Our first year here in Angleton I was driving to Webster, and not long after I turned off of 35, to my right, I saw some Buddhist statues! Not really what I expected to see here in south Texas — and those aren’t the only ones around, either, are they? There’s some more over by Rosharon, I’ve seen — and there may be others as well.
Now I’m pretty sure if we surveyed this group here today, and asked the question, “Do you have any idols in your house?,” I would not be shocked if there were not a single physical idol to be found anywhere in the homes of those present here. But the absence of physical idols in our homes, does not mean that we have not put other things in the place where only God should be.
There’s more than one way to have an idol — as we see in our passage for this morning. There’s a lot of ways that we can put other people, and other things, in the place of God. So let’s apply Genesis 30:2 for a few minutes this morning and think about how we can put other things “In The Place of God.”
I. Jacob’s specific situation: “Am I In The Place of God?”
We see Jacob use these words in Genesis 30:2. Many of us read it this week as part of our daily Bible reading. The story was that ironically, Jacob the deceiver had been himself deceived by his uncle Laban, and so he had married Leah first, and only after that did he marry the woman he really wanted to be his wife, Rachel. After their marriage, Leah gave birth to 4 boys for Jacob right off: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. (She would eventually have 2 more boys, Issachar and Zebulun, and a daughter, Dinah, so she gave Jacob a total of SEVEN children!) Having children was a BIG deal in those days; it’s a big deal to many of us these days too, but it was even more so in Biblical times. To them, a woman’s whole worth was tied up in whether she could bear a child or not.
Leah was able to have all these children, but the Bible says in :1 that Rachel bore Jacob no children. And this was SUCH a big deal to her that she lashed out to Jacob one day, and said: “Give me children, or else I die.” You can understand her hurt, which is what was behind what she said. Verse 2 says that Jacob responded back to her in anger, and said to Rachel: “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?”
Now, it might have been nice if Jacob had been a little more patient with his wife, who was hurting, but he still made a good point. He was saying, listen, I am not ultimately in charge of who can have children and who can’t. GOD is in charge of that. And that outlook is Biblical. Psalm 127:3 says, “Behold, children are a gift of the LORD.” GOD gives us children, the Bible says. They are a gift from Him. He is ultimately in charge of that, not us.
So Jacob was saying, Rachel, I am not God! GOD is in charge of whether we have children or not. Don’t look to ME to do something that only GOD can do.
You’ve heard the expression, “That’s above my pay grade!”? That’s basically what Jacob was saying to Rachel here. Hey, don’t look to ME to do something that only GOD can do. “Am I in the place of God?”
So that’s the specific situation we find here in Genesis 30. Jacob asked Rachel, “Am I in the place of God?” He reminded her not to look to HIM to do something for her that only GOD can do.
II. The General Principle: “Am I In The Place of God?”
Looking at Jacob’s specific situation, I think we can make a wider application of what Jacob said, in many of our own life situations. (This is what we need to do as we read the scriptures every day; don’t just look at what you’re reading merely as a “history lesson” about what they said or did, but pray about how the passage might apply to YOUR life and others.)
So how might Genesis 30:2 apply to us and to our relationships? There is a LOT of application to be made from this verse, and applying the principle we find here can help many of us with problems that we have in our own lives and our relationships. Jacob told Rachel: “Am I in the place of God?” In other words, don’t look to me to be able to do what only God can do.
Well, this is also a good principle for us to apply across the board, isn’t it? DON’T LOOK TO OTHER PEOPLE OR THINGS TO DO FOR YOU, WHAT ONLY GOD CAN DO FOR YOU!
This is really just a re-statement of the First Commandment, isn’t it? “I am YHWH your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; you shall have no other gods before Me.” As God’s people, we are to have no other gods. And that doesn’t just mean “idols.” No other person or thing is to take His place in our life.
But the problem is, in real life practice, ever since the Garden of Eden, we have put other things and people in the place of God. It is our tendency as fallen, sinful, human beings, to put other things in God’s place, which is idolatry.
— That’s why God gave the First Commandment, you shall have no other gods before Me. That’s why He gave the Second Commandment: you shall not make unto thee any graven image. Isn’t it striking that BOTH of the first TWO Commandments deal with this issue?! (Exodus 20:1-4)
— Then near the very end of the Bible, in I John 5:21, John admonishes his readers: “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.” Note: John was not speaking to the world here; he was speaking to GOD’S people! “Little children” — that’s saved people. And he said to them, you need to be careful about idols. Almost certainly he was NOT warning them about physical, material idols like those in the Buddhist temples; but to guard ourselves against putting other things in the place of God; against looking to other people or things to do for us what only GOD was meant to do.
— This is what John Calvin was writing about when he said, “The human heart is a perpetual idol factory.” In other words, we keep coming up with with other things to put in the place of God in our lives; and to do for us what only GOD was ever meant to do.
