Forthright Magazine

The folly of idolatry

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:4-6 NIV)

When God began to give his laws and commands to the Israelites, he began with who he was. He was God and he was the only one. The first commandment dealt with not having other gods while the second forbade making an image to worship instead of God.

Despite this being the first of God’s commands to his people within a few months they were worshipping the image of a golden calf that they had made – and they acknowledged this image as the god who had led them out of Egypt! Throughout their history the Israelites struggled with worshipping other gods and images. Isaiah highlighted the nonsense that this involved.

“He cut down cedars, or perhaps took a cypress or oak. He let it grow among the trees of the forest, or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow. It is used as fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. …From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, ‘Save me! You are my god!’ They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so that they cannot see, and their minds closed so that they cannot understand.” (Isaiah 44:14-18)

Can you imagine it? Cutting down a tree and using it to burn for warmth and for cooking food, and then taking part of the same tree and carving it into an idol and then to worship it! The same wood that they burned they now call their god and asked the lump of wood to save them. How can a carved lump of wood save anyone? It is just a lump of wood, which cannot see or understand anything! No wonder Isaiah said of those who did this: “No-one stops to think, no-one has the knowledge or understanding to say, ‘Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?’” (Isaiah 44:19).

Those in the Western World can read this and think how primitive and ignorant this would be as an approach to worship. We might arrogantly be thankful that we don’t worship man-made images. But sadly, idolatry still exists today.

In many areas you can still see images abounding. Near where we live in rural Scotland, at the entrance to a holiday park, stands a ten foot tall Buddha. Most think nothing about it. Yet this image represent something that is against God.

When John wrote his first letter he ended with a warning against idols: “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). While those in the first century may have struggled with physical images, this warning is applicable today as it was then. What is an idol? An idol is anything we put before God. What do we choose to do rather than worship God? Who do we listen to rather than God? Whatever it is that we put before him is an idol to us.

God must come first in our lives. Our relationship with him must be what we centre our lives on. It is when we follow him that we find the blessings we need for our lives.

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

Photo by TungArt7 from Free for use.

Readings for next week: Isaiah 41-49


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