My people inquire of a piece of wood, and their walking staff gives them oracles. For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray, and they have left their God to play the whore. (Hosea 4:12)
I’d like to do a short series on the issue of idolatry, answering the question, “what does idolatrous lust do to us?” The prophets in particular have much to say about this. Idolatry is not a problem relegated to the past. The New Testament says to believers in Jesus, “flee from idolatry” and “keep yourselves from idols” (1 Cor 10:14; 1 John 5:21). So, it behooves us to keep in mind the dangers and effects of the idols that call to us.
And idol is anything that is equal to or more important than God in our attention, desire, devotion, and choices. It doesn’t have to be a statue of wood or metal, as in the Old Testament. An idolatrous lust is our desire for that idol. With that in mind, the first effect we can expect when we give in to an idolatrous lust is…
Our ability to think clearly is inhibited. That is, idolatrous lust darkens our minds so that we behave in ways that we would not otherwise. In this way, idols humiliate us. Or more appropriately, they move us to humiliate ourselves.
The passage above in Hosea 4 demonstrates that at the heart of our idolatry is a propensity for unfaithfulness. Speaking of the people of Israel, the prophet writes, “a spirit of whoredom has led them astray.” In Hosea, unfaithfulness to God is depicted as spiritual adultery or whoredom. The natural human disposition is to reject worshiping the creator in favor of worshiping created things (Rom 1:25). When we give in to this lust, it causes us to do ridiculous things, like what is described in the first part of Hosea 4:12: My people inquire of a piece of wood, and their walking staff gives them oracles…
An idol, which is nothing more than a piece of wood, made perhaps from the same piece of wood as a walking stick, is trusted to give the worshiper counsel. Pure nonsense. But it makes perfect sense to the one who has given himself over to false worship. This phenomenon is what Paul describes in Romans 1:21 and Ephesians 4:18 - “They became futile in their thinking and their foolish hearts were darkened…” and “they are darkened in their understanding…” False worship destroys a person’s ability to think and act sensibly.
Other prophets also show the absurdity of idolatry. Isaiah depicts a carpenter cutting down a tree: Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, "Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!" And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, "Deliver me, for you are my god!” (Isa. 44:16-17) The same piece of wood is fuel for a fire and a god called upon for salvation. The idolator doesn’t even see how silly it is!
Jeremiah also writes about the delusion of idol worship, noting that these objects of worship “are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good.” (Jer. 10:5) This behavior seems perfectly reasonable to the false worshiper; it is the height of foolishness to those watching. Such silliness is self-humiliation (Isa 44:9-11).
It’s easy for us to marvel at such blindness in others. It’s much more difficult to spot these things in our own thinking. Is it possible that our thinking also becomes darkened in our lust for idols? Do we engage in ridiculous behavior as a result? The answer to both questions must be “yes.” Idolatrous lust, when entertained, by nature darkens the mind and moves us to act in ways contrary to sound wisdom. Idolatry, at its foundation is demonic (Lev 17:7; Deut 32:17; Isa 106:37; 1 Cor 10:20; Rev 9:20). Therefore, it can never be benign. When we engage in it, we can be certain our thinking and actions are affected. And just as if we were falling down before a piece of wood, we humiliate ourselves.
Just a few signs that our thinking has been darkened by idolatrous lust:
- The moral commands of Scripture seem unreasonable to us (Gen 3:1)
- Social and political issues are more important to us than spiritual ones (Col 3:1-2)
- We love the things of the world (1 John 2:15)
- We are consumed with sensual pleasures, rather than with Christ (1 Cor 10:1-12)
- We have a sense of hopelessness and lack of peace (Eph 1:18; Phil 4:7)
- We have a general disinterest in the Word (Matt 4:4; Acts 17:11)
We simply cannot think and live rightly while engaging in false worship. The antidote is to constantly grow in our worship of the Lord Jesus Christ by enjoying fellowship with Him in the Word, prayer, and meaningful one-anothering with other believers. If we are not growing in our worship of Jesus, we are growing in our worship of something else. Our minds are either becoming more filled with the light of Christ, or the darkness of idolatrous lust.
Next time: we become like what we worship.