When we hear of idolatry, we typically envision the prophets of Israel prosecuting God’s covenant lawsuit against His chosen people for carving wood or crafting iron, bowing down in worship to the works of their hands, and ascribing deity to these inanimate objects. But is the essence of idolatry actually the wooden or bronze object that sits on a table, or is it something much more deeply seated upon the throne of our hearts?
One of the key aspects of hermeneutics (the science of biblical interpretation) is determining the universal biblical principal for the Scripture(s) in question. When there is a difference between the biblical culture and the contemporary culture, this task becomes difficult; the wider the gulf between cultures, the more difficult it becomes to bridge the biblical principal.
My aim in starting this monthly blog was to not be academic but practical and devotional, so in keeping with this aim, I will attempt to unpack this month’s topic.
Following Israel’s exodus from four centuries of bondage in Egypt, God begins to layout ten principles that are to govern Israel’s relationship with Him. Principles 1 and 2 read: “You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God; …” (Ex. 20:1-5, NASB).
God’s first principle is to have no other gods before Him. This can mean one of two things: no other deity can have preeminence over Him in our life, or there can be no other deity besides Him in our life. While both possibilities are plausible, I believe the totality of Scripture teaches that you cannot serve the Lord and someone or something else (Matt. 6:24). Therefore, to attribute God-like status to anyone or anything other than the Lord is to violate principle no. 1.
God’s second principle is to not craft any type of idol that we would subsequently worship and serve. This principle actually provides clarification for principle no. 1, because it explicitly states that God’s jealousy over us prohibits us from worshiping or serving anyone but Him.
So taken together, these two principles are teaching us that God demands an exclusive place in our hearts and minds that no one and nothing can occupy but Him.
For our consideration, I want us to focus in on the observation that idols are made. In other words, for anything to be made it must first occupy the mind of the person who creates it; because an idol is ultimately the byproduct of what is envisioned in someone’s mind. But for it to reach idol status, it must occupy a place in our heart and mind to the degree that it now receives the worship and devotion that is reserved exclusively for God.
An idol can be a job, marriage, a person, house, car, position at the job, position in the church, etc. In other words, an idol is whoever or whatever has greater importance to us than God.
How can we know if we have an idol? It’s quite simple. Think of whatever it is that prevents you from being satisfied with Jesus alone. If you feel that your happiness is predicated upon some event or experience taking place, you have an idol. If you take off from church during football season, you have an idol. If you skip Bible class to watch your favorite sitcom, you have an idol.
So what can we do about our idols? First, we must shockingly acknowledge that we have allowed an idol to sit on the seat of our heart. Second, we must confess our sin of idolatry and ask for God’s forgiveness. Finally, we must continually guard our heart from idolatry by monitoring who and what is seeking to take God’s place in our life.
Thankfully, God’s is merciful and longsuffering. He no longer needs to send prophets to prosecute us for worshiping Baal and Ashtaroth, because He has indwelt us with His Holy Spirit who lovingly reveals to us the non-wooden idols that we have ignorantly made.
Rev. Isaac Hayes is the president of Healing of the Soul Ministries. He is also the Assistant Pastor for Strategic Development and Stewardship at the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago, IL. You can follow Rev. Hayes on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram through his handle @RevIsaacHayes.