Tag Archives: Judges 3

The “I” in “Idolatry”

The "I" in "Idolatry" (CaD Jud 3) Wayfarer

The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord; they forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs.
Judges 3:7 (NIV)

In today’s chapter, the author of Judges makes it clear that the Hebrew people committed idolatry with the gods Baal and Asherah. Because these popular regional gods would compete for the attention of the Hebrew people for centuries, it’s important to understand a little bit of the context of who these deities were. Part of the difficulty is that one diety might have different names in different cities or regions as well as differences and nuances in the myths and worship practices.

The Mesopotamian region had an entire pantheon of gods and goddesses that prefigures the Greek and Roman gods with which we’re more familiar in Western culture. In the mythology of the era, Baal was the big dog, like Zeus. Asherah was Baal’s wife and the mother of 70+ other gods. Survival in the ancient world was hard. Death rates among infants and children were staggering. Famine was common and severe. It was a violent world in with local warlords constantly making themselves rich and powerful by conquering and pillaging neighbors. Survival was highly dependent on fertility. Families needed children to be born and survive to help with the daily necessities of survival. People needed crops to grow, survive, and be harvested so they would have enough food to survive.

Baal and Asherah were both gods of fertility, and as we all know, human fertility depends on people having sex. Thus, the worship of these fertility gods commonly involved sex. Having sex with the sacred prostitutes was a common form of worship. In some cases, children were ritually sacrificed. If life is the most precious thing, what is the most sacrificial gift one could give the gods? I can begin to appreciate that God wanted His people to avoid these things for their own spiritual, mental, and societal health.

The systemic cycle of Judges I wrote about yesterday always begins with the Hebrew people breaking the numero uno command and worshipping Baal, Asherah, et al. So what does this have to do with me sitting in my home office on this early Thursday morning in the 21st century?

A couple of thoughts I’m pondering in the quiet:

It’s easy, perhaps too easy, to think about Baal and Asherah and think that idolatry isn’t relevant in my life today. At its heart, idolatry is the worship of something else rather than God. Jesus said that the greatest command was to love the Lord God with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength. To what do I give my heart, soul, mind, and strength? It may not be Baal and Asherah, but it might be the accumulation of wealth, a life stuffed with the latest gadgets, a social media profile with lots of followers and influence, a closet full of the latest fashions, a life of being high and having no responsibility, the endless pursuit of more pleasure or a stronger adrenaline rush, or any number of distractions to which I channel my heart, soul, mind, and strength. Idolatry is about the fidelity of spirit. Where do my time, energy, money, strength, and mind share get spent each day?

Some things never change. Over 3,000 years have passed since the events in today’s chapter but we’re still dealing with the core issues of life and death, fertility, survival, and power struggles between groups of people. In a few minutes, I will go down to read the news and I know what it will be. Conflict over terminating the life of infants in the womb. The desire to have sex without restriction and free of the consequences of human fertility. The struggle for power over culture, thought, and speech. There will be stories of people killing other people because they disagree. There will be stories of zealous warlords and emperors of business. There’s a likelihood of there being stories of people killing, burning, looting, and raping as crime rates soar in American cities.

So, what has changed exactly?

Once again, I find myself back at the point of thinking about the human condition…my human condition. As a follower of Jesus, I’m told to start by asking myself what it is I treasure. Where do spend my heart, soul, mindshare, time, and resources? What do I do with what I control? I am the “I” in “idolatry.” I am the “I” in “idolatry.” It’s not if I will have my personal idols, but in what or whom will I invest my heart, soul, mindshare, and resources. I’m going to spend them somewhere. Where am I spending mine?

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Southpaw Savior

But when the Israelites cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man.
Judges 3:15 (NRSV)

When it comes to a good novel, I have always loved espionage thrillers. So, it comes as no surprise that I find the story of Ehud, the southpaw who saved the nation, most fascinating. Three things stood out to me this morning as I read the story of Ehud’s assassination of the Moabite king, Eglon, and Israel’s subsequent military victory.

The first thing that struck me this morning was simply how brutal life in the time of the judges really was. Get ready, because we’re just getting started and there’s a lot of brutality to wade through in the coming weeks. I have said it before as we’ve journeyed through the ancient texts of God’s Message, and I’m reminded again: I have to try and take myself out of my 21st century, American cultural mindset to imagine the realities of tribal culture in Canaan 3300 years ago.

The second thing is that Ehud was a lefty, and lefties have always had a pretty bad rap throughout history. We humans are lemmings by nature and history reveals that we are continually suspect of social outliers. Lefties in history were thought to be anything from evil omens to downright evil themselves. As a lefty, I can remember my elementary teachers at least making an attempt to have me write with my right hand because they believed being right handed would be better for me. How silly of us to be afraid of that which is natural, if only different. Ehud’s south-paw sword hand came in handy.

Finally, Ehud hatched a brilliant plan, and he seems to have understood several key pieces of strategy. The fact that Eglon trusted himself to be alone with Ehud tells me that there was trust built between the two. He seems to have known what Don Corleone learned thousands of years later: Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. Then you can strike when the time is right. Ehud also understood that if you strike the shepherd the sheep will be scattered. He started buy killing the King and then the Moabite subjects were easier to defeat. Ehud was also perceptive about human nature. By speaking privately to Eglon, then shutting & locking the door behind him, he anticipated the servants’ reluctance to barge in on the king. He bought himself more time to get out.

Today, I’m thinking about the fact that God uses our unique differences for specific purpose. Ehud the southpaw was the right guy at the right time in the right place. Our natural strengths and corollary struggles mean that we are uniquely suited to play our part in the Great Story. It’s our job to respect that part we play, and the parts played by others – rather than judging them as better, worse, greater, or lesser.

 

Chapter-a-Day Judges 3

But the People of Israel made themselves at home among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. They married their daughters and gave their own daughters to their sons in marriage. And they worshiped their gods. Judges 3:5-6 (MSG)

I love being at home. I'm comfortable here. I relax here. It's a warm, loving, cozy place.

They say, "home is where the heart is." Jesus took it a step further when he said, "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Home says a lot about your heart. Home reflects who you are. Observe me in my home, and you'll get a much clearer picture of who I truly am.

I find it interesting that the people of Israel "made themselves at home." among the people of the land. They got comfortable and cozy. They even adopted their gods. There is archaeological evidence that the Israelites even worshiped the fertility goddess, Asherah, as the wife of Jehovah, who told them coming out of Egypt that they were to have no other gods.

Today, I'm contemplating where my heart is. I've always echoed the sentiment, "this world is not my home, I'm just a passin' through." But do I really believe that? Where have I made myself at home in this world and become too cozy? Where have the eyes of my heart been pulled away from God to become enamored with that which is worthless?