“You shall not plant for yourself any tree, as a wooden image, near the altar which you build for yourself to the LORD your God. You shall not set up a sacred pillar, which the LORD your God hates. (Deuteronomy 16:21,22 NKJV)
Sacred “totems” were common among the pagan Canaanites. Some were carved similarly to those we are more familiar with from Northwestern indigenous tribes with images of actual living things, others with created images, and some left uncarved. Both Alaskan and Canaanite ancients had another similar totem called a “pillar of shame”. In modern Alaska, a few remain. One has the image of Exxon’s CEO. It is a “pillar of shame” for the perceived unpaid debt to Alaska for damage done when the Valdez spilled oil and polluted the local environment. The concept is that the pillar will stand until the debt is paid. Images carved on totems tell a story, and pillar of shame totems repeat at every glance the story of unpaid debt.
The worship of God must be pure. Yahweh commands that we don’t worship anything but Him. You shall not plant for yourself any tree…I know I’ve erected several totems to myself over the years. Before I knew Christ, I kind of liked to be exalted. When I read this verse today it made me consider that I may have also erected some pillars of shame. You shall not set up a sacred pillar…. I didn’t cut down any trees to do it, but instead tried to carve someone’s sin into a permanent pillar by repeated mention, ….which the LORD your God hates. I often haven’t initiated a Christian sin totem carving class, but I have participated when I’ve repeated past sin of others. When I preserve someone’s pillar of shame by mindlessly gossiping about their sin, I am denying the existence of Christ’s work on the cross. The damage done to a fellow Christian by verbally re-carving their sin stories is small compared to the damage to our Lord. Gossip is not loved based.
I know that nothing I have done or can do has remitted my sin. That fruit of Grace is God’s alone, but sometimes I seem to want God to require more than that of others. Grace seems like a sentence too light for them. I want freedom from my transgressions of the law but don’t want my cellmates paroled before their due time.
The bible says of Jesus — He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. (Hebrews 9:26b) If I erect a sin pillar of shame, I deny my Lord’s plan and purpose. If I say more is required, I am saying that He is an insufficient payment. I know it’s not enough to stop repeating the sin totems into existence. I need to stop listening them into existence too.
The Lord is not absent minded. He chooses to forget my sin. He is a just God and his unwillingness to even hold the memory of my forgiven sin reveals his justice. It is gone to prove it is forgiven, to validate the righteousness and finality of the sacrifice and the One who was sacrificed to remove it. OK God. Help me stop carving pillars of shame. Hallelujah, amen. (Praise the Lord, let it be so)
Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. (John 1:29 NKJV)