The Israelites had seen God break the most powerful nation on earth in order to free them. Every symbol of the Egyptian religion mocked or destroyed – the Nile to blood, crops mutilated, the death of the firstborn, etc. All because Egypt wouldn’t let Israel free to worship their, the only God.
As an aside, this is one of the misconceptions about the Exodus story. Moses never asked for the slaves to be set free. His request was to be allowed to be free and independent enough, as a people, to worship God. God’s anger was directed against the government that would not allow that freedom of worship. Their freedom from slavery was a result of their desire and priority of worship.
Moving forward, the Israelites go through the Red Sea on dry land and watch the protection of a pillar of fire and see the army – a symbol of strength – of Egypt drowned in the Red Sea.
Once they arrive at Mt. Sinai, they are filled with terror at a cloud of smoke and fire covering the mountain, and they watched Moses march on up to the summit to meet with God.
I’d think that would be enough to believe, right? I mean, seems like a lot of “evidence” to work through a season of hardship and doubt.
Their faith didn’t last forty days.
Moses told them ONE THING from God before he walks up the mountain – idols are bad. They really piss God off. Don’t do it.
Moses is gone a couple weeks, close to a month, maybe, and the Israelites begin to doubt. “Moses is dead. What are we going to do now?”
The FIRST THING they do in their doubt is to make an idol.
They donate their wealth (given to them by the Egyptians to “please, leave!”) to Aaron, the brother of Moses, the dude left in charge. And Aaron makes a golden calf. The Israelites were a pastoral people, meaning they were noted for their flocks and herds.
The Israelites literally say: “This is the god that brought us out of Egypt.”
Isaiah has a hilarious discourse on idolatry. He talks about cutting down a tree. From that tree we burn some in the fire to keep warm. We make bowls and utensils to eat out of. Then we make a little statue, bow down to worship it, and say, “Hey, thanks for creating me.”
Idolatry, at it’s heart, at the source, is worshiping the work of our own hands. And while that exhibits itself in “graven images,” we must realize that we can worship anything apart from God that we have generated or manufactured.
That includes political systems, moral systems, cultural norms, postmodern ideas of identity and reality, economic systems, philosophy, logic, science, religion, relationships, romantic love, etc.
If I formulate an argument, despite how intelligent it seems, that God does not exist, the irony of using an ability gifted to me by God from his own likeness to prove that Giver does not exist is the same nature of self-deception as making a bowl and an idol out of the same tree. To choose what was created, as good as it may be, over the One who created it, is dangerous and destructive.
When we ascribe power to what does not possess it, that is also a form of idolatry. My ability to think and reason, while good, is limited in its ability. To ascribe it more than is prudent will lead to deception. And without a true revelation of the Creator, then something “good” becomes a deathtrap.
Religious traditions can possess the same problem. When used in context of the Creator, the only one with power, and in relation to him, then traditions can be good and reasonable reminders of revelation. But when we begin to believe those traditions have power in and of themselves, or that they are the solution, we can create idols within Christianity, which supposes to worship the one Solution, the Savior, the “only Potentate,” as the KJV says it.
But when the revelation of God through our relationship with Him is given its proper place, the primary position in our lives, the position of LORD and KING, then I can truly appreciate the good things in life without seeking to worship them. That leads to peace and purity and life, and that life more abundantly.
That is my prayer for all of us.