What is Idolatry?

Dear Reader: What follows is an excerpt from Sunday’s sermon manuscript.  Enjoy.

Acts 7:40-50

What is Idolatry?

40 saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 41 And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands. 42 But God turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets: “‘Did you bring to me slain beasts and sacrifices, during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? 43 You took up the tent of Moloch and the star of your god Rephan, the images that you made to worship; and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.’ 44 “Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen. 45 Our fathers in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers. So it was until the days of David, 46 who found favor in the sight of God and asked to find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. 47 But it was Solomon who built a house for him. 48 Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says, 49 “‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? 50 Did not my hand make all these things?’

 

The Life of Moses is compelling.  The words written in the Scriptures concerning this man grabs and keeps our attention.  His life was one full of Drama and Adventure: the Drama and Adventure of following God from slavery to freedom.  The Exodus is in many ways a picture of the Christian’s journey to freedom in Christ Jesus.  We are drawn to the drama swirling around the life of Moses, because the life of Moses is a life touched by the hand of God.

 

Stephen preaches to his judges that after all the sacrifice, doubt, drama, pain and toil, sweat and tears, strife and sanctification, setbacks and gigantic leaps: after winning the people over and over and being lead by God from the land of slavery to the mountain of God: the people turned their hearts back to Egypt.

 

Heartbreaking.

 

The Israelites turned their hearts toward Egypt rather than Heaven?  After God had just poured out a truckload of plague and judgment on Egypt for oppressing His children?  After they walked through the Red Sea on dry land?  After they had walked trough the coolest aquarium ever?

 

But before we rush to judge the Israelites lets make sure we look at our own walk.  Has God not done great things for us?  Is He not mighty in salvation?  Has he not forgiven the Christian?  And do we ever turn our hearts away from Him toward the very things that break His heart and pierced His Son’s hands?

 

Stephen the deacon continues to use his last breath to preach good news to his enemies.

 

 

Acts 7:40-41

40 saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 41 And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands.

 

Stephen starts talking about this heinous event that is written about in Exodus 32.  Moses had gone up to the mountain to receive revelation from God.  God had outlined the priestly clothes and duties that apply to Moses’ brother Aaron and his sons.  God had told Moses about the Sabbath, which was a gift to the people, a day off for refreshing, saying that He had created the entire world in 6 day and on the 7th He rested.  The Sabbath was an unheard of gift in those days when people worked 7 days a week.  Moses was perhaps looking forward to delivering the gift of a day off to these former slaves, but instead of delivering good news he was about to receive a rude awakening.

 

For God says to Moses: you better get down there.  The people you lead out of Egypt are down there playing the fool.

 

Now, picture this.  Moses has gone up the mountain to commune with God and receive good things from God for his people, but instead, Moses has to cut the trip short, plead for God to avert His burning wrath (by reminding God of His promises to Abraham) and leave the mountain in order to baby sit Israel.

 

So it was that Moses descended from the mountain carrying these tablets that had been written on by the finger of God Himself: a gift from God to the people of Israel, and he runs into Joshua and they start talking about all this noise coming from the camp.  Joshua, ever the warrior even at this young stage in his life says that it sounds like a war is going on in the camp.  But Moses is wise and old, and cynical, and says that this racket sounds neither like the shout of victory nor the scream of defeat but rather like the singing of revelry.

 

As Joshua and Moses approach the camp they see people dancing, and singing…around a massive gold calf.  This is the sin of idolatry.   Exodus 32 reveals that the people came to Moses’ own brother Aaron, the priest, who was supposed to be watching the people in Moses’ absence and said: this guy…Moses, who lead us out of Egypt…he isn’t ever coming back…he is history.

 

The people begged Aaron for gods to worship, yes, “gods” they could see.  Aaron, it seems was not difficult to turn.  The people didn’t have to spend a great deal of time convincing Aaron to betray his brother and his God.

 

Aaron says, okay, take the gold rings of your wives and daughters and sons.  The people gladly complied and Aaron took a graving tool and made the people a golden calf.  A baby cow to worship and adore.  The people yelled out “Here is your God O Israel who lead you out of Egypt”.  And Aaron built an altar and made proclamation saying, “we’re having a feast for the Lord tomorrow” and the people got up early to go to fake worship.

 

It was of course a wretched thing to do, to give credit for liberation and freedom to a thing that, moments ago was a piece of jewelry.  It is idolatry to steal glory from the God who is God and will not share His glory with another.

 

The bible says these people got up early, ate, drank and when Exodus says they “got up and played” it does not mean that they are playing Yahtzee or Twister.  These people were having a party, and they were drunk and all the things that go with such activities were happening…and they called it worship.

The had in short shown more love, devotion and worship to this thing than they had ever shown toward the one true God.

 

And then Moses walks in on them.

 

Moses was mad, as he should have been.

 

Earlier this week I was at the Desiring God Pastor’s conference in Minneapolis.  One of the speakers, Doug Wilson was talking about the Pastor’s calling.  How does one know that God wants a young man to go into ministry and to give his life to the ministry of the pulpit?  Wilson said that one reason many people don’t like to go to church is the guy in the pulpit.  He said that for generations the old ladies of the Church have found the nicest, kindest young man with rosy cheeks and told him that God wanted him to go into the ministry, thus causing generations of weak, moralistic, passionless church goers.

