John Calvin said that our hearts are idol-making factories. An idol can be a statue or a graven image:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments." (Exodus 20:2–6)
Back in those days, idol worship was for images that represented the gods that supposedly controlled things like fertility, crop production, the weather, and other powers that pagan people did not understand. The Israelites lived among those pagans, but as God’s chosen people, they were warned. God had revealed Himself to them by creation and through the prophets. He told them . . .
You shall not make idols for yourselves or erect an image or pillar, and you shall not set up a figured stone in your land to bow down to it, for I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 26:1)Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them (Deuteronomy 11:16)
It might be easy to excuse the pagans or even God’s people for their idolatry because of their lack of scientific knowledge, but in our modern world with knowledge of what makes crops grow or fail, people still refuse to worship God and turn to different kinds of idols. That is, an idol does not have to be a fat little statue or a wooden carving.
The New Testament also speaks of idols. The Greeks and Romans of that day had their share of them so that could be an influence on the Christian population, but not necessarily. Paul reminds them of what happened to God’s people in Exodus, no doubt referring to the incident when Aaron made a golden calf as Moses met with God and received the Ten Commandments.
Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” (1 Corinthians 10:7)
All of this points to a grim reality – even the people of God are prone to idolatry, and I am one of them. I can put anything in the place of God, and my most common substitute is my own self, my ideas, my way of doing things. The Bible says, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14), but it is impossible to flee from myself. I need to practice fleeing from this tendency because God is worthy of my absolute surrender. He has encouraged me to study the topic using a devotional booklet called “No other Gods” which I will use for the next few weeks. For today, the verse to remember is this theme verse: Little children, keep yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:21)