You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess serve their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. You shall tear down their altars and smash their [sacred] pillars and burn their Asherim with fire, and you shall cut down the engraved images of their gods and obliterate their name from that place.
Moses has pivoted in his address from looking back on what God has already done to looking forward at what God will do. God has promised to deliver the Promised Land into the hands of the Israelites and Moses looks forward to that time when God has fulfilled His promise. Moses gives the Israelites some specific instruction about what to do with the stuff to do with the pagan worship practices: tear [them] down, smash [them], burn [them] with fire, cut [them] down, and obliterate their name from that place. The whole thing is summed up at the beginning when Moses tells the Israelites that they are to utterly destroy all the places where the nations … serve their gods. If this were war, it would be scorched earth.
Moses does not leave the Israelites hanging about why this sort of action is necessary. He states that the nations that the Israelites are going to dispossess are guilty of every abominable act which the LORD hates … for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods (v. 31). The worship practices of the people living in the Promised Land had become so debased as to include sacrificing their own children. And leaving behind any remnant of how those people worshiped could act as a temptation to the Israelites. Maybe they would stumble across an old sacred grove where the fertility rites were performed and getting freaky in the forest might sound attractive and relatively harmless. But no great sin ever begins with doing something horrific. People do not wake up one morning and sacrifice their children the way those peoples did. There is a gradual movement into a state that depraved.
The Westernized world is heading in that direction. The West has devalued children and family and replaced them with career and personal fulfillment. Career is not inherently bad and personal fulfillment, if pursued properly, can be a good thing — especially if I look to God to provide me with fulfillment and meaning. But all things must be kept in their right place and proportion to be right. The people that the Israelites were going to drive out had lost that right proportion. We in the West are losing our right place and proportion of things. We have a whole pantheon of idols that we do not think of as idols or even think we worship. But they are. And we do. Success and Convenience and Position and Power and Sex and Fulfillment. None of these in their proper place and proportion is bad. The way that we in the West go after them and in what proportion we desire them is blatantly idolatrous.
There are more. So many more. But I need to move this from the level of society to the level of me. The Bible is for all lives — down to and including my own. I need to pursue a scorched earth policy when it comes to the way that The World does things. There is nothing wrong with wanting to do things successfully, but let me measure my success as God does. There is nothing wrong with wanting things to be convenient, so long as I remember that God is going to call me to things both convenient and inconvenient. That salvation depends on Him is wonderfully convenient. That I must then live it out is less so. Let me utterly destroy — in whatever acceptable fashion this takes — the things in my own life that distort my priorities or tempt me to worship God in any way other than that which He has prescribed. He calls me to love and to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.
Thank You, Father, for giving instruction on how to rightly worship You and walk with You. Please reveal those things in my life that are remnants or relics of the world’s way of doing things. If they are influencing how I worship You, please help me untangle them and worship You as You would have me worship You. If they have not influenced my behavior, please give me the discernment to know what utter destruction looks like for that thing. Some of them, I suspect, are thought processes or patterns. Please teach me how to wipe them out and, instead, to think as You do.