It astounded me that the Egyptians did not walk away from their multiplicity of gods when faced with the power of the One God. Doesn’t it make you scratch your head? I just scratched mine. I keep going back to what Yeshua said in John 3:19. “This, then, is the judgment: The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.”
I was reading in I Samuel 5 and 6 today. It’s a very interesting story. Previous to this the Israelites had been defeated in battle. They conclude (rightly) that God was not with them. So, what to do? Well, they certainly didn’t stop to ask God what he thought. They hauled the Ark of the Covenant out of the tabernacle and put it in front of the army. God in a box. Kind of like an oversized and very dangerous rabbit foot. Yeh. God didn’t go for it. The army got its collective butt kicked and the Philistines grabbed the Ark. First they put it in the temple of Dagon in Ashdod. Next morning they went in and Dagon had fallen on his face in front of the Ark. Helpless on the floor but that didn’t stop the Ashdodites (Ashdodians?? Whatever.). They picked Dagon up and put him back. Next morning, same thing except this time he was smashed to pieces. On top of it all God terrorized the people and inflicted tumors on the inhabitants. Result? Get that thing out of here. So they sent it on to Gath. More tumors. More terror. Gath sent it on to Ekron. Ah yes, but the Ekronites had heard all about this from the neighbors. “The Gittites then sent the ark of God to Ekron, but when it got there, the Ekronites cried out, “They’ve moved the ark of Israel’s God to us to kill us and our people!” (I Samuel 5:10) So what happened then?
The Ekronites called all the Philistine rulers together. They said, “Send the ark of Israel’s God away. It must return to its place so it won’t kill us and our people!” For the fear of death pervaded the city; God’s hand was oppressing them. The men who did not die were afflicted with tumors, and the outcry of the city went up to heaven. ISamuel 5:11, 12
So the outcry went up to heaven. The question is whether they were appealing to their gods or the God of heaven? In any case there was no relief because after seven months of this they finally decide to send the Ark back. They even included a bribe as an incentive to leave them alone as if God can be bribed. But there’s a twist. They put it on a cart hitched to two cows with calves. They pen the calves and turn the cows loose. Under normal circumstances, the cows would head toward the calves and refuse to leave them. The Philistines were looking to see a miracle as proof that all this misery was truly a divine judgement. And they got one. The cows turned toward the nearest Israelite city and never looked back.
But here’s the burning question. Did the Philistines leave their gods, who fell on their face before the Ark of the Covenant and were powerless to protect their own people? Did they follow the God of Israel who was obviously more powerful? Huge, resounding NO.
And what is God’s opinion of idols?
I will first repay them double for their guilt and sin because they have polluted My land. They have filled My inheritance with the lifelessness of their detestable and abhorrent idols. Jeremiah 16:18
I will destroy your high places, cut down your incense altars, and heap your dead bodies on the lifeless bodies of your idols; I will reject you. Leviticus 26:30
They have provoked My jealousy with their so-called gods; they have enraged Me with their worthless idols. Deuteronomy 32:21a
Like scarecrows in a cucumber patch, their idols cannot speak. They must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them for they can do no harm— and they cannot do any good. Jeremiah 10:5
Idol worship angers God. You might as well declare war on him because you are treating with the enemy….his enemies in the spiritual world.
Even worse it is the ultimate in rejecting God. You’d rather worship a block of wood or a piece of metal. Anything. Anything else but not God. You tell God that he is less than a block of cedar or a lump of iron. You turn the cedar into a lawn chair. You turn the lump of iron into a trivet. And they rate higher than the Lord God Almighty, Creator of the universe.
Let’s go back to John 3:19 (This, then, is the judgment: The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.) There are a couple of ways to look at this. We see that Pharaoh was evil in his response to God. Okay. We can conclude that because Pharaoh was evil in his response to God that he preferred the darkness over the light. But this works the other way as well. If A=B, then B=A. We can also conclude that if someone prefers the darkness to the light (i.e. false religion with false gods as opposed to the true faith with the true God) that their deeds are evil. We can conclude that God sees them as evil.
This has some frightening implications. Did you ever try to bake a cake when you’re wearing your good clothes? Sometimes I don’t have time to change when I get home. After dinner I need to throw together a cake and I tell myself that if I’m careful, I won’t get flour all over my dress pants. Every time I know that I am lying to myself. Every time my dress pants end up in the laundry. How does this apply? If our hearts are full of rebellion against God, even our good acts are tainted. There are many “good” non-believers out there but their goodness is tainted by their refusal to worship the God of the Universe. God looks at them and sees the flour on their dress pants. The clothes may be the highest quality and the latest fashion but they are covered in flour. Their lives are full of good works but their works are covered in rebellion against God. At the end of time when God judges the world, they will only have beautiful dirty clothes to show him. He will have no mercy on them.
But the Philistines were not the only ones in this story that had an idol worship problem. Treating the Ark of the Covenant as a good luck charm means the Israelites missed the main idea. The only reason the Ark was powerful was that it was the place where God came to meet them. It was God that had the power, not the Ark. This was either an attempt to use the Ark as if it was a powerful being in its own right (i.e. an idol) or an attempt to use God for their own purposes. Neither is a good idea. One is idol worship and the other costs you huge casualties in battle and a lesson in just who God really is. We need to remember what happened to the Israelites and be warned.
People manipulate idols. If I make you out of gold and offer you food, then you are obligated to me. I scratch your back, you scratch my back. Idol worship itself identifies its own gods as needing the worshippers. The act of maintaining/worshipping an idol speaks to its powerlessness because it needs to be fed and clothed and polished. Never mind that the worshippers will tell you it is only a physical representation of a powerful spirit. If it’s so powerful, why does it need all those things? How can it limit itself to a physical representation? Why couldn’t Dagon pick up his own representation off the floor instead of needing priests to do it for him?
The burning question is why do people follow idols? The answer is because our hearts are evil and for those who will not follow (yes, will not) the One God, idols are just what the doctor ordered. Limited. Like ourselves. Rebellious. Like ourselves. Open to manipulation and bribery. Like ourselves. Unable to control the world around themselves. Like us. People choose idols because they are NOT God. They stick to their choices even in the face of the overwhelming power of God because they don’t want God. They want to remain in the dark.
For those of us who have made a choice to follow the One God, we need to keep a careful eye on ourselves. Are we limiting God? Limiting where he is allowed in our lives? Limiting our faith in his power and authority? Are we turning a deaf ear to him? Trying to manipulate or bribe him into doing our bidding or look the other way about wrongdoing in our lives? Trying to use him to control our circumstances so life turns out the way we want it? These are natural to our natures and deadly to our relationship with God. Such choices can take a follower of God and turn them towards a path into the darkness. We can call him God then but in fact be guilty of worshipping a God of our own creation. An idol. Is there anything more natural to our nature than to worship our own image instead of God?
Pray for clear vision. Pray that God shows you just who he is. Pray for the light.