the BIG story: Exodus 20

Loving God is the first part of our church’s mission statement because it simply is the first priority of every Christian. 

And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment” (Matthew 22:35-38).

Because the worship of God is primary, false worship is one of the greatest evils man can practice. Idolatry is a serious problem. The final sentence of John’s first epistle (1 John 5:21) is a warning against idolatry. Idolatry is dangerous because it involves the worship of demons (1 Cor 10:20), and because we can do it thinking that we are actually worshipping God (Exod 32:1-6; 1 Kings 12:28-30).

Herbert Schlossberg notes:

But anyone with a hierarchy of values has placed something at its apex, and whatever that is is the god he serves. The Old and New Testaments call such gods idols and provide sufficient reason for affirming that the systems that give them allegiance are religions.”

WHAT ARE GODS?

1. “gods” are the object of man’s worship and service.

2. “gods” are superhuman beings, possessing powers much greater than men.
The powers which the gods possess are restricted to certain aspects of life. A given god may have control over fertility, while another over the rains or agricultural productivity, and yet another over war (as when Goliath cursed David in the name of his gods (1 Samuel 17:43). Most gods operate within certain geographical boundaries (often, the boundaries of a nation or empire, Judges 10:6; 2 Kings 17:27-31; 18:33-35). In the Old Testament we find “mountain gods” distinguished from “plain gods” (1 Kings 14:23, 28).

The gods are capricious and worshipped to appease their anger and to avert the outpouring of their wrath. The relationship between men and the gods is closely akin to prostitution. A price is paid and a service is rendered, but there is certainly no love between the two parties.

This is precisely why Israel needed but to trust in God alone and worship him for who is is rather than what could be gained from him. God is in control of every aspect of the life of his people, no other god is needed in addition to Him.

3. “gods” are seldom worshipped alone, but in plurality.
Pagan worship almost always involves a plurality of gods. More than one god is assumed. Thus, the Philistines assumed that Israel was delivered from the Egyptians by her gods (plural, 1 Samuel 4:8), rather than by her God (singular). Today, a polytheistic people will often gladly add another “god” to their pantheon of gods.  But there is no other god than the one true God of Israel. Israel’s confession therefore was:

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone” (Deut 6:4).

4. “gods” are man-made. The gods of pagan worship as having the stamp “man-made” on them, for they are the creation of man, shaped in his image, defined according to man’s preferences and desires.

"In India, it is not surprising to find that the gods of the peoples of the tribal areas are cobra, monkey, or tiger gods. In these interior areas you do not expect to find primitive tribesmen worshipping a shark god, for example. (You will not be surprised to find a sea-going people worshipping a shark god, however.) The gods which men worship are thus those which reflect their hopes and their fears. A brief review of the gods of ancient Egypt would show the same tendency."

WHAT ARE IDOLS?

Since the gods are man-made, false worship almost always employs idols.

1. An idol is used to represent a god
An idol is almost always made by men and has image of some part of creation (the sun, stars, a rock, a bull, a fish, a snake). The idol may depict some characteristic of the god (the bull might represent the strength of a god).

When God appeared to Israel on the mountain, he did not take a given form, and he cannot be represented by any form. God reveals himself through his word, through His people, and through His actions, and his final and complete revelation of himself is in Jesus Christ (John 1:1-18; Hebrews 1:1-4).

2. Idols are often the focus of the presence and power of a god
The idol becomes more than a means of worshipping a god, it becomes the object of worship — the god itself (Isaiah 42:17). Thus, the Ark of the Covenant was taken to war as an almost magical instrument, which could try to assure the Israelites of military victory (1 Samuel 4:3; 2 Kings 18:4).