God is a warrior, a fact that disgusts a few of the more ‘enlightened’ preachers of our day. But you cannot read the stories in the old testament without noticing that there was almost constant conflict between God’s people and their neighbors. In a myriad of knots and tangles and situations strange to our present day sensibilities, God sometimes even goes to battle to defend His honor and His people. The first three imperatives of the Ten Commandments prioritize proper reverencing of God. He wanted behavior that reflected correct understanding of our creature status, and predictably transgression was rampant. From the very first we resisted subjection and sought autonomy, even from a God Who had lavishly bestowed honor and privilege upon us as His highest creative accomplishment. He gave Adam and Eve rulership over the earth and its creatures (a much different scenario than competing origin stories that set humans as menial playthings of the gods). As a result we not only destroyed our own destinies, but brought death and decay into the cosmos. We bought into the worst of lies!
One result of the fall was that instead of cherishing and magnifying our Creator, we cower in guilty fear. To scratch the inbred itch for worship we sought (seek) more manageable, tamer gods. Today we laugh at our ancestors’ strange rituals to pieces of wood they themselves carved, but we might do well take a step back and look in the mirror. It is painfully obvious that the gods of political moralism, materialism, individualism and a host of other “isms” are primary directors of our decisions. We have set up our false gods in our hearts. Misdirected worship infiltrates and obliterates our true humanity derived from the image of God within us. Interesting that the first homicide was prompted by worship envy. So back in the day God had to act at times to preserve the race for the time of redemption.
Examining the neighboring gods Israel succumbed to, we find that idol worship was more appealing to the carnal nature, prompted by fear and sensuality. Superstitious practices supposedly warded off problems and promised material welfare. Prostitution was built into temple life to promote fertility, and the majestic display of the sun, moon and stars inspired homage by their very glory (When the Lord ‘stopped the sun’ for Joshua, their enemies got the message about the true god). The religious side of us is always anxious to pacify guilt and circumvent the catastrophes of life, but idolatry is insufficient. Prompted by what seemed reasonable to the culture (probably with demonic influence)) they sacrificed even the lives of their children to ‘protect’ themselves. This was a horrible perversion of true worship. Israel’s animal offerings provided temporary covering for sins while pointing to a more perfect sacrifice in the future – God Himself would taste death for every man.
Israel was God’s chosen nation, not for their character or ability, but largely because they were weak and needy. God privileged them with His revelation to be a light to the nations that He eventually would bring in. “Just think what the Israelites have had given to them. The privilege of being adopted as sons of God, the experience of seeing something of the glory of God, the receiving of the agreements made with God, the gift of the Law, true ways of worship,(emphasis mine) God’s own promises—all these are theirs, and so too, as far as human descent goes, is Christ himself, Christ who is God over all, blessed for ever.” Ro 9:4-5 jbp (Jesus mentioned true worship to the woman at the well, remember?) But rather than reflect the true God they copied the false ways of their neighbors, looking for their acceptance rather than God’s. It’s uncomfortable to be different!
Sometimes God defended His honor Himself, like when the ark was captured and taken to the Philistine god Dagon’s temple. Overnight the statue fell down before the ark. Other times He used prophets. My favorite is when Elijah calls out the prophets of Baal, 450 of them, to a competition to see which god would miraculously consume the sacrifices. After an entire day of petitioning Baal amidst the tauntings of Elijah (maybe he is busy, maybe he is relieving himself), there was an unmistakable dramatic demonstration that the Lord was indeed God and the Israelites should worship Him. And then it poured. This was always curious to me until I read that Baal was the god of thunder and the bringer of rain for the crops. It’s like God was saying, “You want rain…?” Idolatry plagued Israel’s history despite the amazing miracles and special attention God had given to this puny race. There is in us all an undeniable attraction to fake worship. This is blatantly demonic, suicidal in fact, because the worship thief comes to steal, kill and destroy! He went so far as to tempt Jesus Himself to bow down to him in exchange for temporal power. Weird – offering Jesus something that was already His! There is a lesson for us somewhere here, don’t you think?
Psalm 115 sums it up, referring to the mute, deaf, paralyzed, lifeless idols of the nations that Israel wanted to emulate: “… those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust them.” v8 Prioritizing anything higher than God diminishes not Him but us. Our Maker designed us with that worship button, and as the fall greased the pathway to serving the creature rather than the creator, we must jealously guard our hearts if we are to fulfill our destiny. Otherwise, as the psalmist states, we dehumanize ourselves, which means starving the god part out of our being, limiting us from bearing the image of God and reducing us into sophisticated animals. Idolatry binds us to fear. True worship embellishes our humanity and liberates our souls.
Let us carefully protect the highest exercise of our God-relationship. Make it a daily habit personally and a corporate one weekly. Hopefully we do not pray as the Pharisee, ‘I thank God that I am not like our forefathers, unsophisticated and gullible – duped by false gods.’ King Josiah, one of the few good kings, found the ‘book’ while cleaning the long neglected temple, and discovering their omissions and transgressions repented for himself and his people. He promptly began to reform, tearing down idols left and right. It was probably difficult and unpopular to unsettle comfortable presumptions and practices. We would do well ourselves to consult the ‘book’ as well and ask: What is my worship? Is it personal preference? Cultural preference – here today and gone tomorrow? Who really gets my treasure? Do I serve the gods of the land plus the Lord – like Israel tried? Take a moment to honestly face your god, remembering you will be like him in the end.