In the Old Testament, there were many gods and idols. There was Baal and Ashtoreth the god and goddess of the Canaanites; there was Chemosh the god of the Moabites and Ammonites; there was Dagon the god of the Philistines. The Egyptians are said to have had 40 gods although none are mentioned by name in the Bible. People were superstitious and thought that these gods had special powers and that they would give favors to those who worshiped them. So people bowed down, offered sacrifices and worshiped these gods. Yahweh, the one true God, knew that the Israelites would be tempted to worship these gods, so this is the command that He gave: Exodus 20:3-6 “You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image — 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 nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” God does not want His people to worship any other god. He is a jealous God. He wants all the glory and all the worship to come to Him. It is not a bad thing that He is a jealous God. We should appreciate that God is the Creator, the Almighty. He does not want to share the glory and worship that should go to Him with something that is false and powerless.
Romans 1:18-25 “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man — and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.” Some idols were fashioned to look like a man or birds or four-footed animals and creeping things. There were all sorts of idols. But all of them were false. People should have known better, but they foolishly worshiped idols.
Do you remember what the Israelites did when Moses went up the holy mountain to receive the law? Exodus 32:1-4 “Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, ‘Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ And Aaron said to them, ‘Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.’ So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!’” Is it any wonder that God wanted to destroy the people for their great sin?
You can read all the stories of idols in the Bible and maybe you think that today nobody worships an idol. But that is not true. In some places in the world, there are images that people worship. But even in modern society, idolatry also exists. Consider what the apostle Paul wrote to the brethren in Colossians 3:5-6 “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience.” Covetousness is idolatry. Covetousness is to have a strong greed for wealth or material gain. The covetous person makes money or wealth his god. It is what he worships; it is what he puts all his energy into. God confers blessings and happiness to mankind, but a covetous person believes that money will give him happiness. The wrath of God is coming upon those who worship riches. Jesus said in Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” You cannot serve both God and riches; covetousness is idolatry.
How should we worship God today? One way is described in Romans 12:1 “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” We are encouraged to give our bodies, all of ourselves, as a sacrifice to God. Whatever He wants, we will do. Therefore, anything today that we totally devote ourselves to instead of service to God can be an idol. The gods of our modern culture might include sex, money, food, entertainment, physical appearance, family, and success, to mention a few. Movie stars or sports stars might be idolized. An idol can be anything or anyone we totally devote ourselves to and that becomes more important to us than God. Even cell phones and social media can become an idol to us in that they can take all our time and energy. The list is long for what can become an idol.
Paul describes the brethren in Thessalonica who were previously idolaters. 1 Thessalonians 1:9b-10 “and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” An idol today might be different than the idols of Paul’s time. But I encourage you to turn from anything that might be an idol to you today and instead serve the living God. Only God, through the sacrifice of His son Jesus, can save you from the wrath to come. Only God is worthy to be worshiped.