April 20, 2009
Luck Be A Lady!
By Pastor George Van Alstine
The Old Testament prophets spoke often about Israel’s idolatry, their tendency to choose the gods worshiped by tribal groups around them over their Covenant God Yahweh, who had proved himself to be the “God of gods” (Joshua 22:22, Psalm 95:47). These local deities were often represented by carved images, but they usually also symbolized some object or force in nature.
Isaiah called his people to account in these words:
“You who forsake Yahweh, who forget my holy mountain,
Who set a table for Fortune and fill cups of mixed wine for Destiny;
I will destine you to the sword, and all of you shall bow down to the slaughter;
because, when I called, you did not answer, when I spoke, you did not listen . . .” (Isaiah 65:11-12)
The King James version of the Bible misses a fact that later translators have picked up and expressed, that there is a probable allusion here to two gods worshiped by the Canaanite people, Fortune and Destiny. Some scholars have identified them as deities adopted from the Babylonians, Marduk and Ishtar, who were identified with the planets Jupiter and Venus. Many religions have professed to find meaning and guidance in the positions of the planets in the sky, and each planet has been identified with numerous local deities. In Babylon, and presumably among Israel’s Canaanite neighbors as well, these two gods were known as Larger Luck and Lesser Luck. So the translation of their names as Fortune and Destiny sounds pretty appropriate. Since Ishtar was a female deity, I find it easy to see her as the person addressed by Frank Sinatra in the song “Luck, Be a Lady Tonight!” Lady Luck has been the companion of choice for many Las Vegas big-spenders, but she hasn’t always proven to be a lady.
Fortune, Destiny, Good Luck—these are the gods many people feel comfortable with. They demand little, and they always seem to give us the hope we need to live another day. But “easy gods” are no match for Yahweh, who is the God above all gods and above all ideas of supernatural forces that control our lives.
The contrast is expressed dramatically by Isaiah, when he says to those who worship Destiny, “I will destine you to the sword” (v.12). The English play on words exactly replicates the Hebrew: “You worship MENI (the god’s name)? Well, I will MENI you!” The deity who is a noun to them is merely a verb in the mouth of the true God, the God of all people, powers and ideas.
I wish you Good Luck. May Fortune and Destiny smile on you. But I wish for you much more—a personal connection with Yahweh, the God of Israel, the God of Creation, the God of our salvation. This relationship, though it may demand more commitment on your part than you feel you want to give, brings with it guaranteed Fortune and Destiny. Luck will be a Lady to you today, tomorrow, and through an eternity of tomorrows.