You shall not bow down to their gods, and you shall not serve them. And you shall not do according to their works. But you shall surely pull down and surely you shall smash their idols. Exodus 23:24
Smash – Why did God command the Israelites to destroy the altars of the gods of Canaan? The answer is a bit deeper than the usual, “Do not worship any other god.” The reason for God’s commandment has a direct bearing on our society, even though we don’t erect idols (or at least we don’t think that we do).
Canaan and the surrounding cultures practiced the religion of fertility cults. In its simplest terms, fertility cults believed that placating the gods would insure prosperity. So, they sacrificed babies, engaged in temple prostitution and other rituals in order to insure that their crops would grow, their harvests would be plentiful and their lives would be protected. God told the Israelites to smash these practices to dust. Why? Because thinking like this undermines everything we know about the care, concern and compassion of God. God is the author, protector and provider of life. He doesn’t need to be pacified in order to love us. He doesn’t need to be convinced to do good. Any practice that intimates that our efforts are necessary to sway the cosmic fate of our lives insults God’s goodness. The Israelites needed to step completely away from such foolishness, and to do so, they had to destroy even the potential influence of this thinking.
Now that we see what is at stake in God’s commandment, we can ask a contemporary question. Do we need to smash the same appeasement practices in our lives? Do we even know what these practices are? Let’s take a look.
The philosophical idea of a fertility cult is simple: I must pay for my prosperity. I have to give up something valuable to me (a child, my virtue, my loyalty) so that the “gods” will give me favorable returns. In other words, I serve and obey the “gods” in my life who control the purse strings. To get what I want, I must give them what they want. Now things look a little more obvious. What do you give up in order to achieve your version of prosperity? Do you sacrifice relationships with your children (“Daddy’s too tired. He has a long day at the office”)? Do you sacrifice intimacy with your spouse (“I don’t have time for you right now. I have work to do”). Do you skirt the edges of obedience (“I know it says Sabbath, but I’ve got to work on Saturday”)? Do you allow the guiding principle of the fertility mentality to dictate your behavior (“It’s just the cost for being the boss”)? Perhaps your worship of fertility gods is even more disguised. Do you tithe in order to receive? Did you think that God is obligated to take care of you because you attend church regularly or pray daily? Did you think that being a good person will insure your place in heaven? Do you convert success into numbers (number of salvations, number of donors, number of dollars)?
Once we make our way through some of this crucial examination, then the next part of the commandment comes into play. The Hebrew word is shavar (to break into pieces, to scatter, to smash). It’s not enough to opt out of the fertility mentality. We are required to stand up against it and pull it down! We are supposed to obliterate it, to smash it to dust. Wherever we see people practicing the art of reciprocity, wherever our thoughts or the thoughts of others lead to appeasement for success, we are to say, “NO! This is not God’s way!”
Our culture is filled with the idea that prosperity comes through personal sacrifice, luck and service to fickle gods. We just call them by different names. Wall Street, OPEC, the Cartel, G7 or FDIC. Whatever you choose, the principle is the same. You pay to play. This is not God’s way, but if you don’t stand up against it, you will soon be buried under it.
Don’t fly off the handle and take a hammer to the altar of money. Read the rest of Scripture on the proper attitude and use of God’s possessions and assets. There is more than one way to tear down an idol. Sometimes it takes a hammer. Sometimes it takes strong words. Sometimes it takes re-evaluating our own dependencies. Sometimes it takes responding to someone else’s need even if it doesn’t benefit me. But whatever God wants you to do about it, one thing is certain: in God’s world, you don’t pay an entrance fee. He already did it for you.
Topical Index: Prosperity