Dr. Ab Abercrombie
After receiving God’s magnificent grace and abundant supply throughout the generations, the Jewish nation was quick to forget and ultimately reject the God of their salvation. Frequently following God’s rescue and provision, His people would attach themselves to foreign nations for support and protection. In doing so Israel would adopt the traditions, culture, and gods common to the nation upon which they depended.
An excellent account of this occurs in Ezekiel 16 where God, through the prophet, describes how He rescued a lost, despised, and hopeless people (Israel), giving them life and identity as His own children. Using the parable of an abandoned newborn, God illustrates how He rescued and raised the rejected infant to maturity, only to have the child devote its heart to a foreign god (Ezk 16:1-19). In their idolatry, God’s people turned even to the literal sacrifice of their children.
“Moreover, you took your sons and daughters whom you had borne to Me and sacrificed them to idols to be devoured. Were your harlotries so small a matter? You slaughtered My children and offered them up to idols by causing them to pass through the fire” (Ezk 16:20-21).
When New Testament Christians read of such abominations in Scripture, we often have difficulty relating and fail to see its application. After all we no longer witness children placed in the sacrificial fire to honor Molech or Ashtoreth. But as a biblical counselor I would suggest that idolatry is alive and well and children are indeed offered on the altar of countless “high places.”
The worship of self is primary and has fragmented the biblical home into pockets of individual gratification, personal goals, rights and entitlements. Biblical order is often abandoned because God’s structure interrupts one’s selfish ambition (Phil 2:3-4), calling instead for the glory and magnification of God above all else (Mark 12:30).
Too often I counsel with Christian believers who are suffering the spiritual and physical consequences of disobedience, yet fail to understand their misplaced focus.
- There is the professional father worshiping at the idol of power and influence who is confused when he has no authority and impact with his wife and children. His wife controls the home and disregards his input. His children are rebellious and disrespectful. He complains: “I am respected everywhere except my own home.”
- There is the wife and mother devoted to beauty, fitness, social status, professional life, and “having it all” who continually feels empty, unfulfilled, and out of place. Her children are being treated for ADHD because they are distracted, disruptive, and underachieving. She laments: “I have everything I ever wanted…but I am miserable.”
- There is the man who kneels at the tower of lust but is never satisfied. He is preoccupied, obsessed, and controlled by this single longing; yet he expects his teenagers to be chaste. He can’t understand why his 16 year-old daughter is pregnant. He complains: “My children were raised in church and should know better.”
- There is the single mother who worships her current suitor; any man who might become her next husband. After all, she is entitled to be happy and her children need a father. Although she is a Christian she engages in sex outside of marriage and exposes her little ones to men who are not trustworthy. She is shocked to learn that her last boyfriend molested her son. She proclaims: “How could this happen…I am a good mother just trying to have a life of my own!”
- And there is the man who abandons his family because he lacks “chemistry” with his wife. His god is self-entitlement and his salvation is his own gratification. He sees his children less and less because they won’t accept his new girlfriend. He warns the kids: “You are going to have to adjust to my life if we are going to see each other. My new relationship comes first and you are going to have to grow up.”
I know this all sounds extreme…but each scenario comes from within the church. Each involves professing believers who have fallen subject to idolatry and their children are paying the consequence. It is a problem as old as the earth and yet to claim commonality with other sinners is simply unacceptable.
Returning to Ezekiel 16, God points to the pride of Israel as a chosen people as the root cause of their disobedience and unholy alliances. Through the prophet God laments:
“But you trusted in your beauty and played the harlot because of your fame, and you poured out your harlotries on every passer-by who might be willing. You took some of your clothes, made for yourself high places of various colors and played the harlot on them, which should never come about nor happen” (Ezk 16:15-16).
Now, just as in biblical times, the beauty of our salvation is “poured out” and wasted on our selfish desires. We become harlots (prostitutes) selling even our own heart, body, mind, and soul for the temporal wages of pleasure, false security, deluded power, and inflated identity. And while we expect the unconverted to follow emotion, impulse, and personal desire, the Bible encourages believers to remember our identity, revere our calling, and avoid the cultural entrapments that so easily entangle us. Peter wrote:
But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY (1 Pet 2:9-10).
Just as the prophet Ezekiel begged Israel to remember their state as an abandoned, hopeless infant, Peter calls the Christian to remember our status before receiving the immeasurable grace and mercy of God. Without Christ we were “NOT A PEOPLE.” This means that before Jesus we were without definition or purpose. We had no inheritance in anything of value and were vulnerable to any and every source of pleasure.
But in our redeemed state we are “THE PEOPLE OF GOD.” With that election we become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4) and are called to convey a distinctive character unlike the world. As “God’s OWN POSESSION” we have a new name and a transformed objective; we are to glorify and “proclaim the excellencies of Him” through our devotion, worship, and obedience.
And yet we forget…We forget our unredeemed state and cease to be thankful for the unmerited grace so lavishly provided. We forget our calling and purpose. We forget our Savior. We forget because we do not fuel our hearts with the proper nutrition of the Word which boundaries our lives and sustains our focus on the “author and perfector” of our faith (Heb 12:1-3).
And when divided from His truth, we are divided from Him. In this state, we are subject to the lies and promises of other gods. Through His servant Moses, God instructed Israel to obey His instructions and guard their hearts for this very reason:
“You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you”…”Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do n
ot forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life ; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons”… “So watch yourselves, that you do not forget the covenant of the LORD your God which He made with you, and make for yourselves a graven image in the form of anything against which the LORD your God has commanded you” (Deut 4:2, 9, and 23).
Do not “add to the word” or “take away.” We must be careful in our manipulation of Scripture as we try to accommodate the world’s view. By adding to, and subtracting from, God’s Word we become confused about what is correct and godly. The believer must protect his/her heart from deception and thereby protect the children from destruction.
We must always remember that idolatry carries a ripple effect within a family that compounds itself from generation to generation. It is not the impact of a familial curse, as some claim, but it is a reality of leadership. When the leader is compromised, those under his/her care are weakened. In the Ten Commandments we are cautioned:
“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me…” (Ex 20:4-5).
Our idols are many and their power is great. And while we may not see our devotion as having a spiritual impact, it does. Jesus said, “…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:21). God is clear that our misplaced worship will impact the generations to follow and the fruit of our heart will defiled (Is 17:10-11).
But God does not leave us hopeless. Instead we see in His Word that the destructive sway of idolatry loses its influence when we turn repentantly to truth and divide ourselves from the delusion. The continued hatred of God through the worship of idols is the fuel that perpetuates the generational iniquity. But notice the continuing Word:
“but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Ex 20:6).
Turning from idols and worship of God through obedience, brings “lovingkindness.” Our children can yet be plucked from the fire of sacrifice with our committed return to Christ through worship, faith, obedience, and division from the world.
Idolatry seems to be a harsh indictment. Yet anything placed in priority to God is an idol and our Creator does not share His glory with anyone or anything. In His order and we are secure…as are the little ones He has so graciously entrusted to our care.