On Idolatry

Editor’s note: “Matthew” offers a reflection for June.

Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Israel shall be your name.” Then with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord; and he made a trench around the altar large enough to hold two [large measures] of seed. And he put the wood in order, cut the bull in pieces, and laid it on the wood, and said, “Fill four water pots with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice and on the wood.” Then he said, “Do it a second time,” and they did it a second time; and he said, “Do it a third time,” and they did it a third time. So the water ran all around the altar; and he also filled the trench with water.

And it came to pass, at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near and said, “Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that You are the Lord God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again.”

Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench. Now when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!” (1 Kings 18:31-39, NKJV).

 The Lord God will not tolerate idolatry. The first four of the Ten Commandments tell us how we are to treat God, and the first two speak directly to the issue of idolatry: “You shall have no other gods before Me,” and, “You shall not create any idols to worship or serve.” (The third commandment speaks indirectly to idolatry: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain,” that is, we are not to reduce or diminish God in any foul or banal way, in thought, speech, or deed.) The passage here in First Kings is a small part of a much longer history of the degenerate practices of Israel in worshiping the idols of the peoples they had conquered. At this particular time, Ahab is king of Israel, and his pagan wife, Jezebel, is having the prophets of God murdered while seeking counsel with the priests of the goddess Asherah and with those of Baal. Elijah shows up and demands a challenge with the priests of Baal—and while their task was the same as Elijah’s in the passage above, Baal was silent and failed them. After God’s proof of His authority through Elijah, the prophet takes all 450 of the priests of Baal and slaughters them; and Israel again seeks the one true God.

I take no pride whatsoever in what I am about to admit here. I am glad, in fact, that you don’t know me; reading this objectively would disgust me. I have a long-held idol, one I am desperately trying to abandon completely, and by God’s grace, I know with certainty that I will. I have lusted after it since I was a young teenager. This idol led me to year after year after year of masturbating daily, often more than once, very often fueled by pornography, and nearly always behind closed doors. Baal, Dagon, Astarte, Buddha, Mammon, Penis … if we give our devoted attention to any of these to the exclusion of—or in addition to—Jehovah God, we are idolaters. God will neither be replaced by nor share the worship and adoration that rightfully belong to Him with people, objects, or ideals. God cannot and will not coexist with sin—and idolatry is the first sin He demands we avoid, the first sin we commit for which others can be punished (see Exodus 20:4), the sin that, as we can imagine, must surely offend Him most.

In light of this, we must perform an uncomfortable spiritual self-examination, asking ourselves: Do I hold anyone or anything above God? Does God have first place in my life? Is serving God my sole and absolute priority? More specifically, let’s ask: Do I enjoy sex or food or gaming or working out or career or the company of non-believers or any excess of any kind to the exclusion of God? What secret sin(s) do I commit in private? Do I actually think I am hiding my secret sin(s) from God, even if no human knows? Dear friends, this is not one of those silly Facebook surveys which will, upon submission, generate some warm-fuzzy attribute that we can share publicly either for a laugh or as some pseudo-truth which we hope correctly applies to us; this is about our eternal destination.

If you and I stand outside the same pagan temple, tempted to enter to make a lust-driven sacrifice at its altar, let us pray for each other, fellow suffering brother. If you have read this far and you are past your idols, please pray for those of us struggling to get fully past ours—please.


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