Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Hooks and Nooses

“[I]f you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.”

We often have more than one reason for saying the things we say. God could have said, “If you serve their gods, I will be offended.” That would certainly have been true. He could also have said, “If you serve their gods, you will find it useless.” This too is true. Inanimate carvings of wood and stone have no power to protect or deliver. He could have said, “You don’t understand that serving their gods is really serving demons.” Once again, entirely true. He could even have said, “If you serve their gods, I will punish you severely.”

This was most definitely the case.

These are all arguments made on God’s behalf or directly by God himself throughout scripture, and they are all valid. Yet none of them is God’s point when he first gives his law to Israel and forbids the idol worship of the Canaanites. What he wants to make plain is that serving the gods of the Canaanites will ensnare them.

Caught by the Nose

The Hebrew word mowqesh (“snare”) is used of hooks and nooses. The hook went through a wild animal’s nose to control it and get it to go where it didn’t want to. The noose was the more traditional unseen trap. Either way, once hooked through the nose or swinging from a noose, you weren’t good for much. You did what your captor wanted you to do, or you did nothing at all. And it hurt. Quite a bit. Metaphorically, “a snare to you” means a cause of injury.

So then, a “snare” is a situation you cannot control and do not like. It’s where you inevitably wind up when you devote your life to the wrong things.

Of course scripture does not limit the worship of false gods to well-known pagan pseudo-deities like Baal, Moloch and Ashtaroth. The apostle Paul makes mention of “covetousness, which is idolatry.” The rich young ruler, as he is sometimes called, was an idolater. Faced with the choice between following Jesus and enjoying the benefits of wealth, he went away grieving … but still ensnared. He was trapped by his money. In the absence of further information about him, it is not unreasonable to conclude that choosing an affluent lifestyle over Christ cost him both joy in this life and heavenly reward. It might as well have been a ring in his nose.

Other People as Rival Gods

But it’s not just money that may become a rival god. Amnon’s lust for Tamar was idolatry. The writer of 2 Samuel says, “he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar.” Amnon’s “god” literally became a cause of injury to him. His passion drove him where he should not have gone, and the result was his undoing. It became a snare to him. Many young men and women have been captured the same way, and the ending is always a bad one, not usually because the object of desire is especially evil, but because ordinate affection toward God is diminished or excluded by lesser rivals.

Furthermore, the Lord himself told his would-be followers, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” It is not necessary to be consumed by romantic passion to become an idolater; a distorted sense of responsibility or a set of misplaced priorities will do just fine. They are just as effective a trap, and you will find yourself hating your situation just as intensely if you let those earthly values dictate your choices.

Loving the World

The apostle Paul refers to a former fellow-worker named Demas. Assuming it is the same man, Demas’ greetings were sent along with Paul’s to the Colossians and Philemon around about AD 61. Roughly six years later, Paul tells Timothy that their mutual friend and companion has deserted them and headed off to the big city of Thessalonica, presumably in search of other experiences. Paul calls him “in love with this present world.”

That’s idolatry, plain and simple, though it’s doubtful the things Demas longed to enjoy in life were particular sinful in themselves. In all probability, he simply preferred a more ordinary first-century lifestyle to the regular privations of serving Christ — though I suspect he would not have expressed it quite that way. He probably thought he was finally free, but in fact he had allowed himself to become spiritually ensnared. He had traded in the upward call of God for inferior, earthly pleasures that could never satisfy, and the “Well done” of Christ for bread and lentil stew.

Demas is also a reminder that the temptation to idolatry is not just something that traps neophytes and rookies. The seasoned servant of Christ is still at risk.

What Makes You Tick?

Any overwhelming desire can be idolatrous. Ask yourself what makes you tick. What drives the choices you make? What really gets you out of bed in the morning? What do you hope for and dream of in this life? What makes you most elated, and what makes you most disappointed?

No man can serve two masters, and no man can worship two gods. One or the other must always place second. Choose wrongly, and we risk losing everything that really matters.

Let’s face it: hooked through the nose or swinging from a noose, we’re not good for much.

1 comment :

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