When I read the Old Testament prophets, I am often confounded by the persistence of the Israelites in following idols. Do you wonder about that, too? Why would God’s chosen people turn from an almighty God—Maker of heaven and earth, Lord of the heavenly hosts—and instead, worship man-made idols?
I believe the answer can be summed up in a single word: power. People want a god they can control. But our God is in control, and He will not give us control. He cannot be summoned like a genie from a lamp to grant our wishes!
The false gods worshipped by the Israelites were not all-powerful, but they were thought to control various parts of life. For example, Asherah was a goddess of motherhood and fertility. She was supposed to bring her worshippers children and good harvests.
Source of Powerlessness
But the Israelites were warned, even before they entered the Promised Land, that Asherah had no real power. In Exodus 34:12-14, the LORD God tells Moses on Mount Sinai:
“Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land where you are going, or they will be a snare among you. Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles. Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (NIV).
If you haven’t conceived a child, the Israelites thought, why not make a sacrifice to Asherah? She might be pleased with your worship and give you a baby. If you’re worried about your crops, what would it hurt to go burn some incense to Asherah and ask for help? The Israelites coveted the power of Asherah, so they chose to defy God and worship an idol.
The same is true of a more famous—and far worse—Old Testament idol, Baal. Baal was thought to control weather. He was also a god of war. As you might expect, a god of war is bloodthirsty, and Baal was thought to have demanded child sacrifice. The Lord God of Israel was horrified!
“Because they have forsaken me, and have estranged this place, and have burned incense in it unto other gods, whom neither they nor their fathers have known, nor the kings of Judah, and have filled this place with the blood of innocents; They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spake it, neither came it into my mind” (Jeremiah 19:4-5, KJV).
Over time, what appeared to be a rather harmless idea—burning incense to Asherah—opened the door to Baal worship. The Israelites rationalized sacrificing their own children to get what they wanted. Again, the Israelites coveted the power of Baal, so they chose to defy God and worship an idol.
Modern Idolatry Tracks Ancient Idolatry
You can also see the parallel in modern times. We covet power so we choose to defy God and worship idols. What are some of these modern idols? Some modern folks very often worship money. We’ve been told that “money is power.” With enough money, you can buy almost anything you desire. So we may believe that if we pile up enough money we will be secure. We won’t have any worries for the rest of our lives. But money is a false god!
“For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:10. KJV).
Some modern folks may also worship sex. We believe that as long as we’re attractive, we will be loved. Sex will fill that hole in our souls, where we ache to be accepted. So, we spend our time worrying about how we look, how much we weigh, whether we need a new wardrobe, etc. But sex, too, is a false god!
As Paul says:
“Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5, KJV).
In this recent election year, we’ve watched some modern folks worship raw, political power. We throw ourselves into political arguments—trying to convince the other side that the world will end if our candidate isn’t elected. But power is a false god!
Even Nebuchadnezzar, the powerful pagan king of Babylonia, recognized the Most High, the Lord God of Israel saying:
“I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?” (Daniel 4:34-36, KJV).
Bypass to Blessings?
I call these modern idols of money, sex and power, “shortcuts,” because we use them to get what God plans to give us anyway! Just as God planned to give Israel peace and prosperity as long as they followed Him, He plans to provide for our needs.
Remember in John 10:10, Jesus tells us, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (KJV). He wants us to have love, joy, peace, and so much more. And I can promise you that God’s timing will always be better than ours.
We have no need to put our faith in money that can so quickly disappear, when we can completely rely on God.
We have no need of empty sexual immorality, when Jesus loves us so very much that He was willing to die on a cross for us.
And we have no need of earthly, political power, when we are citizens of God’s perfect kingdom.
Today, what do you worship?
CARLTON P. BYRD, D.MIN., is Senior Pastor of the Oakwood University Church in Huntsville, Alabama and the speaker and director for Breath of Life Television Ministries.
This article is part of our 2021 March / April Issue