Idolatry in Biblical times was easier to detect, the idols were in a physical form and worshipped according to foreign customs from the surrounding nations. The Israelites would usually end up involved in two ways: idolatry intentionally or by ignoring God’s commands.
An example of the first can be found in Exodus chapter 32, when Moses their leader was away speaking with God on their behalf and they became tired of waiting. So, they decided to pressure Aaron, one of the assistant leaders, into creating an idol for them. The exact words were that they wanted “gods who will go before us”. Essentially, they wanted a god they could see and feel, probably because of their lack of trust and disconnect from God. Aaron then made a golden calf and they worshipped the idol accordingly.
An example of when they ended up in idolatry was when they would continually mix and intermarry with those of other faiths. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 15:33 – “Do not be deceived bad company corrupts good character” is based on instructions in Deuteronomy to avoid this very thing. Here the subtle shift of their focus from God derailed them into worship of foreign gods.
None of this behaviour however, is clearly commonly seen within our lives and society today. Subsequently, people often struggle to see where idolatry features in their lives. Here are some questions to get you to identify if there are any idols in your life:
Do you struggle to hear from God?
Do you feel more out of touch with God than you once were?
Is there something you invest more time in than the work or word of God?
Does the word of God seem bland to you?
Do you have to read “spiritual” books to understand God?
Will you do anything to pursue your dreams because of your ambition?
Do you only consider how something will affect you before you make a decision?
If you answered yes to any one of these questions, you may be struggling with idolatry. Let us look at how that may have happened and how we can resolve it.
Firstly, God is love.
This is important to understand before anything else, as because of His love, He will always communicate through and in love. Moreover, He can only receive your worship through and in love.
This is why He cherishes what is in your heart. Your affection and attention is craved by God. He is both hurt and disappointed when any individual is lost, because He created you out of need. In Genesis 1:26 when He was crowning creation, He decided to make man in His own image. We were the missing and final piece that perfected the picture and satisfied His heart’s desire.
The Bible records that when God finished creation He then walked in the garden of Eden and would fellowship with Adam and Eve. It was when disobedience, aka sin came to earth and disrupted God’s relationship with man and so the disconnect took place. Humans became afraid of God and our relationship did not recover.
Hundreds of years later God’s people found themselves in slavery in Egypt. After 400 years God led them out through a man called Moses. When He had delivered them, He wanted to establish a relationship again. God wanted to close the gap and restore what was lost. Subsequently, God gave guidance through the 10 commandments. These are essentially ten ways to maintain a healthy relationship and establish the original connection that sin disrupted.
The first two commandments seek to combat idolatry by highlighting two ways idols become problematic. The first addresses ‘idolatry through position’ and the second ‘idolatry through process’.
Commandment one, states that we should not have any other gods except God. This was to define the nature of the relationship as one that is exclusive. It is a relationship just between you and Him and there is no space for anyone else to be acknowledged as God (Exodus 20:3). However, we as humans continually replace God; common replacements are ourselves, our relationships and our careers.
A Biblical example can be found in Daniel chapter four of a king who was becoming God in his heart. His name was Nebuchadnezzar and he attributed all his success, kingdom and greatness to himself. He gave himself glory for his achievements.
God sent a man called Daniel to interpret a dream of warning God sent to him. This was to highlight the error of his ways, but he was too wrapped up in self-worship to recognise God as the ‘Most High’. So, God allowed his mind to lose all understanding and he began living outside in open space, eating grass. It was not until after seven years he regained a sound mind and subsequently humbled himself before God. That may sound extreme however, if you recognise yourself as the source of your success and believe your achievements are because of you – you may be on a similar path. When you do not acknowledge God for who He is and what He does, the miracles He performs in your life can become plain, and unknowingly you become empowered in your own ability. That was how Lucifer (now known as Satan began), but that is a story for another day.
Next, relationships, when you place your partner above God. Some of us are guilty of this and it shows. The first person to fall for this trap was Adam. In the garden of Eden despite hearing directly from God on what he should not do, he ate the forbidden fruit, because his wife gave it to him. Many of us today continue to compromise on our calling and integrity in the name of ‘love’. Unfortunately, we have not realised that if God is love, true love must bring us closer to him.
No, that is not me suggesting you dash the person you are dating to the curb, but that is me suggesting you use your Godly wisdom to know when God is speaking through them and when it is the devil. Let us go to another example, a man called Job who was wealthy and well-respected. However, he lost it all when his character was being tested. In the midst of his struggle, his wife told him to “curse God and die!”, he rebuked her and kept his focus on honouring God as his number one.
Galatians 1:10 speaks of this when it says “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
If you still prioritise pleasing a partner, your boss, your family – God cannot be your God. He has to be the first and the only one in his position or else the other thing will come down.
We see God demonstrate this in 1 Samuel 5. Where the Philistines captured the ark of the covenant the Bible says they carried it to the temple of Dagon and set it beside his statue. The next day the people found Dagon had fallen down on his face before the ark of the Lord. They tried to make God share a place with Dagon. So, the people found their idol torn down and eventually broken as God could not occupy the same space as their idol.
We have to be careful to not hold onto God and our idols, as the idols will fall down. So, if your relationship is your idol and in a position with God this could be why it has not worked so far. So, the issue may not be that the person is wrong for you. Remember Eve was created specifically for Adam, but he put her in the place of God. Likewise, this could be why your degree or career are struggling to succeed.
