From the first chapter of Abraham Joshua Heschel’s phenomenal book, The Prophets:
Those who have a sense of beauty know that a stone sculpted by an artist’s poetic hands has an air of loveliness; that a beam charmingly placed utters a song. The prophet’s ear, however, is attuned to a cry imperceptible to others. A clean house or a city architecturally distinguished may yet fill the prophet with distress.
‘What sorrow awaits you thieves!…
What sorrow awaits you who build big houses
with money gained dishonestly!…
The very stones in the walls cry out against you,
and the beams in the ceilings echo the complaint.
What sorrow awaits you who build cities
with money gained through murder and corruption!’
Habakkuk 2:6,9, 11-12 (nlt)
These words contradict most men’s conceptions: the builders of the great cities have always been envied and acclaimed; neither violence nor exploitation could ever dim the sound of their praise. “Woe to him…”? Human justice will not exact its due, nor will the pangs of conscience disturb intoxication with success, for deep in our hearts is the temptation to worship the imposing, the illustrious, the ostentatious. Had a poet come to Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom, he would have written songs exalting its magnificent edifices, its beautiful temples and worldly monuments. But when Amos of Tamera came to Samaria, he spoke not of the magnificence of palaces, but of moral confusion and oppression. Dismay filled the prophet:
I abhor the pride of Jacob,
And hate his palaces,
he cried out in the name of the Lord (Amos 6:8). Was Amos then, not sensitive to beauty?
What, then, is the highest good? Three things ancient society cherished above all else: wisdom, wealth, and might. To the prophets, such infatuation was ludicrous and idolatrous. Assyria would be punished for her arrogant boasting… [Isaiah 10:13; Isaiah 29:13, 14; Jeremiah 8:9]
Ephraim has said,
Ah, but I am rich,
I have gained wealth for myself;
But all his riches can never offset
the guilt he has incurred…
Because you have trusted in your chariots
and the multitude of your warriors,
Therefore the tumult of war shall arise among your people,
And all your fortresses shall be destroyed.
Hosea 12:8; 10:13,14
This is what the Lord says:
“Don’t let the wise boast in their wisdom,
or the powerful boast in their power,
or the rich boast in their riches.
But those who wish to boast
should boast in this alone:
that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord
who demonstrates unfailing love
and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth,
and that I delight in these things.
I, the Lord have spoken!
Jeremiah 9:23-24 (nlt)
This message was expressed with with astounding finality by a later prophet: “This is the word of the Lord… Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit…” (Zechariah 4:6)
Make of that what you will, but I hardly think that’s a ringing endorsement of the US as it stands. Less of American Exceptionalism. Idols should never take the place of worshiping God and serving our neighbors.