This happened when I was in college. A '장승(jangseung: Totem pole)' was erected at the engineering college entrance I attended. I don't know if it still exists, but this jangseung was cut off with a saw one morning and fell over. This incident caused an uproar at school. The claim that the precious value of our ancestors has been damaged is opposed by the claim that it is absurd to have such an idol in the halls of learning. Some people were furious at the sight of the jangseung being cut off, while others found it joyful. And what happened a few months later?
The student council raised money and built a larger jangseung than the one that existed before.
This confused the students for a while. How about you? Should the jangseung be cut down and thrown away? Or is it okay to leave it alone? Did the person who cut down the jangseung act act courageously? Or maybe he did something reckless?
They say it was a survey from a long time ago. It is said to have asked American Christians whether they thought they were keeping the first and second commandments of the Ten Commandments. Commandments 1 and 2 of the Ten Commandments are from the text we read. In response to this, it is said that over 80% of Christians answered 'yes.'
How about you? Do you think you are keeping the commandments in today's text well?
Before giving this answer, there is something we need to think about first.
The question is, why did God give the Ten Commandments? The Ten Commandments, spoken directly by God, appear in Exodus chapter 20 and Deuteronomy chapter 5, respectively. The Ten Commandments were given in Exodus Chapter 20 to teach the Israelites, who had been slaves for 400 years, that they must live a new life. It was also a word given to the Israelites as they began their wilderness life. The Ten Commandments mentioned in Deuteronomy Chapter 5 are addressed to the Israelites who will live in the land of Canaan in the future.
So, we can see that the Ten Commandments are essential whether we live in the wilderness or the land of Canaan. This shows that living by keeping the Ten Commandments is vital no matter where you live.
However, salvation is not achieved only by keeping the Ten Commandments. The Bible says you will not be saved by living a moral life. Salvation comes only through faith in Jesus Christ. However, the Ten Commandments are the words that those saved by believing in Jesus Christ must live by as their standard of life.
Let me repeat it: when God gave us the Ten Commandments, it was after our status as servants had changed to free status. It is also when God's people living in the wilderness will live in a new Canaan place. The Ten Commandments are once again spoken to those starting a new life. The words we need to hear as we begin 2024 are also the Ten Commandments.
If you read Pastor Jinhee Lee's book 'Dwelling in Canaan,' you can clearly see the difference between the wilderness and the land of Canaan. I would like to introduce some of it to you.
"When you pass through the wilderness, you must not grumble and complain that you cannot gather, that you cannot live in a good house, that your silver and gold do not multiply, that your flocks do not multiply, that it does not rain, or that you cannot sow seeds. In the wilderness, we must be thankful just for being able to stay in the tent. We must be thankful for even a single drop of dew. Even if you only have the shade of a rhododendron tree, you should be thankful. In the wilderness, you should be thankful just for living each day. In the wilderness, you should not expect a blessed monsoon rain. "We must be thankful even for grace like drops of dew."
But how should we live in Canaan?
"Once you enter Canaan, you should build larger houses and warehouses, dig deeper wells, breed cattle and sheep, increase silver and gold, etc. If you can, you should do so."
Do you know the crucial difference between the wilderness and Canaan?
The wilderness is a life of wandering, and the land of Canaan is a place of settled life. So, we need to recognize that the way of living in the wilderness is different from the way of living in the land of Canaan. There are prayers to say when living in the wilderness, and there are prayers to say when living in the land of Canaan.
For example, When God gives manna, it happens when farming is not possible. In Canaan, where you can farm, you should not expect manna to fall from heaven. In the wilderness, you must live in a tent, but in Canaan, you must build a house. In the wilderness, one must be content with only daily food, but in Canaan, one must make a warehouse to store food. The wilderness is a place where one cannot survive without God. So, we must live by believing and relying only on God. However, Canaan can live well without God. So it is easy to leave God. You cannot survive in the wilderness without praying. But Canaan is not like that. This is a place where you can live well without praying. The wilderness is where one can survive only by the grace of God, but Canaan is where one can stay only through the power of man.
