The Shema has formed the foundation of Jewish prayers for millennia: “Hear, O Israel: Jehovah our God is one Jehovah: and thou shalt love Jehovah thy God will all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deuteronomy 6:4, 5 ASV). When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus quoted the Shema.
He is one Jehovah. It is here we find that Jehovah is the only true God. There is no other. He alone is worthy of full devotion.
Some translations, like the Lexham English Bible, translate it like this, “Yahweh is unique.” He stands alone among all so-called gods as supreme. He alone is worthy of full devotion.
Yet God has never lacked for competition among his creation. In the garden, Adam and Eve, in disobeying the voice of their Creator, turned from the one true God to themselves. The people prior to the flood turned their thoughts from righteousness to wickedness and served themselves. At Mount Sinai, the people turned away from the mighty God to bow before a bovine altar. They followed their own desires at the expense of Adonai.
The representative of people’s desires — forbidden fruit, banned behavior, or illegal images — may change, but the true nature of the choice is always the same. We will either serve God or ourselves.
In the first three chapters of Romans, Paul places all people under sin. The first chapter focuses upon the Gentiles. These were people who knew God (Romans 1:21), but turned away from him. They “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling moral man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:23 ESV). They “exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen” (Romans 1:25).
The creature or Creator choice should be an easy one, but mankind has made the wrong choice more often than not.
In Isaiah’s day, Jehovah’s message was, “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god” (Isaiah 44:6). The ridiculous nature of overt idolatry is laid out in this chapter. The craftsmen of idols are human and frail (Isaiah 44:10-13). The idol is made of created inanimate material, that is also used for common tasks (Isaiah 44:14-17). The idols themselves cannot see, hear, or think (Isaiah 44:18).
Why would one engage in such man-made worship? It seems absurd. Perhaps it reveals something about us, and the need we have to be in control. Who decides what the idol looks like? Who decides what the idol desires? Who decides how the idol is served? Man. In overt idolatry we become our own god.
When the Jews returned from Babylonian captivity, overt idolatry had been suppressed almost to the point of extinction. But the number of golden calves is not the true measure of idolatry. Idolatry resides in the heart (Colossians 3:5). The expression of self-worship changes to suit the times. Some Jews worshiped their own righteousness. Others worshiped their own distorted view of Jehovah. Some worshiped power while others worshiped money.
While we do not fashion golden calves or bow before altars to deaf, dumb, and blind gods, people still worship themselves. The objects of affection may seem less bizarre than the carved idols of Isaiah’s day, but they are no less foolish and no less fatal. We worship self through family, fame, fortune, and fornication. We worship self through safety, civics, sustenance, and sports. Our expressions are legion.
Still God reminds us that he is one, and we owe him all our heart, all our soul, and all our might. Joshua offered the people a choice, serve God or serve idols. That choice is still ours today. Choose God.
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:23-25).