Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Cutting Room Floor: Idols as Curses

The last couple Sunday mornings, I have read small snippets from Deuteronomy 28, where God promised the Israelites the blessings He would bring if they obeyed and the curses He would bring if they disobeyed.  Again, I strongly encourage you to read that whole chapter, as it gives a helpful picture of the kind of oppression the Israelites were experiencing in each cycle of sin in the book of Judges.

The Israelites were told to expect a dizzying list of painful and demoralizing consequences for their unfaithfulness.  A sampling:

The LORD will strike you with wasting disease and with fever, inflammation and fiery heat, and with drought and with blight and with mildew. They shall pursue you until you perish. (v22)

The LORD will strike you with the boils of Egypt, and with tumors and scabs and itch, of which you cannot be healed. (v27)

You shall father sons and daughters, but they shall not be yours, for they shall go into captivity. (v41)

You shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you. (v48)

The most tender and refined woman among you, who would not venture to set the sole of her foot on the ground because she is so delicate and tender, will begrudge to the husband she embraces, to her son and to her daughter, her afterbirth that comes out from between her feet and her children whom she bears, because lacking everything she will eat them secretly, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemy shall distress you in your towns. (vv56-57)

Your life shall hang in doubt before you. Night and day you shall be in dread and have no assurance of your life. (v66)

As I read the chapter again this morning, one clause in v36 caught my attention, and it was particularly striking in light of all the horrible things in the context:

…And there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone.

Peculiar.  These other gods of wood and stone were what the people wanted.  In fact, the Israelites wanted these gods so badly that they were willing to suffer the consequences that they knew would come as a result.  And yet, God gives them the idols of their lust as a judgment.  What they desired became a curse upon them.

Romans 1:18-32 show this as a pattern of God’s judgment.  What we see in this passage is three statements of man’s rejection of God, and three statement’s of God giving man over to his sin as a result. 

The first statement of man’s rejection of God is in vv22-23: Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

The Lord’s response in v24: Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves.  “Gave them up” means “to hand over”.  It is the word used when Judas handed Jesus over to the Jews (Mt 26:48: Jn 18:5).  Essentially, Romans 1:24 speaks of God giving man over captive to his idolatry.

The second statement of man’s rejection of God is in v25: For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

The Lord’s response in vv26-27: For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.  Again, this is a picture of God giving man over captive to his own idolatrous lust – they were “consumed” by it.  Clearly, this was an act of judgment, “the due penalty for their error.”

The third statement of man’s rejection of God is in v28a: And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God…

The Lord’s response in v28b: …God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.  The following two verses show the laundry list of sin that this entailed.

This is more than the ultimate case of “be careful what you wish for.”  These verses demonstrate that the very things we worship in place of God, can easily become the temporal judgment for our idolatry.  What we worship becomes a curse, because what we worship never delivers what we hope it will deliver.  Instead it delivers misery.

Sometimes it is hard to see the practicality of such passages because we don’t equate our own wants and desires with idolatry.  But if we take the time to look at our lives in light of Scripture, we’ll find these principles as work.  Consider this scenario: you have a difficult circumstance in your life that you don’t see in the lives of the people around you.  It could be related to your job, your family, your health – fill in the blank.  So you look at some of these people who seem to have it easier than you do, and you give in to the temptation to covet.  “I wish I didn’t have to worry about money.”  “I’d give anything to have a job I enjoyed.”  “Wish my marriage was easy.”  “Why can’t my kids be healthy?”

It’s most likely a fleeting thought the first time.  But like any temptation that has found success, it will come back.  And you give in again.  And again.  And eventually you find yourself given over to that lust.  You are consumed by it.  Seems like everyone you see you automatically assign to that favored class of people who are not suffering the way you are.  Your thoughts become more and more self-centered by the day, and you develop a habitual pattern of thinking that dominates the way you see your own life and the lives of the people around you.  You are breathing covetousness and because that idolatrous lust is not delivering what you hoped it would deliver, bitterness grows inside you, bitterness toward God and bitterness toward other people. 

And all of this is taking place in your heart.  No one even knows you are thinking these things, longing for these things, overcome by these things.  That is, no one but God.  And He knows that what is taking place there is idolatry – you are desiring something else more than you are desiring to worship and please Him. 

One of the worst consequences of sin is being given over to that sin.   Rather than that sin being your slave – which is what temptation promises – it becomes your master.  It rules you.  And the only way to deal with it is to repent and turn to Christ, kill the sin and grow in worship of the Savior.  Refusing to do this will only result in sin gaining an even greater hold on you, a truly miserable existence.

Every sin involves believing a lie.  This will make me happy.  This will feel good.  But Scripture teaches us that we were created to glorify God, and that is the only endeavor in which we will find true satisfaction. 

We would do well to take Psalm 16 to heart, using it against whatever idolatrous desires we find there.  “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you…in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Posted by Greg Birdwell

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