Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life. [Deuteronomy 30:19-20a (NLT)]
I glanced up at the ceiling; there, yet again, was a spider web hanging across the hallway. I brushed it away along with all the others that had appeared in our absence. Nevertheless, I know they will return; they always do. I can get rid of the spiders’ webs but, without getting rid of all the spiders, they will return.
That, in a nutshell, is what happened to the Israelites. When the Israelites arrived in Canaan, God told them to rid the land of all pagan practices by driving out the inhabitants of Canaan and destroying all of their shrines, idols, and high places. Unfortunately, the Israelites disobeyed and never fully carried out God’s command. Thus began a cycle of idol worship, warnings, punishment, pleas for relief, God’s rescue, repentance, obedience, and back-sliding into idolatry that lasted until their Babylonian captivity some 800 years later. Whenever pagan shrines were destroyed, like cobwebs, they always reappeared. When King Asa removed the idols from Judah, they came back and his son had to remove them again. Having returned by Jehosaphat’s reign, the offensive shrines were removed but, by the end of his reign, they were back. After Hezekiah destroyed all the pagan temples, idols and shrines, they were rebuilt during the reigns of his son and grandson. Although his great-grandson, Josiah, tore them down again, paganism returned during the reigns of the last four kings of Judah.
Merely destroying the idols and pagan shrines was no more effective than my knocking down the spider webs. The cobwebs, of course, are only a symptom of my real problem: spiders. Like those webs, the idols and shrines were merely symptoms of a far greater problem: the people’s unfaithfulness and disobedience to God. Whenever they were eradicated, like my spider webs, they reappeared because the source of the problem was never addressed. God’s prophets were ignored, unholy alliances were made, the temple was ransacked and allowed to fall into disrepair, and the Book of Law forgotten. The problem wasn’t in the high places and stone idols—it was in the people’s faithless and disobedient hearts! The pagan images and shrines of Israel and Judah were evidence of a disobedient and faithless people who forgot the God of their fathers.
Let us remember that idolatry doesn’t require the making of an idol or the erecting of an altar in a high place; it simply involves placing ourselves before God and putting our faith in anything other than Him. Believing in their false promises of blessings and security, people now worship at the altars of things like materialism, pride and ego, power, fame, science and technology, youth and beauty, and self-indulgence. As offensive to God as were Ashtoreth poles and images of Baal, today’s false gods continue to be a symptom of a faithless and disobedient people who’ve forgotten their true God. Without Him as the center of our lives, without our faith in God and our obedience to His word, like the people of Judah and Israel, we will simply continue to discard one idol only to replace it with another.
You don’t have to go to heathen lands today to find false gods. America is full of them. Whatever you love more than God is your idol. [Dwight L. Moody]