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
Using allegory and highly sophisticated and intellectualized “religious” arguments, the “Romans” spoke much about and persuaded many of their “justification” outside of the Creator’s law.
Surely, if the sophisticated Romans (& Greeks) could accept the man-god Caesar, who most Jews refused to obey and worship, then perhaps they might accept one of the own who was created to replace, or at least minimize or corrupt, the Creator God that they so worshipped and so loved, despite oppression and persecution even unto their death. The martyrdom of countless thousands, tens of thousands, eventually even millions.
Hi Rabbi Yisroel,
You wrote that we should look at the results of a person’s form of worship. “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?”
Don’t you think that for many people, their encounter with Christianity has taught them to (unknowingly) devote their loyalty and affection towards someone who is not their Creator, and yet it has also taught them to appreciate God’s sovereignty over everything and the fact that they owe everything to Him? Don’t a lot of Christians who end up accepting Judaism do so in the context of a knowledge of God that they already had, the glimmers of truth and the response of God to them even in a context of false worship? The New Testament and the Christian tradition very often affirm these Jewish understandings, not merely in an attempt to justify their concept of Jesus, but also in a genuine desire to seek and honour God; a desire that He has given us and allowed us to choose Him in. It isn’t the motivation of all Christians, but some Christians give their whole lives to try to love and serve the Creator alone and give Him all that He deserves from the human heart and actions.
That’s a question I have about what you wrote, but in the end I appreciated this article a lot. The idea that the Torah commands against the seduction of the heart to false worship implies that there needs to be much more than just a feeling of certainty that a human being is ‘in fact God’. In the matter of how God wants to be worshipped, He isn’t just commanding our hearts. You can’t equivocate faith in God with faith in Jesus. A person who is absolutely careful not to let their hearts be led astray must find the criteria in the spoken commandments of God for testing whatever it is they’re doing in their worship. No one can say in the context of the Torah that God just made it clear in their hearts that it isn’t against Judaism to worship a particular human being, and in fact commanded them personally to do so.
This is an issue I find really difficult, in talking with the Christians who have been clearly shown the Jewish perspective on their loyalty to Jesus/Yeshua and who fully comprehend that if it’s false it is idolatry and it is a mockery of God’s servant Israel… yet they still ‘cling’ to it as if in loyalty to God Himself. They should know that their answers don’t stand up and that without good answers to the community of Judaism, no one can pray to an entity that may in fact be an ‘other’ to God. But they keep on saying what they say and holding on to their form on worship.
Early Christianity felt confronted by the fact that the Jews as a whole didn’t recognise Jesus as their messiah or God, despite being the community who was to hold the testimony of God and His redemption in the world. So even from NT times the idea came up that those who rejected Jesus didn’t have sincere ‘faith’. I feel like there’s a parallel in my own experience of Christians who know Judaism enough that they should know better, who seem sincere to me, and yet continue to do what they do with fervour and joy. I know that we can’t just follow our hearts or the emotional pressure of a community to be okay with or faithful to something. But it is very confronting to come across people who seem to be doing that… I don’t want to judge their intentions, but I wish they would finally stop trying to show how their worship is ‘the same as biblical Judaism’ and stop talking about Jesus in the way they do. I don’t know how to process the reality that sincere people in my life don’t recognise truth in what I have seen to be avoidable and precious truth.
When the truth and the lie are tied together and the package deal is presented as the “pure unadulterated truth” people are attracted to the truth in the package and do not distinguish between the truth and teh falsehood – it doesn’t occur to them that these concepts can be separated
mm, you’re right.
That’s asking people to ignore their own conscious experiences rabbi, and that’s why I see a giant problem of inconsistency in your whole argument. You say on one hand that “publicity legitimizes the Torah experience,” but then tell others to catagorically deny their own experience of G-d’s sovereignty that they received through Christianity. Ergo, you are in contradiction. Trust publicity or don’t trust it? Have faith in what we say? Or have faith in what you know? I don’t think you realize that for many people, Jesus is what makes them believe G-d is real and active in their lives. You are telling them to ditch their own raison d’etre for accepting G-d in favor of your own experience.
Concerned Reader I am well aware that Christians come to faith in God through their own experience and I realize that at first glance it sounds absurd to tell a Christian to abandon his/her experience because my nation’s experience testifies that the Christian experience is false – but when you stop and think for a minute you will realize that the God who Jesus calls upon to legitimize his own claims appointed my nation as His witnesses – Jesus stuck his foot in his mouth – or in the mouth of the Christian – that’s all.
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Matters of the heart, leads to a slippery slope. I am an agnostic, yet I observe the Sabbath, refrain from Pork, refrain from stealing, refrain from idolatry, refrain from many ‘sins”. When I fail I repent, become contrite, ask for forgiveness and change may actions.. I do this because it warms my heart, it makes me feel closer to my Father and Grandfather (they are both Gone). As I say, the heart is a slippery slope.