I love to post sermon titles on our sign that get people talking about – or wondering –what the sermon is about. That has certainly happened with “The Way to a Man’s Heart.”
This past week, I heard a member at Rock Hill say to two young women of the church something along the lines of, “You better be here Sunday so you will know what to do to land the man of your dreams.” And I’m sure many of you have already finished the statement in your minds.
Most people would fall back on the old bit of conventional wisdom that “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” But let’s hear what Numbers 25 says about that:
[Read Numbers 25]
After hearing that sordid story of the Israelite men and the Moabite and Midianite women, you have probably realized that the old saying about the stomach is the sanitized, G-rated version for the kids.
This question is for the men here today. Really, guys, is eating the most important thing in the world to you?
Is the cuisine at home the thing you think about more than anything else?
After Balaam refused to curse the Israelites on behalf of the Moabites and Midianites, the enemies of the Israelites changed strategy. Instead of paying Balaam to invoke curses upon them, they tempted the Israelites to bring curses upon themselves. Instead of trying to defeat them on the battlefield, they tried to defeat them in their own tents.
Both the fifth-century BC Chinese general Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War and Michael Corleone said much more recently in “The Godfather- Part 2”: “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Exactly.
How much closer can you get to your enemies than to seduce them?
Not only were the men – in many cases – committing adultery, but they were also indulging in idolatry.
The Midianite and Moabite women were introducing them to Baal of Peor – the top fertility god in the region – and the men were more than happy to join their new mistresses in worshipping Baal.
Which, of course, enraged God. He ordered Moses to have all the men who had worshipped Baal killed and left out in the sun – probably as a warning to other people in the Israelite camp not to take chances with their hearts. Other people died because of a plague God sent to punish His people for their unfaithfulness.
While the people were standing outside the Tent of Meeting, weeping over all of their family members who had died, Zimri – a married man with children from the tribe of Simeon – brought Cozbi – the daughter of a Midianite tribal chief – to his family, in front of everyone. The Jewish people would call this Chutzpah – shameless audacity – and because of it, Aaron’s grandson Phineas put a spear through the two of them.
Then the plague stopped, but God cursed the Midianites – because they used one of their women in an effort to bring disaster to the Israelites.
This behavior was nothing new – although this was the first time the Bible made note of seduction as a military tactic. And it was certainly not the last time that lust changed the course of nations: King David – the man after God’s own heart – committed adultery with Bathsheba and set up her husband Uriah to be killed in battle to hide David’s sin. Beyond that, he had sons with multiple wives – which sparked jealousy that lead to Absalom’s coup attempt toward the end of David’s life.
Another of David’s sons, Amnon, lusted after Absalom’s sister Tamar so much that he raped her – and Absalom killed him.
David’s successor Solomon – supposedly the wisest man who ever lived – had 500 wives and 300 mistresses. Most of the wives were married as part of military and trade alliances with other nations. And they introduced Solomon to their pagan Gods. Another unwise move.
Solomon wrote about lust in Proverbs 7 – probably after he had learned his lesson:
She misleads him with great persuasiveness. She seduces him with smooth speech. Suddenly he goes after her, like a bull to the slaughter, like a fool to be punished in the stocks, until an arrow pierces his liver; like a bird rushing into a trap, he does not know that it will cost him his life.
So it’s safe to say that the way to a man’s heart is not through his stomach. It’s through the desires that make him uniquely a man, and when those desires are left unchecked marriages and families are wrecked, careers are ruined, churches are fractured, and even nations crumble.
Did you notice that – with the exception of the one Midianite woman – it was the men who paid for their sin with their lives? While it is wrong to exploit another person’s weakness for personal gain – God holds the men accountable for their actions, and acted swiftly and severely to put an end to their disobedience.
The men were responsible for staying true to their marriage vows – and for abiding by God’s law:
“You shall have no other Gods before me.”
In other words – the problem was the men’s hearts, not the foreign women who found the way into those hearts. Their hearts were not true to their wives or their God. And not even to the Moabite or Midianite women.
They were interested only in what they wanted.
It has always been a heart problem. What do we really love? Who is really the focus of our attention?
Where does our loyalty lie?
Is it loyalty to ourselves? Do we love what makes us feel good? Is it to our success or our wealth? Is it to our status in the community or what people think of of us? Do we focus our attention on finding ways to satisfy our desires? This is why pornography is so seductive – and addictive. This is why adultery is so prevalent – and more socially acceptable than it used to be. Our hearts are usually pointed at ourselves and what we want. Our loves are out of order.
When one of the scribes asked Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was, Jesus replied with the words from Deuteronomy 6: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength.”
James Smith of Calvin College wrote in his book You Are What You Love that our actions “bubble up from our loves.” That would include letting anything else get ahead of God and our spouses in our list of priorities.
He goes on to say:
Jesus’s command to follow him is a command to align our loves and longings with his—to want what God wants, to desire what God desires, to hunger and thirst after God and crave a world where he is all in all—a vision encapsulated by the shorthand “the kingdom of God.”
How do we reorient our hearts so they point to the True North – to God? You have heard the answers before, but we have to do them with intentionality. By worshipping regularly. By reading God’s Word regularly.
By praying regularly. By deliberately turning our thoughts away from the temptations that surround us and toward the holiness, faithfulness, graciousness, generosity, and goodness of God.
It’s not easy – and the distractions are many. But when we take seriously the discipline of following Jesus, we will find our desires changing. And someday, Lord willing, the way to a man’s heart will be through a shared faith in Jesus Christ.