While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods. So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. And the LORD’s anger burned against them. (Numbers 25:1-3)
When the Moabites failed to get Baalam to curse Israel, they came up with this alternate plan of seducing the men, suggested, it seems, by Baalam (Numbers 31:16). We may imagine that Yahweh was not happy with the men of Israel committing sexual immorality with the Moabite women. But what really seems to have raised His ire the most was their willingness to embrace the Baal of Peor as well.
What is our greatest temptation? We really struggle to say whether it is sexual sin or idolatry. But inevitably the one seems to lead to the other. What do we do when we are faced with a sexual temptation and want to give in to it? We rationalize that God’s law regarding sexuality is in need of reinterpretation. And when we decide that we can go against His law and indulge ourselves regularly, we find our hearts growing cold toward God, the true God who wants to rule our lives, and we substitute a petty god who allows us to feel less guilty but who at the same time steals our hearts from the living God, our true husband.
Israel’s downfall throughout the Old Testament is idolatry. Try as they might, the prophets, priests and kings of Israel cannot wipe out this proclivity to idolatry. God tells the Israelites through Moses that they will give in to idolatry to such a degree that He will exile them from the land:
When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the LORD your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you…. The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. (Deuteronomy 30:1-3,6)
And though God deals with idolatrous Israel’s ups and downs in faithfulness for 700 years, His patience finally reaches an end and He sends them away from the land.
Why are we so drawn to idolatry? Why are we so willing to make God in our own image? It is because we are unwilling to trust Him and His direction for our lives and more willing to trust ourselves to get our needs met. We tell ourselves that our sexual urges are paramount to our existence and so we must disobey God’s leadership in this area. We tell ourselves that we can’t take a chance on God to provide our sustenance so we look to other means as well to cover all our bases, including asking other gods to feed us (in our day this takes the form of getting assistance from our government, or get rich quick schemes, or credit cards leading to bankruptcy). We feel confident in our own ability to earn our living and maintain a merely socially acceptable relationship to church and God. But our lives are not totally sold out to the Creator God who demands our all and provides the means to give our all.
So it seems the Old Testament teaches us that our greatest temptation is idolatry. It is the one thing that ultimately moved God to divorce Israel (Jeremiah 3:1-13). This level of unfaithfulness on our part is not only our greatest temptation, it is our greatest downfall in our relationship to God. It is marked by a failure of gratitude for what God has already done in our lives and a failure of trust in God’s goodness. How are you being tempted to substitute a lesser God for the One who saved you?
- Review: An Unsettling God (diglot.wordpress.com)