3 You must have no other gods before me.
1. What does it mean to believe in a deity other than God? Who or what could be such gods in our times? What would the presence of another deity do to damage our faith and our lives?
A. When the mitzvah warns against believing in or ascribing to any deity but God, what does it mean?
(On the surface level, and certainly in ancient times, it might have been other named gods, such as Greek/Roman gods or other gods of the region. It could have been several on an equal plane, or several in a hierarchy (even including God), or several but with none as the First Cause and Sovereign. Today we tend not to have gods named and worshipped as then. But we do have finite things or forces or created things or forces which we worship or treat, as Paul Tillich says, as though they involve our “ultimate concern.”
B. Who or what would be such gods in our own minds, in our own day? Also, do we create notions of God that are not true to God and then worship those notions?
C. Why would the presence of another deity do damage to our faith and our lives, and in what ways?
4 Do not make an idol for yourself—no form whatsoever—of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. 5 Do not bow down to them or worship them, because I, the Lord your God, am a passionate God. I punish children for their parents’ sins even to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me.
2. What does it mean to bow down to or worship an idol? What in our world and in our time are such idols? What’s wrong with being devoted to these things, people, and/or ways of living/behaving?
A. We’re neither to make, bow down to, nor
worship/serve a graven image, an idol.
1. What do all three of these ideas mean?
(This hones to a narrower idea from the mitzvah we just discussed as to believing in other gods than God. Here the gods can take the form, in effect, of objects that we make. How could that happen? How does it happen?
We create all the time. Indeed God created. We’re made in God’s image. So, as we discussed in Genesis, we are duty-bound, as God’s partner, to create in the world. Perhaps because we’re called to do it and/or because it’s in our nature to enjoy and prize what we create, especially the more cherished or valuable it is, we come upon a line that we are tempted to cross, where the creation becomes, or comes close, to being our “ultimate concern.” Was this attitude close to what motivated the builders of the Tower of Babel perhaps?)
2. Do we create such things out of our jobs, our projects, our manufacture, our purchase?
Making things is essential to who we are. The problem is when those things become idols to us or others. Have you felt gripped enough by certain objects that you had the feeling get close to being of ultimate concern? Do we make sacrifices to such objects, as if they were God, in terms of time, obeisance, will, resources, and commitment? Do we, in effect, worship them?
3. What’s separately wrong with bowing to an idol? Indeed what does it mean to bow to an idol?
(It’s possible one could argue that bowing is not worshipping, though it certainly involves an attribute of worship. It certainly appears as if it’s worship. It inclines one who does it to worship, as one might detect in the inclinations in one’s heart. There’s certainly a significant deference by one who bows to the object to which he/she bows. Is this mitzvah a hedge? Don’t even get this close to worship.
Are there objects to which we bow like this, when we think we can control it, keep it from becoming an object of worship? That extra hour on Facebook? The bonus we might “need” that takes us away from family or time that could be devoted to service of God? More time to be used for the TV or other means of so-called R&R than we, even on a liberal scale, don’t really need for rest but could rather study, worship, or take action that serves God’s purposes. Are we here bowing down to creations, even though we don’t actually worship them, or at least not quite yet?)
4. What’s wrong with all of these ways of living and behaving?
(First, and foremost, they take us away from God and our duties to God. Second, they do not comport with the unique and demanding love and service of God that are expected of us. Indeed, as we learned, loving and serving God are expected to be as much of a full-time commitment as we can make it. Making, bowing down to, and worshipping idols not only eat into that time and indeed demand quite a lot themselves; they also create competitors for our love and service of God. For people in a unique relationship with God, all this crosses an unacceptable line.)
23 Don’t make alongside me gods of silver or gold for yourselves.
3. What does it mean to benefit from these forbidden things, even if we don’t worship them, and why/how would benefiting in such ways be bad?
1. This is generally read as forbidding the making of an image of a human being out of silver, gold, etc., whether it’s used for ornament or worship. What’s the problem you think this language addresses?
(There is a discrete problem of our making an idol of our selves. The use of gold and silver is a powerful way of describing the underlying problem. It is our material self that we usually glorify, and it is the excessive or too-rich side of that self that is often most at issue. We want wealth or power or riches or status to an inordinate degree, to the degree it gets close to becoming our ultimate concern. What an apt and beautiful way of describing this idolatry as created human images made of gold or silver!)
