I was at the local shopping centre recently and I noticed big posters promoting fake meat sausages. Meat substitutes are not new, but in the last six months, there has been an increasing push for these substitutes. They have been winning awards left, right and centre, promoted by food experts and medical advisors like Bill Gates and have become part of the weekly news cycle. What gives?
Substitute sugar, substitute milk, cola, cheese, beer, eggs and ham. The list is endless. Substitution is a concept buried deep inside who we are.
Man needs a substitute. He needs something between himself and reality. He needs this because reality is a holy God, and man in his sinful state cannot bear a holy God. He cannot bear the real thing and so he looks for an approximation.
And, having substituted the ultimately real thing, it is only a matter of time before he starts to substitute the lesser real things. Things like full cream milk. Yeah, yeah, allergies. I know. The admission of allergies doesn’t change (but rather re-inforces) the premise: We are increasingly allergic to the real thing – or so we’re told.
This quest for a substitution goes all the way up Jacobs ladder and lands, like all things, at the feet of Almighty God.
We see a straightforward example of this in the days of Samuel.
…all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” …And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them”. (1 Samuel 8:4,7)
Israel would rather have the dry, dusty imitation of kingship that they see going on among the nations than the life-giving kingship of the one true God.
The whole pitch is coated in well-meaning phrases. “We need protection”, “we need stability around here”.
In all this, Israel is saying, “We will not have this one to reign over us.”
Kingship in Israel was not forbidden. Deuteronomy 17 lays out the conditions for kingship – most of which have to do with the kings character and conduct.
Samuel goes ahead and tells the elders in Israel what their substitute king will be like (1 Samuel 8:10-17).
Take, take, take, take, take, take…
I count six “takes” in those few verses. He will take your sons, your daughter, your fields, your grain, your servants and He will take a tenth of all you have. The tithe was a tenth of man’s increase that was given to God – and represented the whole of a man’s life in God’s hands.
This new king will, in effect, be a substitute for divinity. He will lay claim to that ten percent – those things which belong to God. He will take man and land – and all that springs from them. He will claim eminent domain; the ownership of all things.
And sometimes God gives us what we ask for.
Man does require a substitute, that’s true. We cannot touch God – for He is Holy and we are not. The solution of the natural man is to therefore replace God.
God’s solution is to redeem the natural man. To make him a new man. One that can approach the throne.
God accomplishes this by undertaking a different kind of substitution. He sends his Son. He provides the right substitution by sending His Son to be a king over man and to be a substitution for man.
You can ask God to step aside and make way for your substitution, or you can be wise, and step aside and allow God to make substitution for you. But you can’t have both.