Persuasion of the Heart – Deuteronomy 11:16
“Beware for yourselves lest your heart be seduced and you turn astray and serve other gods and prostrate yourselves to them.”
Moses warns the people of Israel not to be led astray by their hearts. It would seem that the persuasion for idolatry appeals to the heart which would then lead a person to the worship of a strange god.
What is this persuasion of the heart, how does it work and how could we avoid it?
The word “seduction” or “persuasion” implies the influencing of someone to do something that they would have otherwise not done. The seducer affects the emotions of the one being seduced to the degree that they follow the seducer against their own set of values and even against their own best interest.
In the realm of worship the only relevant question is: To whom does my worship belong? And the one answer is: To the One who called all of existence, including my heart, into being.
Idolatry is when one worships an entity other than the One God to whom all of our worship is due. What an idol does to a person’s heart (and I am not attributing conscious action to the idol; this is a process that takes place entirely in the heart of the worshiper) is that it appears to the worshiper as an object that is deserving of worship. It seduces the person into directing his or her worship towards it.
This could happen in many ways. The idol may demonstrate power, majesty, beauty, holiness, mystery, righteousness, love or any other quality in a way that overwhelms the heart of the beholder to the degree of submission. The heart of the beholder is then “seduced” or “persuaded” to direct worship towards the entity that has displayed this quality (or combination of qualities) in such an overpowering measure. The worshiper overlooks the relevant question: “Is this really where my worship belongs?”
But isn’t there such a thing as an encounter with God? Didn’t the Jewish people encounter God at Sinai and realize that they are standing face to face with the One who they rightly ought to worship? (Exodus 20:22; Deuteronomy 5:4). Didn’t Abraham, Moses and Isaiah all experience an encounter with God (Genesis 17:1-3; Exodus 3:6; Isaiah 6:1). How can we differentiate between an encounter with the true God and a persuasion to direct our devotion to an entity that does not deserve it?
One way to differentiate between an encounter with God and a persuasion to serve another god is to look at the results of the encounter. Did the encounter deepen the person’s appreciation for God’s absolute sovereignty over every facet of creation? Did the encounter intensify the knowledge that we owe all to God? (Genesis 21:33; Deuteronomy 13:5; Isaiah 45:18). Or did the encounter inspire the worshiper to sing the praises of an entity other than the One Creator of heaven and earth?
“The heart is deceitful above all things…” (Jeremiah 17:9).
The persuasion of the heart can be complex. When a heart desires something the mind is then inspired to justify that desire. How often do we see people presenting highly sophisticated and deeply religious arguments for a position that serves their best interest? If the heart was persuaded to direct worship to an entity other than the Creator of heaven and earth, the mind will then be put to the task of justifying that worship. And the human mind is very agile.
How then can we know if we are being fooled by the persuasions of our heart or if we are following the God who created our hearts in the first place?
The Bible makes it clear that an honest search will lead to the truth.
When it comes to the Jewish people God took this a step further. He taught the Jewish people directly so that they could know who He is and who He is not (Deuteronomy 4:35).
When the idol-worshiper points to his or her object of devotion and declares: “I just “KNOW” that he/she/it is worthy of my devotion”, the Jew responds with: “I just “KNOW” that he/she/it is NOT worthy of anyone’s devotion – God showed us so Himself” (Isaiah 44:8).
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal