Today we’re beginning a new series called IDOLATRY. We’re going to examine the Scriptures and our hearts that we might be more devoted to our Savior. Today our goal is to get a definition for what idolatry is. To do that, we’re going to deeply examine the very first commandment. Before we do that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Defining “god” and “God”
The Ten Commandments are recorded in Exodus 20. But it might be helpful to set the scene for these commandments. Nowadays we are used to laws being made by a bunch of people in suits. They argue on CSPAN, campaign with voters, enter a board room, and, after months of discussion, come back with 47 pages of rules that aren’t that much different from the last set of rules.
This isn’t that.
A man named Moses and a group of people called the Israelites are at the foot of a mountain called Sinai. They have been told that God will soon be giving them the Ten Commandments.
Suddenly, they begin to hear thunder.
Flashes of lightning streak the sky.
The mountain itself begins to quake.
And a thick cloud of smoke begins to come from the top of the mountain.
Then, a booming voice calls MOSES to join him at the summit.
But to leave everyone else at the foot of the mountain.
And Moses turns to the people,
“You guys cool with staying down here?”
Moses makes his way up the mountain and it becomes very clear. He will only be a messenger.
There will be no discussion.
There will be no campaigning.
There will be give and take.
There will be only Moses listening to this powerful voice.
And then, the voice introduces itself:
I am the Lord your God. (Exodus 20:2)
The book of Exodus was written down by Moses in the Hebrew language, because that is what the people of Israel spoke. As we examine that Hebrew, we grasp a better understand of exactly what is meant.
The Hebrew word for God is Elohim. It is a noun that is formed from a verb roof “eleh” that means “to adore.” That means…
You might “eleh” your newborn child.
You might “eleh” your spouse.
You might “eleh” tiramisu.
The noun, “Elohim”, is really a participle form of the verb “to adore.” The literal root meaning is “an adored one”. When “eleh” is used with “eloyhim” the word has a higher level than simple adoration.
It means “worship.”
According to the Hebrew language, then…
A “god” is something or someone that is ADORED or WORSHIPED.
The being that is speaking identifies himself as the one that Moses worships. But for Moses’ sake, and for ours, he lists his credentials for being worshiped.
(1) He is the LORD.
That’s the name of the Divine Being that first spoke to ancestor of Israelite people.
It is the name of the One that promised to make them into a great nation.
It is the name of the One that promised to send a Savior for all of humanity through their genealogy.
(2) He is the One who brought them out of Egypt where they were slaves.
And he did it in a powerful way!
When the King of Egypt wouldn’t listen to his plan to set the Israelites free from slavery,
The LORD turned all the water of Egypt into blood.
He sent plagues of flies, gnats, frogs, and locusts.
He turned the daylight into darkness.
He destroyed all the Egyptian crops with hail.
He infected the Egyptian’s skin with boils.
He warned the Egyptian King, but when he didn’t listen. He put to death every firstborn son in all of Egypt.
He split a sea of water into two walls for the Israelites to escape.
He had that sea of water come crashing down onto the Egyptians that were giving chase.
He fed them with bread from above.
And…he just caused the thunder, lightning, earthquake, and smoke spectacle on Mount Sinai.
And this One with all the credentials, has one simple, starting command for the people of Israel.
“You shall have no other gods before me.” (v.3)
The reason? There are no other beings, things, people, or stuff that are more worthy of being praised than me!
GOD is the One WORTHY of being MOST adored.
It’s like the MVP award in ACC basketball. There might be a lot of players who are valuable players, but they don’t give out 47 Valuable Player awards at the end of the season. They give only one. They give out one Most Valuable Player Award for Most Valuable Player.
GOD is the Most Valuable “god” because there is no being more worthy of worship than Him.
II. Defining “Idolatry”
But our sermon series is called “idolatry”, not “God.” So…what exactly is idolatry and what does that have to do with God?
Read the next part of God’s command:
You shall not make any carved image for yourself or a likeness of anything in heaven above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth. Do not bow down to them or be subservient to them. (v.5a)
What GOD is describing here is the ancient practice of IDOLATRY. This was actually a very common practice among many nations in the world. A people group would create a piece of art from wood or stone. They’d set it up in their homes and then, they would bow down to it. They’d pray to it. They’d give it gifts.
They’d adore it and make it their “god.”
To be fair, they often took their inspiration from some of the things that GOD created.
