|Series Theme: Meditations in Lessons from the Law of Moses|
Meditation No. 3
Meditation Title: No Idols
Ex 20:4,5 You shall not make for yourself an idol 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
For those of us who live in the West, the thought of making an idol and bowing down before it seems to be the last thing we would do and so this seems an obsolescent command, this second of the Ten Commandments – except from the fact that we have people from other parts of the world living in our pluralistic societies and they do worship before idols. The reality of that time, when Israel stood before the Lord at Sinai, was that many other peoples, expressing their superstition did worship idols. For those of us who think we don't worship idols, it may seem a strange thing but it is clearly an outworking of the superstitious mind that wants to ‘see' something tangible to worship.
Within a month or so, with Moses up the mountain for forty days, the people would be clamouring for Aaron to make them something tangible to worship and we have the episode of the golden calf. The same ‘wanting-something-tangible' syndrome was evident when Israel demanded that Samuel give them a king so that they could be the same as everyone else. It is also manifest in the building of great churches and cathedrals, monuments that men reason bring glory to God but which act as substitutes for the invisible God. We see even Jesus' disciples being swayed by the grandeur of Herod's temple: “Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings.” (Mt 24:1) The building was supposed to be the dwelling place of God on earth and yet the dwelling place of God was just walking out of it – and the disciples didn't realise it!
In a multitude of ways men make substitutes for the Lord. We speak of making an idol of something. It can be a desire or a reputation or even a person; it is anything that means more to us than God does. Don't be led astray by the concept of a physical idol. Yes, the Lord was to reiterate this warning and it initially has physical tones to it: “Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.” (Ex 21:23) At the time of writing the world is still going through the turmoil of financial upheaval because bankers and governments have made idols of financial dealings. The ‘gods' may not be physical idols but we have certainly worshipped silver and gold – and bonds and loans and bonuses and profits and goodness knows what else. A year before the collapse there was a total confidence in the ‘Western' financial system; we were utterly confident that we could go on and on relying upon our dealings, getting richer and richer – and then the collapse came!
There is a beautiful picture in 1 Samuel of this principle at work. Israel were at a low spiritual ebb and put superstitious trust in the ark of God, so when they went to fight against the Philistines they took the ark with them as a form of talisman, not realising that God was NOT with them. Israel were defeated and the ark was taken by the Philistines. It is then that we read, “After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod . Then they carried the ark into Dagon's temple and set it beside Dagon. When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD !” (1 Sam 5:1-3) You can set up whatever idol you like in competition to the Lord but it will fall! In the book of Revelation, John in chapter 18 sees the fall of ‘Babylon' which may mean a variety of things, but one thing it clearly does mean is the collapse of financial systems that the world relies upon instead of God. This is the heart of idolatry; it is the reliance upon man-made things instead of God. Jeremiah (ch.10 for example) mocked the foolishness of worshipping things made by human hand.
Isaiah similarly mocks the idol makers: “Present your case," says the LORD. "Set forth your arguments," says Jacob's King. "Bring in your idols to tell us what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear.” (Isa 41:21-23). If you bow before idols, what is the power you fear? If it is not God, you have your priorities wrong.
In Deuteronomy Moses reiterated this command: “You saw no form of any kind the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below.” (Deut 4:15-18) Don't going trying to make any physical representations of the Lord, is what he is saying, for they will only be substitutes. The message is clear: accept no substitutes.
Let's conclude with Paul's experience in Athens : “While Paul was waiting for them in Athens , he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.” (Acts 17:16 ). He then reason with the people: “Men of Athens ! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.” (Acts 17:22-24) and “we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone--an image made by man's design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:29,30)
The Lord is real. He is the One Supreme Being, Creator of all things, and He alone is worthy of our worship. Accept no substitutes! Don't be superstitious!