But, I Put it Away!
January 31, 2020
1 Samuel 7:2-4
 It was a long time, twenty years in all, that the ark remained at Kiriath Jearim, and all the people of Israel mourned and sought after the LORD.  And Samuel said to the whole house of Israel, “If you are returning to the LORD with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.”  So the Israelites put away their Baals and Ashtoreths, and served the LORD only.
Are you familiar with the story of Israel? The nation followed a definite cycle. They began by serving God for a time, then they’d turn to false gods. After several years of worshiping those gods, the going got tough. Finally their struggle led them to cry out to the One and only True God, and He rescued them. In gratitude the Israelites returned to their Creator, but not more than a generation or two later the cycle of unfaithfulness started again.
As I read these verses in Samuel, I see a few words that offer clues to Israel’s problem. For twenty years the Ark of the Covenant, God’s presence as far as the Israelites were concerned, stayed at Kiriath Jearim. While there, the people of Israel followed God. Samuel thought they were finally sincere in their desire to worship their Creator so he challenged them to get rid of their foreign gods. He said to prove their turn to God was complete they should “rid themselves” of the idols and gods of their enemies.
At quick read makes it look like the people of Israel followed Samuel’s command; however if we look a bit closer, we see they only half obeyed. The text says, “the Israelites put away” the false gods. That’s not exactly the same as “getting rid” of them.
“Get rid of,” congers images of a garbage can or a fire. On the other hand “putting away” brings to mind a closet. The Israelites didn’t dispose of their idols. The hid them on a shelf in case they needed them again, and as we know from history, it wasn’t long before that day came. Once again God’s chosen turned their backs on the One who delivered them time after time after time. The people of God turned from the Almighty to powerless statues of wood and stone.
This realization caused me to stop, “are there ‘idols’ in my life that I’ve put high on a shelf but haven’t completely rid my life of?” And can I “commit myself to the Lord and serve Him only” if I have these hidden treasures to fall back on. Perhaps I’ve even forgotten where I hid them. But the reality is this: if we hang on to them, at some point we’ll feel compelled to clean out our closet and find those gods that keep tripping us up.
I’m not sure why they attract us. After all, we’ve seen, we KNOW, the power of the Almighty God. We really WANT to follow Him, but much like the Israelites, we find ourselves giving our devotion to idols instead of our Father. The gods of scheduling, jobs and time management demand we shorten the moments we spend with Christ. The gods of entertainment and leisure know how much we enjoy television, computers, video games and the like. These gods promise fun and even deliver to a point. Much like the Israelites, it’s easy to get sucked into these vices without even realizing we’re turning our back on the One God who actually cares about us.
Similarly the gods of money, family and possessions blind us to our need to spend time with the Omnipotent One. Most of these idols seem innocent and good. Think about it. Hundreds of years ago, it made sense to worship the sun and rain. After all, humankind learned early the necessity of these two resources to grow food. As we become aware these are just creations of the same God who created us, it seems foolish to bow to solar, wind or water power. However, when we spend more time at our jobs than with our family and more time with our family than with the One who gave us these gifts, we run the risk of being as foolish as those who worship the sun god.
Let’s take a moment to consider the gods we’ve followed in our lives. Have we truly rid ourselves of them? Or are they in storage, behind our Bibles, just waiting until we think we need them again?