How can you identify if something or someone has the number one position? If you cannot say no to it. When a need arises you have to satisfy it or any opportunity to progress becomes your priority. This will make your relationship with God your second consideration, because your service is to your first god.
Only God should be worshipped. You worship what you are obedient to. So, worship of your career looks like you working hours that compromise your health, faith or family time. Worship of your spouse is seen when they offer a forbidden fruit and you obediently eat it. Worship of self is when your sexual desires tell you to satisfy them and contrary to the will of God, you do.
The powerful fact is we as humans were created with the inclination to worship. So, you will find yourself in acts of worship for the rest of your life, but you must consciously ask yourself, to who?
Now we will consider ‘idolatry by process’:
Commandment two states that: “You must not make for yourselves an idol that looks like anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the water below the land. You must not worship or serve any idol, because I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God. If you hate me, I will punish your children, and even your grandchildren and great-grandchildren. But I show kindness to thousands who love me and obey my commands.” (Exodus 20:4-6)
I call this ‘idolatry by process’ as it involves the making of an idol that you later worship and serve. You might consider it the same as ‘idolatry by position’ however, the process of this idolatry is different. While I am not suggesting a hierarchy of idolatry, I have split them to highlight why two different commands were needed.
Here are six steps that lead to established idols and we will take each in turn:
The first stage is interest. You could be interested in a hobby or person. You cannot explain why, but there is a level of intrigue that must be satisfied. Your response is to invest by spending more time looking at or into that thing. You spend more energy and give more attention to satisfy your intrigue.
After which you decide you like the hobby, person, job and so on. At this point it is not an idol and many things follow the pattern we have just described. This does not mean you should stop being curious and discovering new things. However, the subsequent commitment can become a hindrance to your walk with God. Therefore, if you start making commitments before you are fully committed to God, they will always run the risk of rivalling your commitment to God.
Making a commitment requires continual attention and focus so, naturally, you will find your time consumed by it. Then you will cultivate a love for the thing, person or hobby. Remember the commitment may not be inherently evil, but now it is in competition with God.
Love is crafted by your admiration, commitment and affection to that someone or something. It is subtle and usually undetected progression which culminates in worship.
To understand it, I want you to imagine you are married and your partner starts dating while you are still together. This is what idolatry is: taking energy, love and time from your first commitment to God and giving it to other things or people.
God communicated this through a man called Hosea in the Bible, in the book of Hosea chapter 1:2,3 – When the LORD first began speaking to Israel through Hosea, He said to him, “Go and marry a prostitute, so that some of her children will be conceived in prostitution. This will illustrate how Israel has acted like a prostitute by turning against the LORD and worshiping other gods”
The average person would feel betrayed, jealous and hurt. Trying to hold onto both God and your other love, is like trying to keep a marriage while your spouse knows about your ‘side chick’ and you're refusing to leave her. This would obviously lead to a breakdown in your relationship and could be why some of us struggle to have an effective relationship with God while maintaining our careers and hobbies because in this context they are the ‘side chick’.
Let us use the experience of Samson in the Bible to display how the 6-step process takes place. So, Samson was a man dedicated to God from birth whose purpose was to deliver God’s people from their struggle. However, the devil distracted him from his destiny with a love for Philistine women which became his idol.
Judges 14:1 says: “One day when Samson was in Timnah, one of the Philistine women caught his eye.” Here we see Samson intrigued which sparked his interest in a Philistine woman. He wanted to then invest in this desire by marrying her. Giving time, affection and his future to this woman. Without knowing much at all he decided he liked her, but this relationship ended up not working out. However, he was now committed to Philistine women so he found a prostitute within Philistine territory, which could have cost him his life.
In Judges 16:1-3, he fell in love with Delilah (16:4) and he found himself worshiping her with his obedience. So, when she asked him to compromise his commitment to God and reveal his secret, he did. Later in verse 23 it states that: The Philistine rulers held a great festival, offering sacrifices and praising their god, Dagon. They said, “Our god has given us victory over our enemy Samson!”. At this time, it was not God getting the glory and truthfully, this may be your story too. However, where there is life, there is hope!
In Samson’s story once he had a change of heart and repented, God accepted him and in his last moments he returned to his calling and worshipped God.
You can do the same too. If you feel that your relationship with God is struggling because of idolatry you first have to acknowledge what your idol is. Taking accountability and being self-aware can help you to face this issue face on.
Then the solution is to follow this 6-step process but with God. Find something that intrigues you and sparks your interest with God. Invest more time, energy and focus into this finding out about this aspect of Him. Decide if you like this aspect and then commit to Him. Through your commitment you will grow in love and subsequently begin authentic worship.
This is why the Bible says if you love me, keep my commandments (John 14:15), since they can only be fulfilled through love. Many have skipped steps and developed a premature love for God. However, all relationships with weak foundations of love will breed idolatry. Go back to basics, build your relationship, throw away those idols and thrive in God. In other words, thrive in love, because God is love.
About the Author
Hey, I am Oyin. I would describe myself as an independent thinker who loves discovering more about God. I believe He can be found in places we would never think to look. So, if you are searching, just open your eyes!
Have a read to see my take on identifying your idols, hope it touches you.