Turning God's Gifts Into Idols
By Shawn Tomlin
The LORD gives many gifts and blessings to all people, a common grace. His chosen receive even more though. The problem is sin. We, as God’s chosen and believers in Christ, are still sinners. We always will be. The difference between believers and unbelievers isn’t a perfectly sinless life though, it’s the faithful God who stands by His covenant promise on behalf of the work of His Son, Jesus Christ. We believers misuse God’s gracious gifts constantly. This includes anything you find joy or pleasure in; fishing, money, cars, collecting items, reading, writing, alcohol, tobacco, etc. This list is endless. What happens is we start to worship the gift, the “thing”, and in turn we stop worshipping the giver of that gift, our Holy God. We place our attention on something other than God. Our sin perverts that which is good and turns it into idolatry.
Let’s looks at a passage that literally shows this in action. Exodus chapter 32 is the story of the Gold Calf. We all probably know this story; Moses comes down from Sinai, where he had received the Law, to find Israel engaged in pagan worship of a golden idol made into the image of a calf. Moses’ temper flared and he threw the two tablets that contained on them the Ten Commandments, on the ground and they broke. Those tablets of stone shattered just like Israel shattered the first two commandments. He brought Israel back to repentance and prayed to God on their behalf. What we are going to focus on is what the gold calf was made of and how they obtained that material.
Those tablets of stone shattered just like Israel shattered the first two commandments.
Well, it’s pretty obvious what the gold calf was made of… gold. Where did a bunch of severely oppressed Hebrew slaves, held in bondage by Egypt, get gold though? If you flip back from Exodus 32 to Exodus 12 you will find the answer. Exodus 12:35-36 says, “The Israelites acted on Moses’ word and asked the Egyptians for silver and gold items and for clothing. And the LORD gave the people such favor with the Egyptians that they gave them what they requested. In this way they plundered the Egyptians.”
So Israel took a gift of God, in that God instructed the Israelites to plunder gold and silver and clothing from the Egyptians, and took some of that gold and forged it into an idol. They took a gift of God and perverted it into idolatry. Not only that, Israel announced in Exodus 32:4, “Israel, these are your gods who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” They witnessed firsthand the miraculous works of YHWH and they confessed that something made by their own hands had done what only YHWH could do. They placed the glory that only YHWH deserved on a worthless object.
We, sadly, are no different today. No, we don’t melt our jewelry down and forge idols, our idols are still here but in a different form. Calvin called the human heart “an idol factory” and it’s absolutely true. Paul says in Romans 1:21-23, “For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead their thinking became worthless, and their senseless hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles.” That’s exactly what Israel did.
In closing, let us remember that wasn’t the end of the story. Israel, through Moses’ intercession, was spared, and they came to see their sin for what it was and repented. Now we, who are covered by the blood of Christ, will be brought to see our sin for what it is, repent of it, and know that our faithful, promise keeping LORD will, and has already, forgiven us in the shed blood of His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.
“The LORD bless you, and keep you;
The LORD make His face shine on you,
And be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up His countenance on you,
And give you peace.”