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Monday, February 20, 2012

'Idols of the Heart' - Chapters 1-2

When most believers read the first commandment in Exodus 20:3, "You shall have no other gods before Me," they breathe a sigh of relief and mentally cross that sin off their list. Phew! No problem there! No little stone statues in my house! When we read of Israel's struggles with idolatry in the Old Testament, how often do we think, "What pointless behavior to replace the eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing Creator God with an impotent idol!"? In her book, Idols of the Heart: Learning to Long for God Alone, Elyse Fitzpatrick notes how "we've conveniently categorized idolatry as something that exists outside of us (little stone statues) rather than something that lives within our hearts." If you spend much time in Scripture, you'll begin to notice how many times NT believers are warned against idolatry. It's as much of a struggle for us today as it was for the nation Israel then, because the issue of idolatry is much larger than just those little stone statues. (Col.3:5) The Apostle John, addressing church age believers, warns, "Little children, guard yourselves from idols." (1 John 5:21) Think about it. What is really most "precious" to you?

Chapter 1 "Rachel's Gods and You"
Admittedly, I am not a fan of "speculative bibliology". God holds me accountable to "rightly divide" His Word and I try to be very careful to never go beyond what has been written. In order to determine God's main point in each passage one must pay strict attention to what IS said as well as what IS NOT said. Though Fitzpatrick gives a disclaimer that her speculations behind biblical accounts are not inspired, they do have the effect of influencing your opinion about a passage. I recommend skipping over these introductory speculations and going straight to her exposition. 

Rachel's childlessness is offered as a prime example of creating an idol in your heart. She allowed her childlessness to take the place of primary importance in her life, thereby devaluing God's position. This becomes evident in Genesis 30:1, 'Now when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she became jealous of her sister; and she said to Jacob, "Give me children, or else I die."' Thus begins a downward spiral in her life, taking her further and further away from her God. By the next chapter we discover she has stolen her father Laban's household gods. Fitzpatrick writes,
Because of her infertility and everything it represented to her, Rachel had come face to face with an insurmountable problem .. She feared that she had to take steps to protect her position. She believed her father's gods would somehow bless her, so she took them. Perhaps she believed that there might be a God who ruled the earth, but He was too far away and too unmanageable for her comfort. She couldn't trust Him to order life as she desired. She needed a tamer, more docile god - one she could control. She wanted a god that would give her what she needed.
Commentators suggest several possibilities for why Rachel may have taken Laban's household gods. Whatever that reason may have been, taking them demonstrates her lack of trust in God's sovereign control of her life, replacing it with a trust in herself and her own abilities to bring about her desires. John Calvin commented on this passage ...
When [Moses] relates that Rachel stole her father's idols, he is speaking of a vice that was common. From this we may gather that man's nature ... is a perpetual factory of idols.
Fitzpatrick defines the problem, "Idols aren't just stone statues. No, idols are the thoughts, desires, longings, and expectations that we worship in the place of the true God. Idols cause us to ignore the true God in search of what we think we need." How do we recognize the idols in our heart? "If you're willing to sin to obtain your goal or if you sin when you don't get what you want, then your desire has taken God's place and you're functioning as an idolater. ...Jesus said that the primary love in your heart has to be centered on God. Anything less than that is idolatry." (Mt.22:37-38)

Chapter 2 "Undivided Adoration"
Chapter 2 opens with a look at Martha and Mary. Have you ever noticed you're more likely to struggle to find time to spend with the Lord in His Word and in prayer than you are to serve Him? Many of us are such "doers" we forget we're primarily meant to be "worshipers". The "doing" is to be an outcome of worship, not our primary focus or goal! How often we get that confused! "Yes, I love God, but I'm a little busy working for Him right now ... so I'll spend time with Him later." Ouch.

