Years ago I watched a documentary on television that was about Nero and what supposedly did and did not happen leading up to him fiddling while Rome burned. One tidbit of Nero’s history focused on him thinking he was a very good violinist (fiddler). The documentary pointed out how the emperor of the Roman Empire would go to a local amphitheater and audition for plays being performed. I believe he may have pretended to be “just a musician,” so only his talent would be judged, but I may be wrong.
While memory fades and I might have that bit of information slightly off, I clearly remember the narrator telling how the ruler of an empire trying out for a local performance troupe was a huge paradox. The Emperor was the center of attention for an empire, whereas performers were only in the spotlight at one place, for a short time. In addition, actors and musicians were at the lowest rung on the Roman societal ladder. They barely made anything for their performances. Most, if not all, were Jews who were the poorest citizens of Rome, living in the slums that Nero would set on fire. Once the fire was started, its spread would burn much of Rome, and make room for Nero’s planned new buildings. Still, for the death and damages caused, Nero would blame the Jews.
The other day I was reading a Jewish rabbi’s article posted about Jacob and Esau. I was startled by the slant he took, where Esau was projected as a failure as the firstborn son. He said Esau was always gone hunting and not spending the proper time with Isaac, learning the priestly duties of an eldest male. That responsibility was the focus put on the lineage of the Holy Bible, beginning with the stories in Genesis.
I could see the rabbi’s point; but I was startled because I have seen Jacob as a flawed character, as a weakling, a momma’s boy, as one who was easily influenced to take advantages and get ahead in life, at the expense of others. I certainly agree with the rabbi’s blaming the victim (Esau), but with a slightly different light. I see Jacob as necessarily the one who would sire the children of Israel (his new name given by an angel), due to his fault and frailties, because no priest of the LORD should ever be one so high and mighty, hero-like, that he would cause people to follow him as a god, out of adoration or fear, rather than follow the LORD for those reasons.
In the story of Jacob in Genesis, we read of his love of Rachel and having to bargain with her father, Laban, for her hand in marriage. Jacob agreed to work for him for (eventually) 14 years. After seven years Laban gave him Leah as his wife, because she was the eldest daughter. Jacob worked another seven years in order to get Rachel too. So, there was a deep love between Jacob and Rachel, deeper than that between him and Leah, and the two other women (handmaidens) he would have children with.
After 24 years in service to Laban, with the last ten raising the flocks of Laban to sizable numbers, Jacob takes advantage of Laban’s absence from home and flees from his father-in-law’s control. He leaves with wives, children, goats, sheep and camels in tow. Wife Rachel sneaks back into Laban’s tent, while he is shearing sheep, and steals the teraphim, or household idols. The word is believed to be the plural form of of teraph, meaning “detestable things,” but it is translated as “household gods” to indicate idols set up in a dwelling, perhaps religious relics of some kind or good luck charms.
For anyone who wants to take up the meaning of this part of the story of Jacob, I recommend reading this prize-winning article; but I have gone into this direction only to bring up the element of idols. This then relates to the story of Nero and his love of the stage. The story of Rachel stealing those idols seemed so dramatic and with purpose, but then the focus on them simply disappears. It makes them seem like they have some invisible power surrounding them, which drove Laban to chase after Jacob to get them back. Still, it is like Nero worshiping stage performers, those who pretend to be something they are not, because through fantasy he could feel more important than he was as emperor, with a Senate keeping him from realizing all his dreams. In that way, we too worship idols.
Today, we have a television program that is named American Idol and it is all about performers, those who come from the lowest ranks of the population, those who have to work for a living but enjoy singing and playing music. They leave the comfort of an emperor’s throne (literally and figuratively) and seek the spotlight of adoration. Because there are stories of some who have made it big, many try to emulate their success and fortune by following in their footsteps. As such, they worship someone less than the One God, in hopes of being blessed by God like they believe God blessed those before them.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he referred to “the one man” who brought sin to the world (Adam) and “the one man” who would free the world of sin (Jesus). The point of Paul’s words is not that we have sin because Adam sinned. Adam’s sin was minuscule compared to the evil that perpetuates itself on the earthly realm, which always has and always will. Adam brought sin to the world by coming as a priest of the LORD to let a sinful world realize its sins.
In other words, sin is not really a sin until your eyes are opened and you see the evil in your own works. Adam’s descendants would become the priests who would eventually receive the Law of Moses, which set the boundaries of what was and what was not sin. Jesus would come to reveal the secret to a sin free existence, forgiving all who “know not what they are doing.”
When Moses made the Law known, one stated, “Thou shall have no other God before me.” That does not state there are no other gods, but rather how no other gods are greater than the LORD. While there are other gods, if you look to them, then you look away from the One God. You cannot look at the LORD with some lesser god before God. No other gods may be between you and the LORD, or before your eyes, keeping you from totally seeing God.
In the story of Jacob, when Laban chased Jacob’s caravan down and searched high and low for his stolen idols, they were never found. A settlement was made, however, because Jacob and Laban had hidden resentments towards each other that needed to be resolved. That settlement was made well before Moses went upon Mount Sinai and was given the Law.
The settlement was a heap of rocks called the place of witness. About that point Laban said, “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.” He then added, “Here is this heap, and here is this pillar I have set up between you and me. This heap is a witness, and this pillar is a witness, that I will not go past this heap to your side to harm you and that you will not go past this heap and pillar to my side to harm me.” (Genesis 31:51-52) There was no need for idols to protect them, as both agreed that God keeps watch. Thus, thou shall have nothing between thou and God.
