Guest Writer Thomas DeWitt Talmage
“We know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one … one God, the Father … and one Lord, Jesus Christ …. However, there is not in every man that knowledge” (1 Corinthians 8:4-7).
Jacob had lived with his uncle Laban for twenty years. He had served him seven years for each of his daughters, Leah and Rachel, and six years for his livestock (Genesis 29 through 31). Now, it was time to leave. But how? Knowing the kind of person Laban was, and his jealous sons, Jacob had distanced himself and then stolen away unawares with two wives, two concubines, eleven sons so far, one daughter that we know of, servants, and herds. As could be expected, when, three days later, Laban learned Jacob had “escaped” with what Laban considered his property, he, being the rascal he was, chased the “runaways.”
Supposedly Laban, a rank heathen, was anxious to recover the gods that had been lifted from his household, but what he was really after was “his” children, “his” herds, “his” property. In the course of seven days, like a posse, Laban, his sons, and his men overtook Jacob’s company, demanded the pocket gods that had been taken from his house, and searched Jacob’s tents.
Jacob, a man of God, knew nothing of these teraphim or household gods, but Rachel did.
Laban came into the tent where she was, and asked after them. She sat on the saddle of a camel (off the beast, resting on the floor), under which the images were hidden. She told her dad, Laban, that it was with her after the manner of women and she could not rise. Laban, thinking nothing of it, passed over her and looked everywhere but under the camel’s saddle.
Of course, he failed in his search, and Jacob was angry that he and his company had been manhandled and treated as thieves. Jacob admonished Laban: “Except the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely you would’ve sent me away empty” (31:42).
Jacob, emboldened by the incident, stood his ground and forced Laban out of his life. They had one last night together as a family, then separated forever.
It was a strange thing that these pocket gods, small enough to fit under a camel’s saddle, existed among the people of God. When Jacob learned of them, he took the gods, and earrings from pierced ears, and buried them under a tree near Shechem (35:2-4).
You see, God had spoken to Jacob and told him to go back to Bethel, the place where he’d seen angels ascending and descending on a ladder (29:10-18). All along, his heart had been in the right place, but now it was time to get the heart of his family with him, and not with Laban. No divided allegiance.
When a man professes faith in Christ on Communion day, with the sacramental cup in his hand, he swears allegiance to the Lord God Almighty, and says, “Let all my idols perish!” But how many have forsaken their oath of loyalty and clung to forbidden, hidden idols!
THE GOD OF MONEY
There are many who sacrifice their soul’s interests to the idol of wealth. There was a time when you saw the folly of trying to satisfy the longing of your soul with money. You said, when you saw men going down into the dust and tussle of life, “Whatever god I worship, it won’t be a golden calf” (cf Exodus 32:1-6; 1 Kings 12:25-33). You saw men plunge into the life of a spendthrift, or go down into the life of a miser, like one of old smothered to death in his own money chest, and you thought, “I shall be careful never to be caught in these traps in which so many men have fallen, to their souls’ eternal discomfort.”
But you went down into the world; you felt the force of temptation; you saw men all around you making money fast, some of them sacrificing all their Christian principle; you felt the fascination come on your own soul, and before you knew it, you were with Laban going down to hunt in Rachel’s tent for your lost idols.
On one of our pieces of money you find the head of a goddess, a poor inscription for an American coin; far better the inscription that the old Jews put on the shekel, a pot of manna and an almond rod, alluding to the mercy and deliverance of God in their behalf in other days. But how seldom it is that money is consecrated to Christ! Instead of the man owning the money, the money owns the man. It is evident, especially to those with whom they do business every day, that they have an idol, or that, having once forsaken the idol, they are now in search of it, far away from the house of God, in Rachel’s tent looking for lost images.
One of the mighty men of India said to his servants: “Go not near the cave in such a ravine.” The servants talked the matter over, and said: “There must be gold there, or certainly this mighty man would not warn us against going.” They went, expecting to find a pile of gold; they rolled away the stone from the door of the cave, when a tiger sprang on them and devoured them.
Many a man in the search of gold has been crunched in the jaws of destruction. Going out far away from the God whom they should have been worshiping, they are seeking in the tent of Rachel for lost images.
THE GOD OF POPULARITY
There are a great many in this day renewing the idolatry of human opinion. There was a time when they woke up to the folly of listening to what men said to them. They soliloquized in this way: “I have a God to worship, and I am responsible only to Him. I must go straight on and do my whole duty, whether the world likes it or doesn’t like it”; and they turned a deaf ear to the fascinations of public applause. After a while they did something popular. They had the popular ear and the popular heart. Men approved them, and poured gentle words of flattery into their ear, and before they realized it they went into the search of that which they had given up, and were hunting in Rachel’s tent for lost images.
