Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. (Jeremiah 2:11).
Certainly our own nation is no different. We have not merely abandoned God as some have suggested. We have systematically turned to other gods. The irony of a self-proclaimed secular state with a storeroom full of idols is a little painful actually.
But perhaps you are not convinced. May I take a moment to name the gods we serve?
The idols to the ancient god Molech were made of metal and had outstretched arms. To acquire his blessing, families would kindle a fire beneath the arms and place their babies to burn in his embrace. He was the wretched parody of the true God who cares for children and blesses mothers with life. Israel was repeatedly warned of the evil of offering children to Molech (Leviticus 18:21; 20:2-5). Nevertheless, Solomon and others fell prey to his twisted allure. He built a place of worship for Molech east of Jerusalem (1 Kings 11:7). In the days of Jeremiah, this worship of Molech is cited repeatedly as one reason God had given Judah over to Babylon (Jeremiah 32:35). The valley where Molech was worshiped belonged to the Sons of Hinnom, and in the days of the reforms of Josiah, the valley was turned into a city dump (“defiled”) so “that no one might burn his son or his daughter as an offering to Molech” (2 Kings 23:10). The memory of the place remained so laden with evil that it would be associated with Hell itself in the days of Jesus.
How have we served Molech? America has participated in 38 million abortions since Roe v. Wade in 1973. I cannot offer one reason that explains it all. Some hoped to get out of a bad situation. Some believed the life gifted by God would be a detriment to their life or career plans. Others found themselves abandoned by a male who was no man, no father, no husband. As churches, we reviled the practice, but we did not offer to take in these children and mothers. It would have been terribly inconvenient to us. So for whatever reason, our nation found an alternative to the difficult road of embracing God’s gift. We exchanged the God of life for a false god of death.
Baal and his affiliates (the plural, Baal-im) are the most prominent of the gods mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures. His name simply means “lord.” He, like Molech, is a parody of the true God, a corrupted reflection of YHWH. Baal represented power. Israel’s God was powerful, even dangerous, but he was invisible and often subtle. His ways were never our ways. In Baal, Israel could imagine god to be powerful but also predictable. He could be solicited through sacrifice and would respond by bestowing obvious power on the people. He was warlike, and the nations that served him boasted of military might. Israel’s true God did not lack power, but he preferred the peace of the Sabbath and was served with humility rather than conquest. His power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Israel’s God would be crucified for his people in the person of Jesus. Baal is not the self-sacrificing sort. He is more likely to be hammering the nails.
How have we served Baal? Our political dialogue is about harnessing the power of death to attain security, whether through military action, capital punishment, or other forms of force. Our great national fear is the decline of national superpower status. We rarely hear anyone make a case for a kind of citizenship that entails self-sacrifice. When was the last time a public leader asked us to think about what we can do for others rather than what can be gained for ourselves? Would we even vote for a candidate who made moral demands of us instead of issuing promises? We exchanged the God of mighty weakness for a false god of puny strength.
Asherah (and the myriad variations of her name and person, such as Ashtar, Ishtar, and others) is the female companion of Baal. She is the counterpart to Baal’s promise of obvious power. She is the goddess of selfish sexuality, the gratifying end of having unbridled power. In the time of Solomon, she had morphed it seems into Ashteroth, and It is not accidental that Solomon became pliable towards Ashtoreth worship at the same time that he “loved many foreign women” (1 Kings 11:1). The Asherah poles erected in her honor were evidently phallic symbols, and God commanded them cut down (Exodus 34:13-16). It is easy to understand why God often described Israel’s fascination with Asherah as “whoring after their gods.”
How have we served Asherah? First, our culture is over-sexualized, and the church culture is not immune to it. Our singles are sleeping around, and too often our married folk are too. There is nothing so unpalatable to our current culture than the sexual ethic of the Scriptures. Furthermore, technology has been harnessed to make pornography ubiquitous and shameless. It is the true addiction of our society. And we haven’t even said a word yet about homosexuality and the drifting institution of marriage. We have traded the God of chaste holiness and mutual respect for a false god of unbridled wantonness and degradation.
I save Mammon for last because strictly speaking he is not an ancient god. The word “mammon” simply means wealth or riches. However, in the teachings of Jesus, the term was personified into a rival of God. “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money [mammon]” (Matthew 6:24). Mammon then is a god of desire, not sexual desire as Asherah, but of prosperity and possession. Paul will even identify covetousness with idolatry to cement the connection (Colossians 3:5). The pursuit of wealth is the antithesis of trust in God’s providence. It is the attempt to take blessings rather than receive them.
How have we served Mammon? Our very national identity is rooted in our economic might. Individually, we have made the very meaning of our lives about income. As USA today recently reported, the American dream costs $130,000 per year. Some few will achieve that and find even that income is not enough. Others will submit to crushing debt in order to catch a glimpse of that dream. We have exchanged the God of providential contentment for a false god of economic hunger.
Conclusion: Broken Cisterns
Jeremiah explains the failure of all our false gods.
Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:12-13)
We have engineered gods which we believed would meet our true needs. They have not and will not. The cistern is broken and empty. Before we can repent as a nation and a culture, we must realize that we have not merely forsaken God. “My people have committed two evils.” We have also replaced him. And no one can serve two masters.