And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” (Exodus 32:4)
Ask kids in Sunday school to name some idols, and they will easily recite standard answers like, “money,” “cars,” or “houses.” We all know that the shiny things in life can trap us and lead us away from loving God. Yet other traps exist that may be less obvious but just as deadly. How easy it is to forget that an idol is unreliable at best and destructive at worst. Only Christ can be trusted with the high places of our hearts.
Throughout the Bible, we read accounts of people trusting in created things. In Genesis 31, Rachel stole her father’s household gods and hid them among her belongings as she left with Jacob for the land of Canaan. In 1 and 2 Chronicles, king after king struggled to rid the land of idols with sometimes limited success. In Acts 17, Paul battled the idolatry that permeated Athens by preaching Jesus in the synagogues.
We don’t live in a country where physical statues crafted to look like animals are worshipped. But we do live in a culture that values success, fame, prestige, ideas, comfort, convenience, and the list goes on. Idolatry is insidious. Here are some characteristics of idols that may help you recognize idols in your own life.
Idols Are Attractive
The Israelites used the beautiful gold items they brought with them from Egypt, and Aaron used all that shiny metal to fashion an attractive statue. Most trappings that capture us are beautiful. A career that offers a healthy paycheck and delivers prestige and honor. A life in the suburbs with two cars and a dog that brings us comfort and predictability. Well-mannered, award-winning, ahead-of-grade-level children that offer the promise of future success.
In themselves, these blessings are not idols and loving them is not sinful. However, allowing them to gain the most prominent place in our hearts is to allow idolatry to gain a foothold.
Idols Are Available
Idols are attractive because they’re readily available. Sometimes it’s easier to focus on what we can see, feel, and touch, rather than focusing on God.
From Oswald Chambers My Utmost For His Highest:
The real test of spiritual focus is being able to bring your mind and thoughts under control. Is your mind focused on the face of an idol? Is the idol yourself? Is it your work? Is it your idea of what a servant should be, or maybe your experience of salvation and sanctification? If so, then your ability to see God is blinded.
Idols Make Promises They Can’t Keep
When we fall into the trap of believing that our skills will keep us employed, we’re giving in to idolatry. Or when we believe that having a sufficiently diversified investment portfolio will bring us peace and comfort in retirement, we’re once again practicing idolatry. There’s nothing wrong with having a great job or a retirement nest egg; after all, we should work hard and use our resources wisely. The trouble arises when we place our trust in our skills, our resources, or anything else.
The Israelites forgot who their true “rock” was, and sought comfort and security from false gods. God’s response in Deuteronomy 32:37-38 is this:
Then he will say, ‘Where are their gods,
the rock in which they took refuge,
who ate the fat of their sacrifices
and drank the wine of their drink offering?
Let them rise up and help you;
let them be your protection!
Who Brought You Out of Egypt?
Have you ever heard these statements when folks are trying to look on the bright side of a difficult situation?
“At least I still have my house”
“At least I still have my job”
“At least I still have my health”
“At least I still have my family”
Idolatry is more than loving something more than I love God. It is believing that the “something” will be the source of my salvation and will deliver me from whatever I face. In other words, when I look anywhere other than Christ for my security, contentment, or future, I’m practicing idolatry.
Houses, jobs, health, and family can all become idols. They are attractive, and they surround us. They promise refuge, but they can’t deliver on that promise. If we believe that anyone other than Christ “brought us out of Egypt,” we’re doing just what the Israelites did when they worshipped the golden calf. Rather than focus on the false gods around us, let’s practice 2 Corinthians 4:16-18:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.