Break, Smash, Burn

Break, Smash, Burn

The first eleven chapters of Deuteronomy deal with the big picture – history lessons and spiritual foundations (like the Shema). Chapter 12 begins the nitty gritty commandments of Deuteronomy, the tangible “here’s what to do with your hands and feet” kind of commandments.

And the first thing the Israelites are to do is to break, smash, and burn anything that has anything to do with an idol. (Deuteronomy 12:2-3) How startling (and how invigorating) that the life of covenant faithfulness begins with an act of demolition! This is the first specific instruction about what to actually do in the land. Before anything else is done, the demolition must take place.

Unfortunately, idolatry is hard to notice (if it weren’t, idolatry wouldn’t be a problem in the first place). What makes idols so sinister is their ability to disguise themselves as something perfectly normal to our world. Even worse, they claim to do God’s work in our lives. For Moses and the ancient Israelites, this looked like little statues and figurines made of wood, stone, or metal. But what do our idols look like today? What are the things promising us belonging, safety, comfort, validation and victory? What are the things trying to pull our love in a variety of directions? And how far have they already moved into our lives?

So Moses says, Don’t wait around for the idols to become a problem – get to breaking and smashing and burning on day one. Israel is to remove the name of any idol placed there by someone else, which is not only an act of deconstruction, but of reconstruction too. Every idolatrous name is to be removed so that God’s name can take its place. (Deuteronomy 12:4-5) God is establishing a space in which our worship to our true creator may occur uninterrupted by idolatry. So the command to remove the idols and idol-spaces is not only for our own sake, it is even more a proclamation of how God reshaping our world – to be free of idol contaminants so that the one true creator of humans may be worshipped. In the Gospel of Mark, the first words we hear from Jesus are, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe this good news.” (Mark 1:15). God is establishing his rule, his space, his priorities in our world, and we will in turn repent and realign ourselves to what God is doing (not the other way around).

We will sabotage every idol’s attempt to steal our love away from our creator. And, per Moses’ words, we will do so ruthlessly, because God is giving not only permission but a command to smash and break and burn things down. Because revolutions don’t start with someone saying, “Let’s gently dissect the things we like and don’t like” but saying, “Let’s burn it all down.” Because faith requires owning a sledgehammer. God’s not willing to share us with our idols. God is laying claim to everything the idols wish to claim. There are no half measures. We don’t get to gently dissect our idols. Every inch of territory in our hearts and in this world owned by something falsely promising us belonging and safety is territory that God is kept out of.

God is taking the enemy’s territory back, and we will play our part in the breaking and smashing and burning of every idol, every crooked desire, every misaligned love. Let us look seriously at our misaligned loves and desires, that we may then begin the work of dismantling them.


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