If you saw Russel Crowe in Gladiator back in the year 2000, you remember that line that the title of this article is from. The Romans loved to be entertained. That is our human nature. That is our sin nature. The children of Israel were no different. We are also no different today. We have a way of justifying our idols today, similarly to the way that the children of Israel justified their idols.
The children of Israel saw God defeat each of the major idols of Egypt with plagues, signs, and wonders. They saw the power of God with their own eyes. The idols of Egypt did nothing for them during the 400 plus years of slavery in Egypt. The idols of Egypt did nothing to help the children of Israel as they escaped Pharaoh’s deadly grip. God had told the children of Israel that they would be set free from their slavery so that they could worship Him and Him alone.
The children of Israel left the idols of Egypt behind but, their sin nature made the trip with them to the wilderness. We have already seen that our sin nature is extremely contentious. Our sin nature has a way of helping us view the past through rose colored glasses. The children of Israel started remembering their days of slavery in Egypt as better days than they actually were.
In our previous lesson, we learned about the Law of the Lord and the purpose of that Law. The people agreed to follow the Lord. They were informed of the dangers of idolatry but, they did not listen. They still had the idols of Egypt in their hearts, even though they left the psychical idols behind. Moses has gone back to meet with the Lord face to face. The people have short memories and they forget about the power of God. They turn to Aaron as the new leader. Things go from bad to worse really quickly because of the people’s sin nature.
I. Idolatry clouds our judgment
The idea of idolatry can be defined as building your life on a crooked foundation. Idolatry has a way of clouding our judgment. Idolatry has a way of making us view the past through rose colored glasses. I mentioned that earlier in this post.
Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” (Exodus 32:1)
Yes, Moses was at the head of the line when the children of Israel came out of Egypt, but, it was clear that God was the One who brought them out of Egypt. They know that making a god is wrong and yet they choose to do it anyway. They also give up too quickly on a leader who has sacrificed so much for them. He has intervened on their behalf so many times, especially when they did not deserve it. At the first opportunity, they seek to ditch Moses and sweet talk Aaron to build an idol for them.
He took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 32:4)
Aaron was also present when Moses delivered the Law of God to the children of Israel. Idolatry has now clouded Aaron’s judgment. Aaron also views the past through rose colored glasses. This idol did not deliver the children of Israel from Egypt but, that is how they choose to remember things.
Has this ever happened to you? I have seen this scenario played out many times in churches over the past 20 years. The people do not have a golden idol but they do have a sacred cow in the church that if removed, would be blasphemy to them. One example was staff members joking that the members of the church would view canceling Vacation Bible School as the equivalent of taking Jesus out of the Bible. One year it happened, due to various reasons and, you would have thought that the staff did try to remove Jesus from the Bible. Another was changing from an AWANA program to a different program. The members of that church were more attached to AWANA than they were to Christ. In researching the history of the AWANA program, I discovered that there was an all out war in the children’s department almost 30 years before when the church switched to AWANA from Royal Ambassadors and Girls in Action. We have our pet idols if we really will get serious and be open and honest before the Lord and before each other.
II. Idolatry is costly
It is funny to watch people and listen. I have heard it said, “why does 20 dollars seem like so much money when the collection plate comes around at church, yet, it seems like pocket change in the mall?” Sacrificing for the Lord seems difficult, while at the same time, sacrificing for our idols seems like nothing. It was the same with the children of Israel.
2 Aaron said to them, “Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.”
3 Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron.
6 So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play. (Exodus 32)
The men of Israel had no problem taking things from their wives and children to give to the cause of idolatry. How many men do the same thing today? Instead of going home after work on a Friday, they take their paycheck to a bar or to a casino and feed their idol the hard earned money that they spent so much time making. I have seen it played out time and time again. Did you notice that the children of Israel had no problem sacrificing sleep when it came to idolatry? I bet there are many among us today who do the exact same thing, for different idols of course. What are sacrificing your time and resources for, the glory of God and the kingdom of heaven or, for some modern idol? It is easy to recognize this in the lives of the children of Israel yet, it is very difficult to see it in our own lives. May the Lord help us see our own idols!
III. Idolatry is entertaining
Why would ancient people be so willing to sacrifice time, energy, and resources to idolatry? Did they not realize that their idols were useless? Could we possibly be the same way today? Let’s take a look at the root cause of their idolatry.
and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play. (Exodus 32:6)
In one word, it could be summed up as pleasure. Idolatry and pleasure go hand in hand. The people wanted to eat, drink, be merry, and of course, be entertained (play). The word “play” in verse 6 could be translated as “mock”. The children of Israel were making a mockery of God, of themselves, and of their spiritual leaders.
We have sacrificed much in our modern world to the idols of “entertainment”. We do not call it idolatry. We have other words like “hobby” etc. But, look at what God calls sacrificing time, effort, and resources to entertainment.
“They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’ ” (Exodus 32:8)
God calls this activity worship. He is not being worshiped. The people do not have time for Him. They want to dedicate their time to their idols. What about today, how many parents have to make a choice between sports for their kids and serving at church? Paying for children’s activities at church seems like a difficult task yet, paying thousands of dollars for those same kids to be on traveling sports teams is a “necessity”. I love sports. I play sports. My kids play sports. Yet. I refuse to let sports become an idol in my own life and in the life of my kids. What are some other idols that we worship in our modern culture?
IV. Spiritual leaders combat idolatry
God has a solution for the sin of idolatry. He could intervene directly yet, He chooses to work through spiritual leaders. If you do not have a spiritual authority figure in your life, you are susceptible to idolatry. You probably already have idols that you are unaware of because you have blind spots. You need someone who will lovingly rebuke you for your own good. Unfortunately, we do not like being rebuked because our sin nature is very prideful.
11 Then Moses entreated the LORD his God, and said, “O LORD, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?
12 “Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, ‘With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth ‘? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people.
13 “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ” (Exodus 32)
Moses was driven by a desire to worship God and to manifest His name correctly to the people around Him. Moses loved the Lord God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. That love drove Moses to love his neighbor as himself. The people mistreated Moses every chance they had. He should have wanted to let them receive what they deserved from the Lord. Instead, he showed mercy to them. He begged God to show grace to them instead. Moses was definitely a man after God’s own heart. A spiritual leader does not confront you because he wants to cause pain in your life. Pain may come as a result of your pride being wounded but, the spiritual leader is doing this because he cares enough about you not to let you walk in the sin of idolatry. Do you have a spiritual authority figure like Moses in your life? You need one. I know this because I also need one. We all need one. Idols damage our relationship with God as well as our relationships with others. Idols play on our sin nature and, as we have seen already, our sin nature is very selfish.
Maybe now would be a good time to ask the Lord to reveal the idols that you have in your life. What are you dedicating the majority of your time, effort, and resources to doing? Is it all used to glorify God and promote His kingdom or, is it used for pleasure (eating, drinking, and entertainment)? You know the answer to it. Take a long hard look at your calendar and your checking account. What is your time dedicated to doing? Where is your money being spent? May the Lord help us understand the dangerous sin of idolatry, repent of it, and walk humbly with Him!