ODJ: toxic environment

March 12, 2013 

READ: Deuteronomy 12:29-32 

Do not fall into the trap of . . . worshipping their gods (v.30).  

Two dolphins—Shadow and Chelmers—died of a drug overdose at a marine park in Switzerland. Forensic experts suppose that partygoers at a nearby club placed a heroinlike substance into the dolphins’ tank water. The dolphin trainers who found Chelmers described him as “shaking all over and foaming at the mouth.” Based on these symptoms and the presence of buprenorphine in the dolphins’ bodies, it seems likely that the dolphins died due to their toxic environment.

It’s somewhat surprising that God led His own people 
into a land that was toxic in a spiritual sense. It was polluted with idolatry. To prepare them for this challenge, Moses said, “When the Lord your God goes ahead of you and destroys the nations . . . do not fall into the trap of following their customs and worshipping their gods” (Deuteronomy 12:29-30). To make sure they weren’t infected by any of the poisonous practices, Moses commanded them to break down the pagan altars, smash sacred pillars, cut down carved idols and burn the Asherah poles (v.3).

After all that work was finished, God knew His children could still be enticed to worship false gods. This temptation could come from phony prophets, family members and even close friends. God considered that seductive situation to be a test. If the Israelites tuned in to their peers and tuned Him out, God would know that they lacked wholehearted love for Him.

Today many of us live in toxic environments where the threat of idolatry is less obvious, but just as dangerous. Letting culture dictate our worship may mean bowing down to celebrity talent, proudly revelling in our children’s accomplishments or honouring nature rather than the Creator. Consider smashing the ‘not so obvious’ idols in your life so that you can better follow the first commandment (Exodus 20:3).

—Jennifer Benson Schuldt

To learn about idolatry’s pointless nature, read Psalm 115:4-8. Read 1 Kings 18:21 to see Elijah’s challenge to Baal worshippers. Read Hebrews 12:28-29 for more on worshipping God.
Why is idolatry sometimes difficult to spot in our modern world? Why is it significant that “You must not have any other gods before Me” precedes the other commandments?