The Insanity of Idolatry

“It is the land of carved images and they are insane with their idols”

Jeremiah 50:38

The reason for God’s judgment of a nation is expressed in several ways but it always boils down to man’s pride.

Against the people of Moab Jeremiah expresses the reason for God’s judgment as being arrogance: “Because he exalted himself against the Lord” (Jeremiah 48:42). The people of Moab are not alone in this. Satan’s lie (Genesis 3:5) is gladly consumed these days although the source of the lie is denied. In order to do what seems right in their own eyes people declare they are answerable to no one. Exalting themselves against the Lord they deny His existence and His word. In doing this they confirm their enmity with God. Mercy, love and forgiveness are available through Jesus Christ but when God’s existence is denied all these provisions are also.

Against Babylon Jeremiah expresses the reason for God’s judgment as being idolatry (Jeremiah 50:38 quoted above). We still observe people worshipping the works of their hands. The objects of worship may not be in the form of statues of wood, stone or metals. The things that are idolised may be cities, buildings, ships, bridges and other structures. There are TV programs that assist in worshipping these works of the hands of people. Likewise people may worship the talents of athletes, singers and actors.

Rarely does anyone give God the glory for these abilities and talents because they prefer to exalt themselves above the Lord. They forget that it is God who “made the earth by His power; He has established the world by His wisdom, and stretched out the heaven by His understanding” (Jeremiah 51:15). It is the Lord who created all the materials, laws and principles in creation that people use to make their objects or perform their art yet they will not give Him the glory. We ought to remember that our next heartbeat and our next breath are at His pleasure.

The last time God judged the whole earth He sent a flood. The rainbow is both a sign that He has judged and destroyed the whole earth, except those on the ark, and that He will not do so again by flood. Next time it will be by fire (2 Peter 3:7, 12).

Jesus gives us the principle that we should follow: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11).

God’s Faithfulness

‘God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; your name shall not be called Jacob anymore, but Israel shall be your name.’ So He called his name Israel” Genesis 35:10

More than twenty years had passed since Jacob left his father and mother in fear for his life from his twin brother, Esau. In that time his experiences with his uncle, Laban, and his meeting with the Lord on the return journey prior to meeting Esau had made him a much changed man.

Before he left the promised land the Lord appeared to him at Bethel and affirmed that the covenant He had made with Abraham would be fulfilled through Jacob in all three aspects; land, descendants and a blessing to the nations (Genesis 28:13-14).

At a time when Jacob was unsettled in his relationship with Laban and began to fear him, the Lord called him back to his father, Isaac. Interestingly it was again fear that disposed Jacob to have a listening ear toward God. That remains a provocation for people to have an ear toward God still. At this time the Lord reminded Jacob of their previous meeting and Jacob’s vow (Genesis 28:20-22; 31:13).

The incident at Shechem (Genesis 34) again stirred up fear in Jacob which apparently disposed him again to have an ear toward the Lord. By commanding Jacob to return to Bethel, the Lord was again reminding him of his vow (Genesis 35:1).

Jacob obeyed all that the Lord said and again the Lord affirmed that the covenant that he had made with Abraham would be fulfilled through Jacob and his descendants. The message to Jacob and to us is that God is faithful to His word no matter how circumstances may appear.

The seal of this affirmation came from the Lord in the new name given to Jacob. First mention of the change of name was given by the Lord after the night long encounter Jacob had with Him (Genesis 32:28) but it was not applied until Jacob had fully returned, built an altar to the Lord and removed all association with false gods. At this time the Lord now called him Israel (Genesis 35:10) and affirmed the three key aspects of the covenant made with Abraham. This name became the name for all Israel’s descendants and remains so to this day and forevermore.

The name means, “Prince with God” and that is what Israel is and shall always be (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-37). The very name, Israel, shouts the faithfulness of God to His word.

