Modern Idolatry

The first commandment establishes God as the only God, and that His people should worship Him exclusively for He chooses to have sole pre-eminence and authority among them. In the second commandment He forbids the making of anything from His creation with the intention of worshipping it and attaches a severe penalty for the violation of this particular commandment.

The setting and declarations of the Ten Commandment is quite revealing. Israel was coming out from Egyptian captivity, having been there for 430 years. They had witnessed and were probably engaged in Egyptian religious beliefs where polytheism was the order of the day. Egypt had such a strong influence in their lives that during the wilderness journey they even yearned to return. But God made it clear that neither the pagan practices of the past nor the ungodly customs of future environments would be tolerated. He said, “After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances.” (Lev. 18:3).

Since then, the sin of idolatry has evolved from its original form of graven images, groves, and high places to more subtle and clever practices present in our modern world. Simply put, idolatry is committed when anything other than Almighty God holds our supreme affection and worship. It can be as obvious as bowing down to a graven image or as deceitful as the pursuit of anything that may be lawful, but yet infringes with our relationship to God. When we put too high a value on leisure, possessions, family and work we become unwitting participants in idolatry.

In the Old Testament, God repeatedly warned the nation of Israel against the practice of idolatry and pronounced a severe judgment on His people for their violation of the second commandment. He said, “Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me…” (Exodus 20:5). But such clear warnings and restrictions were not heeded. As a result, God was so displeased at the entrance of this sin in Israel that He directed the inhabitants of the idolatrous cities in Palestine to be destroyed (Deut. 13:12-17).

To further guard Israel against idolatry, God commanded the destruction of every idolatrous image within every nation they conquered. These idols were not to be brought into the homes of His people. Scripture states, “The graven images of their gods shall ye burn with fire: thou shalt not desire the silver or gold that is on them, nor take it unto thee, lest thou be snared therein: for it is an abomination to the Lord thy God. Neither shalt thou bring an abomination into thine house, lest thou be a cursed thing like it: but thou shalt utterly detest it, and thou shalt utterly abhor it; for it is a cursed thing.” (Deut. 7:25-26). When idolatry is accepted and influences a nation’s way of life, it becomes almost impossible to uproot. This deep-seated spirit carries effects down to the third and fourth generations.

Isaiah chapter 2 describes the ultimate judgment of God against the children of Israel for their idolatrous lifestyle at the end of the age. This judgment against idolatry will be so severe there will be no safe place to hide. Every idol and ‘high-place’ will be targeted for destruction. The idols of gold and silver will be of no value to man, but will be given to the moles and bats. Remember that, ultimately, every idolatrous work of man’s hand will be destroyed, but in the end the nation of Israel will learn God’s law and His ways. “Come ye, and let us go to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us his ways and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2:3).

In our time we tend to relegate idolatry to false religion and the practice of the occult. Being saved and not literally bowing down to graven images may cause us to think that we are free from idol worship. But nothing could be farther from the truth. The Devil has successfully permeated many legitimate activity in our lives to drain us of our spirituality. With much subtlety, he takes truth and mixes it with lies to deceive us. His purpose is to destroy our relationship with God and he will use every possible means to accomplish it.

The obsessive pursuit of wealth, leisure and happiness can diminish the working of God in our lives and become a trap that will eventually lead us to our destruction. In his letter to Timothy the Apostle Paul stated: “But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition…” (I Tim. 6:9). The Bible is explicit in stating that the covetous man is an idolater, and that covetousness is idolatry. (Eph. 5: 5, Col. 3:5). The love of the world simply cannot co-exist with holiness for it will greatly weaken our courage, diminish our zeal and make us lukewarm in our service to God.

It is not the will of God for wealth to be our destruction, but sin perverts everything. It takes that which was ordained to life and causes it to produce death. The heart idolizes a state of security and retirement and causes them to become that force which drives us to accumulate and hoard. However, the things of this world, when properly used, can be a blessing. (I Cor. 7:31). If we can understand from the scriptures that all things come from God, and that, as strangers, pilgrims, and sojourners, our days on the Earth are as a shadow, we will pursue Him more than the things of this world. But, man is proud, selfish, greedy and does not want to relinquish this world’s goods. The rich young ruler is a good example of how judicious one can be in his obedience of the law, and yet Jesus told him that one thing was lacking — he must sell all that he has and give it to the poor in order to become a disciple. The Lord further stated that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of needle than for a rich man to enter in the kingdom of God.

