In 2 Kings 17 the Israelites are described as “worshiping the LORD [even as] they served their own gods.” They had God and they had gods.
Reading through the Scripture, we quickly learn that the God of the Bible — the one, true, living God — does not like to share His throne. He is a jealous God who demands that His followers follow only Him. Not Him and … whatever else sparkles and shines and tempts us with empty promises. No. He wants more for His followers than vain hopes and unfounded security. He was us to pursue Him because He knows that only He can fulfill our cravings. Only He can heal our hurts and restore our broken lives. Only He can forgive. Only He offers life.
As we dove into the topic of idolatry this week, we studied a number of passages. Here are a few of them.
This is the first part of the Ten Commandments. You’ll find them repeated in Deuteronomy 5:4–21. This passage is foundational because it explains that paramount understanding: “I am the LORD your God; you shall have no other gods before Me.” Not only does this set the standard against idolatry, but it reinforces the personal, supreme nature of God. He is YOUR God — not A god, but YOUR God. He is personal and He is sufficient. If we have Him, we need no others.
Here we read about the golden calf. This passage offers more than just an example of tangible idolatry. It also sheds light onto the motivation for idolatry: fear, impatience, lack of trust in God, lack of understanding God’s will. The other interesting point in this is the source of their new idol. They crafted this calf from gold, gold that they were given by the Egyptians, gold the Egyptians gave them because God told them to (Ex. 12:35-36). The Hebrews took the gifts God had given them and turned them into a false God. The gold was the same; the function changed.
Idols aren’t always something bad. In fact, most times the things that possess our hearts are very good things; they’re gifts from God. The things themselves are not bad. What’s bad is making those things our ultimate things. We serve them and attribute to them praise and glory that truly belongs to God.
Romans 6; Psalm 147:3; Matthew 11:28–31; 1 John 5:3
What we serve becomes our master. We are slaves to that which we obey. So, we have a choice. We can serve false gods — ourselves, our ambitions, others, addictions, money, identity, etc. — and get what comes with that — death, lawlessness, impurity, oppression — OR we can serve God and get what comes with that — love, life everlasting, hope, peace. Jesus describes His yoke as gentle, humble, easy and light. Yes, we serve Him rather than ourselves, but there is such liberty in that! There is freedom in surrendering control to the One who sees our hidden vulnerabilities and our future. He knows what is best because His vision is uninhibited. Ours, in contrast, is extremely limited.
We talked a lot about Rachel and Leah. They both had gods. Leah was perpetually unloved and unchosen. Rather than finding love in God, she chased after her husband, believing that child after child after child would eventually win her his affection. It never worked. Rachel, on the other hand, had Jacob’s affection and the great looks and the coveted position as favored wife, yet she had no children. She failed to find contentment in God alone because she was too focused on her identity and what society thought of barren women. They both pursued false gods because of their pain and the fears. They both tried to fit something smaller than God into shoes that only He can fill.
Kelly Minter, in her book, claims there are five main motivators of idolatry: pain, need, identity, silence and fear. Rachel and Leah possessed all of these to one degree or another.
Many times our emotions can signal idol problems. Let’s not mistake symptoms for the illness, nor branches for the root. Our emotions can lead to troublesome behavior. Too often we just want to stop the outward evidence. We want to look like the people we think we should be. But we cannot expunge the emotions nor the behavior until we cut out the root. These are only signs that something bigger might be under the surface. Jealousy, anger, fear, situational depression … these can be signs that we have some topsy-turvy priorities.
Here are a few questions to help us determine if these symptoms are idolatry or not:
- What is fueling this?
- What is being threatened?
- What am I afraid I might lose?
- What goal of mine is being blocked?
He who implicitly trusts God in all areas of life has nothing to be threatened.
We spent five hours in class this week. Kelly Minter’s book is nearly 200 pages, and hers is only one book on this topic. It seems unfair that I’ll try to pack our entire discussion into just two blog posts. So, I’m going to stop here. Thus far I’ve covered the main highlights of what idolatry is, why it’s so against God’s will and what motivates us to follow other gods.
In another post (probably early next week) I’ll talk about how to de-throne the false gods in our lives and restore God to His rightful place in our hearts.