The Idol of my Heart

“He will reduce to nothing all the gods of the earth” Zephaniah 2:11

One thing that mankind cannot deny is that he will worship something. Ultimately if that something is not God it will be himself albeit disguised in some religious or moral garb. All the false religions and objects of worship have man at the pinnacle. This is very clear in those who worship the theory of evolution. They believe it in spite of the evidence being contrary because it puts mankind in the place of God as Creator. In essence the theory of evolution has man responsible for creating himself and this includes moral values; hence our current national moral corruption and bankruptcy. Paul put it this way, “Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonour their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:24-25). What is “the lie?” I believe the lie is the one from Satan in Genesis 3:5, “You will be like God.”

God created man in His image but ever since the Garden of Eden people have been creating gods in their own image. We do this because it feeds pride. King Nebuchadnezzar’s arrogance in creating a golden image of himself and demanding all bow down and worship his image is a good example. Daniel had informed him that it was the Lord who had given him the empire and that He would also take it and pass it on to another. The image of the statue of gold, silver, brass, iron and clay represented the passing of the kingdoms. In defiance of the Lord Nebuchadnezzar had a statue created that was made all of gold. In doing so his statement of defiance against God was that he built the empire and that he would cause it to endure forever. He then demanded worship as if he were God.

The idols we worship today may not always be statues or physical images but they always put oneself in the place of God. We may worship our work or our sporting heroes, our moral uprightness or we may worship some person. The one with a spirit of criticism worships himself. The way to ascertain what we worship is to discover what it is we will not surrender if Jesus asks us to. It is not a matter of whether it is good or bad but whether we prefer it to Jesus Christ. If we do, that is an idol. We may even have an erroneous view of Jesus that we worship. An example of this is one who is legalistic in their walk with Jesus. Ultimately, they worship themselves.

When Jesus returns, “He will reduce to nothing all the gods of the earth.” However, if we truly are disciples of Jesus Christ, we have done so and maintain a watch over our hearts to ensure we do not allow anyone or anything to usurp God’s rightful place of worship, especially not ourselves.

A Love Gift

“Little children, keep yourselves from idols” 1 John 5:21

This verse at the end of John’s letter refers to the newer Christians to whom he wrote. Every new child of God will benefit greatly from acquiring and maintaining a good understanding of this letter.

Ever since Cain offered the fruit of the ground (Genesis 4:3) people have been creating gods from their own imagination and often in their own likeness of character. These are idols even if they have no physical representation. This gives their creators freedom of conscience to do as they please.

This time of year our society brings out one of its gods in the person of Father Christmas. The concept is that if one does well one can expect to be rewarded. The gifts they receive are perceived to be because they deserve them. Consequently children who are taught that meaning of Christmas may have a distorted view of what it is to be Christian. The world may say that it is harmless fun but we should reflect on how a child may understand and apply the principle. It is possible that they may believe that salvation is a reward for behaviour rather than a grace gift.

God’s Gift to mankind is not offered because we deserve it. On the contrary, it is a gift of grace to people who do not deserve anything but condemnation and have done absolutely nothing to merit it. No payment is required or necessary for a gift. In fact offering to pay for a love-gift would be an insult.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our lord” (Romans 6:23)

The focus of many of the world’s children this time of year is that of receiving a reward from Father Christmas for good behaviour. In contrast Christians exchange gifts as a way of showing that we have received His unmerited Gift of love and in thankfulness desire to share that Gift with others.

The exchanging of gifts gives parents a valuable means of teaching their children the Gospel of Christ. We give out of love, not merit, because He gave out of love, not merit. We accept the Gift because it is given out of love and not merit. Security, peace and joy come from the sure knowledge that God’s Gift is an undeserved love Gift.

Since the Creation of the World

“Since the Creation of the world the invisible attributes [of God] are clearly seen” Romans 1:20

It never ceases to amaze me what extraordinary things people will believe but anything discovered to be in the Bible as truth will often be automatically called “religious” and be rejected as truth. This is what Paul meant when he wrote, “Therefore God also gave them up … who exchanged the truth of God for the lie” (Romans 1:24, 25). Even the laws of our nation that once reflected to some degree the truths revealed by God in His word are being changed to express the opposite. In verse 22 Paul writes, “Professing to be wise, they became fools.”

