The Subtlety of Idolatry

You’ve probably heard of the 10 Commandments.  You might even be able to cite some of them from your memory.  One thing I have noticed is that not many people understand the difference between the first two.

Exodus 20:3 “You shall have no other gods before me.

Exodus 20:4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Just so you are aware – 20:3 contains commandment #1 and 20:4-6 contains commandment #2.

“No other gods” and “no idols” are two different commands and their distinctions are important to comprehend.

God was not just rounding up to 10 and included an additional one.

  • Breaking commandment #1 is about worshiping the wrong god.
  • Breaking commandment #2 is about worshiping the right God in a wrong way.

I asked groups at our church a couple of weeks ago, “When the Israelites worshiped the golden calf, which command did they break?”  It started some great conversations.  I got about every possible answer.

I think ultimately the Israelites broke the second command and that is what is scary.

When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” -Exodus 32:5

Did you catch it?  They built a golden calf, built an altar to it, and then said they would have a feast to the LORD!  They used God’s covenantal name – Yahweh.  The Great I AM.  They wanted to worship God but do it in their own way.

Idolatry is about seeking to worship the right God but doing it the wrong way.

Modern Day Applications

I think understanding that might help how that applies to us today.  Worshiping something other the God of the Bible is disobedience to commandment #1.

Seeking to worship the God of the Bible in a graven way is disobedience to commandment #2.  It is an attempt to shrink God down to our size.  It reveals the desire to have God according to our preferences.

Idolatry is acknowledging that God created us in his image and then trying to repay the favor.

Both happen, but warnings concerning #2 is often misunderstood.

Idolatry can be a subtle sin which is devastatingly severe regarding consequences.  Once again, it can be someone desiring to worship God but it has to be their way.  There are some obvious ways it can be broken.

Disobedience to the Second Command

  1. Church Building.  I shudder every time I have heard someone say, “Now, this is what a church is supposed to look like!  You can really experience God here.”  So a man-made object brings you closer to God?  I think I’ve heard that in some Bible passage before…  God does not dwell in buildings made by human hands (Acts 7:48; Acts 17:24).  The church is not a building.  If you “feel” yourself closer to God in one place rather than the other, be careful what you are actually worshiping.
  2. Worship Style.  The idea that you can only worship God when a certain type of music accompanies your praise is idolatrous.  It is putting gift before Giver.  When we take honest and sinless preferences and prioritize them to a sinful level, we craft them into an idol.  If you can only worship God with a certain style of music, be careful you are not actually worshiping the music.
  3. Christian Leader.  If you groan when you have to listen to someone else preach other than your favorite, be careful that you are not idolizing man.  This type of idolatry can be rampant at Christian conferences when we feel uplifted or let down depending upon which band is leading and which preacher is speaking.  If the person is faithful to Scripture, we should be able to benefit regardless of preferences.
  4. Bible Translation.  We all have preferences, and that is understandable.  If you believe that one translation is superior to others and it is not the original languages, you might be succumbing to idolatry.  If you can’t read or listen to someone read from another translation than your own, be careful that you are not crafting God into an image of your own design.

There are other ways you can disobey the 2nd commandment, but maybe these reminders can serve as a warning to you.

Idolatry is subtle but dangerous.

Be very careful.