But you shall cut down their altars and break their images and you shall cut off their shrines. Exodus 34:13
Break – Let’s be very clear about this. What God tells us to smash into pieces is never to be put back together again. What God says we are to cut down is never to be raised again. What God wants cut off is never to be reattached. Why? Because (as the next verse says), God’s name is Adonai kana (YHVH plus qanna). We are fools if we gather together and rebuild what God breaks apart.
The Hebrew word shavar is about as destructive a word as you could want. Break, burst, smash, scatter and destroy are all captured in this word. Very often it is used in just this kind of context – the breaking of symbols of false gods. Of course, we know that in spite of God’s instructions, Israel had a long history of rebuilding the smashed idols. Eventually, all that rebuilding led to God breaking Israel. They learned the lesson. Since the Babylonian captivity, Israel has never served any other god but the Lord. It took the total destruction of the nation for them to learn this lesson. I wonder if we have learned anything from this history.
What has to be cut down, broken and cut off? What has to be left destroyed, never to be rebuilt? Certainly the symbols are of little consequence. After all, totem poles and Egyptian jewelry signs and voodoo dolls ultimately are nothing. The idolatry is not in the symbols. It is in the rebellion against God demonstrated in the symbols. Israel was to destroy the symbols so that they would remove the possibility of rebellion. Personally and corporately, Israel was to grind into dust the seduction of competitive priorities. What do you suppose that would look like today? What symbols are you rebuilding after God has asked you to break them into pieces?
How about the symbols of success? How much of a priority is the good job, the great car, the better house or the contemporary style? Our symbols are not wood and stone. They are plastic with magnetic strips. They are attitude activations (“Do you know who I am?”). They are gold-embossed titles and private parking spots. We are all competing for the “look at me” crown.
Maybe your previously smashed idols are hidden from public view. God asks you to tear down those secret fantasies, those anesthetizing day dreams, those clandestine moral vacations. He releases you from the Hotel California (“We are all just prisoners here of our own device”) but you re-register. You can’t imagine life without the steely knife, in spite of all the pain it brings.
Maybe your idols are beach bags and a cool Margarita. You just want to get away from it all. You don’t want to be bothered. “It’s my life. I can do what I want with it.” Really? Have you torn down your self yet? God has a no replacement policy of your “dead man walking” state of existence too. You don’t get your old life back. It needed to be smashed to pieces.
God does not rebuild. He doesn’t pick up the pieces of what was once rebellion and refashion them. God flattens the clay and makes something new. The new man, the new Jerusalem, the new creation. Leave the old where it belongs. Broken to bits.
Topical Index: Idolatry