Taken from a chapter of Parables & Parallels.
Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices.
(Ex. 23:24a, NIV)
Here’s a typical translation of the scripture above: “God doesn’t want you to worship anything besides Himself for He is a jealous God who hates all the other false gods that are out there, so don’t serve anything but Him.” It may evoke reverence to some, but it leaves others confused and dejected. It appears to put people in their microscopic place: God is big, and you are not, so serve Him. Consider the following quote from renowned atheist Richard Dawkins:
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak… megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” (condensed for emphasis)
But look at what really is being said in the scripture above: “Do not bow down.” In the days this text was written, you bowed before kings, before people of authority. Or more succinctly, you bowed before people of more importance than you. And this type of bow was the ultimate form of submission: to lay prostrate before another person or deity. To say, “I am not worthy to even be in your presence, so I shall bow before you.” I suck, but you are worthy.
So what is God really saying in this scripture? Is he forcing some control-freak nature on humanity as Dawkins posited? Or, if we understand “bowing,” is he saying something like this?
“Do not consider a single thing in this universe of more importance and of more value THAN YOU… other than Me.”
What does that do to your personal worth? To your significance as a human being? You are of such ultimate value and richness that you are not to consider yourself less than any other thing in the universe – but God. The One who created the cosmos, the beauty of Yosemite, the force behind the waves on the North Shore of Oahu. And all of that creation pales in comparison to your inherent value. Now that’s liberating. You matter! You’re of immense worth! So much so that the only thing of more worth is God himself. We spend years attempting to motivate ourselves to some semblance of significance and here God is saying you can’t even begin to conceive how valuable you are. You, Christian or not, diehard atheist or agnostic, it doesn’t matter.
Now, consider the following quote in this light:
“It is not as in the Bible, that God created man in his own image. But, on the contrary, man created God in his own image.” (Ludwig Feuerbach)
How pathetic. Not in terms of this man or his quote, but in terms of your significance and worth. If there is no God, if you are just “lucky mud,” an accidental blip in this cosmic comedy, then you have such limited value. If we can’t think up anything bigger than ourselves, then how can we see ourselves as more majestic then the really beautiful things that surround us? No wonder the world is racked with nihilism and despair.
If you see God as a demagogic ruler, then the natural inclination is often to fight that authority. But if you can see just how valuable you really are, then you can begin to revere your self and your Creator in a new light. God sees us as the most valuable entity in the universe other than Him; it is time to for us to get up from whatever we have bowed down to and start to recognize and act on that powerful revelation. And then we not only worship out of recognition of His value to us, but also out of our immense value to Him.