 

Is it okay for a Pastor to get mad?  Is it okay for a leader to be angry?  Are there things that should just burn the Christian?  Yes.  Absolutely.  The apostle Paul teaches us in Ephesians 4 that the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God and we are to be fast to forgive the truly repentant; not letting the sun go down on our anger lest we should give the enemy a foothold to exploit against the saints of God.

 

But, there are some things that should make a leader mad.  One of the speakers, Pastor Crawford Loritts said that he has sat divisive Church folk down and told them “I am mad at you because of what you are doing to this Church”.

 

You see, the house of God should be beautiful, and peaceful, and unified, but it must also be united for the sake of Christ and His mission.  The House of God is to be peaceful, but not because there are some people who are running a muck and everyone else is afraid to say anything.  A small few’s sinful dissention and gossip can cause great harm to the whole body of Christ, not just the small part they’ve maliciously targeted.

 

Moses comes down off the mountain, sees the camp out of control and throws down the law God had just given to him, but why not?  These people would never revere the law of God on the fleshly tablets of their hearts!  They simply did not care.  I pray you care Christian.  They could not be bothered with pure and true worship because the worship of Egypt was not about God but about them, and the way they worshiped themselves was by having a party.  I pray that you can be bothered Christian.  Get Drunk, Eat, and hook up with somebody you don’t even know, and call it worship.  They turned their heart away from the God of life and freedom and gave it to Egypt.

 

Egypt worshipped Egypt.  Their Pharaoh thought of himself as a god.  They had endless created gods, and they had hand drawn pictures of them to prove their existence.  Like a 5 year old telling you about her imaginary friend and then handing you a hand drawn picture saying, “See, this is Bob”.  They built massive pyramids in the pursuit of self-worship, which still stand to this day, and do you know what they filled these pyramids with before we looted them and filled our museums with these treasures?  They were filled with stuff for the dead king.  If you wandered through a filled Pyramid you would come to the conclusion that the place was dedicated to the worship of a man rather than a god, because it was.

 

You see, idolatry isn’t just worshipping a false god; often idolatry is the worship of ourselves wrapped up in the façade of worship of God.

 

Moses throws down the tablets and grabs his brother and says in affect: what did they do to you to make you do such a horrid, disgusting thing?

 

Aaron says, “You know how these people are.”  One wonders if Aaron shrugged while he excused his actions.  Moses’ brother lies and says that he threw the gold in the fire but this golden Calf popped right back out at him.

 

Moses is mad.

 

Some will say that righteous anger is merely anger and tell you that anger is bad and so are you.

 

Righteous anger is proof that the Christian

 

  1. Really believes there is a holy God out there.
  2. Cares about the opinions of a holy God over those of fallen, conflicted, humanity.
  3. Has a God given backbone.

 

Moses burns down the golden calf. He grinds up the gold calf and throws it into the water supply, and make Israel drink her own idolatry.

 

Stephen says to his judges that their people had a bad track record worshipping the one true God.  Stephen says that they have a track record of worshipping the work of their hands, and now He moves on to the next part of his argument:

 

And they also worshipped the Stars

42 But God turned away and gave them over to the worship of the heavenly bodies. This agrees with what is written in the book of the prophets: ” ‘Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings forty years in the desert, O house of Israel? 43 You have lifted up the shrine of Molech and the star of your god Rephan, the idols you made to worship. Therefore I will send you into exile’ beyond Babylon.

 

Worshipping heavenly bodies doesn’t mean they were worshipping people who spend a lot of time at the gym, or whom spend tons of money getting cosmetic surgery done.

 

Israel worshipped the star gods of the nations over the river, over in Mesopotamia, and Egypt, or for that matter, anywhere else in the world, for we Christians often forget how utterly unique the Lord God is.  We worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  He is One.  At the time every nation had their own tribal deities, they all worshipped multiple gods and for the most part every nation had the same gods with a little twist here and there.  So it was that nearly every civilization had a Sun god for example, or a god in the sky who we would identify now as that wonderfully ringed planet Saturn.  But the Hebrews followed the one true God, the God we now have realized and understood in the Glory of Jesus Christ who is in perfect fellowship within the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one in essence and nature but in 3 distinct persons.

 

John Stott has pointed out that many think of the 40 years in the wilderness as a kind of honey moon for the Children of God when they were on fire for the will of Yahweh.

 

However, this was not so: Israel’s heart longed for pagan religion that was merely a kegger with religious overtones.

 

This passage asks the questions: did Israel really offer God sacrifices in the wilderness for those 40 years?  The answer is on one hand, ostensibly yes.  Israel did go to the tabernacle, and go through the routine but their hearts were never into it therefore it wasn’t real.

 

Heartless worship is not worship at all.  God says the reason He knows their worship was fake is because they were keeping their little Assyrian star gods on the side.

 

A marriage with an extra lover or 2 on the side is not a monogamous marriage, just as monotheism with an extra deity on the side is not true worship.

 

Hundreds of years later the Israelite monarchy would apostate to these stronger, bigger better more nation’s astrological religions, and God would punish Israel with the very nations whose fake gods they worshipped.

 

Stephen continues to hammer at their hearts and souls…

 

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