Between eleven and twelve o’clock one June night, Edward Gibbon, the historian, finished his The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Seated in a summer garden, he says that as he wrote the last line of his book, he felt great satisfaction. He closed the manuscript, walked out into the moonlight in the garden, and then, he said, he felt an indescribable melancholy overwhelm him at the thought that so soon he must leave all the fame that he would acquire by that manuscript.
The applause of this world is a mean god to worship. It is a Dagon (1 Samuel 5:1-9) that falls on its worshipers and crushes them to death. Alas for those who, fascinated by human applause, give up the service of the Lord God and go to hunt in Rachel’s tent for lost images!
THE GOD OF APPETITE
There are many Christians being sacrificed to appetite. There was a time when they said: “I will not surrender to evil appetites.” For a while they seemed to break away from all the allurements by which they were surrounded, but sometimes they felt that they were living on a severe regimen, and they fell away from the house of God, and fell away from respectability, and fell away forever.
One of the kings in olden times, the legend says, consented that the devil might kiss him on both shoulders, but no sooner were the kisses imprinted upon the shoulders than serpents grew forth and began to devour him, and as the king tried to tear off the serpents he found he was tearing out his own life. And there are men who are all enfolded in adders of evil appetite and passion that no human power can ever crush; and unless the grace of God seizes hold of them, these adders will become “the worm that never dies” (cf Mark 9:44, 46, 48; Isaiah 66:24). Alas for those who, once having broken away from the mastery of evil appetites and passion, go back to the sins that they once renounced, and, in Rachel’s tent, go to hunt for lost images!
THE GOD OF INDOLENCE
There are a great many also sacrificing to indolence. In the hour of their conversion they looked at the world, and said: “Oh, how much work to be done, how many harvests to be gathered, how many battles to be fought, how many tears to be wiped away, and how many wounds to be bound up!” and they looked with positive surprise on those who could sit idle in the kingdom of God while there was so much work to do. After a while they found their efforts were unappreciated, that some of their best work in behalf of Christ was caricatured, and they were laughed at, and they began to relax their effort, and the question was no more, “What can I do for Christ?” but “How can I take my ease? where can I find my rest?” Are there not some of you who in the hour of your consecration started out nobly, bravely, and enthusiastically for the Savior’s kingdom who have fallen back into ease of body and ease of soul, less anxious about the salvation of men than you once were, and are actually this moment in Rachel’s tent hunting lost images?
Oh, why go hunting for idols? “Idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not: They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not: They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat. They that make them are like unto them; so is everyone who trusts in them” (Psalm 115:4-8). There is only one God to worship, and He sits in the heavens.
How do I know that there is only one God? I know it just as the boy knew it when his teacher asked him how many Gods there are.
He said, “There is but one.”
“How do you know that?” inquired the teacher.
The boy replied, “There is only room for one, for He fills the heavens and the earth” (cf 1 Kings 8:27).
Come into the worship of that God. He is a wise God. He can plan out all the affairs of your life. He can mark out all the steps that you ought to take. He will put the sorrows in the right place, and the victories in the right place, and the defeats in the right place; and coming to the end of your life, if you have served Him faithfully, you will be compelled to say, “Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are Your ways” (Revelation 15:3).
He is a mighty God. Have Him on your side, and you need not fear earth or hell. He can ride down all your spiritual foes. He is mighty to overthrow your enemies. He is mighty to save your soul. Ay, He is a loving God. He will put the arms of His love around about your neck. He will bring you close to His heart and shelter you from the storm. In times of trouble He will put on your soul the balm of precious promises. He will lead you all through the vale of tears trustfully and happily, and then, at last, take you to dwell in His presence, where there “is fullness of joy and, at His right hand, pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). Oh, compared with such a wise God, such a mighty God, such a loving God, what are all the images under the camel’s saddle in the tent of Rachel?
The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be
Help me to tear it from my heart,
And worship only Thee. ~William Cowper,
“O for a Closer Walk With God” (1772)
Copyright © 2018 Alexandra Lee
*Adapted from “Under the Camel’s Saddle,” Thomas DeWitt Talmage [1832-1902], Around the Tea-Table (New York: Bible House, 1895). Quotes, scriptural locations, photos, links, emendations added.