Archives for posts with tag: idolatry

Jeremiah 8:22 (HCSB)
Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
So why has the healing of my dear people
not come about?

There was, of course, balm in Gilead.  While biblical commentators don’t know exactly what this balm consisted of, it is clear that it was used for medicinal purposes.  The people of Judah complain that they are in desperate straits and that God has not saved them.  God’s answer is that the remedy has been there all along–faithfulness to him.  There is balm available; there is healing available.

Instead of faithfulness to the covenant, the people pursued God and other gods.  They were performing the rituals that God had commanded, all the while also offering sacrifices to false gods of the nations surrounding them.  Needless to say, this was not acceptable to our God.  This was idolatry.  God treats idolatry very harshly and if he is that concerned about it, we ought to be that concerned also.

The ESV Study Bible comments: “They prefer false prophets to God’s written and revealed word.”

We ought to be considering the lessons of Jeremiah’s Judah very carefully, because we live in a culture in which, as followers of Jesus, we are allowing ourselves to become ensnared by the cultural trends around us, many of which are diametrically opposed to faithfulness to God.  We believe it’s okay because we are also devoted to God.  This is not okay.  Not at all.

God will fight against our flagging devotion to him, even when we do not want him to.  This is an act of love.


But you who forsake the Lord, who forget my holy mountain, who set a table for Fortune and fill cups of mixed wine for Destiny,” (Isaiah 65:11, ESV)

We miss something in this verse if we do not understand the culture surrounding Israel.  The Hebrew word translated “Fortune” appears for the name of the god of Fortune in Canaanite literature [Faithlife Study Bible].  The word “Destiny” seems to be a reference to either a god, or the course of one’s life that was determined by the gods of the cultures around Israel.

The point being made here is that God’s people were so immersed in the surrounding culture that they were idolaters.  They should have been setting a table for the Lord and asking his blessing, instead, like the Canaanites who were pagans and opposed to the Lord, they were setting a table for “Fortune,” as if that false god could help them.  They giving their future over to Destiny or Fate, rather than trusting in Yahweh.

This is quite sobering, because the nature of idolatry is that it is often so subtle that we don’t even recognize it as it creeps into our lives and takes over, even while we appear to be faithful to the Lord.  We don’t often worship the god of “Fortune” in our own culture, but we give ourselves over to entertainment and amusement [which by the way comes from a word that means “to cause to stare stupidly”…just saying].  Our own false gods are often invisible and undetected which make us think we are faithful to God our Father when we are really idolaters just like the Israelites were.

We need our eyes opened to see where idolatry is creeping into our lives and then to root it out by radical faithfulness to Jesus.

“Listen to me, you stubborn of heart,
you who are far from righteousness:
I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off,
and my salvation will not delay;
I will put salvation in Zion,
for Israel my glory.” ”;esv

God’s message to his own people who were slowly straying away from Him in pursuit of other so-called gods.

Their primary problem was that they had stubborn hearts.  The Complete Word Study Bible says that the word “stubborn” means in part: “When used to describe a person or a person’s heart, it normally refers to a strength independent of or opposed to God.”  So they had a strength that was independent of God and this led them into idolatry and away from God.

We need to watch carefully that we ourselves do not follow this same pattern.  Our hearts are prone to try to take over and go our own way and have a strength that is not dependent upon God because we do not like to be dependent people, even though it is in our best interest.

The amazing thing here is that, despite their idolatry, God will bring his righteousness near and his salvation will not delay.  What is this if not grace in action? God’s people don’t draw near to salvation, God brings salvation near.  This is exactly what transpired at the cross.



“Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be befooled,—and ye turn aside、 and serve other gods, and bow down to them. So would the anger of Yahweh kindle upon you、 and he would shut up the heavens、 that there should be no rain, and ||the ground|| would not yield her increase,—so should ye perish speedily、 from off the good land, which Yahweh′ is giving unto you. ”;emphbbl

Moses [speaking on behalf of God] lays out one requirement here for judgment to come down hard on God’s people: idolatry.

The people are encouraged to be careful because their heart might be deceived [befooled] and they be led astray.  The word that we translate “deceived” can mean “to entice, deceive, be gullible, be naive.”  Someone who is led away from the true God to worship a false god certainly qualifies as gullible and naive.  Yet God understands the human heart and the hearts ability to wander away from Him to the worship of any and everything else, be that the form of a god that people have made up, be that animals, or nature, or even Man himself.  John Calvin wrote somewhere that our hearts are idol factories cranking out one thing after another to pursue rather than God himself.

God understands full well that idolatry is an existential sin.  He warns them that they would “perish speedily,” if they fell into the trap of the pursuit of false gods.  This sheds light on how strong his punishment will come down if [when] the Israelites turned to idolatry.  The very harsh measures were designed to shock people out of their idolatry and back to the worship of God himself.  In those sense they were good and loving measures.  It is hardly loving to allow a child or friend to rush headlong down the pathway that ends in death without trying to intervene in the strongest way that we possible can.  Why should we expect God to do anything less?