Only a foolish person believes that which is untrue especially when that lie has no tangible evidence for it and the truth has no tangible evidence against it. It isn’t that mankind did not know the truth or that the truth is hidden or disguised from those who really want to know it. Peter writes, “For this they willfully forget” (2 Peter 3:5) and Paul writes, “Because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God” (Romans 1:21). In other words, in spite of the clear observable evidence for God people deliberately choose to remove Him from their minds.

In the process people have also suppressed or rejected the evidence of conscience. Even without the revelation of the Bible people have knowledge of what is right and what is wrong. The conscience reacts to wrong behaviour, words and thoughts but that reaction can be overridden by the will. Eventually the conscience may become insensitive and may even die such that there is no longer any inward restraint on behaviour and will. This is when a nation finds it desirable to remove righteous laws and replace them with laws that encourage wickedness and evil.

When people reject the one true God of Creation they will substitute Him with something or someone else as Paul writes, “and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man – and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things” (v 23). This is what we observe in our world today. Men have created gods of many kinds often in the likeness of man but also often in the likeness of other created objects. Instead of honouring the Creator people give unmerited honour to the creation, especially to mankind.

The truth is that God created man in His image but many people have chosen to create a god in the image of men. That way they make the rules so they can do whatever they like. As with many board or card games we change the rules as we go to fit what we want.

The rejection of God’s revelation in the world around us and of the conscience within man will be revealed for the lie that it is in God’s time. As Peter writes, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Today, there is an opportunity to have a change of heart toward God but that opportunity will not be available forever.

Passing the Baton

“When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done for Israel.” Judges 2:10

Turning away from following the Lord was as sudden as one generation in Israel’s early history. We see this pattern repeated throughout the book of Judges and we can see it in our generations now. Why did Israel suffer such sudden changes and reversals in their faithfulness to the Lord? It was because Israel had not driven out all the inhabitants of the land as the Lord had commanded and those inhabitants turned Israel’s hearts to idolatry. “So the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord. They forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and Asherahs” (3:7).

Like Israel, we live amidst people who serve false gods. They may not all realise it but they do. One thing for sure is that most people do not worship the One true God in Christ Jesus the Lord. The hearts of people in western countries have turned to worshipping man just as Satan lied to Eve. People no longer look to the Lord for deliverance; they look to the religion of man worship through politics and science. Strangely, each generation gets sucked into this lie even though history and our present world condition reveal this to be a futile hope. Their faith is misplaced in man and not in God.

The Bible teaches us that each generation is born into this world as sinners with the basic need of being born of God. Left to find out for ourselves we will always choose a false god. That is the nature of sin. We must be taught the truth by someone who knows the truth. Those who are ignorant of the truth can only pass on what they believe to be true but that will prove to be futile. We ought not to be surprised that so many people choose to end their lives when they see only pain with no hope of relief in the future. Jesus said that it is the knowledge of that which is true that will set us free from this kind of despair as we live in a fallen world (John 8:36).

In my lifetime I have observed a turning away from the Lord within the churches that has become more and more entrenched. With each passing generation many who call themselves Christian have sidelined the Word of God more and more. The very word of hope that has delivered many and is still able to deliver us from hopelessness and despair is dismissed as unimportant or even irrelevant (Romans 1:16-17). People put their own wisdom over the wisdom of God.

Many people have a veneer of Christianity but have not Christ. In some cases they are in positions of authority in the church. They want the benefits that Jesus brings with Him but they do not want Him. They are most effective in turning people away from the true Gospel. When tested by the world they reveal their departure from the Word of God by caving into the philosophies of sinful men and dismissing or rejecting the Word of God.

When sexual immorality threatened the church at Corinth Paul wrote in very strong words, “deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh” (1 Corinthians 5:5). When we allow anything contrary to God’s Word to continue unaddressed among God’s people we are sowing the seed for destruction of the next generation. For the sake of our children and grandchildren we must resist the vain philosophies of men and cling to the Word of God and teach them the truth.