For the week of February 14, 2009 / 20 Shevat 5769
Torah: Shemot / Exodus 18:1 - 20:23
Haftarah: Isaiah 6:1 - 7:6; 9:5
God Is Who He Is
And the LORD said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the people of Israel: 'You have seen for yourselves that I have talked with you from heaven. You shall not make gods of silver to be with me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold.'" (Shemot / Exodus 20:22,23; ESV)
One of the most basic truths in the Torah that we have difficulty accepting is that God is who he is. That God is who he is and not something else may sound like a simple and reasonable concept, but I am not sure how easy it is to grasp.
Throughout the Hebrew Bible, idolatry was common. The wrongness of idolatry is expressed in two ways. One way is through the creation of false gods. In much of the ancient world and in many places today people worship all sorts of gods in the form of an idol. The idol may either be a god or represent a god other than the one true God. When God said to Israel, "You shall have no other gods before me" (Shemot / Exodus 20:30), he was most likely referring to this kind of idolatry.
The second way idolatry is expressed is by representing the true God in the form of an idol. This is what Moses' brother Aaron did when he crafted the golden calf at Mt. Sinai (see Shemot / Exodus 32). He claimed that the God who delivered them from Egypt was being represented by means of the statue he made.
While both forms of idolatry are evil and dangerous, it's this second form that is more difficult to detect and avoid. It is a form of idolatry that we don't readily notice and when we do, we are slow to reject it. It is this form of idolatry that is being addressed in the verses I read at the beginning. Because God revealed himself to the people, they were not to represent him in ways contrary to who he really was.
It will be quickly apparent that I am using the term "idolatry" not exclusively in the sense of statue or statue-like objects, but in the broader sense of anything that serves the purpose of replacing God. This is especially applicable when dealing with this second form of idolatry. We may not create a physical representation of the true God, but we may conceive of him in all sorts of ways contrary to who he really is. So while we may not bow down to literal statues, we claim to know the true God when we actually don't.
Does this mean to truly know God we need to understand him perfectly? Of course not! As imperfect and finite human beings we don't have the ability to perfectly conceive of the infinite God. But this is no excuse to allow ourselves to introduce false notions about God, when he has adequately revealed himself to us through the Scriptures.
It seems to me that it is has become more and more popular today for those who claim to accept the Bible's authority to mold the God of the Bible into an image with which they feel most comfortable. How we feel about God has replaced who God really is. Perception trumps reality. Preference is valued over truth. We fail to realize that the filters through which we understand God serve to blind us as to who he really is. We pick and choose from the Bible what we like about God and add a sprinkling of pop culture and politically correct ideology in an attempt to make him acceptable and less embarrassing.
God has adequately revealed himself through the Scriptures. Allowing him to dictate to us who he really is and strip away false notions about him - no matter how uncomfortable that may be - is the only way to truly know the one true God.
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