We’d like to think that these days since we worship God, that we are not as prone to idolatry as the Israelites, but of course we are.  When we worship a god of our own imagination [“my god would never do X”], when we saturate ourselves with materialism, when we entertain ourselves endlessly with mindless popular media; these are all idolatrous, just as bad as what the Israelites pursued.

May we pursue the Creator himself over and above anything and everything that he has created.


Three times in the year you shall keep a feast to me. You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. As I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. None shall appear before me empty-handed. You shall keep the Feast of Harvest, of the firstfruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall keep the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor. Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord God. (Exodus 23:14–17, ESV)

As I read this passage this morning I began to wonder, why did God want all the males of Israel to appear before him three times a year?  Why appear at all and if they did need to appear before the Lord, why three times?  Would one have done just as well?  What is wrong with two?  What is the purpose for appearing “before the Lord God?”

We actually get a hint at the answer in the verse which precedes these:

“Pay attention to all that I have said to you, and make no mention of the names of other gods, nor let it be heard on your lips.” (Exodus 23:13, ESV)

This verse is sandwiched between God’s instructions concerning the Sabbath, both a weekly Sabbath where the people and their animals were supposed to rest, and a seven year Sabbath in which the land was supposed to rest.

The biblical writers often wrote in patterns in which the most important thing that they say is in the middle of the passage.  Here we have instructions concerning the Sabbath, followed by vs. 13, followed by instructions concerning the three times all the males were to appear before God each year.  We can see then, that Moses was emphasizing verse 13, this is the point that he really does not want the Israelites to miss:  [if we may paraphrase] “In all of your comings and goings as you live out your lives in the land that I promised you, do not even mention the names of other gods!”  This is a reiteration of the First Commandment: You shall have no other gods before Me.

It’s verse 13 that helps us understand why God wanted the males of Israel to appear before him at all.  Remember that at this time there were no [or very few] written Scriptures at all and so faith in the Lord was passed on by teaching and word of mouth.  A man could not get up and pull a scroll from its place and read the book of Genesis.  In such a situation, it became all the more important to remind the people that they were God’s people and to remind them of God’s care and provision for them.  Thus the Israelite males were to appear before God to celebrate three feasts during the year: A feast which was in memory of what God had done at bringing them out of Egypt; a feast in which the first fruits of the coming year were celebrated; and a feast at the end of the year when all crops had been gathered in.  All of these feasts would remind Israel who was responsible for them and who gave them crops and the blessings of life.

Why three and not two or four?   We do not know; perhaps it was enough to continuously call the people back to remembrance of the Lord and not so much that it became a burden to perform.

What is the point of this passage for we who sit so far away from it both temporally and culturally?  Don’t. Forget. The Lord!  In our coming and going and in the business of life it is necessary for we forgetful humans to go back again and again into communion with the Lord so that we do not fall into idolatry which we are certainly prone to do.  Fortunately for us we have both the written Word of God and the indwelling Holy Spirit to help us.

“For my people are foolish; they know me not; they are stupid children; they have no understanding. They are ‘wise’—in doing evil! But how to do good they know not.”” (Jeremiah 4:22, ESV)

This is a damning indictment of the people of God.  They should have been wise in doing good, instead they were “wise” in doing evil.  These two concepts are so at odds that the reader is struck by the incongruity, as God surely wants us to be.  As followers of God, they/we should be wise in a lot of things; however, one of them is not in doing evil.

The contrast to doing evil is to do good and this God’s people were not doing, indeed they do not even know how to do good.  The great issue that had blinded them and made them “forget” how to do good was idolatry.  They were following other so-called gods and all of the sins that went along with such a thing.

It’s easy to see the sins of other generations, but not so easy to see the sins of our own generation.  We do not worship other gods, but surely we are idolaters in the form of materialism and drawing too close to the world and allowing the world’s values to drive our understanding of what God calls us to do and be as the church of God.  We are not far different from our unfaithful spiritual ancestors.

In the land that you are taking, destroy all the places where the people worship their gods on high mountains, on hills, and under green trees. Tear down their altars and smash their sacred stone pillars to pieces. Burn their symbols of the goddess Asherah and chop down their idols, so that they will never again be worshipped at those places.” (Deuteronomy 12:2–3, GNB)

The verbs here in regards to the opposition of the idolatry that the people would find in the Promised Land are quite clear, not to mention descriptive:  Destroy, burn, smash, chop down, tear down.  There is nothing left to the imagination and no room for interpretation; idolatry is to be opposed and destroyed wherever they found it.

God’s attitude towards idolatry is obvious, it can (and did, and does!) get in the way of our love of him which is why it is necessary to tear it down and burn it wherever we find it.  Our idolatry is not the same as what the Israelites found when they entered the land, but it is just as destructive: materialism, pride, power, the love of money, self, you name it and we idolize it in our culture.  We must deal with it harshly.