The Old Testament is full of historical accounts. Some sections are focused in on individuals & their “life story,” while some are pulled back to capture events of an entire people group or nation. In either case, most of the time these accounts include a narrative about failure. They cite instances of rebellion, idolatry, immorality, and more – some in great detail and others in sweeping generalities.
I recently started reading through the book of Hosea, and so far it has been very descriptive of the sin of Israel at that time. God, speaking through the prophet of Hosea, does not pull any punches when accusing His people of their sin. There was no semblance of any kind of morality, but the biggest issue was that they had completely pushed God out of their lives – both individually & as a nation. They were in over their heads with idolatry – so much in fact, that in chapter 4 it says that there was “no knowledge of God in the land.” While reading through chapters 4 & 5 today, I had a few observations about idolatry:
1. Idolatry Looks Really Dumb
Have you ever asked a tree branch a question? How about a twig for advice, or tried to gain insight on an important life decision from a log? Maybe you’ve begged a stump for healing, or pleaded with it to comfort you in a time of sorrow?
When I’m involved in idolatry – placing things above Jesus that are of far lesser value – I have convinced myself it’s the best option. I truly believe in that moment that I’m pursuing what is most important. If only I could step back sooner & see the futility of replacing Christ with anything else – it’s as smart as talking to a piece of wood.
2. Idolatry Takes a Lot of Effort…For Nothing
It’s not exactly easy or convenient to climb to the top of a mountain, or set up an altar on the top of a hill. Think about all the detail they must have gone to in order to make sure their sacrifices were “just right” for their false gods. But their offerings simply burned to ash, and the smoke just disappeared into the atmosphere. There was nothing and no one on the receiving end of their effort. How much effort do I put into serving the idols of my heart? And for what eternal gain?
3. Idolatry is a Conscious, Deliberate Choice
What might start as something innocent, unintentional, or even “good,” can easily turn into an idol of the heart if we proceed without caution. Once something takes priority over Christ, our service to that idol is always a deliberate, willful choice. How “determined” am I to “go after filth?”
While these lessons are true, and the applications are real…here’s the danger we can often fall into when reading these accounts of sinful behavior: “Wow, the Israelites were pretty messed up people, look at all that bad stuff they did.” – and basically leave it at that. But today, I had this thought:
What if the Bible described the idolatry of my heart in detail, for everyone in the history of the world to read? What would God say in written form about my heart during the darkest, most selfish times of my life? What would the Holy Spirit inspire someone to record about my motives, even when I might think I’m doing right? Unfortunately it would be eerily similar to that of the Israelites…too often taking advantage of God’s unending grace and patience. Too easily forgetting how He was faithful to carry me through the deepest, darkest valleys when I fill my mind with worry and doubt. Too often deliberately choosing to do what I want instead of thinking and praying about what God desires of me as His redeemed child. Would He describe me as “greedy for my iniquity”? Would He say that I am “determined to go after filth”? However worded, it would definitely be ugly, and it would be embarrassing… but it would be true.
This is why I’m thankful the Bible isn’t written about me – as a historical narrative of the specific thoughts & intents of my heart over the years. However, even though our own life stories aren’t written down in detail – the Bible is definitely clear about who we are. I truly believe that the sins of Israel (and many others) are not just recorded for us to have an example of “what not to do.” They aren’t written down only for us to observe how messed up those people were & to try and avoid their acts. Their sins are described to show us who we are. To teach us about the depravity of mankind & the wickedness of the human heart (Jeremiah 17:9). But the Bible doesn’t build a case against us just to leave us wallowing in our misery. It all points to the fact that we’re powerless to change our own sinful heart. We can’t clean ourselves up. It all points to the cross, and it points to the suffering Servant who took the very punishment for our sins to offer freedom from the idols I too often chase.
So while I’m thankful the Bible isn’t written about my life – I’m also thankful that it teaches me about my sin. What I’m most thankful about, though, is who the Bible IS written about – Jesus Christ, who didn’t come to condemn the world (even though He would’ve been completely just in doing so)…but in order that the world might be saved through Him. (John 3:17)
“The Bible is not first a recipe book of Christian living, but a revelation book of Jesus who is the answer to our unchristian living.” – Tullian Tchividjian
12 My people inquire of a piece of wood,
and their walking staff gives them oracles.
For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray,
and they have left their God to play the whore. (ESV)
13 They sacrifice on the tops of the mountains
and burn offerings on the hills,
under oak, poplar, and terebinth,
because their shade is good.
Therefore your daughters play the whore,
and your brides commit adultery. (ESV)
8 They feed on the sin of my people;
they are greedy for their iniquity. (ESV)
11 Ephraim is oppressed, crushed in judgment,
because he was determined to go after filth. (ESV)