Another idol-making temptation common to women is in dealing with our children. Fitzpatrick offers the example of Eli who did not discipline his sons, thinking more of pleasing them than of pleasing God. God charged him with his idolatry, "Why do you ... honor your sons above Me?" (1 Sam.2:29) 
Eli thought more of peace in his household than peace with God, so he neglected his duty and brought disgrace on the Lord. The pleasure of having a peaceful relationship with his sons functioned as his god. ...Honoring God means that the Lord's pleasure and glory come first. It means giving respect and deference to Him and esteeming Him above the thoughts of those we love.
A third area where we may be tempted to become idol worshipers is during times of adversity. We "know" we can trust God in all things. We "know" He is good in every sense. We "know" He loves His people. We "know" He is in control of all things. But we don't trust His providence in our life at this moment, in this situation, under these circumstances. Fitzpatrick confesses,
I frequently find myself hedging my bets and questioning God's goodness and truthfulness. I do believe that God is good and that I can trust His word, but that belief is always in competition with other beliefs and fears in my heart:
  • You can trust God for salvation and those religious things, but when it comes to your marriage, you need to follow your way.
  • When it comes to living a self-disciplined, joyful life, God doesn't expect obedience from you. Your disobedience isn't idolatry, sinful fear, or the love of the world.
Are you convinced yet about the danger of idols in your life? If so, be encouraged that God provides believers with the ability to turn from idols to serve the living God. "...His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through/by means of the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence." (2Pet.1:3) I've certainly seen Him chipping away at the idols in my own life. It's not something that happens quickly or magically or without pain. It calls for a steadily increasing knowledge of who God is, of what it means to become Christ-like (God's sanctifying goal for all believers) and a concentration on faithful obedience to God's truth whatever our "feelings/emotions" may be at the moment. It takes time ... it takes making one step after another ... it takes spiritual warfare. But the rewards of full joy in Christ, of freedom from our idols, of glorifying God in our attitudes and actions is of infinite worth! May God open our eyes to the idols we may be cherishing in His place as we read through this book together! To God be the glory.


Anonymous said...

MH- I have been thinking about Elyse comment that " If you're willing to sin to obtain your goal or if you sin when you don't get what you want, then your desire has taken God's place and your functioning as an idolater" really hit home for me. Are we not committing idolatry every time we sin? We absolutely are. Think about Jesus's words in Jonh 14:15 " If you love me, you will keep My commandments." Every time we sin we hate Christ. How then can we fight this idolatry that wages war with our flesh? (Gal 5:17-21) We as christains are called to action. We must set are minds on Christ and with His help fight the war that battles in all of us. Col: 3 1-11

Anonymous said...

MH- Is not our battle come done to one choice? Do I choose to love Jesus today?(John 14 :15)

Anonymous said...

This is such a good book for me to be reading right now. I’ve been struggling with understanding exactly what idolatry is in New Testament terms. So far, Fitzpatrick is giving me practical things to think about.

I haven’t studied the passage closely at all, but I have thought that Rachel stole her father household gods because she wanted to spite him, because she was angry at him. Genesis 30:14-16 states that both Rachel and Leah are not exactly happy with their father Laban in the way that he has treated them. And then a few verses later, we read that Rachel stole her father’s household gods. So, is that a plausible possibility?

One of Fitzpatrick’s questions on chapter 1 asks how does God’s dealings with both Rachel and Leah comfort or encourage you? I see such grace on God’s part that he gave Leah so many children because He saw that she was hated (Gen 29:31). God does not promise to give us exactly what we want, He gives us what He knows that we need, and then so often goes above and beyond that. I have seen this many times in my own life – that God doesn’t give me exactly what I want, but what He gives me is enough, or even more than I want, and certainly more than I deserve. What amazing grace!

I’m struggling with understanding the concept that Jesus Christ is praying for us. Is it mentioned elsewhere than Hebrews 7:25?


Beth'sMomToo said...

Susan... Commentators look at cultural aspects from that time period. Household gods were thought to bring blessings, particularly in fertility (of people & animals). That would have been of interest to Rachel, both personally & for her husband's fortunes. A few suggest the possession of Laban's household idols gave Jacob inheritance rights. Whatever the reason, the point of course is that she was trusting in something other than YHWH, nor was she willing to submit her "wants" to Him.

Beth'sMomToo said...

The first conclusion, that Rachel stole them because she believed they would give her what she wanted, also best fits the larger context, I believe ... the context that began with her statement to Jacob, "Give me children, or else I die."

Anonymous said...

I think I also may have missed the point that Rachel STOLE Laban's household gods - clearly not a godly action, whatever the reason. So as you say, she was trusting in something/one other than YHWH.

MH, you've hit on an important point - do I CHOOSE to love (and I would add obey) Jesus today? Or will I choose my father's household gods, or something of my own making and desire?