2. Why else would we create an image in the form of a human being in gold or silver?
(The calf was, in a way, such an object. Is the idol what we create out of anxiety, loneliness, or a fear of abandonment and a deep need for some in-lieu attachment or satisfaction?)
3. How else do we violate this mitzvah?
(Do we deify leaders or heroes or celebrities as if they were to be worshipped or serve us in some exaggerated way?
What about when we make or use pornography? By relying on pictures that one could say figuratively are of bodies “of silver or gold,” doesn’t one attempt to satisfy inappropriately an urge that can only legitimately be met through divinely blessed love?)
These uses of images of human beings do not ultimately satisfy, though there seems to be a human urge to act as if they do.)
16 Gather all the plunder into the middle of the town’s square. Then burn the city and all of its plunder as an entirely burned offering to the Lord your God. It must remain a heap of rubble forever. It must not be rebuilt. 17 Don’t hold on to any of the banned items—this will ensure that the Lord turns from his great anger and is compassionate to you, showing you mercy and multiplying you just like he swore to your ancestors.
Question 4. What could it possibly mean in our time to avoid benefiting from property from an apostate city?
(Aren’t there apostate features of all cities where we live or might live? Should we be hermits or recluses? There are certainly sects that seem to feel this way. Most of us are not prepared to go that far. Is that because we see our home communities as mixed enough, with enough redeeming features to believe that they’re not really apostate? Or are we wedded or acquiescent to their apostate ways?
Yet, doesn’t this mitzvah still speak to us, encouraging us to bring more of God’s direction to the city, to refrain from living by or supporting its heathen ways, and to reduce or eliminate its apostate character? In what ways could or do we do that, if indeed this is where this mitzvah takes us?
5. ( 5 Readings)
Exodus 23:13 13 Be careful to obey everything that I have said to you. Don’t call on the names of other gods. Don’t even mention them.
Leviticus 24:15,16 15 Tell the Israelites: Anyone who curses God will be liable to punishment. 16 And anyone who blasphemes the Lord’s name must be executed. The whole community will stone that person. Immigrant and citizen alike: whenever someone blasphemes the Lord’s name, that person will be executed.
Leviticus 22:32 32 You must not make my holy name impure so that I will be treated as holy by the Israelites. I am the Lord—the one who makes you holy.
Leviticus 19:12 12 You must not swear falsely by my name, desecrating your God’s name in doing so; I am the Lord.
Exodus 20:7 7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
Question 5. What does it mean to swear by an idol, and what is damaging about doing it? How does one profane God or cause others to desecrate God’s Name?
26 Do not bring an abhorrent thing into your house, or you will be set apart for destruction like it. You must utterly detest and abhor it, for it is set apart for destruction.
25 Burn the images of their gods. Don’t desire the silver or the gold that is on them and take it for yourself, or you will be trapped by it. That is detestable to the Lord your God.
Question 6. What does the Bible mean to us when it warns against bringing abominations into our house?
1. What meaning do you think is traditionally given to the prohibition that we not bring abominations (generally, but not exclusively, thought to be idols) into our home? It’s something a bit new to our growing list of concerns today. And what would be wrong with it?
(It could be any ill-gotten thing by which we might benefit, generally idols, to benefit from them, to increase our wealth by having such material things of value in our possessions. Or we could think we could sell them, make money off them, and put them in the way of others to worship. Plus, whether we worship them or not (and, if we do, it would obviously now have the “advantage” of being in private), they could be seen by others and are definitely seen in the eyes of God as something we’re proud enough to own and put in our house.
What objects could these include for us?
(Any object we acquire and hold inappropriately, money we should have given as charity, objects that get close to being our ultimate concern. When we do these things, we act as if we are not yoked to God, but rather to our own greed, self-sufficiency, willingness to benefit from ill-gotten things, etc.)
2. What’s the problem with gold and silver plating of idols (whether human-made or natural); what do they represent?
(This is interpreted to be the coverings, ornaments, accessories of the idol and assumes that we’re not interested in the underlying object or worshipping it, but rather benefitting from the covering.
What could this be?
We love the glitz, the sizzle, the rich covering and want it for ourselves so much it becomes its own sort of idol. Could an object - jewelry or clothing or car be ok in and of itself - but be worrisome by virtue of what it clothes, an addiction to fashion or excessive material concern that it itself becomes a matter of concern in the spirit of this mitzvah?)