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May 12, 2008

I have been having an ongoing discussion with SmallFry about idols. I am having a hard time helping him understand what it meant when the Bible talks about the Israelites worshiping idols. Then I ran across a thread on a knitting forum about knitting being an idol. So I started thinking more about what really is and is not an idol.

When you are studying the Old Testament you tend to think of idols as a statue carved from stone or metal or wood – like the golden calf that Aaron made in Exodus 32. But was there something about that calf that made it intrinsically evil. Not really. If you look a little closer at this incident you will see that it was the attitude of the people who made the golden calf a problem. Notice verse 1 and verse 4 of Exodus 32.

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” – Exodus 32:1

And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” – Exodus 32:4 (emphasis added)

The problem with the calf was not that it was a statue of gold but that it was becoming their substitute for God. The people of Israel had made for themselves something to replace God. There are over 100 different places in the Bible where idolatry is discussed, warned against and condemned. But we live in a civilized, intellectual society and we would certainly never bow down to an idol like they did in the Old Testament. Are you sure? In our society NFL football, NASCAR and a number of other sports hold their major events on Sunday. Children’s sports leagues increasingly hold their games on Wednesday night and Sunday. The most watched television shows are more often than not on Sunday and Wednesday. Maybe, we would never bow down to a golden calf or a stone face, but there are plenty of other things in our society that are becoming our substituted for God. Perhaps, it is time for us to reread the passages in the Bible warning of the punishment for idolatry and reevaluate our own priorities.

Little children, keep yourselves from idols– I John 5:21

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