The first sin God forbade His people in the timeless ten commandments— “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”—became the besetting sin of Israel and the sin for which they were ultimately and severely judged with captivity.
If idolatry was the sin that most plagued God’s people before the cross, is there any reason to think that people or times have changed so drastically that a new sin has replaced idolatry as the number one offence that separates man from God?
The last note of warning sounded to believers in the New Testament is found at the end of John’s first epistle: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”
Idolatry is convenient; it appeals to the flesh. It is easy, relatively inexpensive and immensely popular as a form of religious experience.
It may have been all of the above that prompted Jeroboam, newly chosen King of Israel after King Solomon’s passing, to introduce idolatry during his reign to his people. He sold the sin with the rationalization that “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem to worship; behold thy gods,” he said. Never mind they were mere calves of gold which could not speak, see or hear. “Behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.” (I Kings 12:28)
And thus, a standard was set for Israel which would govern the direction and the destiny of the 10 tribes of the northern confederacy which split off after the passing of King Solomon, separating from the southern kingdom of Judah where the capitol was still Jerusalem. This is the nation that witnessed the majestic and mighty power of God whose hand guided the kingdom under King David and King Solomon as it became one of the wealthiest and most powerful nations in history. And, the nation, leaving God for gods, became captive in 722 B.C. when the Assyrians destroyed their capitol in Samaria and took the people captive, followed by the Babylonians doing the same thing to Judah in 605 B.C when Nebuchadnezzar’s armies pillaged and plundered Jerusalem taking captive to Babylon the best and brightest of that southern kingdom.
Fast forward to today. Because of convenience, ease, rationalism and fleshly appeal, we too often have worshipped calves of gold! We’ve embraced idolatry just as surely as did God’s people of old.
God hates the sin and will not overlook the practice of it. He will judge it when and where it rears its ugly head. What are the gods at whose altars we worship in this 21st century? What are our idols?
* The god of sex. Thirty years ago, newspaper columnist William Raspberry, writing in the Indianapolis Star, summarized the moral dilemma facing America. It has not changed: “Things that decent people used to shun—or at least feel guilty about—are now described in morally neutral terms as ‘alternative lifestyles.’” Pre-marital sex (1/2 of all girls 18 years of age have engaged in sexual intercourse); pornography, a multi-billion-dollar business yearly; explicit language and physical sexual activity can be viewed on any night on about any media medium in almost any home in America; divorce, alarmingly frequent; unwanted pregnancies terminated legally by abortion (each day the equivalent of a 9/11 occurs in the cumulative number of abortions, infanticide, performed in abortion clinics in America!). Nationally, we have an abnormal and unhealthy fixation on sex so that it might well be called a calf and we, the United States of America, worship at its altar.
* The god of sports. I live in Indianapolis, the “Amateur sports capitol of the world.” Nothing wrong with sports, BUT the heroes of our youth are not scientists or soldiers or doctors and educators or missionaries but, in most cases, ball players; the highest paid young adults of our country are not teachers or social workers or police persons or factory workers but ball players; the biggest crowds assemble regularly not to hear symphonies or to listen to preachers but to see a ball game. Sports, in truth, has become a god at whose altars America is worshipping today;
* The god of mass media. A professor at Yale said, “The greatest threat to the American family is television, not because of what it promotes but because of what it prevents.” In America today, if you are between the ages of 8 and 28, studies show that you will spend 44.5 hours a week before a digital screen. 23% of kids and teens feel they are addicted to video games The average American teen, pre-pandemic, spent 7 hours daily before a screen, and that is not altogether doing homework! Speaking in his day of the content of most media programing, the late Bible teacher and pastor, J. Vernon McGee said, “Each program tries to outdo the other in presenting the vulgar, uncouth, crude, rude, raw, violent, fierce, coarse, antisocial, insolent and meaningless…wrapped in vulgar dialogue, a manure pile in the barnyard has more appeal than most of the TV offerings.”
* The god of pleasure. New highs, more leisure, greater fun, bigger thrills. In California, some youths get thrills out of riding down mountain sides on bikes that will do 150 mph. One boy had been almost killed doing this, but after his recovery he planned to ride again. When asked about the danger, he said he really didn’t care, all he wanted was one more ride. Local churches have not escaped this “pleasure treasure” mentality either. More weeks away, more Sundays at the favorite camp site, more “toys” to occupy our time and attention; more theme parks to visit, so that church on Sunday, well, that too often happens on weekends that are convenient;
* The god of materialism: success is often measured by how much we have; or by how big what we have is, i.e., how big is our house, our car, our yard, our pool, our bank account. The lottery mentality has a grip upon America so that people are at a fever pitch to purchase their chance at becoming independently wealthy.
Rudyard Kipling spoke of certain moral principles which will endure when he wrote “The Gods of the Copybook Headings.” He refers to the universal principles which were formerly printed in the copybooks with which children learned to read and write. The last stanza reads:
“As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of man; there are only four things certain since social progress began: that the dog returns to its vomit and the sow returns to her mire; and the burnt fool’s bandaged finger goes wobbling back to the fire; And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins, when all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins; as surely as water will wet us, as surely as fire will burn, the gods of the copybook headings with terror and slaughter return.”
“That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the Lord, and there is none else.” (Isa.45:6)