Sermon series: Covenant Faithfulness
Connection to Unit Theme
God does not share His glory. He alone is to be worshipped, revered, and honored as King and God. The fall of the nation of Israel is a grim reminder of how deeply idolatry offends God. He both exposed and judged their sin.
In J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, a scene takes place in which Gandalf warns Pippin about their approaching conversation with Denethor, the steward of Gondor. Denethor had just learned of the death of Boromir, his beloved firstborn son. Gandalf says Denethor "loved him greatly: too much perhaps." For Denethor, Boromir was an idol, an object of his ultimate trust and devotion. Idols are people, experiences, ideas, and objects that we substitute for God. We lean on them, hope in them, and find refuge in them. These can be good things, as in the case of a child or spouse. Or they can be sinful things that we should hate. Instead, the fingers of our heart grab onto them. We trust and hope in them.
The nation of Israel is perhaps one of the saddest historical case studies of idolatry. A long line of kings who did what was evil in the sight of the Lord eventually led to their downfall. God exposed their worship of Baal and Asherah through his prophets, namely Elijah. However, their continual rebellion brought about God's judgment at the hands of Assyria (722 BC).
Let's look at how God exposed and judged Israel's idolatry, and see how we can learn from their example.
I. God exposes idolatry (1 Kings 18:20-39)
Elijah went to great lengths to prove to Israel that Yahweh was God. While Israel's people could recall the countless blessings of the Lord, their hearts were still reluctant to fully follow Him. Elijah took this opportunity to expose the impotence of Baal and thereby show the futility and emptiness of idolatry. Baal, the storm god, was powerless to send fire down from heaven to ignite the altar. Only Yahweh controls the weather, and everything else! He alone is God. Therefore only He should be worshipped and trusted.
Idols can only make promises. They cannot keep them. But we foolishly believe they can. We believe money can secure our happiness and joy. We believe pleasure can be our refuge and comfort. We believe success in business will validate our worth. We believe successful children will equate with our success. Proverbs 13:12 says, "Delayed hope makes the heart sick." This means that if our hope is in something that can fail, our hearts will fall with it. Our inner life will decay. This is what idols do - they fail. Trusting in these things should be as foolish to us as worshipping Baal was to Elijah.
Application: What is your functional object of trust? What do you love too much? What, if you lost it, would make life unlivable? What are the fingers of your heart grasping too tightly? What would you sin to acquire? Our hearts default to idolatry, but only God can truly secure and satisfy us. Only Yahweh is God!
II. God judges idolatry (2 Kings 17:6-18)
Despite what God did on Mount Carmel, the Israelites continued in their rebellious ways. Though God sent them prophets and seers (v.13), they would not listen. Therefore God had to act in judgment against His people, so "He removed them from His presence" (v.18). He used the nation of Assyria, the rod of His anger (Isaiah 10:5), to judge and destroy the nation He loved and miraculously delivered from Egypt.
While we must be careful not to attribute all of our suffering to sin and idolatry, we are promised that God disciplines those He loves (Hebrews 12:5-11). When Christians continue in idolatry, God must respond. When we foolishly trust and love the wrong things, or love the right things too much, God often allows suffering to enter our lives. James assures us that we can count it all joy because our faith is being tested (James 1:2). God purges the idols of our lives and loosens our grip on our false trusts. He shows how our desires for good things turn into demands. Those demands often become little deities that we take into our hearts (Ezekiel 14:3). But we can trust that He is aiming all of our circumstances, though painful at times, toward making us like His Son (Romans 8:28-29).
Application: God is always after our hearts. He wants our full devotion and worship. We should not be surprised when God uses any and every means to turn our hearts back to Him. This might be a season of financial stress or the undoing of our plans. God is covenantally committed to us. He will always pursue us, in love, to keep our hearts fully devoted to Him. In what ways have you seen God graciously expose and act against the idols in your life? Have you sought to renounce those idols and daily trust in Him?
Though God exposed and judged the idolatry of Israel, through the prophet Micah, He promised to gather a remnant to Himself (Micah 2:12-13). How would God do this? He promised, "One will come from you to be ruler over Israel for Me. His origin is from antiquity, from eternity. He will stand and shepherd them in the strength of Yahweh, in the majestic name of Yahweh His God. They will live securely, for then His greatness will extend to the ends of the earth" (Micah 5:2, 4). God would send His Messiah among them to redeem them. Jesus Christ, on the cross, would experience the ultimate removal from God's presence (Mark 15:13, 2 Corinthians 5:21), in order to gather God's people to Himself, and purify them from all idolatry (Titus 2:14). He would become the object of their worship for all eternity (Revelation 5:9-10).