My current study of the book of Judges has brought to light insights on the subject of idolatry: then and now. Please read my post Who’s your daddy as it provides a good background.
A VERY BRIEF WALK THROUGH HISTORY:
This book, set in 1086-1004 BC, contains a history of divinely inspired leaders whose direct knowledge of Yahweh empowers them in their task which is judging and leading the Israelites. The Israelites had not kept their end of their covenant and had not entirely conquered all the land that they were supposed to. They had turned away from God and……’everyone did what was right in his own eyes’ (17:6, 21:25). We observe a pattern replaying itself throughout the book:
1. The people interacted with foreign nations and engaged in idol worship thus abandoning God.
2. God punished them by raising up a foreign power to oppress them.
3. The people cried to God for deliverance.
4. God, in His eternal mercy, would raise up a deliverer/judge who would lead them back to righteousness.
5. They would live freely up till some point where they would fall back into idol worship and the cycle would begin again.
Which brings me to the next part.
SIMILARITIES BETWEEN THEM AND US:
The only thing that separates us is the era. We are all human and thus joined together by the following factors:
- Our hearts are prone to evil. (Genesis 6:5, 8:21, Jeremiah 17:9, Mark 7:21-22)
- We struggle with sin. (Romans 7:19)
- Our consciences have become so numbed that the consequences of sin are not a strong enough deterrent to keep us from sinning. (2Timothy 3:5)
- We are quick to forget how God delivered us from the oppression that previously ruled us. Following the Israelites’ disobedience, God, in his hot anger, would sell them into the hands of foreign nations. We can all give testimonies of how living apart from God has brought us pain. The burden of sin is regret, shame and guilt. (Deuteronomy 9:7-8)
- We have the gift of redemption; in that there is always a chance to be forgiven, restored and used mightily of God. The choice is all ours. God is quicker to forgive than to punish. We are recipients of God’s eternal grace.
THE GREATEST COMMANDMENT:
I mentioned earlier that one similarity between us is the fact that we defy God’s word. Sounds a lot like a replay of what happened back in Eden, doesn’t it? Same script different cast. As we well know, Adam and Eve were told that they could eat of all the trees save for the one in the middle of the garden (Genesis 2:16-17). They broke this one command. The same thing applies to the Israelites and us. We break the first and greatest commandment which is:
Love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might’ (Deuteronomy 6:5).
The commandment succeeding this one addresses idolatry.
‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me’ (Exodus 20:3).
We go ahead and engage in the worship of images that are not God. We entrust our hearts to seemingly harmless alternatives.
NATURE OF GOD VERSUS NATURE OF IDOLS:
There is nothing I can say or write to fully capture the nature of God. I doubt if the most eloquent tongue can serve justice to who God is. However, this is just a guide to help you see the difference between God and idols:
- God is invisible whereas idols are visible.
- God-worship brings about eternal pleasure whilst idol worship brings temporal pleasure.
- God is the source of all good things whilst idols can never be the source of all good things.
- God-worship fulfils that innate desire to connect with something greater than ourselves while idol worship leaves us hollow and more incomplete.
- The pluralistic worship of idols promotes confusion. I chuckled when I read Judges 8:9-10. The foreign gods were a handful. The god of this, that and the other. I have no idea how the Israelites, whose tradition and faith was founded in a monotheistic worship of Yahweh, pulled it off. It must have been so confusing for these people to move from worship of one God to many.
- Idols give a sense of fulfilment of an immediate need while God fulfills our very reason for existence. He is ALL-satisfying.
So the question is, why do we still yearn for pleasures outside God? Our human nature doesn’t make it any easier on us. We are prone to temporal, tangible and sometimes ridiculous pleasures. We buy into the lie that since we haven’t seen God, He must not exist or He must be a distant fragment of our imagination. Sometimes we feel like a deep relationship with God is the preserve of religious people. More often than not, we try and fit God into our illusionary ideals.
REMEDY FOR IDOLATRY:
- Keep the right company:
The Israelites’ idol worship almost always begun with their interaction and intermarriage to foreigners. In Deuteronomy 7, they were commanded not to make covenants or show mercy to the inhabitants of the land they were to possess. Just as we are commanded not to be unequally yoked to unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14). Take delight in the law of the Lord and not in the ways of the wicked (Psalms 1:1).
- Serve one master:
No one can serve two masters: for either he will hate one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You can not serve God and mammon. (Matthew 7:24)
- Maintain spiritual focus:
Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of your faith. (Hebrews 12:2). Ask God to unite your heart to fear Him (Psalms 86:11).
Forget about man-made images that can neither see nor hear; forget about men (and women) who change and lie. Forget about material things that will waste away. Face the TRUTH. He is the One True God; then, now and forever more. He is who He says He is, the Great I Am, the Alpha and the Omega. Face the truth of who God is.
The deepest longings of our hearts can not be filled by any created person or thing. Develop a hunger for the One True God. Seek Him until you find Him. Do not envy the wicked but be zealous for what is good. Do not walk in the way of the wicked, but delight in the law of the Lord (Psalms 1:1-2). Taste and see that He is good.
The timeless beauty about this comparison between us and the Israelites is the ever enduring fact that God doesn’t change. He is a covenant-keeping God. He is not bound to any time and place so He is the same faithful, merciful, loving Father to all generations: past, present and those to come.