Sermon Notes: The Trouble with Idols

April 26, 2020
Deuteronomy 5:6-10

You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 9 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 10 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
God thinks the issues of idols and idolatry are a big deal.
He devotes one fifth of the Ten Commandments addressing them.
We should probably pay more attention to what He wrote than we do.
Commandment two is exhaustive.
We could spend weeks on it.
But I’ll get straight the point…
Here’s the trouble with idols and idolatry…
They lead people to slavery.
Idols enslave and God delivers…He frees us.
That’s God’s point…
And we understand this when we consider His opening statement to the Ten Commandments.
(6) I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
That’s God’s introduction to the most important statements in human history.
They are the basis for all moral behavior.
They define the essential relationship between God and people.
And the fundamental behaviors for people to act good toward one another.
They are the foundation on which the laws of this nation were constructed.
Literally everything that’s good about our country can be traced back to keeping one or more of these commandments…
And everything bad…back to breaking them.
Jesus thought them a big deal too…
Matthew 5:17-19, Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
We cannot make little of the Ten Commandments and make much of Jesus.
They’re that closely related
And both the commandments and Christ lead to freedom.
When God said, I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
He declared the crucial difference between Himself and the other gods people make and idolize.
He delivers and they enslave.
The Egyptians were first-rate idolaters…and slavers.
Ancient Egyptian religion was a complex system of polytheistic beliefs and rituals.
It centered in the Egyptians’ relationships with many deities believed to be present in, and in control of, the world.
To be a slave in Egypt was to be a slave to Egypt’s gods.
A modern-day equivalent is any nation that requires citizens to adopt an ideology…or be imprisoned, tortured or killed.
Communist China, Iran and Venezuela come to mind
So…when God wrote, You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 9 You shall not worship them or serve them….
He was laying out the theological blueprint of freedom for people who…for 400 hundred years…only knew slavery.
They thought and acted like people who’d been enslaved for a long, long time
People have to be taught how to be free.
Being a slave…being controlled by someone or something doesn’t require any moral, social or theological training.
This is why people naturally lean into bondage.
Because bondage…at least in the beginning…is easier than freedom.
That’s why the Hebrews complained in the wilderness…following God to freedom…for ease of their past.
Exodus 16:3, The sons of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
They weren’t very far on the journey to the Land of Promise before the longed for the land of bondage.
This is the compelling power of addiction that countless men and women struggle to overcome every day.
The slavery of abuse (substance, mental, emotional, physical, spiritual) can be more persuasive than the hardships of freedom
Then there’s the power of the oppressor…
Once the slave-mentality is adopted…all the oppressor needs to do is reinforce it through fear and intimidation.
Freeing Israel from the bondage of hard labor wasn’t nearly as challenging as delivering them from worshiping idols.
And God is every bit as challenged by us and our idols as He was them.
Because we have a slave-mentality when it comes to sin.
When we are delivered from the bondage of sin and death…through Christ…
Our hearts incline backward…to devotion for the gods of pride and self-sufficiency…accomplishment…and accumulation.
So…the second commandment should be as meaningful for us as God meant it for His people thousands of years ago.
Let’s learn what it means to be free.
Or as Paul wrote…It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore, keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. (Gal. 5:1)
Let’s keep standing firm.

The Products and Practices of Idolatry (8-9a)
You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.
We spent a lot of time last Sunday on the issue of idol making.
I argued…from Scripture…that our fallen nature compels us to be idol makers.
Commandment two builds on one…You shall have no other gods before Me…
By specifically prohibiting their creation…regardless of their location.
Heaven…earth…or water
God doesn’t deny His people the symbols of their faith.
For us it’s the cross.
The ancient Hebrews had the Ark of the Covenant.
What God didn’t want them doing was deifying likenesses of the sun, moon and stars…the sea or land creatures so familiar to their former masters.
What He most forcefully prohibits is found in the first words of verse 9…
You shall not worship them or serve them….
You see…this is when symbols of faith become the slave-masters of faith…
As people begin to worship and serve them.
For the Hebrews idol worship included…
Showing reverential fear or adoration of something made by their hands
Offering it sacrifices
Eating or drinking to its honor
The golden calf
Symbols can be powerful representations of reality…
Just ask any Jewish person how they feel about the swastika
Or an African-American…about a burning cross
It’s when we give more power to our symbols than they deserve…
That we begin to serve them
Then they morph into status-symbols…
Everybody knows that bigger church buildings, budgets and blessings means the leaders are more righteous than small church leaders.
They’re better practitioners of the Christian faith
We know that a Christian family who lives in a million-dollar home is more moral than the one hundred thousand-dollar dwellers.
Pastors who get their books published more sanctified than those who don’t.
We don’t say these things…
Unless you’re an acolyte of Joel Osteen…
But we do tend to think they have merit…and they don’t.
We feel the draw of the products and practices of idolatry.
Those status-symbols of faith.
If being denied gathering in our church building teaches us anything…
My prayer is that we never pursue the status symbols of faith.
Worship them or serve them
We must resist them…or face God’s punishment for idolatry.

