May 30-June 5
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It’s well-known that the Israelites have a problem with idolatry. It is lesser-known that idolatry in our day is still a major problem even though it’s more subtle than the outright worship of man-made gods. As we read about Israel and their wanderings away from the Lord, what can we learn about their types of idolatry? What can we learn from the effects of their idolatry?
Idolatry Type 1 – The Obvious Kind
There are a couple different types of idolatry that we see amongst the Israelites in this week’s chapters from Come Follow Me.
The first type is obvious. More than once, the Israelites found themselves following after a god called Baal. He is god that is actually found in many different cultures, but in this portion of the Old Testament, he is brought to the Israelites through the Canaanites. He is worshipped alongside Ashtoreth who is a fertility goddess of the Canaanites.
This kind of idolatry includes the outright worship of anything other than the true God.
In order to understand idolatry in our day, it’s important to understand the concept of worship. According to the Bible Dictionary, worship is the practice of giving God our love, reverence, service, and devotion. It can include prayer and priesthood ordinances. The Israelites rendered their reverence and devotion to wannabe deities that had no real power to bless their lives. It was empty. These deities were literally incapable of actually providing anything for the Israelites.
We can all come up with ideas of what this can look like in our day. The worship of money, power, devices or social media. There is nothing wrong with having these things in our lives just as there is nothing wrong with having a statue in your house. It is the worship of these things that causes problems.
The idols we choose to worship hold no power to bless our well-being. We may attempt to give our well-being over to our idols, but they can do nothing in and of themselves. The Israelites needed good crops and fertility and protection from their many enemies who surrounded them everywhere. Praying to Baal brought them nothing because Baal is incapable of real power. Despite their disloyalty, the Lord still loved His people, and He didn’t want them left to their own devices (since they certainly wouldn’t be receiving anything from Baal).
The same goes for idolatry in our day. Other influences in our lives become a problem when we start to place our well-being on them; that is when they become idolatry. When the Lord calls for all of us to share everything amongst ourselves in Zion, will we feel an immense need to hold onto our own money? Perhaps we’re not even trying to hold onto our money because we love money. Perhaps we are trying to hold onto our money because we’re scared. Still not a good enough reason. The Israelites held onto their idols for a while when their enemies came upon them, and they remembered that the idols didn’t really have any power. Money doesn’t care about you, and it can’t really protect you from anything. Though we’ve been raised in a world that teaches that money can give us everything, we have to rise above and see money for what it really is: empty without the Lord. Money can be gone in an instant. It won’t protect you. It can’t even necessarily provide for you. There are people in many countries who have experienced astronomical and crippling levels of inflation that understand that money is actually empty. Placing our hopes of safety on it will not serve us anymore than Baal served the Israelites against the Midianites.
Money isn’t the only idol. When we place our well-being on anything other than the Lord, we can come up empty. Perhaps we place our hopes of happiness on social media. Perhaps we hope that it will deliver us from boredom or unhappy circumstances, but it can only go so far. There are few things in my life that have made me happier than limiting my social media. I knew I would be happier if I placed controls on social media, but I didn’t realize just how happier I would be. Social media cannot bring you lasting happiness. There are scientific studies surrounding this. It will leave you empty just as Baal left the Israelites empty.
The same goes for excessive working out, disproportionate study of secular topics over spiritual knowledge, and having a ton of followers. It will never fill you. Only the Lord can make good on His promise to bring eternal happiness. Nothing else has the innate power to do so.
Idolatry Type 2 – An Echo of Christ
Gideon is one of the many heroes of the Israelites. He delivered them from camel-riding marauders through the power of the Lord. When asked to be king, he refused and told the Israelites that they needed to let God be their ruler.
After defeating the marauders, also known as Midianites, Gideon took some of the spoils of this people to decorate an ephod.
Judges 8:24-25, 27
24 And Gideon said unto them (Israelite soldiers), I would desire a request of you, that ye would give me every man the earrings of his prey. (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.)
25 And they answered, We will willingly give them. And they spread a garment, and did cast therein every man the earrings of his prey.
27 And Gideon made an ephod thereof…and all Israel went thither a whoring after it…
In case you’re unfamiliar with this vestment, the high priests that worked with the Law of Moses wore an ephod. It held symbolism that was meant to point to Christ. It was something Christ gave to the Israelites to help them worship Him, but the Israelites took it too far.
I categorize this type of idolatry differently because it’s subtle, and it’s one we may not even recognize. It is when we take something religious and turn it into something that it’s not. It’s when we (consciously or unconsciously) believe something holds a power that it does not. Perhaps it doesn’t look like full-on worship, but we are placing an over-emphasis on it that can be detrimental to our well-being.
It may look like relying on priesthood leaders too heavily instead of developing a personal relationship with Christ. Priesthood leaders hold no eternal power that is not given to them by Christ. They can’t save us. It is not their welfare system. It is not their gospel. Their validation is not the validation we truly need; they are meant to point us to Christ and to help us gain His approval and validation.
It may look like leaning too heavily on the idea of romantic love. Christ gave us romantic love to bless our lives and fill it with meaning, but if we place all of our hopes and dreams on it, we may become quickly disillusioned with the church or a spouse. Romantic love is fulfilling and wonderful, but it can also lead to detrimental situations when we place our well-being on its essence. When a spouse disappoints us, we may be tempted to believe that romantic love isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. We may find disappointment and discouragement when it’s taken out of its proper place in the plan. If we want to find true happiness, we have to love God before everything else. It is only in that mindset that we can glean the most out of any of our relationships.
It may also look like our own “righteousness.” The ephod was a sign of worthiness to an extent. When we become so wrapped up in outward appearances of religion, we miss the true happiness that comes from worshipping God. I’m not saying we should discard the ephod because that is still a gift from Christ to help us worship (just like the many commandments and standards that He gives us today). However, it should still be a tool and not an idol. We place our happiness on Christ, not on our own ability to live His standards. When we set ourselves up to place our happiness on our capacity for obedience, we will quickly become discouraged. We were never meant to bring our own happiness by living the standards of the gospel just as the ephod was never meant to bring happiness on its own. The standards given to us in our day (just like the ephod in ancient days) were meant to point us to Christ where we can find happiness.
Delivered to their enemies
The Israelites were delivered to their enemies more than once. Because they sought protection from idols, they quickly fell prey to the groups of men around them. It makes sense. When you pray to a statue, it’s not going to be able to do much.
Some of us around the world are surrounded by physical enemies. There are groups of people seeking our destruction or wanting to bring dire circumstances to our door.
However, I believe it is more common that we become delivered to other enemies.
What are the enemies threatening us today? Addiction, broken homes, suicidal tendencies, numb lives, discouragement, hopelessness.
When we place our well-being on idols, the Lord will let the natural consequences flow from that. If you try to find happiness in social media, it will only serve you for so long. As you face negative emotions that always seem to follow an hour long binge on the internet, it is so important to wake up and recognize it. If you’re looking for something to make your day a little less heavy and a little more bearable, try turning to the Lord. He has the power to deliver you from the wilderness known as mortal life. Other things have value in their spheres, but worshiping anything other than God will only leave us empty.
I know that God loves us. Because He loves us, He lets us receive what we ask for and seek. Allowing for natural consequences to come from our decisions teaches us where we can truly find happiness. I testify that lasting happiness can come from many different things as long as those different things are kept in their proper spheres in the Plan of Salvation. I testify that Christ gave us many of these things, and I also testify that if we truly want to be happy, it will come from placing our hopes and dreams and safety with the Savior.