Sports betting is taking off all over the US. I do not do it—I do not like the risk. It should be obvious that betting on both teams is no way to manage that risk. If I bet that every team will win the Superbowl, I would win one bet and lose thirty-one others. Hedging my bet is a sure way to compound my losses.
Over and over, the people of Judah bet against their own team. In Ezekiel 20, they brought their chips to God, so to speak. He turned away from their inquiry because He was not their only bet. They hedged. They were betting on the Lord, and also putting chips down on the idols of Egypt and the pagan altars in the high places. They did not believe God so they put hope in other gods alongside Him.
God refused to be one of many gods to the people of Judah. He swore in His anger they would not enter His rest. That anger is not unloving. They already were not honoring his Sabbath. God was not angry because His people neglected to toil or strive for Him—He was angry because they rejected His good rhythm of worship and rest. He commanded them to keep the Sabbath holy and separate from work. In place of that, they sought idols which exacted terrifying costs. That contrast is vast; given the choice of a true God who offered a land of milk and honey and expected rest, they elected to defile themselves with abhorrent idol worshiping practices that devastated their families and legacies.
Today’s idols can be harder to identify. They aren’t graven images in hilltop shrines. They don’t bear pagan names like Bamah. In the time of Israel’s fathers, people pointed them to idols on hilltops that required the blood of children. Today’s idols seem to be much more subtle. Money, sex, and power are all so normalized in our culture that it’s hard to untangle them from our lives. Yet, any way that we rely on them for joy, peace, or security is a way we are hedging our bets against God’s providence in our lives.
Fortunately, God shows us grace. “I spared them from destruction and did not bring them to an end in the wilderness” (Ezekiel 20:17). He will not be profaned—He keeps His promises. This season of Lent, we are reminded that God’s law and holiness are out of reach for His people on their own, but He does not destroy us in our sin. He calls us to rest in the work of Christ. In understanding the grace He shows us, we learn that His good plan is easier than the service to the idols of any time and place. It helps us to respond to Him in repentance.