So…..What's the Point?

Musings from a Fellow Struggler

Archive for the month “April, 2013”

American Idolatry (And The Whole World For That Matter)- Lessons from the Golden Calf, Cont’d: Idolatry and Sex

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Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play. Ex. 32:6

Now when Moses saw that the people were unrestrained (for Aaron had not restrained them, to their shame among their enemies)… Ex 32:25

The story of the golden calf continues. Most commentators and the language itself suggest that sexual immorality is one, perhaps the main, aspect of the ‘play’ described here. The questions to consider now are why sex is closely associated with idolatry in both ancient and modern eras and whether we as Christians are caught up in it today.

It is certainly a fact that sex is a preoccupation of our culture, so much so that it actually defines much of our social structures. We have gender issues, gay/lesbian/transgender issues, pedophilia issues, pornography addiction, what the proper definition of marriage is and the list goes on. All of this accompanied by the rising dominance of moral relativism and political correctness make any Biblically grounded ethical declarations (i.e. this is right, that is wrong) largely unheard by an increasingly morally deaf population.

As a start to answering the above questions consider this: there is a difference between sex and sexuality. Put simply, sex is something we do, our sexuality (maleness or femaleness) has to do with how and why we do it. In many conversations, however, sex and sexuality are considered the same thing; they are not. For example, a person who chooses celibacy does not cease being a sexual being. It is not so much the activity of sex itself that is of concern, then, but how our sexually defined selves involved in the activity are understood.

The sexuality of the Hebrews was defined by the Creator in Genesis emphasizing a strong differentiation between male and female along with the establishment of marriage. On the other hand, sexuality and fertility was the main emphasis of the idolatrous nations surrounding Israel. Consequently, each had its own take on what the purpose of sex was all about; procreation, family and social structure for Israel whereas, along with procreation, appeasement of gods and goddesses, good fortune and abundant harvests for the idolatrous nations. What is interesting is that Israel had offerings and festivals pertaining to harvests and prosperity as well. The difference is the Being to whom the sacrifices were made; those made by the hands of the worshippers themselves, hence idolatry, or the One true God revealed to Israel.

Sexuality, then, is a fundamental part of who and what we are as human beings and sex a manifestation, albeit only one among many, in which we engage. If it is the case that idolatry is essentially a substitution of a narcissistic, prideful self for the Creator of all selves, then the sexuality/sex dynamic is bound to reflect this substitution. And since sexuality/sex is that single characteristic that all human beings share despite cultural differences (and necessarily so because we are all sexed/sexual beings), the preoccupation with it, and its many expressions, is more easily understood. In other words, when idolatry runs rampant, it will both include and promote sexual perversions that fly in the face of what God’s intentions for sexuality/sex are since the beginning. Such is the case in the passages before us. The construction and subsequent worship of the golden calf included sexual deviance from the get go.

And if we are tempted to think that Christians are above such atrocities 1 Cor. 10:7, suggests otherwise: “Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, THE PEOPLE SAT DOWN TO EAT AND DRINK, AND STOOD UP TO PLAY. Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day.” (NASB) Paul is referring to the same events in Exodus as this blog and using the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament. Two Greek words stand out regarding sex: the first in v7 is “play” (παίζειν) and the second in v8, “immorally” (πορνεύωμεν- from which we get ‘pornography’).

While there is not an across the board agreement amongst Greek scholars whether the word ‘play’ refers to sex specifically (although the majority do), there is nearly universal agreement that, taken along with the word ‘immorally’, sexual perversions are being referred to. Since these verses are for Christians and much of Paul’s letter addresses it, it is safe to assume that idolatry/sexual immorality was a problem in the Corinthian church.

Fast forward to our day and it seems things haven’t changed that much. While we expect the world to be idolatrous, the number of sexual lapses by prominent church leaders we all read about shames us among our enemies (Ex. 32:25) and shows, just as it did for Israel, how the idolatry all around us has entered into our midst. It is indeed shameful when the real differences between Christians and the unsaved disappear because of the way we live, how we dress, how we think, what we say, the places we go, the company we keep and the standards we uphold.

