God’s command for the people to “make no graven images” seems to be an easy command for us to keep. We know that idols are nothing. They are nothing more than rock, wood, and stone crafted by a craftsman and shaped into the likeness of an image that others use to worship. These idols have no life inside of them. They have no power of their own. They can not cause the rains to fall, or protect one from an impending disaster. It’s easy to join our voices with the prophets and others condemning them as a waste of what would be otherwise useful resources.
To imagine that anyone would bow to a statue in worship seems absurd. Perhaps generations ago, when the world was uncivilized and uneducated, humans were naive enough to believe that rock or stone could become alive with the correct incantation. But those were uncivilized times. In our modern era, no educated person would ever make such a mistake.
No wonder Yahweh God was so adamant that ancient Israel not bow down to idols. How disrespectful to the creator of the universe to somehow be placed on the same level as rock or stone, or to believe that some sort of created thing could somehow compare to the glory of the LORD our God. The whole story of scripture is predicated on the truth that God is above all other things; nothing compares to God. Nothing is God’s equal. The LORD is supreme, and there is no other.
Idols, therefore, which are only rock and stone, are nothing.
Idols, which in many ways are merely rock and stone, are something. It’s easy to assume that those in the ancient world were ignorant and confused, yet they probably understood that idols were made with wood and stone. The power was not in their composition; the power was in what they represented. Idols were the tangible reality of something bigger. Idols helped to represent an unseen, and even at times unknown, power that was in control of the universe. Idols were a tangible reality of something to cling to when the world didn’t make sense, or when God seemed absent or silent. When the story of humanity wasn’t progressing the way one assumed it should, idols became something to believe in; something that might meet one’s needs. When the rains won’t fall, or when an army attacks, and humans feel powerless to change the situation, we often cry out to a god for help. Sometimes we cry to the one true God; other times, we cry to an idol. Because of that truth or reality, idols very much are something.
Our danger, as those living in these modern (or even post-modern times) is not that we will be tempted to bow down to a statue made of rock and stone, but that when life becomes difficult, we will search for something that is created to cling to in the storm, instead of the creator of all things. We are in danger of placing our trust in horses and chariots, in tanks and guns, in stocks and dollars, in medicine and psychotherapy, in a new house, a new job, some time off, a new spouse, or any number of other created things for comfort, safety, and fulfillment than in the LORD God who made heaven and Earth.
None of us would trust in idols when life is good. But when life is difficult, or God seems absent, in whom do we trust?
When we feel unhappy, will we look to money to make life secure? If I could only pay off my bills. If I only had more money. If I could only buy a new car, or a boat. If only my boss would pay me a little more. Then, life would be happy and times would be good.
When we feel insecure, will we look for Earthly rulers for security? If only they would put more people in prison. If only they would build bigger walls. If only we could have more guns. If only our government was stronger. Then we would be secure, and have no fears.
When we feel alone, will we turn to popular culture for advice? If only I had a new spouse. If only I could be myself. If only I could live only for me. If only I wasn’t tied down to all of these other people.
We may not bow down to rock and stone, but our idols are much scarier because they pretend to be full of good, but they have a way of becoming our greatest desire. Our idols fool us into thinking we are still focused on God, when in reality we are focused on self, and we are seeking to use some created thing to fill a hole that only God can fill.
One truth of idols is that while they promise life, they always lead to death. Idols always come up empty. They are lifeless, and they will fail.
But the LORD our God is in the Holy Temple, the LORD our God is mighty to save, and the LORD our God can be trusted.