God’s Punishment for Idolatry (9b)
…for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me.
The second part of verse nine includes the two Hebrew words for God…
Lord…Elohim…God as Judge
God…Adonai…God of Mercy
They depict perfect punishment.
Elohim means His punishment is righteous.
Absolutely deserved
Adonai means His punishment is tempered with compassion.
He justifies punishing idolatry by calling Himself a jealous God.
El Kana
When God entered into a covenant relationship with the Hebrew people, He entirely committed Himself to them.
Like a husband to His wife
He would watch over them like a husband passionately watches over the love of his life.
God devoted Himself to protecting Israel…
And that included shielding her from the slavery of idolatry.
This meant punishing her when Israel behaved like an adulterous and unfaithful wife.
Ezekiel 6:9, reads, Then those of you who escape will remember Me among the nations to which they will be carried captive, how I have been hurt by their adulterous hearts which turned away from Me, and by their eyes which played the harlot after their idols; and they will loathe themselves in their own sight for the evils which they have committed, for all their abominations.
God’s punishment for idolatry is promised and it’s painful…
But it’s measured
And that’s the idea behind the phrase…visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations….
I am intrigued by this phrase…what does it mean?
Think of it this way…
What do you do when you visit someone?
You go to them…in their house…maybe to the hospital.
You look in on them
God’s retribution for idolatry is certain…but it’s measured in the sense that He gives time for His people to repent and return to Him…
Even to the third and fourth generations
The phrase isn’t about a generational curse.
God doesn’t hold you and me responsible for the sins of our parents or anyone else.
But as the children of idol worshiping fathers they would have learned to worship idols…
Their children were also graciously given time to repent and return to God.
It’s not a statement of curse…it’s a statement of compassion.
But it also comes with a stark warning.
…for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me.
If the children of the idolatrous fathers didn’t repent…
Their feelings for God would degenerate to hatred.
When God is replaced with idols…with other gods…long enough…people start to hate God.
We can’t love idols and love God
We blame Him for our misery.
God becomes the author and finisher of our problems.
His compassionate delayed judgment gets seen as weak avoidance.
The trouble with idols is they lead us to hate God…despise Jesus and be repulsed by the notion of a Holy Spirit.
God loves His people so much…that He will punish them before they come to hate Him.
We see human manifestations of parent-hating children who were never on the receiving end of a well-placed punishment.
Spoiled kids who end up detesting the people that gave them everything.
God knew idolatry would eventually mean His people would hate Him if He didn’t correct them.
And it means the same for people today.
The reason there is such wide-spread disdain for God today is the proliferation of idolatry.
The trouble with idolatry is that it is spiritual slavery and leads to hatred of God.

God’s Pledge for Keeping His Commandments
But showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
The Hebrew word translated lovingkindness is chesed…
Refers to God’s steadfast love
God’s steadfast love is the overarching motive for all He does.
The word thousands, is best understood as a contrast to those He’s visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children on the third and fourth generations.
Deuteronomy 7:9, explains it this way…
Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments.
The keep is shomer which also means to guard.
Keeping God’s commandments as evidence of our love for Him is not just Old Testament truth.
1 John 5:2-3, read, By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.
Notice that John connects love for the children of God to loving God and keeping His commandments.
In other words…a proper love for the children of God (believers) comes out of loving God and keeping His commandments.
This prevents Christians from making an idol out of showing love to others.
Yes…you heard what I said.
We can prioritize loving others ahead of loving God and keeping His commandments.
This can be one of the most powerful idols embraced by God’s people.
Perhaps the reason most often given to justify neglecting congregational worship is some pressing family need.
I can’t present myself as a living and holy sacrifice to God…
Which is my spiritual service of worship…
Because I have to do this or that for my family.
That’s why what John reminds us so valuable…
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.
We cannot love others in a way that pleases God without loving Him first.
Do you see the subtly of idolatry?
I pray that the restrictions on congregational worship these past six weeks remind us all of the absolute necessity of assembling together.
And may I say regarding our church…
We need to figure out a way to keep our volunteers from the need to leave worship before it’s over.
God’s steadfast love is available to everyone who loves Him and keeps His commandments through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Prayer
Lord, the trouble with idolatry is really the trouble with us. We either don’t know or we keep forgetting how to live free. We forget that freedom isn’t doing what we want. Freedom is being who you want us to be.
Jesus, I pray that if there’s anyone watching this broadcast who’s a slave to sin; I pray they would cry out to you; the bondage breaker. Cry to you for salvation; for deliverance; for the freedom You provide.
Amen.