Given all this, what are we to do? Paul’s imperative in 1 Cor. 10:14 should suffice: “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” That is, when you see it, get away from it as far as you can and as fast as you can and do it now. And this is really the hard part, isn’t it? Disengaging ourselves from mental attitudes, intellectual loyalties, relationships, organizations, activities, and even churches/church leaders that are in essence idolatrous.

This is what Israel failed to do, separate itself from the nations and their practices and thereby becoming a holy and dedicated people, Yahweh’s own chosen to be a light unto the nations and a witness to His claim on creation. So, as Paul says, “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come…” (1 Cor. 10:11 NASB) that we, the Church, might learn from them and that we might be “holy even as He is holy” especially with regard to our sexual lives.

© W.G. Ryzek 2013

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American Idolatry (And the Whole World For That Matter)-Part 5: Lessons From the Golden Calf, Cont’d

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Exodus 12:35–36 (NKJV)
35 Now the children of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, and they had asked from the Egyptians articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing. 36 And the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they granted them what they requested. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.

Exodus 32:2 (NKJV)
2 And Aaron said to them, “Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.”

If it is the case that every thing belongs to God and that the essence of idolatry is substituting some thing that is made in place of the Maker, then how we think about and what we do with things reveals much about our spiritual state not the least of which is whether we are thankful or not (Rom. 1:21-23). The passages cited above show how the treasure that God gave His people for building the tabernacle (Ex. 25:1-9) was used for their own decoration and constructing the golden calf. They took what was given to them for a higher and sacred purpose, regarded it as theirs and then turned it into something unequivocally opposed to God. The point here is how we, too, can take the very things God has given us and then make idols by regarding them as personal possessions, my car, my family, my job, my money gotten by my strength, my work, my ingenuity, my planning and so on.

It has been noted that Jesus talked more about money issues than He did about heaven or hell and as many as 25% of His parables had material wealth as their theme. One of the major points He stressed was stewardship which tacitly presupposes that what we have belongs to someone else and forgetting, or rejecting, this truth leads to severe problems like, for example, when ownership thinking trumps stewardship thinking the kingdom of heaven stands to be lost to us. Jesus tells us that we cannot serve both God and mammon and note carefully the operative word here: serve from Δουλεύω which means ‘slave’. All of us are slaves to one of two masters so we all know exactly what our options are. However, the great Lie first uttered in Eden suggested there is a third option, serving self but that, it turns out, is the same as serving sin and Satan. So, while we might assume that if we possess something it is ours to do with what we want the fact is we are possessed either by God or by mammon; no human being is, or ever can be, independently owned and operated. And, choosing anything other than God is tantamount to idolatry.

Consider, for example, that some Christians seem to believe, and act accordingly, that once a tithe is paid, the rest is theirs. Making matters worse, it is further assumed that, since they did their part, God is now under some sort of obligation to ‘bless’ them with still more wealth. And so, based on this sort of thinking a Christian can easily end up with a sense of entitlement or, in other words, that they are owed this blessing. This attitude is precisely the same that has overrun our society; someone, somewhere owes us something. The net result is thanklessness usually accompanied by complaining and topped off with bitterness all of which affirm Paul’s assessment in Romans 1 that the whole human race are idolaters. This sense of entitlement will invade the Christian church when we take what God gives us, but is rightfully His, then use it for our own ends thinking because we possess it, it must be ours, and then substitute our own agenda in place of God’s by looking to the world as the source of all we need, and not Him. And all of this while adhering to surface religiosity, language and ‘devotion’ defined as ‘Christian’ when in fact it is all very pagan. We see an example by what happens next in this story.

After building the golden calf, Aaron and the people presented an offering to it that was meant only for God (burnt and peace offerings, v6) suggesting, at least to me, that the difference between the idol and God was lost. (Ex. 32:4) One was as good as the other as long as it got them out of their predicament. So consider this proposition: not understanding or submitting to the basic truth that all we have and all we are is grounded in God’s benevolence distorts reality to the point where idolatry and service to God become indistinguishable. Again, the parallels between this story and Romans 1 cannot be overlooked; what Israel did in this one instance has become the norm for the entire human race. The point here is that what some consider true Christian worship might in fact be the worshipping of idols with the fearful prospect of not being able to tell the difference. However, all of us can at least get a clue by honestly assessing our attitude towards, and use of, the things given us by God.

