In the Book of Judges, we read about the Israelites and their struggle to stay faithful to God following the death of Joshua. Many times throughout the book, God provides a “deliverer” to bring the Israelites out of the oppression or danger they are experiencing. The Israelites stay faithful for a while, but then they go back to their wicked ways once again. It’s a frustrating book to read. The reader is left wondering why the Israelites would continue to slide back to their old ways when God has shown them over and over again His faithfulness to them.
In the 6th chapter of Judges, we read about Gideon. When the Lord came to Gideon and instructed him to save Israel, Gideon couldn’t understand how or why God would want him. After all, Gideon came from the poorest family within his community, and he himself was the most “insignificant” within his father’s house. But the Lord reassured Gideon that He would be with him, and that Gideon would be successful. To honor God, Gideon constructed an altar for the Lord.
That same night, God told Gideon to tear down his father’s altar to Baal and to build an altar in His honor next to it. He instructed Gideon to also burn his father’s fattened bull upon the altar. Gideon, afraid of his family and the townspeople, did God’s biding in the dark of night. In the morning the townspeople were angered and called for Gideon’s life, but his father refused saying that Baal should act for himself. Baal, of course, never did. After this, Gideon was “clothed with the spirit of the Lord” and led the Israelites to defeat their enemies and to secure peace for their lands.
What does this story have to do with us today in 2014? What can we possibly learn?
Like the Israelites, we often build altars to false gods; idols that take our attention away from God and away from His calling for us. While we don’t have altars in our backyards where we sacrifice fattened animals to Baal, we do have altars built within our hearts for many other “gods”. If we were to be honest with ourselves, we’d see that more often than not we eagerly and willingly participate in building those altars. Perhaps we don’t recognize it as such, but each and every day we help construct those altars with our own hands, our own minds, and our own hearts.
When we work, not to live, but live to work so that we can buy more material things, we are building an altar to a false god. When we desire fame or notoriety and pledge to do anything to get that attention, we are building that altar. When we allow drugs, alcohol, or any other addiction to rule our lives, we are putting another brick in the altar that resides within our hearts. When we put others on a pedestal, such as famous athletes, movies stars, or even someone we know personally, we are building an altar to worship someone other than God. When we are constantly worried about how we look, how we are perceived, or how much others like us, we build an altar to ourselves; we become Baal.
Like Gideon, God calls us to tear down these altars to false idols. He asks us to build one for Him instead. We may ask God how He expects us to do that because, like Gideon, we are poor, we are insignificant, and we don’t know how or what to do. Yet, God reminds us that we are not alone. He is there with us and will guide us in the construction of this new altar. There will still be people, much like the townspeople for Gideon, who won’t understand what we are doing or why we are doing it. They will insist that we reconstruct that altar to Baal. They will insist that we are wrong, we are crazy, and we must conform to society. But God calls us to live a different life than what society calls us to live. He asks us to sacrifice and to live boldly. He promises He will be by our side. He tells us, “You are safe. Do not fear. You shall not die.” (Judges 6:23)
However, what if, like the Israelites in the book of Judges, we find ourselves falling back into our old ways once again and begin to turn our backs on the God who loves us so much? What if one day we recognize that we are allowing society to build new altars within our heart; that we are building new altars to false gods? Thankfully our God never abandons us and is always ready to help us tear down those altars to make room for His altar once again.
We must be vigilant to the temptations that surround us each day. We must be ready to tear down the stones that society is willing to pile up in front of us, obscuring our view, and keeping us from worshiping the one true God. We must be actively aware that when we build an altar to God within our hearts others will be driven to dismantle it so that they can try to manufacture an altar for what they believe we should desire and want in our lives. These things they wish to elevate will never bring us true happiness. It is only when we worship God, trust in Him, and live for Him that we find happiness and peace.
Tearing down your altar to Baal is difficult work. When you do so you are leaving behind a world that looks to seduce you and trick you into believing that if it makes you happy it is good. It is hard to leave a world where your “happiness” is paramount. But if you wish to experience true happiness, you must tear down the altars you have built to the false gods in your life and instead build an altar to God.