By: Pastor Jarren Rogers
When you view the Israelites’ story from the top-down, it appears as if they had one major problem: idolatry.
Whenever they were released from slavery in Egypt, one of the first things they did was abandon God and instead construct a golden calf they could worship. After all they’d seen God do, from Passover to pestilence, the Israelites still decided that the idol they’d built with their own hands was more worthy of praise than the God that delivered them.
And idolatry, their first sin, ended up being the most difficult sin to overcome. The Israelites struggled with idolatry throughout their entire history. Like an addiction, the Israelites couldn’t peel themselves away from the idols of the nations that surrounded them. They would continue to worship statues of Baal and huddle around Asherah poles. They held onto idolatry with a tight fist and could never seem to let it go.
Why was that?
In today’s world, the Israelites difficulty with the second commandment doesn’t quite make sense to us. What’s the big deal? Is it really that hard not to make a golden calf? What’s so difficult about not bowing down to a statue?
But the Israelite’s consistent struggle with idolatry signifies a deeper problem that has continued into the present. It’s this underlying thread that may clue us in to many of the issues we face today.
Let me begin with this: we were made to desire God. To love and be loved by our Creator. We crave unity and relationship with a God that is greater than ourselves. To walk with Him and to be known by Him.
The problem came when sin entered the equation. With the Fall came a perversion of that desire to love and be loved. When sin entered our hearts, that love and desire for God became skewed and found itself directed obliquely at things and people that do not deserve our love and worship. Therefore, with the Fall came idolatry, a corrupted desire that once was exclusively meant for God.
But this corrupted desire for idols did not end with the Old Testament. Instead, our sinful nature continues to tempt us toward idol worship. Presently, it may not be Baal’s or Asherah poles, but instead, it’s the isms of the world–consumerism, nationalism, patriotism, materialism. Objects, ideas, and notions that we cling to with a tight fist. Things in which we place our worship and point our desires.
And just like the Israelites, we don’t see a problem with this. We hold our Bibles in one hand and our idols in the other. But the truth is that our divided desires end up dividing our worship. Our misdirected loyalty pulls us in two. Jesus said this very thing:
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24).
It’s the Split–our heart torn in two by our detached desires–worshipping God and worshipping our idols. With the Split comes dissatisfaction and anxiety. A worry that we’ve missed something. A fear that we’ve got it all wrong.
But there is hope.
When the Israelites were brought to their senses and observed all of the idols around them, there was only one thing they could do. They destroyed them. Remember that golden calf I talked about? The Israelites were so ashamed that they ground it into dust, mixed it with water, and drank it.
The only way to unify our hearts and direct our desires to God who is worthy of worship is by inviting Him in, allowing Him to destroy the idols we’ve erected. Grind them into dust. Throw them out with the trash.
This Advent season, may we pray: Lord, we desire only you. Let us not divide our desires. Close the Split. Point us to you.