IDOLATRY AND REVIVAL
The Apostle John speaks about the love of God, confessing our sins, forgiveness, etc. It is a great letter. At the end of it, in the last verse he writes, “Guard yourselves from idols.” Isn’t that surprising?
The New Living Translation puts it like this: “Keep away from anything that might take God's place in your hearts.” That is what the verse means for us today.
We believers are not in danger of worshipping wooden statues or idols. Our idols are those things in our daily lives that steal God’s place in our hearts, things like our bank account, our job, our career, etc. It could be our love for our wife and children. Or, our ministry can become an idol in our lives. We can be serving God sincerely and worshipping our ‘service’. All this can make us lose sight of what it means to worship God alone in our hearts.
So we need to ask ourselves constantly what really has top priority in our lives. Are we pursuing a profession that is taking us away from God? The Bible calls God ‘a jealous God’. What that means is that He wants 100% of our worship, our complete attention. In Deuteronomy 6, we read, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart.” Jesus quoted that verse to remind us that we could not give God 50% (or even 80%) of our hearts and give the rest to our family or our bank account, etc. God demands 100%. Everything we have belongs to God in any case. And He wants to direct our lives so that every part of it glorifies Him. That is the best life we can live. But God gives us the choice as to whether we want to live that way.
We read in the Old Testament of some kings who got it right and some who got it wrong. In 1 Kings 3:5-9, we read that God told Solomon, “Ask what you want Me to give you.” Solomon replied saying, “You have shown great loving kindness to Your servant David my father, according as he walked before You in truth and righteousness. Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in….So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people.” God was pleased with Solomon’s answer.
But was that really the best thing that Solomon could have asked for? He spoke of God showing His favour to his father David. But he forgot what his father had asked God for. In Psalm 27:4, David said: “One thing> I have asked from the Lord that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple.” That was David’s request, and that was what made the difference between him and Solomon.
Solomon had asked for a good thing. But it was not the best thing. Solomon asked for God’s wisdom while David asked for God Himself. David asked for the best.
Solomon was given earthly wisdom. But he still married many wives and went astray worshipping the many idols that his wives brought with them into his palace. But even before those idols entered Solomon’s life, we read about a disastrous choice that he made.
Solomon built a great temple for the Lord, but the idea was not his. It was David who wanted to build a house for the Lord and who was given the pattern for the temple by the Lord. It was David also who gathered all the material required for the temple and gave it to Solomon. The temple was entirely David’s vision, Solomon merely executed his father’s vision, because the Lord had told David that he would not be permitted to build the temple.
In 1 Kings 6:38, we read that Solomon spent seven years building the temple of the Lord. That was a huge amount of time that he spent building a house for God. But it is only when we compare that verse with the next verse that we can see Solomon’s temple-building programme in its true perspective. The next verse (1 Kgs.7:1) says that Solomon spent thirteen years building his own palace! He spent almost twice as much time building a palace for himself as he did building a house for the Lord. And all of this took place long before he fell into open idolatry. But these two verses show us something of the direction in which Solomon started moving. He started out with a good desire, wanting to build a house for God. But somewhere along the way, he began to use his wisdom to plan a better building for himself. And he used the wealth God gave him to gather materials for his own house. That was where his idolatry really began, when his own house became more important to him than God’s house.
We must see a warning here for ourselves. Are we going to live on earth spending twice as much time pursuing the construction of our own ‘palaces’. I am not referring to physical buildings. Building a palace is not an evil thing in itself. But it became an idol for Solomon, and such palaces can become idols for us too; things that consume our attention and that we dream about at night, things that are always at the back of our minds and that we begin to think about as soon as we wake up. Those are the idols we are pursuing. If God Himself is not the One we are pursuing, something is seriously wrong with our faith.
All For Him
We need to turn from our idols and say, “God, I want You more than anything else. I want to love You with all my heart. I want my love for You to consume me totally. I want to worship You with all of myself. I want you to purify me in Your fire and bring me to the place where I have no desire for anything or anyone else in the world. I don’t want even the righteousness You have given me to become an idol in my life. Isaac was God’s gift, but Abraham gave him up also to God. Are we willing to give up to God even what He Himself has given us, acknowledging that everything is His and nothing is ours? It is only then that we can be free from idolatry.
Destroy Every Idol
After Solomon died, the nation of Israel was split into two kingdoms, Judah and Israel. Many of the kings of these two nations along with their people went astray worshipping idols. And even on those occasions when there was some repentance and the people turned back to the Lord, they still did not destroy all their idols completely.
Then a 25-year-old young man Hezekiah became king of Judah. And he did something really amazing. We read about it in 2 Kings 18 and 2 Chronicles 30 & 31.
“Hezekiah reigned in Jerusalem for twenty-nine years. He did what was pleasing in the Lord's sight, just as his ancestor David had done. He removed the pagan shrines, smashed the sacred pillars, and knocked down the Asherah poles. He broke up the bronze serpent that Moses had made, because the people of Israel had begun to worship it by burning incense to it. The bronze serpent was called Nehushtan. Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was never another king like him in the land of Judah, either before or after his time. He remained faithful to the Lord in everything, and he carefully obeyed all the commands the Lord had given Moses. So the Lord was with him, and Hezekiah was successful in everything he did” (2 Kgs.18:2-7 NLT).
Hezekiah organised the first long-lasting revival that we read of in the Bible. Israel and Judah were bitterly separated at that time. But he sent invitation letters to the people of BOTH nations and suggested that they all come together in unity and celebrate the Passover feast. He sought to bring about a revival of holiness and unity among God’s people in Israel and Judah that no king before him had ever sought to do.
Nowadays so-called revivals among many Christian groups centre around the gifts of the Spirit and the pursuit of emotional excitement. They have missed the essence of what true revival is all about. It is good to go back and see what Hezekiah sought to achieve in his time. He got the people to repent of their sins and to come back to the Lord in unity of heart.
We read in 2 Chronicles 30:11-15: “The people humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem. The hand of God was on them to give them one heart to do what the king commanded by the word of the Lord… Then the people removed the altars which were in Jerusalem and all the incense altars and cast them all into the brook Kidron….The priests and Levites were ashamed of themselves, and they consecrated themselves and brought burnt offerings to the house of the Lord.”
They destroyed all the idols across both nations. This is the revival that we need to seek in our day too, the destruction of every idol, of everything that has taken the place of God in our lives. Revival is not seeking after spectacular gifts and supernatural manifestations. It is destroying all idolatry.
After we have praised God and worshipped Him on Sunday, when we start our lives on Monday, do we have a heart that puts God first in everything? Or do we still fall into the same sins as before and worship the same idols as before?
May we say with all our hearts, “Lord, I am going to burn every idol of mine and I am never going to bring any of them back.”
That will be true revival.
Let us seek the Lord then to do such a work in all of our hearts, that He dominates us totally and fills our hearts to the full, so that there is no room there for anything or anyone but Him alone.
“Guard yourselves from idols” (1 Jn.5:21).