“Today, recognize and keep in mind that the Lord is God in heaven above and on earth below; there is no other.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Idol worship is silly. The idea of bowing down to some statue like that statue could do anything is ridiculous. Even bowing down to a statue like it represents some kind of meaningful power and that power could impact you is laughable. Right? Sure, if you live in a culture where monotheism has been the most fundamental worldview assumption for most of 1500 years. If you don’t, it’s not nearly so laughable as it perhaps seems. And, just because monotheism is one of a culture’s guiding assumptions doesn’t mean that idol worship goes away, it simply changes forms.
Israel in Moses’ day lived in a culture where the idea of monotheism was laughable. Of course there were many gods. Just look at all the different kinds of powers there are in the world. No one god could really wield all of those. And so there were gods for everything. Every different power we encountered had a god behind it who was responsible for it. On our part, we needed to understand how to gain influence over that god or at least gain insight into how he operated so that we could make that power work in our favor.
Thus there was idol worship. The god may not have been restricted to that statue, but it represented a power that was certainly real. It was real and if we didn’t learn how to manage it, it could easily make our lives miserable. The wisest folks learned how to manage many of these different gods through their worship and played one off of another to keep their lives running as smoothly as possible. At the same time, most people lived in a constant fear of these gods because their power was real and if you didn’t get them just right, they could turn that power against you in a minute and you were toast.
This all made for a world that was frightening and confusing and hard to navigate. But it was all they knew and how they thought. For Moses to introduce them to this God who said He has been worshiped by their fathers and that He is the only God was a system shock. It went against everything they had ever known and had been taught to think. Because of this, it took a while for them to get their minds and hearts around the idea. And even then, because everyone around them didn’t think the same way, they kept drifting back into old ways of thinking and the behaviors that came with it.
All this means they needed the reminder Moses gave here. The question is: Do we? We can answer that by answering another question: Do we ever worship idols? Now, perhaps your gut answer is no because you don’t have any little statues in your house. But not so fast.
One of the hit shows on Starz right now is American Gods. It’s a live action version of a book by the same name (disclaimer: I’ve not seen the show or read the book). The premise is that a man being released from prison is approached by a mysterious Mr. Wednesday and asked to be his driver/body guard. Mr. Wednesday turns out to be the Norse god Odin who is on a mission to unite the various old gods of ancient civilizations who are living in America in very weakened states due to a lack of followers and lead them to conquer the various new gods. Who are these new gods? Technology. New media. Internet. And things like these.
The plot sounds silly enough I’m not all that interested in reading the book, and being on Starz I’m not going to watch it for a host of reasons, but it makes a pretty piercing observation of our culture. The observation is this: We do in fact worship a host of idols. They may not take the form of statues any longer, but that doesn’t mean our hearts aren’t still pulled toward them to do what someone tells us is their bidding.
The real question, then, is not whether we worship idols, but which ones we do worship. We worship stuff. We worship money. We worship technology and specifically our phones. We worship television. We worship entertainment more generally. We worship ourselves. We worship image. We worship sports. We worship work. We worship all kinds of things and in all kinds of ways. Anything we lean on to get through life other than God is an object of our worship. And because we are so tempted to worship these other things, yes, we need this reminder from Moses just as the people of Israel did.
So, hear it well: “Today, recognize and keep in mind that the Lord is God in heaven above and on earth below; there is no other.” If you know this truth, say, “Amen.” Now, go and live like it.