All of the world’s idols demand that we make endless sacrifices for them. But only Jesus has accomplished the ultimate sacrifice we need. Today, Barry Cooper explains how the idols we encounter in the Old Testament are far more relevant than we realize.
As you think back over your life, what’s the most important choice you’ve ever made? Something that has really changed the trajectory of your life. Maybe it was connected with a job or a relationship or a place to live.
Maybe it seemed like a small choice at the time—saying yes to something or no to something—but it turned out to be huge, for better or for worse.
Speaking for myself, four years ago, I chose to marry an American. That was a huge choice. Can you imagine—the frosty silences at the breakfast table every Fourth of July…
But there’s another choice which is in your hands that is much bigger and more significant than all your other choices put together.
And the frightening thing is, even though this choice will set the entire trajectory of your life, it’s possible you don’t even realize that this choice is in your hands, that you have this choice to make.
And the choice is this. You get to choose what to worship.
You see the Hebrew word בָּמָה [bamah] all over the Old Testament, and it’s usually translated “high place.” These “high places” were elevated parts of the landscape—sometimes man-made—on which altars were placed and worship was carried out.
Although “high place” doesn’t always carry a negative connotation in Scripture, more often than not these were places where God’s people made sacrifices to idols or false gods. Sometimes these religious shrines also contained an object such as a stone pillar or wooden artifacts that were associated with the false god in question.
All this was in spite of the fact that, having delivered them from slavery in Egypt, God told His people, “You shall have no other gods before me.”
But that was exactly what the Israelites ended up doing. And the locations for their worship of these other gods were the high places.
This is what the Bible calls “idolatry,” the worship of someone or something that is not God. And when we think of idolatry, of course, we tend to think of primitive folks bowing down to carved statues.
But even as people who claim to follow Christ, it can be very easy to inwardly set up “high places” for ourselves and to start worshiping idols. To treat things which are not God as if they were. By which I mean, we start looking to these things to give us a sense of self-worth or satisfaction. We look to these things to give us a sense of power or comfort or control.
What might it be for you? It’s typically where most of your time and money goes. It’s what you see yourself getting in your best dreams and what you see yourself losing in your worst nightmares. That’s an object of worship.
The novelist David Foster Wallace was not a Christian, but he said this:
You get to decide what to worship. . . . In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God . . . to worship . . . is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.
If you worship money and things . . . then you will never feel you have enough.
Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you.
Worship power—you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay.
Worship your intellect, being seen as smart—you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.
And of course, these objects of worship that Foster Wallace speaks of are not benign. For one thing, they break our intimacy with the God who gives us life and breath and every good thing we enjoy. And Jesus warns that to live like that will lead to God’s judgment and ultimately to hell.
And in the meantime, setting up these high places creates a kind of hell on earth. Because they demand endless sacrifices.
The god of money says to us, “Sacrifice your time and energy and abilities to get me, and if you don’t get more and more, I’ll make you miserable.”
The god of power and career success says, “Sacrifice whatever it takes to get the right grades, the right promotion, and keep doing that, or I’ll make your life feel meaningless.”
The god of approval says, “Sacrifice your own convictions, your own integrity, whatever it takes to win the approval of other people, and keep doing that indefinitely, because if you do not get that approval, I will make you feel like you’re worthless.”
To take down these “high places” that we set up in our hearts, we need our hearts to be recaptured by a better God. A kinder God.
All other “gods” demand that you make endless sacrifices for them. But Jesus is the only One who says, “I have already sacrificed for you, and it’s the only sacrifice you’ll ever need.”