1These are the statutes and ordinances that you must diligently observe in the land that the LORD, the God of your ancestors, has given you to occupy all the days that you live on the earth.
2You must demolish completely all the places where the nations whom you are about to dispossess served their gods, on the mountain heights, on the hills, and under every leafy tree. 3Break down their altars, smash their pillars, burn their sacred poles with fire, and hew down the idols of their gods, and thus blot out their name from their places. 4You shall not worship the LORD your God in such ways. 5But you shall seek the place that the LORD your God will choose out of all your tribes as his habitation to put his name there. You shall go there,6bringing there your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and your donations, your votive gifts, your freewill offerings, and the firstlings of your herds and flocks. 7And you shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God, you and your households together, rejoicing in all the undertakings in which the LORD your God has blessed you.
8You shall not act as we are acting here today, all of us according to our own desires, 9for you have not yet come into the rest and the possession that the LORD your God is giving you. 10When you cross over the Jordan and live in the land that the LORD your God is allotting to you, and when he gives you rest from your enemies all around so that you live in safety, 11then you shall bring everything that I command you to the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and your donations, and all your choice votive gifts that you vow to the LORD. 12And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you together with your sons and your daughters, your male and female slaves, and the Levites who reside in your towns (since they have no allotment or inheritance with you).
Allow me to begin this devotional with an illustration and then I'll speak on the passage. The illustration will be appreciated mostly by people in their 40's and 50's. On July 29, 1981 a beautiful wedding took place in St. Paul's Cathedral, London, England. This wedding was dubbed "a fairytale wedding," "the wedding of the century." An estimated 750 million people viewed the wedding on their TV sets. I was one of the countless millions. The wedding was the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. Many soon-to-become famous pictures were taken, the most famous of which is below:
Sadly a fairytale wedding, in time, turned into a nightmare marriage. A little over a decade later, we get this well-known picture taken in S. Korea of the couple (1992): <picture not shown, sorry!>
What happened to the marriage? What happened to the lovely promise of "... And they lived happily ever after..."? <again, picture not shown. I can only figure out how to upload one photo in squarespace>
My slightly biased answer: Prince Charles did not demolish something he should have demolished in marrying Lady Diana. Prince Charles did not end his ongoing relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles.
Boo! ... Hiss! ... Tsk! Tsk!.... There are certain kinds of relationships that in order for one to thrive, the other must be left to die.
The passage above, on the face of it, seems unnecessarily drastic, even brutal. "... demolish ... break down their altars ... smash their pillars ... burn their sacred poles ... hew down the idols ... blot out their name..." Why such complete destruction of places of worship and idols? The answer lies in what's involved in worship in general and worship of YHWH in particular.
No matter how you cut it, worship of anything involves the heart. An investment of love and devotion and attachment is entailed. Else, you don't have "worship." You might have empty ritual; but all genuine worship is more than ritual. A certain kind of devoted love is required for worship. This is all the more true with worship of the LORD. Worship of God in the Bible is always exclusive. "You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God" (Exodus 20:5). Worship of YHWH cannot thrive when there are lingering affection for other gods.
The closest analogy from ordinary life is marriage between a man and a woman. If prior, intimate relationships are kept alive while someone is set to marry someone else, that marriage is 100% in trouble. No healthy marriage can withstand an "open" marriage. No healthy marriage is compatible with an unfaithful marriage. Love in a marriage is exclusive, requiring the singular devotion of one to another and vice versa.
Worship of God in the Bible is similar. You cannot serve two "gods." The heart cannot be singularly devoted to more than one thing. It's an impossibility that derives from the logic of exclusive love. If we think we can love two "gods," we are only fooling ourselves. Perhaps Prince Charles thought he could be married to Diana while maintaining a relationship with Camilla. As he (and the rest of the world) discovered -- that just does not work. Even a prince cannot overcome the logic of exclusive love.
Let's pray: O Lord, help us to destroy any lingering affections of other "gods" in our lives. O Spirit of God, help us to discern where our hearts might be divided in terms of competing idols. Help us, O God, to love you, with all our heart and mind and desire. So fill us, Holy Spirit, that we might happily love God the Father and Son with such delight that we would not be led astray by other affections. In Jesus' name, amen.