Let me give you some examples. As we look at these, ask God to show you: is there some one, or some thing, that I myself am putting in the place of God in my life?
Since this passage in Genesis is specifically about a husband and wife, and they are talking about children, let’s think about how can might apply to a marriage, or to a child.
This applies to many people regarding their spouse. Now, this can be kind of tricky. Because, on the one hand, God has commanded us to love our spouse. That is a good thing! But on the other hand, we need to know that it is possible to give your husband or wife TOO big a place in your life; a place that only God should have. Or to expect from them, things that only God can do.
For example, early in his short Presidency, James A. Garfield’s wife Lucretia became very ill. Candice Millard write in her biography: “For Garfield, Lucretia had become the “life of my life,” and as he now sat by her bed in the White House, watching as her temperature steadily climbed, he realized with a helpless desperation that he could do nothing save her. He once wrote that she was “the continent, the solid land on which I build all my happiness. … When you are sick, I am like the inhabitants of countries visited by earthquakes. They lose all faith in the eternal order and fixedness of things.’” (Destiny of the Republic, p. 103)
Now again, let me be clear: it is a great thing to love your wife. We men are commanded by God to do that. But we are NOT commanded to make them, “the life of my life;” or “build ALL your happiness on THEM,” or “lose all faith in the eternal order of things” if we lost them. You can see where that is taking it too far; where you are starting to put that other person in the place of God.
And the thing is, you DO hear things like that from people today, on Facebook and other places, that someone is their “soul mate,” or that they “they complete me,” and so on. I often cringe when I see or hear things like this, because no other person can be all that for you. We were created to be fulfilled and completed by GOD, not by anyone else, not even your spouse. He didn’t give you your spouse to be your “everything.” He gave them to you to be a companion, and a helpmate, and a provider — but not your “everything.” They cannot possibly be your “everything.” Only GOD can be that.
Billy Graham’s wife Ruth once wrote: “It is a foolish woman who expects her husband to be to her that which only Jesus Christ Himself can be: always ready to forgive, totally understanding, unendingly patient, invariably tender and loving, unfailing in every area, anticipating every need, and making more than adequate provision. Such expectations put a man under an impossible strain.” (Ruth Bell Graham, It’s My Turn, p. 74)
That is so true! When you expect that other person to do all those things for you, you are setting unrealistic expectations for that relationship. They cannot possibly do all that! That is a crushing burden: They’re supposed to be your “soul mate,” who will “fulfill” you in every way, and be your “everything” and “the foundation for all your happiness”? Can you see, there is NO WAY they can live up to that! They are just a flawed, limited person like all of us are. And so what happens, is that people get disappointed: “Well, I guess they weren’t really my ‘soul mate,’” so I’ll end this relationship and go look for the person who really IS. But that’s a recipe for disaster. And so often people go from relationship to relationship, looking for that “perfect one.” But we have to realize is, there IS no “perfect” one — we’re all IM-perfect. Only GOD is perfect.
What you need to do is build the relationship with God that He made you for, and let HIM fulfill you — and let Him bless you with a good, faithful, imperfect spouse — just like you! And have realistic expectations: THEY are not going to “complete” me; GOD is going to complete me. Don’t look for someone else to fill the place that only God can fill in your life.
AND many people do this same thing in regard to their children. They make their children the center of their life, instead of God. Again, we SHOULD love our children. But again, we need to make sure we don’t give them TOO central a place in our lives, and end up giving them the place only God should have.
Before his twenty-fourth birthday, Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, lost both his brothers to tuberculosis, leaving him an only child. Candice Millard wrote that Bell was now “the sole object of his parents’ dreams and fears.” After his last brother’s death, his father wrote to Bell, and said: “Our earthly hopes have now their beginning, middle and end in you; O, be careful.” (Candice Millard, Destiny of the Republic, p. 70)
That’s a tough place to be in, isn’t it: that someone else’s hopes and dreams have their “beginning, middle, and end in YOU”?!! That’s a lot of pressure!! But the fact is, that is what some people do; they put all hope and expectation upon their child, or upon their children.
You can see how misplaced, and how dangerous this is: first, it puts the child in an impossible situation — they can’t be everything for you. And second, it puts YOU in a very vulnerable position too: If your child is your “everything” and you lose your child, then you’ve lost your everything! If your spouse is your “everything” and you lost your spouse, then you’ve lost your everything!
Again, children are a blessing from the Lord, as Psalm 127 says. God gave them to you, to love, and to be a blessing to you, to help you learn life lessons, and so that you might teach them His ways, to impact the world for Him. Children should have a significant place in our lives — but God did NOT give them to us, to be “the center of our world;” or our “everything.” If we make them our “everything,” we are asking them to do for us what NO human person can do. When we put other people on a pedestal like that, we are putting them in a difficult position, a place they can never succeed, and we are putting ourselves in a dangerous position as well. Don’t put your children, your spouse, or anyone else, “in the place of God.”