© W.G. Ryzek 2013

American Idolatry (And The Whole World For That Matter)-Part 5: Lessons from the Golden Calf, Cont’d

m219357256

Exodus 12:35–36 (NKJV)
35 Now the children of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, and they had asked from the Egyptians articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing. 36 And the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they granted them what they requested. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.

Exodus 32:2 (NKJV)
2 And Aaron said to them, “Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.”

If it is the case that every thing belongs to God and that the essence of idolatry is substituting some thing that is made in place of the Maker, then how we think about and what we do with things reveals much about our spiritual state not the least of which is whether we are thankful or not (Rom. 1:21-23). The passages cited above show how the treasure that God gave His people for building the tabernacle (Ex. 25:1-9) was used for their own decoration and constructing the golden calf. They took what was given to them for a higher and sacred purpose, regarded it as theirs and then turned it into something unequivocally opposed to God. The point here is how we, too, can take the very things God has given us and then make idols by regarding them as personal possessions, my car, my family, my job, my money gotten by my strength, my work, my ingenuity, my planning and so on.

It has been noted that Jesus talked more about money issues than He did about heaven or hell and as many as 25% of His parables had material wealth as their theme. One of the major points He stressed was stewardship which tacitly presupposes that what we have belongs to someone else and forgetting, or rejecting, this truth leads to severe problems like, for example, when ownership thinking trumps stewardship thinking the kingdom of heaven stands to be lost to us. Jesus tells us that we cannot serve both God and mammon and note carefully the operative word here: serve from Δουλεύω which means ‘slave’. All of us are slaves to one of two masters so we all know exactly what our options are. However, the great Lie first uttered in Eden suggested there is a third option, serving self but that, it turns out, is the same as serving sin and Satan. So, while we might assume that if we possess something it is ours to do with what we want the fact is we are possessed either by God or by mammon; no human being is, or ever can be, independently owned and operated. And, choosing anything other than God is tantamount to idolatry.

Consider, for example, that some Christians seem to believe, and act accordingly, that once a tithe is paid, the rest is theirs. Making matters worse, it is further assumed that, since they did their part, God is now under some sort of obligation to ‘bless’ them with still more wealth. And so, based on this sort of thinking a Christian can easily end up with a sense of entitlement or, in other words, that they are owed this blessing. This attitude is precisely the same that has overrun our society; someone, somewhere owes us something. The net result is thanklessness usually accompanied by complaining and topped off with bitterness all of which affirm Paul’s assessment in Romans 1 that the human race are idolaters. This sense of entitlement will invade the Christian church when we take what God gives us, but is rightfully His, then use it for our own ends thinking because we possess it, it must be ours, and then substitute our own agenda in place of God’s by looking to the world as the source of all we need, and not Him. And all of this while adhering to surface religiosity, language and ‘devotion’ defined as ‘Christian’ when in fact it is all very pagan. We see an example by what happens next in this story.

After building the golden calf, Aaron and the people presented an offering to it that was meant only for God (burnt and peace offerings, v6) suggesting, at least to me, that the difference between the idol and God was lost. (Ex. 32:4) One was as good as the other as long as it got them out of their predicament. So consider this proposition: not understanding or submitting to the basic truth that all we have and all we are is grounded in God’s benevolence distorts reality to the point where idolatry and service to God become indistinguishable. Again, the parallels between this story and Romans 1 cannot be overlooked; what Israel did in this one instance has become the norm for the entire human race. The point here is that what some consider true Christian worship might in fact be the worshipping of idols with the fearful prospect of not being able to tell the difference. However, all of us can at least get a clue by honestly assessing our attitude towards, and use of, the things given us by God.

© W.G.Ryzek 2013

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