If you are a Christian, you have no doubt seen the term idolatry before. Idolatry (worshipping anyone or anything that is not God) is a terrible offense to God, a grievous sin. If you’ve been around an evangelical church at all, you know that idols are not just figures carved out of wood, stone, or metal. Oh no—we have moved well beyond Golden Calf 2.0.
The idols of the modern man (including modern Christians) are legion: money, sex, reputation, peace, family, job, friendship, and a thousand others. We might define an idol like this: an idol is anything from which we seek significance or in which we place trust aside from God. Consider the following sentence: “If I lost _____, I don’t know how I could go on.” If you can complete that sentence with a word aside from “God,” you have identified an idol. Congratulations! You’ve won the prize: a life-long battle with a rascal that can strangle your soul!
But we read in the Bible that idolatry is not just morally wrong. Worshiping something other than God is not only offensive to his holiness. It is downright embarrassing. Consider Isaiah 20:
1 In the year that the commander in chief, who was sent by Sargon the king of Assyria, came to Ashdod and fought against it and captured it— 2 at that time the Lord spoke by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, “Go, and loose the sackcloth from your waist and take off your sandals from your feet,” and he did so, walking naked and barefoot.
3 Then the Lord said, “As my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Cush, 4 so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptian captives and the Cushite exiles, both the young and the old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, the nakedness of Egypt. 5 Then they shall be dismayed and ashamed because of Cush their hope and of Egypt their boast. 6 And the inhabitants of this coastland will say in that day, ‘Behold, this is what has happened to those in whom we hoped and to whom we fled for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria! And we, how shall we escape?’” (Isaiah 20:1–6, ESV)
God made Isaiah into an object lesson, a three-year nudist colony of one in the midst of Israel. God’s aim was not to humiliate Isaiah; his purpose was to give a graphic, visual prophecy. Judah had become dependent on other nations in sinful ways (verses 5 and 6). They relied on other nations to deliver them from the king of Assyria; this, when God had declared and proven that they must rely on him alone for deliverance.
Now read verses 3 and 4 (above) again. Can you sense the embarrassment? Those same soldiers in whom Judah had hoped were paraded naked through the streets by their captors. What a display of their weakness and frailty! What a dramatic point about the foolishness of trusting in them! You can almost hear the heavenly narrative: “Instead of me, the Lord of hosts, you trust in these guys? Really?!”
Consider a modern, personal example. God has been teaching me volumes this spring about the idol of my reputation. My reputation (at work, in the church, with friends) is an intangible possession I treasure so dearly that I change my behavior in drastic ways to uphold and advance it. But for what purpose? Will the opinions of others sustain me? Will they bring me closer to the purpose for which I was made? Will they forgive my sin, take away my shame, and present me to my God without blemish? Trusting in my reputation is not only sinful but embarrassing, and I have been asking God to parade it through the streets (so to speak) to show me the repugnance and folly of relying upon it.
When we look at our idols in the cool, honest light of the Bible, we see just how puny and weak they are. In contrast to our covenant-keeping God, idols boast of out-sized promises they can never keep. Will you shine this light on your own idols? Will you ask God to show your idols to you and destroy them? Because God (rightfully) desires all worship to be his, this is a request he will gladly grant to you in Jesus Christ.