And there are so many other applications of this: where we take something GOOD God has given us, and give it a place God never designed for it to have, so that it begins to take the place that only God should have in our life:
— For example, some do that with sports or recreation. It’s good to get exercise, and enjoy recreation. But don’t build your life around it. Don’t look for it to fulfill you instead of God. Don’t give it the time you ought to give God (first thing in the morning, or the Lord’s Day) or the money that belongs to God; or the effort or enthusiasm that ought to go to the worship of God. Don’t look for it to fulfill you, when only God can. Don’t take it too far, and put it in the place of God.
— This also applies to the government. Government is a God-ordained thing, Romans 13 says. But don’t put it in God’s place. Don’t always look to the government to bail you out in every situation; look to GOD to bail you out! Don’t let it take the place of God.
— In a nation like ours, many have put their wealth in the place of God. They’ve made the creation of wealth the central purpose of their life; they are all about money; and their trust is in their money: they don’t have to trust God; they’ve got a big bank account! They don’t have to depend upon anyone — not even God! Their money is basically their idol — doing for them what only GOD should do. (We need to remember the lesson of the 1930’s, that “the bubble can burst,” and we can lose it all. Don’t put your trust in your wealth; put your trust in GOD!)
And we could go on and on. The point is, there’s more to idolatry than having a physical idol on your mantle. Idolatry is giving someone or something the place that only God should have in your life. Is there anything in YOUR life, that you might be putting “in the place of God?”
III. Getting GOD in the place of God!
See, this is the gospel: God designed us originally to be fulfilled by HIM. Psalm 17:15 says, “I will be satisfied with YOUR likeness when I awake.” We are supposed to be satisfied with HIM. That is how God made us.
I love the famous analogy C.S. Lewis used: that
“God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on.”
The problem is, ever since the Garden of Eden, we have looked to things other than God, to fulfill us. Satan tempted Adam and Eve to look outside of God’s commandments for fulfillment: “If you just take this fruit, THEN your eyes will be opened; THEN you’ll be like gods; THEN you’ll really be fulfilled.” And he still tempts us in the same way today: go do what God says not to do; that is what you really need in order to be happy. And that is what sin is: it is doing what God commanded us not to do. (At the heart of it, sin is really looking to other things to fulfill us instead of God!) And our sin — loving things more than God, breaking His commandments and seeking fulfillment outside of Him — has destroyed our relationship with God.
But God loved us, and had mercy on us. He came to Earth in the Person of Jesus Christ, and died on the cross to pay for our sins, so that if we would realize our error, that we have been looking for fulfillment in all the wrong places, He would forgive our sins, and give us back the relationship He created for us to have with Him. Now HE will be the center our life, where He is supposed to be, instead of all these other things we have been substituting for Him. Now everything else can have their proper place.
I was just reading a book called The Clockwork Universe by Edward Dolnick. It’s about how in the 1600’s they used to think that the sun and all the planets revolved around the earth, and how they came to see that we all really revolve around the sun. When the astronomers and scientists had the earth in the center, none of their calculations were working right: the planets didn’t seem to be revolving right, and so on; and they didn’t know WHY it wasn’t working. UNTIL they realized that it was actually the SUN that was in the center, and that all of the planets, including Earth, revolve around it. NOW all of the sudden, the calculations worked. Now the planets’ revolutions could be plotted correctly. Once they put the right thing in the middle, everything else “clicked” into place.
And what we’ve got to see today, is that’s how it is with us and God, too. As long as we try to put ANYTHING ELSE in the center of our own personal “universe,” things are not going to work right for us. If you try to put a spouse in the middle of your universe, or a child in the middle of your universe, or your money in the middle of your universe — or your SELF in the middle of your universe — things are not going to function right. You are going to have all kinds of problems in your relationships, and in every area of your life.
But when you put GOD back in the center of your life where He is supposed to be; when you only look to HIM to do for you what only He CAN do — then everything else can “click” into place. Then all your other relationships can function like they are supposed to. Because now everyone and everything else be what God intended them to be — and you’re letting only GOD be for you who only God CAN be —with nothing else “in the place of God.”
— Let God’s Spirit search your heart: has anyone/anything else taken the place only GOD should have in your life?
— are you looking to anyone/anything else to do for you what only God can co?
— have you been putting too many expectations on your spouse, or children — as if THEY were to satisfy/fulfill you, when only God can?
— Is there any “idol” in your life that you are putting in the place of God: giving it God’s day, God’s time, God’s money, the love & ct due God, etc.?
— Have you ever really put GOD back in the “center of your universe” where He belongs …