This morning I placed a thought that I have been pondering for quite a while on social media. I stated: “The vast success of demagoguery in American politics is an indictment on our souls.”
I want to take the time in this weekly study to speak a bit more about it. There are some who will quickly read it and agree or disagree without pondering the implications of the truth contained within the Scripture that I cited (Exodus 20:5-6). I believe there is a direct implication to our society today, and I encourage you to read further.
Introduce Demagoguery. It seems to be a buzzword used by many, but what exactly does it mean? A demagogue is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power.” In short, they are telling you what they think you want to hear. We see this happening in the American political system on both sides of the spectrum. Understand deeply the difference between a person aligning with a candidate because the candidate more closely aligns to Biblical principles, and a person aligning with a candidate because they desire to follow that person. These are vastly different ideas. Simply stated: “Don’t take what is right and wrong from a candidate for political office higher than you take The Bible.” Don’t think politicians are theologians, even if they cite Scripture.
The concept of idolatry as described in the ancient Jewish and Christian texts that we read seem difficult to apply in our world. We read in Exodus 20:4-6: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
This is an uncomfortable commandment. Here we see God saying not to make idols, and worship them. This is idea foreign to us, but the concept still has firm roots in the hearts of human beings. Most people who don’t like what Scripture says like to jump on what appears to be an injustice. How can the sins of the fathers solicit God’s judgment to the children? “It doesn’t seem fair” they cry. I believe it is quite fair, and here is why. The secret is in the final part of the passage. We read “keep my commandments.” If we love God, we will keep His commandments. If we love a political leader we will keep theirs, and finally, if we love ourselves we will keep our own. We instruct our children as we live, and subsequently they receive the reward for their poor instruction that we have given them. It’s not some crazy idea that God will judge your kid for what you do. It’s the idea that your kid will do what you do, and if they make bad decisions they will pay the price just as you and I.
Think about leadership in the context of demagoguery. Who is leading who? If a political candidate tells you what you want to hear and you vote for them, are you leading them or are they leading you? Will they use this principle to reward the wishes of the masses? If so, are the masses leading them? If this is the case, then don’t we have the mentality of a modern day lynch mob with our victim’s falling along the way? I believe definitely the answer to the last question is yes.
The idea of idolatry here listed in the 10 Commandments is strictly prohibited by God, but I think the conceptual idea of idolatry is, perhaps, most fervently illustrated in Isaiah 44. An excerpt of this chapter that we will read is verses 14-20. “He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, ‘Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!’ And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, ‘Deliver me, for you are my god!’ They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, ‘Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?’ He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, ‘Is there not a lie in my right hand?’ ”
It is a very real thing to follow politicians with the fervency of following a god, and it is a very real thing to follow ourselves when we vote for the betterment of our own proclivities. I want encourage you to think differently. I want to encourage you to follow God first and obey His commandments. Then, and only then, will your thoughts be clear enough to ask the question that Isaiah cites. “Is there not a lie in my right hand?”
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Exodus 20:5-6 – “You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”