From the heavens. The Egyptian people had worshipped the sun god, named Ra! The theory was that the sun was big. It was amazing. It kept people warm. It was responsible for photosynthesis and if you didn’t respect it, you’d get sunburn. Surely, the SUN was worthy of worship.
From the Earth below. Another popular “god” was Baal! Baal was a large bull-like creature. The thought was that bull were muscular. Bulls were strong. Bulls would destroy you if you wore red. Bulls were not to be trifled with, so…worship a BULL!
From the waters under the earth. “Dagon” was a big fish-like god. It was worshipped in Ancient Babylonian culture. Again – the thought was that the sea was big. The sea was strong. The sea provided all kinds of food. If you didn’t respect the sea, then you’d be drowned. And what better to represent the sea than a giant fish man! So…worship giant fish man.
An idol is something CREATED to be most ADORED.
Wouldn’t THAT be an art project to do with your child? Go to Michael’s. Grab some markers, feathers, glitter, a variety of beads, and then you go home and take time gluing them into a rock.
Viola! We have something to worship.
That just doesn’t seem to make any sense, does it?
Especially if you are the people of Israel and you have been firsthand witnesses to God’s glorious acts.
Fast forward a bit --
Moses had been on the mountain top for days. God had just finished up writing down all his commands on two large pieces of stone. They were literally written by the finger of the LORD GOD himself.
Moses must have been excited to get down the mountain and show the people of Israel.
To show them what their great, incredible God had told him.
To show them, tell them about the very first command:
“It says, ‘You shall have no other gods.’ It means that we just shouldn’t make one of those idols like the other nations. We’ve got that one down, right?”
But as Moses made his way down the mountain.
He heard singing.
He heard partying.
He heard laughter.
As he made his way around the corner of a rock, the camp came into view.
There were the people.
And this large golden statue.
One they had just freshly made.
A statue of a golden calf.
That they were worshipping.
Idolatry is WORSHIPPING something NOT-GOD, as GOD.
In anger, Moses lifts the stone tablets and slams them to the ground.
A metaphor for how the Israelite people had shattered the very first commandment.
Is it that simple?
Just don’t make yourself an arts & craft IDOL and you’re in the clear on this commandment?
It still seems like an ancient command for ancient people, doesn’t it?
My high school senior year I was HONORABLE MENTION in the now defunct, Parkland Football conference as a linebacker. It came with a certificate and everything.
Shortly afterwards, I received an offer letter from the University of Wisconsin -Whitewater to try out for their football program. (Granted – all my other Senior Teammates received the same letter, but I digress.)
I remember feeling so good about that. I immediately envisioned myself becoming a starter and most valuable player for the Martin Luther College football team. (A small ministry college in Minnesota.) Over summer, I spent the summer in the weight room, running hills, and perfecting my high knees so that I could make this dream come true.
The very first game of my college career was on the road. Since we were a small Division 3 school, we could only take so many players.
I was cut.
And I was so angry. I remember going back to my dorm room and packing some things up in a duffel bag! I thought my world was over. I didn’t know if I’d ever be happy again. I was angry.
I thought, “If I didn’t make the football team, then what is the purpose going to this college designed at training you to go serve Jesus?”
If I could talk to 19-year-old me, I would say…
I don’t know.
Perhaps going into the ministry…
… and serving Jesus.
Did you see what I did?
I placed FOOTBALL in place of GOD.
I placed HONORABLE MENTION CERTIFICATE in place of GOD.
I placed FAME & FORTUNE (division 3 fame and fortune) in place of our SAVIOR.
I created an idol.
That leads to a more modern definition of idolatry.
Idolatry is PLACING something in GOD’S PLACE.
God said it this way, “You shall have no other gods BESIDES me.”
The word translated in English “beside” is sometimes translated “in front of.”
This makes for an excellent visual.
All you need is a few Duplos (or any child’s size block will do.)
Take one Duplos and write on it, “GOD” in all caps. That represents our Lord.
Then, take some others and write on them “IDOLS.” These represents anything that gets in the way.
What happens when you place these idols IN FRONT OF the LORD GOD.
God is important. But FOOTBALL is too. It’s only a small thing. I’ll just place it right here.
God is important. I still see that. But MY BANK ACCOUNT is. Can’t survive without money.
God is important. But so is a RELATIONSHIP. Even if I must compromise a few of my beliefs, God…well…you understand.
