“Never write what you dare not sign. An anonymous letter-writer is a sort of assassin, who wears a mask, and stabs in the dark. Such a man is a fiend with a pen. If discovered, the wretch will be steeped in the blackest infamy.” Charles Spurgeon
“We can, however, examine Puritan appeals to both the sensuous and the sensual in man. Such an examination reveals that one who believes that Puritans avoided sensuous and even erotic imagery in expressing religious doctrine or describing spiritual states does so in the face of considerable evidence to the contrary” (Daly, p. 22).
“Modernism, however, is being replaced by the new secular ideology of postmodernism. This new set of assumptions about reality—which goes far beyond mere relativism—is gaining dominance throughout the culture. The average person who believes that there are no absolutes may never have heard of the academic exercise of ‘deconstruction.’ The intellectual establishment may disdain the electronic world of television. Contemporary politicians may be unaware of avant garde art. Nevertheless, these are all interconnected and comprise a distinctly postmodernist worldview” (Gene Edward Veith, Postmodern Times, p. 19).
“But the problem with Eastern Orthodoxy, and also with Rome, is not their antiquity. The problem is that they are not old enough — they are not part of the Ancient Church, characterized in all ages by the righteousness of faith. Abel lived under a different administration of the grace of God than did Moses, or the apostle Paul, or Polycarp. But all of them wore the white livery of Christ — the righteousness of faith” (Mother Kirk, p. 28).
“Violence is the true ‘referent'; barely disguised in the threats of the friends and not disguised at all in Job’s laments. Although our two types of discourse seem so different, each deals, in its own way, with the same. They both refer to the process whereby a hero becomes a scapegoat; they both refer to the phenomenon of lynching — the first stages of which Job has already savoured” (Girard, Job, p. 25).
We now come to the portion of Deuteronomy where we find exposition of the second commandment, which is of course the prohibition of graven images. But as we shall see, more is involved in this commandment than a simple prohibition of what we might call gross idolatry. “These are the statutes and judgments, which ye shall observe to do in the land, which the Lord God of thy fathers giveth thee to possess it, all the days that ye live upon the earth . . .” (Deuteronomy 12:1-14).
These statutes and judgments are to be observed in the land, throughout their days on the earth (v. 1). Avoidance of idolatry begins with destroying idols, and not just staying away from them (vv. 2-3). God shall not be worshiped in this manner at all (v. 4). God is to be worshiped in the place where He determines to place His name (v. 5). This is also the place where sacrifices, tithes, and so forth are to be presented (v. 6). This is the place where Israel is to eat and rejoice (v. 7). They are not to worship as seems okay to them (v. 8). What they had to do in the wilderness (worship without a defined place) they are not to do in the land God is giving to them (vv. 9-11a). When they have such a place, they are to use it (v. 11b). They are to rejoice there, together with their entire households (v. 12). They are not to offer sacrifices in places which strike their fancy (v. 13). Rather, they are to worship in the place God chooses (v. 14).
This is the way they are to live throughout all their days. God is never to be worshiped apart from His Word. All the days which we have upon the earth are to be lived in accordance with His statutes and judgments (v. 1).
We cannot understand our responsibilities in this apart from understanding the antithesis. The pagan nations inhabiting Canaan worshipped their gods on the mountains, on the hills, and under luxuriant trees. All such places of worship are to be utterly destroyed (v. 2). Specifically, altars are to be thrown down, along with the sacred stone pillars. The groves (asherim, or sacred poles) are to be burned with fire. The point is to annihilate the names of all these false gods (v. 3). None of it is to be donated to the British Museum.
Moreover (as we shall see in more detail later), the true God is not to be worshiped by false means (v. 4; cf. 31). There are two issues here. One can break the first and second commandments together, or one can break the second commandment all by itself. In the latter case, the true God is worshiped through a lying image. In other words, there is a difference between a Buddhist idol and Roman Catholic images.
God is to be worshipped where He places His name. We must be careful here. God’s name makes a place holy, and not the other way around. This accounts for the “exceptions,” like Shiloh. When God chooses a places for His name out of the tribes, in that place the various tribes must resort (v. 5). They do not have to live there, but they do have to offer ascension offerings there, and their sacrifices, and present their tithes, and their wave offerings, and their votive offerings, and their firstfruits (v. 6). This is all repeated again in 11b.
There is a close connection between eating and joy. We will have further occasion to meditate on this as we come to chapter 14. But for now, consider the commandment here to eat and to rejoice in the presence of the Lord. Recall that they have already destroyed the pagan sanctuaries, with all their phallic images and orgiastic worship (v. 3). They did not do this because they were Israelite killjoys, but rather because they needed to make room for the true celebration. Now doing this before the Lord is the representative basis of being able to do the same thing throughout the rest of your life—”rejoice in all that ye put your hand unto.” A man who does not celebrate in the presence of God does not know joy anywhere. The celebration before the Lord is to include the whole family, all the slaves, and the preacher (v. 12). Rejoicing in the presence of God is the prerequisite to joy everywhere else.
There was a certain liturgical “liberty of necessity” in the wilderness (v. 8). But it was not to be this way in the land. When they come into their rest, everything was to change (vv. 9-11a). They must not offer ascension offerings in a place simply because they like it (v. 13). God is to be worshiped as He commands (v. 14).
What are the applications? They are as relevant in our day as they were three thousand years ago. Graven images—we violate the second commandment whenever we worship on our own authority. As He commands—God is perfect—but no perfectionist. In the presence of the Lord—we serve a God who loves full plates and full hearts.
The predominant emotion that should be present as we partake of the Lord’s Supper should be gratitude and thanksgiving. One of the ancient names for this meal is that of the Eucharist. This comes from the Greek word for thanksgiving, eucharisto. In fact, if our holiday of Thanksgiving were to be given a Greek name, it would be called the Eucharist.
It is therefore tragic that so many Christians have turned this time of worship and communion into an opportunity for self-flagellation and morbid introspection. The Bible does teach us to examine ourselves, but we are to do so with a right standard, and in decent proportions. If you spend all your time grubbing around in your own sinfulness, the one thing you may be assured of is that you will not deal effectively with any real sins in your life. This attitude of ingratitude, especially at the Supper, is one of the things that perpetuates a life without joy, a life of morbidity, a life of disobedience.
Disobedience is not sanctified by having a gloomy countenance. A long face is not a moral disinfectant. If you have sinned, confess it before you get here, and make restitution. If you have sinfully put this off, then confess your sins in our time of confession at the beginning of the service. But when you come to this Table, do not forget you have been washed up for dinner. Come with grateful and overflowing hearts.