Search me (penetrate, examine intimately), O God, and know my heart; test (prove, try by trial, as with gold) me and know my anxious thoughts (from a word that means ambivalence, divided mind, wavering between two opinions, paralyzed by indecision). See (look at, inspect, perceive, consider, gaze at, look at each other, face each other) if there is any offensive (hurtful, painful, way of sorrow, idolatrous) way (road, distance, journey, manner, direction, path, manner, habit, course of life, moral character) in me, and lead (guide, bring, transport into exile, or as a colonist) me in the way everlasting (long duration, antiquity, unending future, forever, evermore, perpetual, old, ancient, from the beginning of the world). Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV)[i]
I have been meditating on God’s commandment to have no idol before him (Exodus 20:4). Anything can be an idol if it separates you from God or is more important to you than following God. Even greed can be idolatry (see Ephesians 5:5). But basically, idolatry is setting up your own god of your own making. A.W. Tozer wrote:
“The idolatrous heart assumes God is other than He is—in itself a monstrous sin—and substitutes for the true God one made after its own likeness … The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him. It begins in the mind and may be present where no overt act of worship has taken place.”
Thinking about this led me to the above verse in Psalms. I have also been mediating on being in and dwelling in God’s presence and on the Mutual Gaze, so it’s interesting that the psalmist invites God to gaze at him or look at him in the face – that they face each other – as God inspects him for any offensive way.
The Hebrew word translated “offensive” here is otseb (עֹ֫צֶב), which also means idol. It is clear from the definition of otseb that idolatry is associated with pain and sorrow – to us and to God – for we don’t know him as he yearns for us to know him. We are off following another god and that affects the whole course and direction of our lives, the path we end up taking.
Also, very interesting is that the Hebrew word, nachah (נָחָה), translated “lead” or “guide” in this verse has an implication attached to it of being led into exile or as a colonist somewhere. Isn’t that what we are here on this Earth – exiles from our real home and colonists, strangers?
All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. Hebrews 11:13 (NASB)
Could it be that one way we are led into idolatry is wanting to belong here, to settle down here, to be accepted here, to follow the “cool” or comfortable path, not the old, ancient way from the beginning of the world? We don’t want to be exiles and strangers. We want security, even if it is of our own making.
Jesus had “no place to lay his head” and invited his disciples to cut their ties with this Earth and come follow him. Really, walking along with him on the path of exile, dwelling there in his presence, is the only thing I need in this life. In Luke 10:38-42 Martha is worried about the big meal she wants to serve to Jesus and the disciples, but Mary just sits at her Lord’s feet, listening. When Martha complains, Jesus says, “There is really only one thing worth being concerned about (or one thing that is necessary). Mary has discovered it (or chosen it)––and I won’t take it away from her” (NLT).
He who dwells (sits down) in the shelter (hiding place, secret place) of the Most High will rest (abide or lodge all night) in the shadow of the Almighty. Psalm 91:1 (NIV)
Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me (lead me, transport me into exile); let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell. Psalm 43:3 (NIV)
I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you. Psalm 32:8 (NASB)
Lord, show me my sin, cut my ties with this world, lead me into exile, holding your hand and trusting in you, to where I can dwell with you all this dark night.
“This disciple simply burns his boats and goes ahead. He is called out, and has to forsake his old life in order that he may “exist” in the strictest sense of the word. The old life is left behind, and completely surrendered. The disciple is dragged out of his relative security into a life of absolute insecurity (that is, in truth, into the absolute security and safety of the fellowship of Jesus), from a life which is observable and calculable (it is, in fact, quite incalculable) into a life where everything is unobservable and fortuitous (that is, into one which is necessary and calculable), out of the realm of finite (which is in truth the infinite) into the realm of infinite possibilities (which is the one liberating reality). Again it is no universal law. Rather is it the exact opposite of all legality. It is nothing else than bondage to Jesus Christ alone, completely breaking through every programme, every ideal, every set of laws. No other significance is possible, since Jesus is the only significance. Beside Jesus nothing has any significance. He alone matters.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship)
[i] My amplification based on Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
Image, The Internet Archive, from page 96 of “The life of our Saviour Jesus Christ : three hundred and sixty-five compositions from the four Gospels” (1899)