In the parable of the sower, one ground was classified as thorny. (Matt. 13). This represented the cares of this life and the deceitfulness of riches which choke the word. Our salvation is compromised when we yield to our ungodly desires to satisfy the lust of the eyes and of the flesh. As a result, this influences us to pursue our wants rather than our needs. Instead of God holding first place in our lives we become overly obsessed with our family, jobs, houses, education, fashion, sports, and even health. For example, consider the fashion industry that informs and influences God’s children as to what styles and colours are in season. Without doubt, we are enslaved by the modern-day Egyptians. It is amazing how we are repulsed by the homosexual lifestyle, and yet ignore their influence in the fashion industry. We talk about crime in our society yet our minds feed on the violence offered by Hollywood’s entertainment in our homes. Our children are enslaved by computer games and the Internet, with little attention placed on character-building pursuits. It is no wonder that they are losing their desire for God.

The parable of the great supper exposed the sad state of those invited. Their crime? Godly priorities were replaced with legitimate needs. In our day, our relationship with God is often hindered by these so-called needs. Certainly the spirit that characterized the Laodicean church is prevailing in our churches. In exchange for the ‘Almighty Dollar’ many will gladly sacrifice a church service in preference to working on the Lord’s day. Even though the tithe belongs to God, many use it on themselves rather than giving it to the church. It is easier to give up on church activities than personal affairs. The spirit of servitude, self-denial and cross-bearing has evaporated from the church. No wonder the Apostle Paul warned us that men shall be lovers of their own selves and pleasures more than God.

The nation of Israel is a good example of how easy it is for a child of God to become idolatrous. In his admonition to the church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul made an analogy using the nation of Israel in their wilderness journey. (1 Cor. 10) With great enthusiasm and excitement Israel left Egypt. They had lived in captivity for 430 years and the day of their deliverance had finally arrived. They were about to enter the land of promise —or so they thought. A spirit of jubilance filled the air, the Red Sea opened up, and Miriam led the women in a dance. Oh, what joy and happiness and thanksgiving permeated the camp! But sad to say, it did not last. They had left Egypt physically, but were still in bondage to Egyptian ideologies. Being saturated with the spirit of Egypt their loyalty to God was tested by the harsh reality of the wilderness. But God was still with them and provided the pillar of cloud to shield them from the sun by day and the pillar of fire to provide warmth in the night. In addition, manna rained from heaven daily, and water poured out from the rock, and yet they wanted more, preferring to return to slavery. Although they drank from the rock and received the blessings of God many still died in the wilderness under His judgment. Let us not follow their example.

When we receive Jesus as our Saviour, we too will be tested by our wilderness journey. As God was displeased with many of the Israelites, Paul warned the church that it will suffer the same fate if it does not take heed. Let us therefore be careful about what we strive for in this life and do not allow our lust to drive us into spiritual idolatry and fornication. Scripture declares that we are not redeemed with corruptible things (materialism) but with the precious blood of Jesus.

In our world, everything is perishable including our bodies and our wealth. This is the reason why we should not trust in perishable things but in God. We must identify and evaluate the spiritually destructive elements in our society and avoid them. Let us reflect on the joy and desire we once had for godliness and determine what was responsible for the deterioration of our faith. The wilderness is symbolic of our walk with God. Most of the Jews did not make it to the promise land. Are we going to make it?

In the final judgment God will destroy every form of idolatry. Everything of this world that man has placed his trust and confidence in will collapse. Whether it be the financial institutions, real estate or any other aspect of materialism, they will all come under God’s judgment. The Lord alone will be exalted on that day and all traces of idolatry will be brought to nought.

May God touch our eyes and allow us to recognize the spirit of idolatry in our day. Jesus said, “…seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness: and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matt. 6:33).