God is important…I think...But so is SOCIETY. Even God tells me to do something, I better check and see if society is ok with it.
And I’m an adult now. so…God I’ll get to you. After I take care of my CHILDREN.
God is kind of valuable…but so is my POPULARLITY. I’ll have to skip church while I check my social media likes.
God is ok I guess…but this BEER tastes really good.
God is fine…unless he gets in the way of my relationship. Because that’s the person whose approval I really want.
This is idolatry.
And idolatry is a big deal.
III. Why such a BIG Deal?
(1). God is JEALOUS.
…for I the Lord your God am a jealous God. (v.5b)
Sometimes people read that phrase and they think, “Jealousy?”
Isn’t that a sin?
Is God being sinful?
There’s an extreme difference between HOLY God jealousy and SINFUL human jealousy.
If you were up for an Employee of the Month award at Burger King and in that month you worked overtime every week, you sold more burgers than anyone else and you got there earlier than anyone else to scrub more grease on the floor than anyone else. You even came in at your manager’s request when that one guy was “sick”, the one whose Facebook status said, “Playing hooky today. Pity the fool that had to take my place.”
And at the employee meeting, the Boss reveals the employee of the month.
And it’s that guy.
When you are giving all your LOVE to something that doesn’t love you like God does.
When you are giving all your RESPECT to something that isn’t as powerful as God.
When you are giving all your TRUST to something that isn’t God.
God is jealous.
(2). God is VENGEFUL.
I follow up on the guilt of the fathers with their children, their grandchildren, and their great-grandchildren, if they also hate me, but I show mercy to thousands who love me and keep my commandments (v.5c)
The phrase “follow up” comes from a Hebrew word that means “to make an official visit to bring punishment” upon someone.
Think of it like the cops showing up at a house to arrest someone during a domestic dispute.
Or the principal coming to your classroom to take someone to his office.
Or your mom coming to the toy room, to grab you by the ear and take you upstairs.
GOD is a just God.
GOD is a holy God.
It is unjust to call something GOD that isn’t GOD.
It is just to punish the injustice of calling something GOD that isn’t GOD.
In simple language,
idolatry is a sin.
it deserves God’s punishment.
Considering GOD makes thunder.
And the lightning strike.
And the mountain tremble.
And the smoke simmer.
GOD isn’t someone you want to cross.
But why is God so angry?
It’s deeper than simply God is jealous that you aren’t giving him the glory due him.
(3). God is SAVIOR.
Fast forward thousands of years from Moses.
The Law of Moses is still in place.
And a group of men have caught a woman in the act of adultery.
They grab her.
They bring her outside.
They throw her to the ground.
And, passing by at the time, Jesus.
He’s a righteous teacher.
Jesus! Join us. She committed sin. She committed adultery and by doing so she committed idolatry.
She has made SEX her God.
She has made INTIMACY her God.
She’d rather obey her urges then the one who created her.
Let’s help God out and FOLLOW UP on her guilt.
Jesus replied, “OK. Sounds good. Let’s let the one without sin throw the first stone.”
And the woman was in tears.
They were right.
She had sinned.
She had made something God that wasn’t God.
And that “god” couldn’t save her.
Surely, she had broken the first commandment.
She deserved to have God “follow up on her guilt.”
By leading these men in hurling stone at her.
She braced herself.
And heard a rock hit something.
But it wasn’t her skin.
It was the ground.
In fact, piles and piles of rocks hit the ground.
And all the men left.
And Jesus said this, “I do not condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin.”
Do you get it?
Jesus gave mercy.
Jesus gave forgiveness.
Jesus loved her.
And this is the reason that GOD wants us to keep him as our number one God!
Because he is the Savior.
He lived perfectly.
He died innocently.
He rose triumphantly.
To save us.
Look at the end of verse 6. But I show mercy to thousands who love me and keep my commandments. (v.6)
When we turn to IDOLs that fail miserably at saving us from sin, it fills him with eternal frustration.
Because they can’t show mercy,
Only the real GOD can.
And he did.
And he does.
Do you get it?
The number one reason for you to ADORE God above all else,
The reason that God gets angry when IDOLS take your attention away from him.
Is because God ADORED you above all else.
Even his own life, breath, and heartbeat.
The God we serve is the one who served us.
The God we adored is the one who adored us.
The God we worship is the only one who saves. Amen.