15Since you saw no form when the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire, take care and watch yourselves closely, 16so that you do not act corruptly by making an idol for yourselves, in the form of any figure - the likeness of male or female, 17the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, 18the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth. 19And when you look up to the heavens and see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, do not be led astray and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples everywhere under heaven. 20But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron-smelter, out of Egypt, to become a people of his very own possession, as you are now.
21The Lord was angry with me because of you, and he vowed that I should not cross the Jordan and that I should not enter the good land that the Lord your God is giving for your possession. 22For I am going to die in this land without crossing over the Jordan, but you are going to cross over to take possession of that good land. 23So be careful not to forget the covenant that the Lord your God made with you, and not to make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything that the Lord your God has forbidden you. 24For the Lord your God is a devouring fire, a jealous God.
As I mentioned on Sunday, here's the link to the main sessions and seminars from the Leadership Conference 2015 London:
And attached is the picture of the "oak tree" of Breakthrough Leadership.
The two big sins in the life of Israel were idolatry and syncretism. Idolatry is the worship of idols or false gods. And syncretism is the attempted worship of the One True God along with other god(s). The core issue for syncretism, then, is the amalgamation of true (exclusive) worship of YHWH + worship of another "god" or "gods." In other words, syncretism's core problem is basically idolatry.
It must be said that syncretism is sometimes intentionally "built into" certain religions. The religion of Egypt with which Israelites were familiar, Hinduism among the "world religions" in our day, and, actually, the overwhelming majority of religions in the Ancient Near East were syncretistic. In the Ancient Near East, syncretism as a legitimate form of religious practice made sense because "gods" were seen as localized deities. "Gods" were seen as powers over certain regions, so in people's minds there were many such gods who ruled over different areas. Hence, in principle, to worship one god whose influence overlapped with another god made sense to these people. And the gods themselves supposedly understood this. (Think back to your 5th or 6th grade Greek Mythology class.) Syncretism was the conventional way of thinking about worship for people in the Ancient Near East.
What became absolutely clear under the Mosaic Covenant, however, was that true worship of the True God precluded worship of any false "gods." In fact the first two commandments of the Ten Commandments directly address this issue.
And God spoke all these words:
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
But old habits die hard. The same issue of idolatry is brought up again in Deuteronomy 4 in our passage. This same issue will crop up again and again throughout Israel's history. Sad to admit, but this issue will never die, not during the time of Jesus, or the days of Apostle Paul, or throughout the Church Age.
The issue of idolatry will sound like a tune with unending variations. The images and statues and representations might change but the essence of idolatry did not and probably will not change.
If we got into a time machine and dropped down on Deuteronomy 4, we could probably identify "idolatry" with our physical eyes. In public temples, in designated rooms in a house, perhaps looking at bracelets and necklaces, and small figurines, we would not find it difficult to point to such things as say, "Aha, idols!" Sighting the physical objects of idolatry is easy. Discerning the "heart" of idolatry in people is more difficult.
In truth, idolatry is not really a matter of physical objects. You can be surrounded by "idols" (like at the Metropolitan Museum of Art), but those objects mean nothing to you, except as curious, religious objects of art. Since these objects mean nothing to you, they have no power over you as idolatry.
In order for idolatry to be relevant and alive, you have to think and feel in certain ways. You have to hope in that thing or idea. You might fear that thing or idea. You might long for that thing or idea. Idolatry actually does not depend on the existence of any "thing" at all. Idolatry can take the form of a person, a promise, a certain outcome, an idea -- almost anything that can be conceived and nurtured in one's heart and mind. Idolatry is, in essence, anything that takes the place of the One True God in our lives. Money, sex, success, reputation, recognition, security, fame, .... whatever that captures the mind and heart of the follower of Jesus other than Jesus is Idolatry. If this is the case, we have traveled back in time to Deuteronomy 4. We have not progressed far. We'll need something more powerful than a time machine. We'll need repentance and restoration so that our only First Love and True Love once again becomes the Triune God of the Scriptures.
Let's pray: O God, please forgive us for any remnant of idolatry in our hearts. We confess our sin of our version of syncretism, perhaps subconsciously believing that we can combine our worship of you along with other things or outcomes we really want to see fulfilled. Our hearts can be deceitful as the Scriptures say, so we need your help through the ministry of the Spirit to know where we are with you and where we are with other "gods" in our lives (if indeed there are other "gods"). We want to me right with you and in that right relationship to enjoy the goodness and grace that flow from you to your children. In Jesus' name, amen.