My morning devotional readings this year come from the book Women in the Bible, by Ann Spangler and Jean E. Syswerda. Each week, a different woman in the Bible is featured–the story of her life, the promise that we receive through her, and her legacy in Scripture. That’s a fancy way of saying, “What can we learn from the woman?”
Not all of the women are role models for good. This week’s subject is perhaps the most wicked woman in the Bible–Jezebel. Most of us know someone named after Mary or Ruth or Sarah, but you probably don’t know any woman named after Jezebel, although these days, it wouldn’t come as a very big surprise.
Jezebel, wife of King Ahab, reigned as queen in northern Israel one hundred years after David’s death. She was a powerful woman with great conviction and a dedicated worshiper of the pagan fertility god Baal. She was so determined to convert Israel to the worship of Baal that she killed all of the prophets of God that she could find, and she replaced them with 450 prophets of her own.
You can read the entire story of Jezebel in 1 Kings 16, 18, and 21, and in 2 Kings 9. Summary: she was very, very evil. Elijah prophesied that Jezebel would be eaten by dogs. She ended up being thrown from a palace window, and when the dogs finished with her, all that was left of Jezebel was her skull, her feet, and the palms of her hands.
Jezebel was an idol-worshipper extraordinaire. But perhaps the most well-known story about idol-worship in the Bible is the story of the golden calf. The story can be found in its entirety in both Exodus and Deuteronomy.
Here’s the very simplified version.
- 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 read 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….”
We read the story of Aaron and the Golden Calf, and we wonder why the Israelites would be so faithless, so unbelieving, so fickle. And then we look around at what’s going on today, and we realize that not much has changed. What idols are we worshipping?
In a recent Bible study, we participants were asked what idols we worship today. 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, nice homes, expensive cars, drugs, politics, electronics, talk radio, arguing on Facebook. The list was endless.
Authors Spangler and Syswerda answered the same question this way:
The worship of any false god is, of course, hateful to the true God. We know that. To us, Baal worship seems like a disgusting and foolish practice. We are far too sophisticated to understand its appeal.
But aren’t false gods just as prevalent today as in Jezebel’s day? Consider, for instance, the popularity of New Age religion [False Prophets] or the way we worship sports heroes, movie stars, and millionaires.
Ours, unfortunately, is a society that bows to gods of money, sex, and power. It would do us well to remember that anything, no matter how good, that supplants God’s place in our lives can become an idol if we let it.
There’s nothing superficially wrong with any of these items. 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 forever when we worship these 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).
The difference between Jezebel and the Israelites at the foot of Mt. Sinai?Jezebel never confessed her sins–she was literally thrown to the dogs. The Israelites in the desert did confess their sins (over and over and over). And over and over and over, God redeemed them.
How are we forgiven when we sin? First, we confess the sin. 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.
I challenge you to take a close look at the things you spend your time on. Have they become all-consuming? Are you worshipping your own personal idols? And while you’re examining your life, I commit to doing the same with mine.
“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:21)
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