Another of the Laws of Moses stated, “Thou shall not make unto thee any graven images, which thou will bow down to and serve.” This was, again, well after the time when Laban kept teraphim, which his daughter Rachel stole. She stole them because of their importance, but she defiled them by sitting on them during her time of mensuration (even if she simply said that to keep them hidden under her clothing). The thought that idols were important was settled, with the agreement being a monument (not a detestable thing) recognizing the Law, before the Law was written in stone.
The story of God’s chosen people would have no significance if there were not many people in the world “worshiping other gods in heaven and within the earth below.” God chose people to serve him and let the world know, “I am the one who created the Earth goddess, the god of War, the goddess of the Hunt, and the god of the Sea, and I say worship me before them.” God created priests who would expose how those gods and goddesses were no longer present or powerful; but worshiping them was not a sin until the One God had been proved to them as all-powerful and ever-present.
My mother, when she was alive, had walls covered with pictures of Ronald Reagan and both George Bushes, all presidents of America, all of Republican persuasions. She idolized them through pictures. A member of our church has, in essence, a shrine in the hallway to the front door of their home, which honors President Barack Obama. Their faces light up when they relive how they went to his first inaugural ball and how their daughter was part of his campaign. They too idolize him through pictures and letters signed by him.
While few want to admit bowing to lesser gods, through idolatry, it is ever present. People regularly put their faith in political leaders. If one steals the teraphim of their glory, or causes slander to be placed on their idol, they come chasing after them with anger in their eyes and malice in their hearts. People love hero worship and they give money and gifts to maintain their idols, with some idolizing Jesus Christ and the churches in his name. None of that worship is serving God.
In my life I have enjoyed various authors, actors, and musical groups. As a young teen, I used to imagine how wonderful it would be to be in the presence of the Beatles, as if we were equals and I could ask them questions and they would tell me answers. I have had the same thoughts in my mind about many public figures, those who seemed to me to be someone with similar interests and life experiences. For as much admiration as I have had, I have never been so moved to pray to God to be like them. I have never prayed to be famous or to be successful to the point of celebrity; but I have imagined being so powerful that what I said or did drew worldwide attention. I have imagined myself talking with God and Christ, with them responding to my thoughts so that I felt important and knowledgeable.
In my youth, I heard that being a Southerner meant being a Democrat, and that meant supporting all candidates of the Democratic Party. I did that until I began voting for the person and not the party. Then I began to see how the person never lived up to the promise. I saw how the system never lived up to its promise, as our government always was exposed as serving the money and never the people. Today, in my older years, I see the atrocities of our government, which makes it evil and turns any good people who touch it had as bad as that they touched. By allowing our government to be evil, we let it stand before God, between us, as our witness to evil.
Then I see the atrocities of all other forms of government that have taken rise since the Age of Revolution began. They have been and are just as evil. The people who bow down and serve philosophies, politics, and earthly rules are going against the Law of God. However, the question is, “Do they know God and His Law?”
I look around and expect to see shock and awe on the faces of my fellow countrymen and women, faces equally disgusted at the reality of evil having dominion over us. I expect to see signs of outrage and protest; but I only see smiles and adoration being heaped up as a witness to one idol after another. I see an attitude that projects, “So what if one man or woman is flawed, there are plenty of other pretty faces and fresh talent to place our trust in still.”
When Jesus came, died, resurrected, and ascended, the world became aware of sin. All the world became like Adam and were ashamed. The forgiveness of Jesus saying, “They do not know what they are doing” has passed. Paul was right in saying, “much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.” All the world now knows that through “obedience the many will be made righteous.” The problem is “obedience” includes all points of the Ten Commandments.
We have to have our teraphim stolen from us. We have to realize our idols are “detestable things” and not worthy of our adoration. We have to see a crucifix as a “household idol” that worships the death of our salvation, and not the elevation we need, to a life led by the Holy Spirit, which must become our only point of focus between ourselves and God.
We line up like sheep behind religious leaders, musical talents, political mudslingers, winning sports teams, and bestselling storytellers as if they have holiness that will rub off on us and forgive us our sins. We love the person named Jesus because of the gift he bears, but we do not act like Jesus, with Christ in our hearts, the Holy Spirit in our minds, and God in our sights.
Who will you cry to when all fails? Will you be like the crybabies of New Jersey who bowed to the Obama Administration for the promise of money and comfort? Will you be like the crybabies of New Orleans who bowed to the Bush Administration for the same words of encouragement? Will FEMA and the Small Business Administration make all your sorrows go away? Or, will the governors, like Chris Christie, and the mayors, like Ray Nagen, steal the trust you place in household gods and make the faith you waste become impure by having those idols sat upon during “that time of the month”?
What is your point of witness, which is your heap of history that tells you your future is always a reflection of your past? Put your faith in anything less that the LORD and always find there will be a time when failure is part of the process. What goes up must come down, when earthly patterns are modeled. Only God will be there, constantly for you, as long as only God is before you. There is no cycle of God, where the mortality of death sets in, before a new phase of growth can begin. God is eternal life, without sin, without death.
But God lets you choose life or death, Heaven or Hell, the spiritual or the material. With free will we fall into dream states and try to imagine scenarios where we can have our cake and eat it too – be rich and famous, while also being rewarded with eternal life. Is it any wonder that magicians, like Harry Potter, and the eternal dead, like vampires, werewolves, and zombies, are so prevalent in our consciousness today? We have lost control of reality, fallen into a trance, while God’s kingdom has been frozen over and life suspended.
Written by Robert Tippett.