Idolatry. It’s not a word we hear often in the church scene these days. It’s not a word we like to hear. Sure, it may be mentioned in a sermon referencing ancient Israel or the cultures early Christians or missionaries interacted with, but seldom is it applied as relevant to modern, enlightened Christian believers. Because seriously, Christians are the ones who worship the one true God, aren’t they? Christians are the temple of God and like the apostle said ‘what agreement has the temple of God with idols?’ (2 Cor. 6:16) So Christians are the last people on earth to be involved in idolatry.
Or are they?
To his dismay Ezekiel, a prophet of Israel, was given a graphic revelation of blatant idolatry happening in the temple in Jerusalem. In the holy place of God’s dwelling, depictions of idols from neighbouring nations had been incorporated in the entrance way and walls of the building dedicated to the God of Israel. Not only this, but the people, including the leaders, were actively worshiping false gods such as Baal (associated with ritual prostitution and child sacrifice), Tammuz (a fertility god associated with ritual prostitution), and the Egyptian sun god (Ezek. 8).
So what does an Old Covenant passage about idols in Israel’s temple have to do with us, the living temple of God who worship God under the New Covenant of grace?
Imagine this scenario: you walk into your own house one day to find photos and statues of people you don’t know in every room. The representations are bearing your name and depict you doing things you hate, things that aren’t anywhere near a reflection of your true character and nature. To your horror your family are convinced these images are the true (insert your name here). Instead of talking and relating directly to you face to face, they prefer talking to these false images of you. All around you, the people closest to you, the people you love, are even imitating the abhorrent things depicted in the images.
When people visit your house your loved ones introduce these images to them in your name, as if you are not even home. In fact, they gradually become so taken up with these false images of you they are no longer aware of your actual presence. You have been misrepresented and replaced, and your family is living under a harmful delusion.
It’s a poor analogy but if we can even begin to imagine such a shocking personal scenario it may help us to understand how God feels about idolatry. Ezekiel is long gone, the Old Covenant is obsolete, but God has not changed and idols in His temple, albeit now a human temple comprised of living spiritual stones, are just as offensive to Him as they were in Ezekiel’s day.
What does it mean to us living in 21st century Christianity that God declares Himself a ‘jealous God’, and even states that one of His Names is Jealous (Ex. 20:5; 34:14)? ‘Jealous’ is not a word we want to associate with God, especially when jealousy within ourselves is usually viewed as sinful. Is God’s jealousy the same as human jealousy? Is it possible to be jealous and righteous at the same time?
There is a human jealousy that covets what someone else has or has acquired. It gains entry into human hearts as a result of the Fall and causes us to be jealous of someone else. It is destructive, cruel and at times murderous. That is not the nature of God.
There is another jealousy that is jealousy for someone. This is the kind of jealousy Paul was describing when he wrote to the church at Corinth:
For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin (2 Cor. 11:2).
Interestingly, the New Testament Greek word for ‘jealous’ (zeloo) shares the same root word as our English word ‘zealous’. Remember Jesus being so indignant at the merchandising within the temple that He took a whip and drove out the traders? The apostle John later identified Jesus’ reaction to the scene as ‘zeal for His Father’s house’ (John 2:13-17). The merchandisers in the temple courts were making profit from those who had come to worship. Jesus was righteously jealous on behalf of His Father Who was being misrepresented in His own house (Matt. 21:12-13).
Have you ever flared up in anger when someone you care deeply about was being manipulated, deceived and misled by another person into doing something that would harm themselves and others? If so, then you have tasted righteous jealousy. You were not jealous of someone, you were jealous for someone because of your deep and genuine affection for them which desires only the best for them.
God’s jealousy is FOR us. It is rooted in His desire that His people enjoy the fullness of the freedom Christ bought for us at the Cross. Anything that robs us of that freedom provokes God to holy jealousy on our behalf.
Idolatry is giving away Christ’s rightful supreme place within His temple to something or someone else. Not only does it rob Christ of His central place in our lives, it also robs us of the freedom for which His blood was shed and which His risen Life within us provides.
In the next few posts on Bread for the Bride I want to investigate some of the modern day idols in the temple…the things in the life of those called as Christ’s Bride that provoke Him to righteous jealousy.
There are obvious personal idols that each of us as individuals have sooner or later to deal with – idols such as family, spouse, money, career, pride etc. I will not be focusing on those. The idols I will be discussing are idols that many of us may not have recognised for what they are because they are so entrenched in the Christianity we have grown to know they have become part of our temple furniture.
Hold on to your hats. This could get ugly!
Part Two coming soon.
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2017 and beyond. Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.