Worshiping IdolsBy Nathan Mates
"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, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments." [Exodus 20:4-6, aka commandment #2]
The above is the second commandment God gave to Moses for the Israelites, out of the ten. It is closely tied into the first: "You shall have no other gods before me." [Exodus 20:3] God is to be first in people's lives; he cannot stand to come in second place (or worst). Jesus did not die on the cross for the convenience of anyone, or so that some could call themselves Christians on Sunday mornings and take that mask off the other 6.5 days of the week. Jesus's actions demand more than a passing glance of attention, a momentary prayer: he demands our all.
God had laid down that he was to be our top priority in the 10 Commandments, and that's non-negotiable. And so, the prohibition against worshiping idols comes, along with serious warnings against disobedience: sin that carries for generations. Fortunately, such sin can be vicariously repented from by descendants-- see Nehemiah 9 for an example of such. There is also the promise of even longer-lasting love for those who listen and obey God.
The Israelites had severe problems with these rules, even as Moses was receiving the commandments: when he returned, he found the Israelites worshiping a golden calf. [Exodus 32] In a precursor to "the dog ate my homework," Moses's brother Aaron had a lousy excuse for the event: "He said to Aaron, "What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?" "Do not be angry, my lord," Aaron answered. "You know how prone these people are to evil. They said to me, 'Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him.' So I told them, 'Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.' Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!" [Exodus 32:21-24] Death and a plague on the Israelites were the results of that early sin.
Even after taking over their promised land, the Israelites had problems with idols. The local god, named Baal, was commonly worshiped by the Israelites-- the god of rains and fertility. Instead of trusting in God, who was in control of everything, the farmers turned towards the false God that had not been fully displaced from the land. When rains didn't come, sacrifices would be made-- and not just of animals and plants, as God had ordained. [Leviticus 1-7] Human sacrifices, usually of children, burnt alive. [2 Kings 16:3] Also worshiped was Asherah, goddess of fertility and Baal's mother, with other sinful acts (ritual prostitution, among others) associated with her.
In one of the more sarcastic passages of the Bible, in Isaiah 44:9-20, God comments on the idiocy of someone who cuts down a tree, and with one half of the wood, makes an idol to worship, and with the other half, keeps himself warm by burning. What was different between one half of that tree, making it worthy of worship, and the other half, worthy of only destruction? Nothing at all-- and staying warm usually involves fewer sins. The base materials of this world are not spiritual in and of themselves. Wood, stone, etc, are not capable of receiving worship and doing anything for the worshiper. But, such worship is a direct sign to Satan that someone's not following God, and can be used for further evil.
God hates sin, and worship of other idols in place of him. Haggai addressed the people as they were suffering before rebuilding God's temple: "Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: "Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it." This is what the LORD Almighty says: "Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored," says the LORD. "You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?" declares the LORD Almighty. "Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house. Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the oil and whatever the ground produces, on men and cattle, and on the labor of your hands."" [Haggai 1:5-11] God saw their putting their own welfare in front of his, and they suffered for it-- see the generational effects of sin God hinted at in the second commandment.
So, if God is against idols, when how does that apply in our lives? Like the Israelites, who were supposed to conquer the promised land and rid it of unGodly influences, we usually fail to fully control our sinful natures. When worshiping anything, one begins to take on its nature. Worship an angry god of destruction, and one tends to become angry and destructive, such as the Baal worshipers above. Worship sex, and it takes over one's life. Worship possessions, and greed enters in. You are no better (and quite possibly much worse) than whatever you serve.
Thus, while we cannot do a good job at it, worshiping God leads to taking on some of his holiness, his righteousness, his purity, his love, his sacrifice. But, such worship is not to be compartmentalized into two hours on Sunday morning (or Friday evening for me). Worship is to be continual-- 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Continually thank God for what he's given you, and you'll be more thankful towards others. Acknowledge God's mercy to you, and you'll be more merciful and gracious to others. Acknowledge God's service to humanity on the cross, and you'll be more of a servant to others. Sometimes, such changes take time, so be patient.
Also, consider the priorities you place in your life-- what do you spend most of your time on? Work? Sleep? TV? Eating? Grooming? God? Your time spent reflects your priorities. God already knew what your heart's attitudes and priorities were, but you may have tried to keep those from yourself and God. An hour a day for God is only 4% of your life, at most, but God wants more. While most Americans aren't making golden idols and woeshiping them, like Aaron and the Israelites did, we've got our own ready replacement idols-- most of the entertainment industry, our bodily appearances, sports, money, or the like. Like money not necessarily being evil in and of itself, while the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil [1 Timothy 6:10], when we put anything in front of God, it becomes a big problem.
Everything human-made will fail, and disappoint. This world falls apart, and any substitute idol will lead to trouble and problems. Only God stands beyond it, only God doesn't fail, only God will pull true believers into Heaven and its riches. God wants his people to love only him, period. Don't put anything in front of God, as he's specifically commanded us not to do so. God can and does discipline his people [Hebrews 12:7-12], but that is for our own good-- so that we can love God more wholeheartedly.