When I teach the kids in our church’s children’s ministry how Israel, again and again, fell into idolatry, there’s a phrase I use. I’ll say, “They worshiped pretend gods instead of the one, true God.” That’s one way to describe it, but there’s more to idolatry than putting statuettes of false deities on your mantle and burning incense to them. In 2 Kings chapter 17, we find a chilling description of what idolatry is and how it exposes us.
First, idolatry involves forgetting what God has done for us (vv. 7–8). God brought the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh, king of Egypt (v.7), but they abandoned Him. They turned away from their Savior and put their trust in worldly customs and practices rather than in God. When we abandon biblical wisdom to follow what seems right by worldly standards, we do the same.
Second, idolatry involves closing our ears to God’s warnings (vv. 9–14). The people of Israel weren’t ignorant about what they were doing. God had clearly commanded them: “You must not do this” (v.12). He’d even sent prophets to warn them: “Turn from your evil ways and keep my commands” (v.13). But they failed to listen to His loving warnings. Any time we close our ears to godly counsel, we do the same.
Third, idolatry reveals the fullness of our corruption (vv. 14–17). Israel goes from bad to worse. In the end, they sacrificed their own children in the fires of their sin. Our idolatry ultimately exposes the wickedness and brokenness of our sinful hearts. In Moby Dick, Herman Melville tells us about an idol worshiper named Queequeg who spends a day in fasting and bowing before a little idol named Yojo. Melville describes the protagonist, Ishmael, and how he restrained himself from correcting the pagan sailor. At one point Ishmael says to himself, “Heaven have mercy on us all… for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.”
In the end, Israel fell, and their idolatry was met with righteous judgment (vv. 18–23). God’s anger could no longer be held back from Israel, and He removed them from His presence by sending Assyria to take them into exile.
We’re so much like the nation of Israel. Like sheep, we easily go astray (Isaiah 53:6). Praise be to God that the downward spiral of idolatry can be broken. If we acknowledge the depth of our sin, we can return to the Shepherd and overseer of our souls. We can turn from idols and serve the Living God, because “he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree; so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds [we] have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).
Written by Jared Kennedy