Are you living in the wilderness? Do you live in Canaan? Although the environment is living in the wilderness, some people may live as if they were living in Canaan.
Is the wilderness dangerous? Or is Canaan in danger?
For believers, Canaan is a more dangerous place than the wilderness. This is because Canaan can live without faith.
God again tells the Ten Commandments to the Israelites who will enter the land of Canaan.
'You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image or an image of anything in heaven above, or on the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them. (Deuteronomy 5:7-8).'
God emphasizes, 'Have no other gods before me.' These words emphasize that nothing should come between God and people. To put this another way, God tells us to love only ourselves. This part is expressed as follows in Deuteronomy chapter 6.
'Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God is the only LORD; you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Deuteronomy 6:4,5)'
This is also expressed this way. 'Love God Passionately'
The reason God says this is because He loved us passionately.
Love doesn't come from working hard. When you love, you become passionate. God loves us hard and passionately. Another way to express this is to be jealous. Why would you be jealous? Because I love you. The word 'jealousy' must have 'love' as its premise.
Of course, the word we use, jealousy, has a polluted and negative aspect. However, God's jealousy is jealousy in a pure and holy sense. Apostle Paul testifies to this as follows: 'God demonstrates his love for us in that Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)'
These words show how much God loves us. God loved us so much. In the Ten Commandments, God appeals to us to love him similarly. I hope you read today's text that way. Love God Passionately. With all my heart, with all my heart.
But there is a problem. The problems that people living in the land of Canaan will face are greater than those living in the wilderness. If you live in Canaan, there is a greater chance that there is something between God and you than in the wilderness. I can only look at God in the wilderness, but in Canaan, many things come between God and me. Money, fame, power, success, and stability. So, living in Canaan means that you are more likely to love the things of the world more than to love God passionately. That's why God tells me to love myself. Because the temptations increase. It shows that even the first commandment of the Ten Commandments is challenging to keep. So I feel hopeless.
However, despite this, in front of the commandment to love God, I hope we will first feel the love of God who loves us. God who loves us until death. We can feel God's grace in the face of God's love for an ugly person like me.
Those who are loved are marked. Right? How do I get to know it?
The face light is different. When you are loved, your face glows. I hope your faces, who receive God's love, will shine. As you look in the mirror, I hope you will talk to me like this again today.
'You are a person who receives God's love.' So, you, too, live each day loving God.'
This is the second commandment given to those who have decided to love God passionately.
'You shall not make for yourself a graven image or any likeness of anything in heaven above, on the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth.'
As we come across the second commandment of the Ten Commandments, we are confident. If you are a Christian, it may be because you have never made an image of anything in the heavens above, the earth beneath, or the water beneath the earth.
But one young man's face was dark. This young man wants to go to the Department of Sculpture. But his parents are against it. The reason is that if you go to the sculpture department, you will make things in the sky, earth, and sea, which are prohibited in the second commandment of the Ten Commandments. The reason was that Christians should not live like this.
Is that really true? Is the Department of Sculpture a department that makes idols? Again, is the jangseung in front of the school that I mentioned earlier an idol?
To conclude from these questions, the sculptures created in the Department of Sculpture and the jangseung in front of the school are not idols. But it can also become an idol. When will it be? Depending on the person's attitude toward the sculpture or the jangseung in front of the school, it may or may not become an idol.
To understand the second commandment of the Ten Commandments, there is something to pay attention to. You need to know what an idol is and how it is made. A phrase is critical to understanding idols: ' for one's own sake.'
What does it mean to "do it for yourself"?
To understand these words, we must know the two pillars of the human heart.
The first pillar is fear, and the second pillar is desire.
Our fears are genuinely diverse. There are fears of losing your job, fears of losing money, fears of losing your health, fears of what will happen to your children, and fears of your health deteriorating. When this fear overtakes us, we may fall into panic.
