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As a child, I definitely thought of idolatry as an old-fashioned sin. There just weren’t many requirements or even low-level peer pressure requests for worshipping other gods in the rural counties of West Virginia where I grew up. We did take a trip to a Hare Krishna temple when I was in middle school and it was quite a revelation to see that there were still people on earth who made offerings, burnt incense, and treated golden statues with reverence.
Still, the commandment to have no other gods nor to reverence any images of competitive powers remains arcane to most of us in (what we like to think of as) “modern” societies. Yet the biblical story of the “firey furnace” remains compelling. And I think we still have so much learn from it.
Shadrach - Meshach - Abednego - Monarch - Image
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were asked by the monarch they worked for to bow down to a golden image. This was a multi-cultural empire with many “peoples, nations, languages,” according to the biblical/ historical record. Worship of the dignity that represented the state was the one way that everyone could be brought together. We can see the insecurity of Nebuchadnezzar throughout the book of Daniel, wanting to make sure everyone came together to support his throne and the empire. The book of Daniel places this test of the loyalty of the three Hebrew administrators immediately after the interpretation of the dream about the four kingdoms which are smashed by a fifth one. Nebuchadnezzar knows that Daniel is predicting the end of his empire. He doesn’t know by which means it will happen, but getting everyone to enact loyalty is important. Pre-modern states were held together by these rituals of loyalty and ceremonies of collective identity.
Pre-modern people also knew how to worship. We moderns have very few things we consider...
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