us who can be against us?' However, anger toward God, blaming Him for the trouble, the testing, the tribulations that are experienced is the way of the backslider! And finally, the backslider is 'unstable in all his ways'. This instability is caused by the war that rages in the soul for control of the heart of the child of God. The flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh causing the backslider to ride the roller coaster of complete emotional, mental, and spiritual shakiness! 'He that wavereth is like the wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed' James tells us in chapter one of his book describing the backslider 'To a 'T'! Jonah prayed and cried out to God later preaching a revival message only to become 'very angry' at the result. Then he became suicidal begging God to take his life, only to later express his gladness for shade just a short while later. The last words of Jonah show him again wishing to die saying 'It is better for me to die than live' (4:8). The swinging pendulum of the backslider's ways, one minute angry, the next one glad and the next giving up completely with desperate thoughts of suicide, paint a vivid picture of someone who has abandoned the hope that only God can give to His children when their focus is on His will, His ways, His wisdom. This is what brings the peace of God! The Prince of Peace, the Lord Jesus Christ supplying the believer with the Spirit-filled joy of knowing He the Lord of Glory and heaven and earth is in charge, regardless of the outward circumstances!