The Folly of Idolatry

I was so struck by something I read in God’s Word that I thought it worth sharing. It has to do with idolatry and its folly. If ever there was an example of utter foolishness or folly, it is found in the actions and words of the enemies of Israel, who, after capturing the ark of God from Israel, were struck with a plague by God as punishment. Their reaction? “When the people realized what was happening, they exclaimed, ‘We can’t keep the ark of the God of Israel here any longer. We will all perish, along with our god Dagon'” (1 Sam. 5:7 TLB).

Is there a more astounding case of utter folly than this? They were fully aware that God was the cause of their affliction and that they were in serious danger of being annihilated. So did they then repent of their idolatry and worship of a false god and accept the true God and thus save themselves from destruction? No. Instead of getting rid of their sin and folly, they sought to get rid of God! Incredible!

But this is no more incredible than people even today clinging tenaciously to their sin and defiance of God even to the point of being destroyed by that very refusal to repent. Like those people of old, they are so imprisoned and blinded by their attitude that they do not even sense the utter folly of trying to live apart from God, clinging to the modern-day idols of this world.

But lest you think that such folly is restricted only to pagans and unbelievers, consider the folly of Israel itself after its great exodus from slavery in Egypt. There, in the wilderness, Moses left them briefly to meet with God on the mountain. Because the people could then no longer see Moses, who was representative of God’s presence among them–because they could no longer see God’s presence, they created something they could see: an idol of a golden calf or ox.

“They preferred a statue of an ox that eats grass, to the glorious presence of God himself” (Ps. 106:19,20 TLB).

Why choose an ox for their idol? God produced man out of the earth and gave him life. An ox, by its strength, could similarly provide for them from the earth what was needed for life: the ability to plow the ground for planting of seed to produce food for life. Thus the idol is appropriate–as an idol. But it is still an idol, not the real thing. In fact it is twice removed from the real God: The life the ox produces still requires God to furnish rain and growth of the seed, its life, and it also needs man to tend the soil once planted. Thus man and his efforts are the focus, not God. It is an idol.

But of course, this is what man desires in an idol: something he can see and something he can control. These idol makers did not have vision to see beyond the natural to the supernatural, nor faith to believe in this supernatural way. They were totally bound up or enslaved to this world and its ways. Even after being set free from bondage in Egypt, they were still slaves to the ways of that world and lifestyle.

Notice also that they made their idol out of gold, a sign that they recognized that whatever God existed must be precious and valuable. It would be folly to create a false god who was so repugnant to people that no one would bow down to it. No, those who indulge in presenting the false as true know that there must be some semblance to the glory of God in order for a false god to be acceptable to people. At the same time, however, it was still just a piece of inert matter, a dumb idol. What a contradiction! What folly! What irrationality!

“He cut down cedars, or perhaps took a cypress or oak. He let it grow among the trees of the forest, or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow. It is man’s fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it. Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, ‘Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.’ From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, ‘Save me; you are my god.'”

“They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand. No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, ‘Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?’ He feeds on ashes, a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, ‘Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?'” (Is, 44:14-20 NIV).

One dictionary defines folly as: “Foolish or senseless behavior; a stupid mistake; the trait of acting stupidly or rashly;” and idolatry as “the worship of images that are not God.” Thus the two, folly and idolatry, go together, for to worship that which is not God is foolish or senseless behavior and to act stupidly or rashly. Nevertheless, that is what idolators do, even those who pride themselves, such as modern man, on their intelligence and rationality. All that is different from them and the idolators of old described above is the idols they worship. The idols of old have been replaced with steel skyscrapers built by proud man and by military might, by education, belief in evolution, and a host of other idols, including trusting in man’s ability to think and reason. This too is folly.

“He who trusts in his own mind is a fool; but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered” (Prov. 28:26 RSV).

Why does man do this? Why is he so determined to embrace foolishness and folly, even to his own hurt, rather than to accept the truth? Because admitting the truth would require him to admit things about himself that he does not want to admit, such as the truth that he is a sinner in need of a savior. It would also require him to submit to Jesus as that Savior and God, and this is distasteful to him. He will not submit to anyone else. He wants to be in control. Even the apparent submission to an idol is not really submission. For he created it himself and man also can easily fool himself into thinking that by setting up all kinds of severe requirements for worship of this idol that he is not worshipping himself but the idol.

“Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence” (Col. 2:23 NIV).

Created gods are under the control of their creators. The creator is higher than the creation. It is all a game and a show.

But all games must come to an end. In this world, there are multitudes of religious games people play to avoid facing the truth. They are all idols. And God has warned that there will be a day when all idols will fall down to the truth, who is Jesus, just as the pagan idol Dagon fell down before the ark of God.

“For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens”(Ps. 96:5 NIV).

“Thus shall you say to them: ‘The gods who did not make the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and from under the heavens'” (Jer. 10:11 ESV).

That day is fast approaching. Now is the time to be sure that no idols are in one’s life and that only the truth who is Jesus rules over one’s heart.

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