A church group in Chattanooga, Tennessee, stood around a muddy pit. The pastor read a passage from the thirty-fifth chapter of Genesis: “Then Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments.” The group began tossing various objects into the pit. Among the “strange gods” was a big alarm clock that went jangling into the hole: this was a sign that the church was done with clock-watching during future services.

In went an old television set; also a rock-and-roll record with the impressive title “Ooba-Ooba-Ooba,” followed by several famous novels by popular modern authors. Women’s shorts and toreador pants landed on top of the stack, along with cigarette packs.

The minister of the church assured the newspaper reporters that these folk weren’t snake-handlers or weird cultists; they were plain Southern Baptists who wished to put away their idols and strip for the race on the gospel road.

Newspaper readers doubtlessly smiled in amusement when they read of the goings-on of these southern believers. We confess we smiled ourselves; but the smile grew thin after a time of reflection. The scene wasn’t as pathetic as we had first thought. We conjured up a vision of old Jacob, years behind in his pledge to God, ordering his clansmen to junk their idols and start acting like people who served the God of their father, Abraham.

Jacob didn’t issue that order out of a sudden whim. Long ago God had called him to a high mission, but he had wallowed through fruitless years in unfulfillment of that mission. Driven into a corner by his own misdeeds, he had seen his daughter raped and his own sons become murderers. The crimes of the latter had, in Jacob’s ...

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