Last week we started considering how idolatry might still be alive and well in us today.
To do so, we took ourselves back to the most famous incident of idolatry in the Bible: the golden calf.[i] The Israelites created the golden calf at the very time God is giving Moses the Ten Commandments.
The Ten Commandments capture God’s covenant with his people. God declares, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.”[ii] The covenant begins with a statement of who God is: he is the saving God, the rescuing God. God then promises that his covenant is exclusive. In weddings the pastor asks the groom, do you promise to “love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, and forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?” And then he turns to the bride and asks her a similar set of questions. A marriage covenant is exclusive. In it we relinquish our authority. So is our covenant with God.
As she creates the golden calf, Israel rejects the covenant and takes her authority back. The covenant that was made with God is now broken. Israel is an adulteress. As pastor Tim Keller once said, “We never break the other commandments without breaking the first one.”[iii]
Given that, it is completely unsurprising that the Israelites’ calf worship is coupled with licentious activity. “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play,”[iv] the text says. This play is not harmless. It is sexually deviant behavior.[v] They are worshiping just as the nations did: through cult prostitution.[vi] Idolatry undoes everything God is doing in forming the Israelites and it does the same to us.
God loves you. And he calls you up the mountain into his presence. But we have to smash the calf at the foot of the mountain. Our idols have to go. Idols that are not destroyed demand our allegiance: they call us to bed with them.
Repentance must happen. Our worship is meant for him and him alone. We cannot wed God when we are wed to another.
God awaits us expectantly: ready to encounter us and to give us himself that we might turn from our shining idols to his shining face. God shapes us as our idols are destroyed and we are brought into true worship with him.
God calls us near through Jesus who invites us to follow him. He asks us to give ourselves wholly to him. “Follow me”[vii] he demands of his disciples. Jesus wasn’t half-in. He gave up his seat at the right hand of the Father to come for us. And he gave up his life so that we might experience new life in him. When Moses came down from the mountain and found the golden calf he burned it and ground it into a fine powder and made the people drink it.[viii] When Jesus came he drank the cup of wrath, the cup of our idols, the cup that we deserved to drink. He took the wrath we deserved for our idolatry and he drank it down.
And then he invites us to be all in. “Truly, truly,” Jesus said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”[ix] Instead of the cup of our idols, we are invited to drink the cup of our Savior.
Will you, forsaking all others, follow Christ? There are many who are happy to follow Christ casually. Most Christians in America aren’t followers of Christ alone, but fans of him. They aren’t married to God; they’re just dating. Their allegiance is divided.
When Angel and I were married, we each put a ring on the other’s left ring finger. My ring doesn’t sit on my nightstand or in my drawer; it is on my finger, telling the world that I am taken. Is your commitment to God similarly displayed? When the idols of the world come at you, is your spiritual ring on full display? Or do you think that a little flirting with the world isn’t that harmful? Do you rationalize a little foreplay surely won’t do any major harm?
Just as I would tell you to flee such flirting with someone who isn’t your spouse, so do I urge you—run from spiritual flirtation! The idol is a seducer and the consequences of spiritual adultery are no less serious than marital adultery.
Next week we will take the final step and examine what exactly these idols might be that are threatening our covenant with Christ.
[i] Exodus 32:1-6
[ii] Exodus 20:1-2
[iii] Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods, 166.
[iv] Exodus 32:6
[v] Walter Kaiser, Expositor’s Commentary, 478.
[vi] Temple prostitution was a regular practice in ancient religious practice.
[vii] Matthew 4:19, 8:22, 9:9, 16:27.
[viii] Exodus 32:20
[ix] John 6:53
For more on Shining Idols series, see:
Part 1: Shining Idols: What They Demand