The Heart of Idolatry

Idolatry was the plague of Israel after they came out of Egyptian bondage.  For the more than four hundred years that Israel was enslaved in Egypt, they were surrounded by an idolatrous culture.  When God delivered them out of Egypt, they took some of that culture with them.  It did not take long for their idolatrous tendencies to become apparent, for when Moses was receiving the Law on Mount Sinai, Israel demanded for Aaron to build a golden calf for them to worship (Ex. 32:1-6).  When they were preparing to enter Canaan, they participated in idolatry with Moab and Midian (Num. 25:1-16).  When they had conquered the land, they began to worship the gods of the Canaanites (Judg. 2:11-12).  Throughout the period of the kings, they continually sacrificed to the Baals and other false gods on the high places.  Finally, after countless warnings, God brought His fierce wrath against them by sending the northern kingdom of Israel into captivity by the Assyrians (2Ki. 17:1-23) and the southern kingdom of Judah into captivity in Babylon (2Chron. 36:15-21).

At last, following Judah’s Babylonian captivity, the Jews were free from idolatry – almost.  When they came back to the land of Judea, they no longer worshipped carved images and statues.  The high places of idolatrous worship were gone, and Baal was no longer served.  By the time that Jesus came, the Jews so scrupulously avoided the appearance of idolatry that some of them would not even handle their own money because it displayed the image of Caesar.  Despite this, idolatry was not extinct in Judah.  Even though the idols had been removed from the Jews, the heart of idolatry remained among them.


In truth, idolatry is not an overt action, but it is an attitude of the heart.  To explain, consider the commandments God had given Israel pertaining to idolatry:

“You shall have no other gods before Me.  You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.  You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God…” (Ex. 20:2-3)

These were the first two of the Ten Commandments, but they really were two parts of one basic law.  That one law was that nothing and no one was to take precedence over God.  Idolaters violated this law because they elevated their idols above Jehovah.  Others violated this law because they elevated other things above God, including man-made traditions, false religion, and money.  This too was idolatry.  Therefore, we see that the carved images and idols were only a symptom of the true problem.  The true problem lay within the hearts of the people.

Today, the heart of idolatry remains within every person who elevates anything or anyone above the God of heaven.  Money especially has become the object of idolatry for many in our time.  Paul wrote that a covetous man is an idolater (Eph. 5:5) and that greed (or covetousness) is really idolatry (Col. 3:5).  Many in our day have become money idolaters, and, like the rich young ruler who questioned Jesus about eternal life, they have walked away from God in grief because they have chosen their money over His service (Matt. 19:16-22).  Others have become idolaters of pleasure, “whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things” (Phil. 3:19).  In truth, anything can become an idol if man chooses it to be.

Therefore, let us be careful that the heart of idolatry does not dwell within us.  This means that we must always give God our highest priority in all things.  His service must always come before our pursuit of money, pleasure, honor, education, or anything else.  His will must come before our own will or the will of anyone else.  Our love for Him must come before our love for anyone else, including ourselves.  If we refuse to give God His rightful place in our lives, then the heart of idolatry lives within us.  Such a heart led to the destruction of Israel, and it will lead us to ruin as well.  So then, let us set our hearts on God and put every idol away.

Stacey E. Durham


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