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Spiritual Reflection – Pentecost 19

Spiritual Reflection – Idols

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. (Ex. 20:4 NRSV)

When I was younger I had a number of idols. As a young boy (and passionate Carlton supporter) my footballing idol was Alex Jesaulenko. When my interest in tennis started to develop as a fourteen year old, my idol was Bjorn Borg, and when it came to music (which was my greatest passion), my idols were Glenn Frey from The Eagles and David Gilmour from Pink Floyd. In those times, the word idol had a positive connotation for me. My ‘idols’ were people I looked up to, people that I aspired to be, or at least to emulate.

Even today the word idol still has positive associations. If we think of the talent shows ‘Australian Idol’ and ‘American Idol’, we think of very talented singers and performers who can make a name for themselves by winning these competitions and attracting a large following of fans who perhaps want to be like them.

But if we look at the word ‘idol’ in the context of the Old Testament, it tends to have negative connotations. When God is giving the commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai, as recorded in chapter 20 of the book of Exodus, the very first commandment God gives is that “you will have no other gods before me”. In relation to this commandment, God also gives Moses and the people of Israel the following instruction: “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” In this context, an idol is an object that represents a god, and which is worshipped by people. It is in this setting that the word takes on a negative connotation. It is because people begin worshipping idols instead of God.

When Moses received the commandments from God, he remained on Mount Sinai for 40 days. The Israelites, whom Moses had been leading through the wilderness on the Exodus from slavery in Egypt, became worried that something bad may had happened to Moses, or that he perhaps had deserted them. So they approached Aaron, the brother of Moses, and asked him to make gods for them that would lead them in the same way that God had gone before them in the ‘pillar of cloud’ by day and the ‘pillar of fire’ by night when Moses was with them. And Aaron responded by telling the Israelites to bring him all of their gold earrings. When they had done so he had the gold melted down, then he formed a mould and made an image of a calf – a golden calf – and the people said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” (Exodus 32:4b) Out of fear, and an obvious lack of faith, the Israelites turn to worship a man-made golden calf.

What might be the ‘golden calf’ of our times? Perhaps it might be money; wealth; power; fame; success; beauty; intelligence? What are the idols that people worship today instead of God? 

God wants us to have no other gods before Him. God created us in His own image, and He created us to be in relationship with Him. St Augustine famously wrote “You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You”. We are destined to be in relationship with God. The reason that Jesus died on the cross was so that we could be reconciled to God. God revealed Himself to us in Jesus, and Jesus suffered, died and was raised so that we could be in a right relationship with God. All that God requires of us is that we believe this, and that we give Him priority in our lives.


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