These thoughts started a conversation that was had at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, August 20, 2017. The discussion was based upon a reading from Exodus 23:20-33.
I have developed a handout to accompany this teaching and, hopefully, further the conversation in your home or small group. You can download it here.
I was watching TV the other day, and this show comes on with these religious fanatics. They were crazy; well, you would think they were crazy if you didn’t understand their culture or their religion. See that’s just the thing: they were worshippers of idols; and they took things to extremes. They painted their bodies. They wore these ridiculous costumes. They chanted. They danced. They made sacrifices to their idols. They had built these enormous temples to worship their idols. It seemed like their entire existence climaxed into this on scenario, this one over the top act of worship.
What was I witnessing on the television? What images come to mind?
“The most common warning about sin in Scripture does not deal with lying, gossip, adultery, stealing, or murder. The most common sin in all of Scripture that we’re told to avoid, reject, and move away from is idolatry.” The worship of false gods and idols is a persistent prohibition in Scripture. They were the first two commands given to Moses by God: “You shall have no other gods before me. Do not make an idol for yourself—no form whatsoever… Do not bow down to them or worship them, because I, the LORD your God am a passionate God” (Exodus 20:3-4a, 5c, Common English Bible).
As the people of God journey toward the Promised Land, God reminds them that they are not to bow down to the gods of the people they will meet. Stay true to me, says God, and I will bless you and make you well. You will prosper in this place. Fornicate with other gods and this new land will be a deadly snare.
The good land now given is conditional. It depends on worship of Yahweh alone (vv. 21, 24-25, 32). Christianity has for so long represented itself as a religion of free grace, that we flinch from the thought that God’s gifts are conditional. Mosaic faith, however, is realistically grounded in a comprehensive “if” (v.22; cf. 19:5). This is not because God is calculating or bargaining but because the gift of a productive, secure land cannot be held carelessly or through patterns of exploitation. Under such practices, the land will soon succumb to self-serving economics that will void any prospect of peace, security, or justice. The “if” is a realistic understanding that social practice determines social identity.
We tend to emulate, in our daily lives, what we worship. Therefore, the people of God must worship Yahweh lest they wander in a desert they make for themselves in the land God Promised. Failure to worship God creates a desolate place. Misplaced worship squanders God’s blessings and creates a godforsaken barren world where injustice, inequality, and war rage. Where God created abundance, our misguided worship of things created/creates scarcity: a world where some have and many more do not. Misguided worship of gods other than God creates a wilderness—a disordered and dangerous place—in a land God created with goodness and order: a land flowing with milk and honey that was promised to our ancestors.
God says, “If you worship their gods, [this land] will become a dangerous trap for you.” What gods tempt us (individually, as a community, as a nation)? What detrimental effects (traps) might/do we experience in worshiping these gods?
Other Thoughts and Notes:
- John Piper, paraphrasing John Calvin, once said that our hearts are idol factories.
- Among the sins to which the human heart is prone [writes AW Tozer], hardly any other is more hateful to God than idolatry, for idolatry is at bottom a libel on His character. The idolatrous heart assumes that God is other than He is—in itself a monstrous sin—and substitutes for the true God one made after its own likeness. Always this God will conform to the image of the one who created it and will be base or pure, cruel or kind, according to the moral state of the mind from which it emerges. (AW Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy, Chapter 1 “Why We Must Think Rightly About God <http://heavendwellers.com/hdt_chapter_1_koh.htm>)
 Ed Stetzer, “Idolatry is Alive Today: Why Modern Church Leaders Still Fight an Old Battle,” The Exchange (October 8, 2014) <http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/october/idolatry-is-alive-today-why-modern-church-leaders-still-fig.html> Accessed August 19, 2017.
 “Reflections on Exodus 23:20-33” in The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, vol. 1 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994), p878.
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