So, to eliminate that fear, we create an idol for ourselves. From that perspective, a cross-shaped necklace can also become an idol. Yes, if you carry it around for yourself.
For example, the bronze serpent was like that to the Israelites in the Bible.
Initially, the bronze serpent was created by Moses for people who were about to die after being bitten by a fiery serpent. At that time, they lived if they looked at the bronze serpent. The bronze serpent was also a shadow symbolizing Jesus Christ hanging on the cross (John 3:14-16). But what happened was that people forgot the original meaning and used the bronze serpent to overcome fear, turning it into an idol.
2 Kings 18:4 He (Hezekiah) removed the altars, broke down the pillars, cut down the Asherah poles, and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, to which the children of Israel had been offering incense until this time. He called it Nehushtan.
You don't make an idol because you like it; you complete it yourself.
Anything we create to overcome fear, hide, or fulfill our desires is an idol.
There is a book that explains in more detail what an idol is. This is a book called 'The God I Created' by Pastor Tim Keller. The contents of the book are as the title suggests. Pastor Tim Keller calls the modern era a 'society dominated by idols.' Pastor Tim Keller says that although the gods worshiped during the Greek and Roman times and the gods worshiped by the peoples living in the land of Canaan are called idols, such gods are still served today. This is some content from the book.
'We may not kneel before a statue of Aphrodite, but many young women today are so obsessed with their appearance and body that they suffer from depression and eating disorders. In fact, even if we do not burn incense to Artemis if we hold up money and success as the greatest values in the world, we are also offering our children as a kind of human sacrifice. 'To rise to a high position at work and gain more wealth and prestige, one abandons one's family and community.'
'.. The human mind transforms good things such as success, love, freedom, wealth, and family into positive things. Our minds deify such things and place them at the center of our lives. If I only get that, I can enjoy a sense of presence, security, safety, and satisfaction.'
What this tells us is that anything can become an idol. Anything in life can become an idol. And what is an idol?
Anything is more important to us than God.
Anything that occupies our hearts and minds is greater than God.
If you try to get something from somewhere else that only God can give, that is an idol.
The things you think, 'If only I had that, my life would be meaningful,' could be idols. So, you probably know that keeping the second of the Ten Commandments is not easy.
However, a shocking story appears in verse 9. 'Do not bow down to them (other gods, idols) or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of those who hate me, from the fathers to the children to the third and fourth generations.'
There is a reaction we may have when we read this passage.
This means that we have loved God but never hated Him. To be precise, we loved both God and idols. This is what the Israelites show in the Bible. To the Israelites who loved both God and idols, God says, "You hated me."
Because love is everything or nothing. The nature of love is to not let anything come between two people. That is what God says in the Ten Commandments. I wish there was nothing between you and me.
However, in the following words, we are shocked once again. 'I visit the iniquity of those who hate me, from the fathers to the sons to the third and fourth generations.'
If the father committed a crime, it is natural that only the father would be punished. However, since he says that he makes not only the father but also the third and fourth generations pay for sin, I feel like God is doing too much. However, this is a gross misunderstanding of God. To understand this verse, just think about what families were like then. In the era we live in now, there are many one-person families, but at that time, three or four generations lived together. So when difficulties arose, the entire family was bound to suffer. For example, if a father died in an unexpected accident, his children would also face significant challenges. This is why it is said that the entire family will have to pay for the father's sin.
But in fact, the shock we should receive is what follows next. Verse 10. Showing mercy to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. 'Thousand generations' means 'forever.' God's grace has no limits. God loves us forever. God is appealing to us all to love Him forever.
1 John 2:3, "If we keep God's commandments, by this we know that we truly know God.' Here, the expression "to know" means to have 'communion with God.'
God wants to have a relationship with us. That is why God first loved us, freed us from sin, and made us His people. When you live in Canaan, there will be many temptations, but it tells you that you must not be shaken and still look to God.
I bless and pray in the name of the Lord that we, too, can dare to live and enjoy the grace of loving God just as God loves us. Amen.