The First Commandment

Probably an easy conceit for people today to fall into is to look back smugly at the simple ways and thinking of people in ancient times, like the 1950s.  The Book of Wisdom is a jarring read, especially Chapters 13 and 14, in which the divinely-inspired but anonymous author (probably a post-exilic rabbi) discusses the origins and evils of idolatry.  Hear the word “idolatry” as it relates to the Bible, and the mental image is inevitably Charlton Heston throwing the tablets like Frisbees at the Israelites as they cavort about the golden calf, but in Wisdom it talks about idolatry in a way that has an eerie resonance with our culture today.

14:20-29 And the masses, drawn by the charm of the workmanship, soon thought he should be worshipped who shortly before was honored as a man.  And this became a snare for mankind, that men enslaved to either grief or tyranny conferred the incommunicable Name on stocks and stones.  Then it was not enough for them to err in their knowledge of God; but even though they live in a great war of ignorance, they call such evils peace.  For while they celebrate either child-slaying sacrifices or clandestine mysteries, or frenzied carousals in unheard-of rites, they no longer safeguard either lives or pure wedlock; but each either waylays and kills his neighbor, or aggrieves him by adultery.  And all is confusion – blood and murder, theft and guile, corruption, faithlessness, turmoil, perjury, disturbance of good men, neglect of gratitude, besmirching of souls, unnatural lust, disorder in marriage, adultery and shamelessness.  For the worship of infamous idols is the reason and source and extremity of all evil.  For they either go mad with enjoyment, or prophesy lies, or live lawlessly or lightly forswear themselves.  For as their trust is in soulless idols, they expect no harm when they have sworn falsely. 

Of course, unless it’s the home of an archeologist you aren’t going to find a Baal or an Astarte in anyone’s house today.  But anything we put before God is just as much an idol as those stone and wood artifacts of ages past.  Money-work and sex are perhaps the top two – not sure which one is the more adored.  Families may be the most popular sacrifice to these gods.  To the money-work god, its high priests expel men and women with families from the temple and bring in the young eunuchs who willingly offer incense day and night for little recompense other than all the Lion’s Cup coffee they want to drink and access to vending machines.  The sex god is a jealous god, and metes out a variety of punishments: diseases, broken homes, unloved children, dead children, the Jerry Springer Show.  But to echo the Book of Wisdom, in the midst of social chaos today many still call such evils peace.

Well, not to be a total sourpuss, I’d like to acknowledge the sacrifices made by so many on this Memorial Day.  It’s my hope that ultimately we don’t trade the slavery of relativism for true freedom, and those sacrifices were in vain.  I have one son who is an Army officer stationed in Germany, and another is an aspiring Army officer.  People ask me if I worry about my children ever being in harm’s way – some even cheekily ask why I didn’t do something to dissuade them.  My response is they are doing what they want to do, and if not my child, then whose child?  I thank God we have people who have “sheep dog” in them, and want to protect us sheep (“sheep” in an affectionate, not derogatory sense) from the many wolves.  Yeah, talking about you Achmed – drop the suicide vest and go take a shower with a bar of Lifebouy and lots of hot water, you’ll feel so much better.

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