Perhaps the most famous idol in the Bible is the golden calf. Here’s a very simplified version of the story which can be found in its entirety in both Exodus and Deuteronomy.
- The children of Israel arrive at Mount Sinai.
- Moses goes up the mountain and God tells him the rules.
- Moses goes back to the Israelites and tells them what God has said and they agree to follow the instructions, declaring, “Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.”
- Moses goes back up the mountain to meet with God and to receive two carved stone tablets with the laws “written with the finger of God.” He’s gone for 40 days and nights.
- The children of Israel think Moses is gone too long, so they make a golden calf and begin to worship it.
In other words, while God is giving Moses a stone tablet which specifically forbids the people from bowing down before a graven image—Rule Number One—the Hebrews are bowing down before a graven image. Ironic? Indeed.
In the Ten Commandments, also known as the Decalogue, the first sentence of the first commandment specifies that we are to have no other gods except for “God”—“Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” But when we go beyond the first sentence, the language gets more specific: “Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness, of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; thou shalt not bow down unto them, nor serve them….”
In a church Bible study back in olden times, when we could actually meet face to face without having to wear masks and stand six feet apart (i.e., February, 2020), we participants were asked to think about the meaning of the word “idol” and to give examples of modern day idols. According to Merriam-Webster, an idol is an object of extreme devotion or a representation or symbol of an object of worship. What were some of the idols we identified? The immediate responses were not surprising—money, beauty, fame, and even intelligence. But we drilled down deeper and came up with other idols such as food, alcohol, drugs, and specific possessions such as nice homes, fast cars, and luxury travel. There’s nothing superficially wrong with any of these items—all of them can actually be used for good. But more often than not, we humans become enamored or obsessed with these little gods, and suddenly, whether we realize it or not, we have created our own golden calves which we are worshipping. I’m not casting stones, because I’m not innocent. I pride myself that I’ve never committed murder, but I’ve broken a commandment or two…or three or four….and I certainly have worshipped a few golden calves.
Are we condemned when we worship idols, or when we break any of the other commandments? I hope not, because, as my daddy would say, we’d be “in a world of hurt.” The caveat is that we recognize the sins that we have committed and ask forgiveness for them: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9). But here’s the hard part: we have to really and sincerely TRY not to continue with the sinful behavior. The Bible does a pretty good job of telling us what’s sinful and what’s not, and the Ten Commandments start us off with a great summary. The problem is that there are individuals and groups out there who want to ignore the parts of the Bible that make them uncomfortable, even to the point of deciding that some things are no longer sins. But that’s a topic for a future article about the United Methodist Church—when I really want to make people mad.
In the meantime, what are your idols? I challenge you to identify any golden calves that are you are worshipping. I promise to do the same. As soon as I finish watching American Idol reruns.
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