The Sin of Idolatry
(19) They made a calf in Horeb, and worshiped a metal image. (20) Their glory they exchanged for the image of an ox that eats grass. (21) They forgot God, their savior, who had done great things in Egypt, (22) wondrous works in the land of Ham, awesome deeds at the Red Sea. (23) So he said that he would annihilate them had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him to turn away his wrath from destroying them. (24) Then they despised the desirable land and did not believe in his word. (25) They murmured in their tents and did not listen to the voice of Yahweh. (26) Therefore, he lifted his hand (swore an oath) to them that he would make them fall in the wilderness (27) and make their offspring fall among the nations and scatter them throughout the lands.
One repetition alone occurs in this segment, the verb, “make fall,” found twice in succession (vss. 26 & 27). Both uses describe God’s dealing with Israel’s sinful behavior. The first of these refers to the wilderness wanderings in which the entire generation that had rebelled against Yahweh just after leaving Egypt died (fell) in the desert before the conquest of the Promised Land under Joshua. The second refers to the eventual dispersion of the chosen people throughout the nations of the world in three stages: first, in the Assyrian captivity (722 BC), then in the Babylonian captivity (586 BC), and finally after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem (AD 70).
I. Israel’s tragic record of constantly sinning against Yahweh (19-25)
II. Yahweh’s responses to Israel’s faithlessness (23, 26 & 27)
Those who persist in sinning against Yahweh will inevitably experience the consequences of his wrath.
Of all the sins which Israel committed in her rebellion against God, idolatry offended him the most. Why? The answer is not difficult to discern when we consider the Ten Commandments. The moment we worship an idol, we break the first two:
- Commandment #1 - “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3).
- Commandment #2 - “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God” (Ex. 20:4 & 5).
In the Mosaic covenant, God demanded the exclusive devotion of his redeemed people. Their worship of anyone or anything else constituted a betrayal of his love, the sin of committing spiritual adultery. Paul clearly had this psalm in mind when he wrote about the irrationality of idolatry: “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” (Rom. 1:22 & 23).
Lest we think that the worship of idols no longer affects us today, Allen Ross in Recalling the Hope of Glory, a theology of worship, warns: “The label ‘idolatry’ may be affixed to anything that fills our desires and devotions instead of God, anything that replaces God as the source of security and satisfaction in our lives, or anything that robs God of his proper place in our affections and commitments” (p. 309). Is it any wonder that the Apostle John concluded his first epistle with the following exhortation: “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 Jn. 5:21)?