Torah reading: Numbers 30 – 36
Haftorah reading: Jeremiah 2: 4-28, 3:4, 4: 1-2
Jeremiah begins this reading by recounting the faithfulness of the Israelites to God during the early years in the wilderness. Thus says the LORD, ‘I remember concerning you the devotion of your youth, the love of your betrothals, how you followed Me in the wilderness through a land not sown. Israel was holy to the LORD.’ Jer. 2: 2-3
But when the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they became a bit too friendly with the locals and began to worship their gods. First they began to make friends with the Canaanites. Then they intermarried with them. Then they began to worship the Canaanite gods of wood and stone. It was then that God punished them for their faithlessness.
Jeremiah reminded them of God’s faithfulness to them but that they, the Israelites, had abandoned him for these pieces of stone and wood. And so God says:
“For my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me, the spring of living waters,
and cut them out cisterns,
broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (2:13).
To this day, every drop of water in Israel is precious. The Israelites knew what it was to dig cisterns to collect runoff, and they knew what it was to lift buckets of water from the cistern and carry them to their gardens.
God said, “They have forsaken me, the spring of living water”—the mountain spring that flows faithful and pure—the artesian well that provides abundant water. “They have forsaken me…, and cut cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
The issue was idolatry—the chasing after false gods. Jeremiah called God’s people to return to the true God of their fathers.
What does this have to do with us today? It has everything to do with us today. What is idolatry, after all, but putting something else in God’s place; giving greater value to something earthly than to the Holy One of Israel Himself? Whatever is more important to us than God Himself and our relationship with Him is an idol – plain and simple!
Chaplain (Major General) Kermit Johnson, a former Army Chief of Chaplains used to warn chaplains about something that he called SAM, the destroyer. When a chaplain left the Army in disgrace, it was usually because of SAM. He could have said that SAM constitutes our idolatry. What is SAM? SAM stands for sex, alcohol and money.
It should not surprise us that sex would be one of the idols—one of the things that we love more than God. Sex is the goddess of the century. It pervades our media and our entertainment and presents a total perversion of what God intended it to be. Our modern culture deludes us by promising us without consequences, making the morals of our parents and grandparents obsolete.
But sex without rules has not lived up to its promise and in many ways has been the near-ruin of the family in country after country.
Alcohol is another one of the destroyers—another idol— alcohol and drugs. For an alcoholic or drug addict, nothing is more important than their fix! The next fix is more important than God, family or life itself. Those who are recovering alcoholics or who have been delivered from drug addiction know very well how destructive—and idolatrous—alcohol and drugs really are.
And it should come as no surprise that money is one of our modern idols—one of the things that we love more than God. Andrew Carnegie, one of the richest men in America, said, “The amassing of wealth is one of the worst species of idolatry.”
The Bible tells us that the love of money is the root of all evil. Money itself is not condemned nor the possession of money but the love of money. When our decisions are based more on money than on God’s will and His ways, that’s when money becomes an idol and a destroyer of individuals and families.
But SAM—Sex, Alcohol and Money—is only part of our idolatry. This may surprise you but it has been suggested that Health is the most modern idolatry. Ellen Goodman, a Newsweek columnist, penned some thought-provoking words on our health fetish. She said:
“The old taboos were religious. Ours are medical.
Our ancestors talked about risks to the soul,
and we talk about risks to our bodies.…
Our focus on these matters is religious in its intensity.”
Are there not people today whose whole lives revolve around their cholesterol count? Health is important and yes, we are responsible to take care of our physical bodies but when it becomes an obsession, ‘health’ becomes another idol. When we care more about the health of the body and too little about the health of the soul, our physical health has become an idol.
At what point does anything become idolatry? When we put something other than God on God’s throne. And know this: there’s a certain characteristic of idols that never fails: idols will betray us. When we put our faith in anything more than we put our faith in God, sooner or later, that ‘idol’ will fail us. For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. Deuteronomy 4:24
In Tune with Torah this week = God’s people are His ‘cherished possession.’ He does not take it lightly when we consider anything in our lives as more important than Him. He is jealous over us with a righteous jealousy for after all, He is our Creator and Father! Jeremiah called the people of Israel to love God and to put Him in first place in their lives. The greatest commandment is this: Hear, O Israel, the LORD is God; the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your possessions. Deuteronomy 6:4-5