DEUTERONOMY 13: LET US GO AND WORSHIP OTHER GODS?
WHAT IS THE ATTRACTION TO IDOLATRY?
Here Moses is warning, someday your family member may say, "Hey, let's go to the temple and worship other gods." There is some difficult violence in this text as well, because the form of resistance is not to "just say no" but it says, "you shall surely kill them. Show no pity or compassion and do not shield them."
One big reason I keep mentioning these texts is because in the twenty-first century, Christians in particular have engaged in a fantasy that Islamic texts are violent and ours are not. The Bible we claim as our scripture is very violent. So we need to be honest and address this and stop pretending it's not. After honesty is established again, then we can have a real conversation.
OK, let's talk now about idolatry itself. It's "easy" to read texts like Deuteronomy 13 and make judgments about idolatry like these:
- Why would it be tempting to worship an idol that you made yourself?
- How could Israel not see how powerful God was when they were led out of Egypt?
- Certainly we wouldn't do such things if we were in that position!
Not so fast! Before we do what we often do and start talking about modern day idols, let's do the opposite and transport ourselves to the days of Israel's sojourn in the wilderness near the time they were to enter the promised land.
- There is no written Torah, certainly no accumulated story that includes psalms, laws, prophecies.
- There is no strong tradition of worship of YHWH, and this is a very new "god" to you.
- Your ancestors worshiped idols in Egypt.
- Your world view includes the belief that many gods exist and control things like weather and the seas.
- You don't have doctors, medicines, internet, or any other source of healing than to reach out to gods for goodwill and healing of life-threatening diseases.
- You will do whatever works, even if it's praying to an idol made of gold, and besides they are really beautiful and attractive and many people around you are praying to them as well.
I've named only a few contextual ways you might be thinking if you lived in 3,000 years ago.
Now imagine what someone living 3,000 years ago might be thinking about our lifestyle.
- They stare at a "screen" for hours in a mesmerized state of worship to these gods they carry in their pockets. They also have big ones hanging on their walls and some older people have really fat ones that are encased in a shrine cabinet.
- They go to shamans in white coats and in many rooms down long hallways where there are idol statues of people called monks and someone named Jesus and a woman named Mary. They take medicines and often pray these shaman can heal them.
- Animals are not respected but butchered somewhere and food simply delivered to large temples with food laying around.
- Paper and plastic things in their pockets are very important to them and these things are exchanged for the food they get that was laying around in those big temples. Some of the smaller temples they visit everyday and eat there and the temple waitresses always serve them.
- So, they seem to be worshiping their stomaches, feasting their eyes on pictures on those "screens" and believing in those shamans who can heal them at the clean temples with the long hallways.
Can you start to read Bible texts with a new way of thinking about the people and situations in which they live, and then if we can see ourselves as idolators as well who are very prone to the same dependencies and passions, then we can apply these texts properly to our own idolatry.
LORD, some of us are trying to read the Bible in new, less judgmental, more self-aware, more biblical world aware ways, and we need your help. The old ways stick with us, and we think we can judge, look down on the past, keep an arms distance from applying these texts to ourselves. Please help us be honest, transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we can hear your voice and know your good and pleasing will.
Greg Taylor preaches for The Journey: A New Generation Church of Christ. Greg's wife, Jill, teaches math at Broken Arrow High School and Tulsa Community College. Greg and Jill have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. Greg is the author of many books, including his latest co-authored with Randy Harris, Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John.