Deuteronomy 4:1-28 -
The curse of idolatry.
Idolatry is the general bias of fallen humanity, the perversion of an innate principle, the misgrowth of the religious instinct. Men everywhere "feel after God, if haply they may find him." Absolute atheism cannot long endure anywhere. If men reject a personal Deity, they invent an inferior God, and practically worship that. The wildest atheist which the world has seen, must admit that there is some power or force in the world superior to himself. There is no resting-place for reason, short of a spiritual God.
I. IDOLATRY WAS THE PREVALENT DANGER OF THE PATRIARCHAL AGE . During the childhood of men, they are under the domination of the bodily senses. They demand a god whom they can see and handle and hear. The kindred of Abraham were addicted to idolatry. The wife of Jacob furtively abstracted the teraphim of her father, and held them in a measure of reverence. Even Moses yearned for a visible Deity. "I beseech thee, show me thy glory!" The absence of Moses from the camp for forty days sufficed for the people to relapse into idolatry. Throughout their history, every decline in relic, ions feeling showed itself in a fresh lapse towards idolatry.
II. IDOLATRY GROSSLY CORRUPTS ITS VOTARIES . The object which is at first selected to be a symbol of the Deity, soon detains on itself the homage of the worshipper, and becomes his Deity. Matter is at the antipodes from spirit. The laws and forces working in material nature may help us to understand the Divine Being, but matter itself never . Apart from a written revelation, we best rise to the knowledge of God through the contemplation of our own minds and consciences. The object of our worship molds us after itself. The worshipper of beasts becomes bestial. "They that make them become like unto them." This is God's law.
III. MATERIAL IMAGES DEGRADE THE GODHEAD . For God is a Spirit, and cannot be represented by material images. For matter can convey no impressions of omnipresence, or of eternity, or of moral qualities, or of emotions, affections, or joys! Representation by material images strips our God of all that is noblest in his nature, cf. all that is distinctive in the Godhead. It cloaks his perfections and eclipses his glory.
IV. IDOLATRY ANNULLED THE COVENANT BETWEEN GOD AND ISRAEL . That gracious compact required upon the part of the Israelites the honest recognition and worship of the One Jehovah. Unfaithfulness on this vital point invalidated the entire covenant; God had pledged himself specially to be their God, on condition that they were his loyal people. All the resources of God's kingdom were pledged to Israel in that covenant. It was an act of mercy that God should bind himself in any form to his creatures, and this superabundant grace ought to have held their homage by closest and tenderest ties. His part of the covenant, God had conspicuously observed in the release of his people from the "iron furnace." Was not every sign and wonder wrought in Egypt a fresh seal upon the heavenly bond? This covenant, between a gracious God and undeserving men, idolatry destroyed.
V. OUR KNOWLEDGE OF GOD IS DESIGNED AS A REGULATIVE FORCE . There are limitations to our knowledge of God imposed by our constitution, and further limitations imposed by our sin. These latter can be removed at once by the redemptive power of Christ; and the first named shall gradually be relaxed in the resurrection state. Fire does not represent God, except so far as it consumes , and this illustration is meant to check our presumption; 'tis not for the satisfaction of a curious intellect, but to restrain a wayward life. Knowledge of God, which is honestly reduced to practice, becomes larger and clearer knowledge. "Then shall we know if we follow on to know the Lord."
VI. INIQUITY BECOMES ITS OWN PUNISHMENT . Throughout the Scriptures this doctrine is taught, that sin ripens and culminates in punishment. The penalty threatened upon the idolatry of the Jews was this , that they should be driven into a heathen land, and be compelled to serve the senseless blocks of wood and stone. The punishment of avarice is this , that the sensibilities become as hard as gold. The penalty of drunkenness is this , that the morbid appetite grows into an uncontrollable passion! The voice of doom says, " He that is filthy, let him be filthy still."
VII. PRESENT PUNISHMENTS ARE THE TYPE OF FUTURE PUNISHMENTS . The penalty to be imposed on the Jews for disloyalty, was banishment from Canaan—defeat, scattering, death. So the final penalties revealed for reprobate men are exclusion from the heavenly Canaan; banishment to the darkness they have preferred; utter destruction. Each man "goes to his own place."
VIII. SUFFERING FOR OTHERS , A PATHWAY TO HUMAN HEARTS . In connection with these fatherly counsels, Moses again reminds the people of his privation on account of their sins. The blame of his exclusion from Canaan he attributes to them. He who aforetime had prayed that, for the sake of Israel, his own name might be blotted out of God's book, now submits to this chastisement for the people's good. But Moses would not throw away the advantage which this fact might bring. In his desire for the people's good, he converts it into a persuasive argument, by which to confirm their loyalty to God. As if, should every other appeal fail, this appeal to their sensibility might succeed. It is as if he had said, "Remember what I am called to endure for you! Let your requital be unswerving obedience to my God." Here he serves as a feeble type of Jesus.—D.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
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