You shall not make for yourself an image Deuteronomy 5:8 NASB
Image – What is an idol? We certainly recognize the idols of ancient religions. The Hebrew word here (pesel from pasal, meaning “to cut or hew”) makes it clear that the initial emphasis of the commandment deals with all those sacred objects men make in the pursuit of gods. But a little investigation shows us that there is more at stake here than wood and stone. Deuteronomy tells us that idols are an abomination to God, lumped into the category with devious and evil acts, stealing, evil thoughts, lying and pride. All are abominations to God (and, of course, we have never done any of these, have we?). The issue of idolatry is so important that Hebrew has fourteen different words for “idol.” Some apply to external objects of worship. Some apply to internal objects of worship. All fit that same prohibition. Anything that demands absolute devotion in attitude or action other than the Lord is the subject of this commandment.
Of course, we have all heard the exhortations against placing our devotion in money, power, other people or causes. I am quite sure we have all endured the declarations of those who challenge our commitment by pointing to the inherent idolatry in materialism, nationalism or some other “ism.” What we might not acknowledge is how perfectly natural it is for men to turn to idols. After all, God is invisible. His actions are mysterious; His methods inscrutable; His plans unimaginable. The Bible readily admits that His ways are not our ways. We, on the other hand, are all about “show me” devotion. We want proof before we commit. We want something we can touch or see or taste before we are ready to turn our lives over.
God knows this. How could He not know it? He made us! So, God provides the proof. He acts on our behalf. Our problem is not that God is absent from life. Our problem is that we want a God Who acts right now! We have stopped looking in the appropriate direction to see the trustworthiness of God because we have stopped looking into the past to find the meaning of our lives. We have been seduced by the culture of significance into looking toward the future, and since we can’t see the future, we’re afraid. So, we make something solid that we can hang on to. As a result of not looking back at God’s acts, we see nothing that we can be sure of in the future. Therefore, we make up some substitute for devotion. We put our trust in what we have now; those things that make us feel secure. We devote ourselves to what we think will serve us best right now. In the process, we slander God.
God leaves plenty of markers to establish His reliability. There’s a pile of stones where the children crossed the Jordan. There are altars scattered across the land. There is a rainbow in the sky. And there’s an empty tomb. But unless we gather our courage from God’s past acts, we will find the future so threatening that worshipping what we have right in front of us will be the natural thing to do. Turn around! Ignore the culture that tells you your safety lies in planning for tomorrow. Look where God has already been. That’s what sets the course of your life. Tomorrow never comes. What you have is what God has already done and what you are going to do with it today.
Is it any wonder that the Hebrew word for the future is a word that gives us an image of a man in a rowboat, looking back at where he came from while he rows toward a place he cannot see? Once aligned with the markers he can see (where he has already been), his future is secure. He can’t row while straining his neck to look where he is going. So, God leaves markers, lots of them, in order that we can get aligned with where He has been, and be confident that the alignment will take us where He wants us to go.
Natural idolatry is the attempt to row forward without looking back at God’s handiwork.
And, by the way, once we divest ourselves of the history of God with Israel, or the history of God with our own family trees, we are set adrift without markers. No wonder we flounder in the sea of idolatry.
Want to read more about the Hebrew view of the future? Click here.