Deuteronomy 13:17-18 None of those condemned things shall be found in your hands, so that the Lord will turn from his fierce anger; he will show you mercy, have compassion on you, and increase your numbers, as he promised on oath to your forefathers, because you obey the Lord your God, keeping all his commands that I am giving you today and doing what is right in his eyes.
Deuteronomy 13 is one of those chapters we would just as soon were not in the Bible. We don’t like the idea that idolatry is as serious as it really is. At this point God was establishing a people for Himself as a witness among the nations, and He wasn’t going to let that be polluted. They had no Bible at all; Moses was the first to record God’s dealings with mankind. That was a major reason it was so easy for the Israelites to slip into idolatry. To forestall that, they really needed to fear the Lord, and this was part of that. Today we have both the Old and the New Testaments, so the question of responsibility and accountability has become much more individual, but idolatry is really no less serious. We forget that to our peril. For most Westerners idolatry is seldom in the form of a statue, but idols are none the less prevalent for that. Perhaps the prime idol in the West is human intellect, followed closely by physical pleasure. There’s a real irony to those being together in opposition to God, since at first glance they might seem to be opposites, but many are caught up in idolatry of both. Today we are not to go around killing idolaters; their own sin will do them in. (Actually, Mohammad may well have been influenced by passages such as this in setting up some of his edicts, but he wasn’t following the God of Creation in the first place.) Today we are called to deal strictly with the idolatry we discover in our own lives, and not tolerate it simply because “everybody’s doing it.” It is no accident that the first of the 10 Commandments is, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Exodus 20:3)
Raised in a strongly Christian home as I was, I didn’t recognize my own areas of idolatry very readily, but I tripped up both in placing my own intellect ahead of God and in placing my pleasure ahead of God’s commands. How foolish! Growing up in Japan I was very familiar with idols of wood, metal, and stone, so I didn’t make the connection to intangible idols very quickly. Now I understand that, and I am called to minister to people who have fallen prey to idolatry of every stripe. My focus is not to be on condemning their errors, but rather on pointing them to the Truth, that is Jesus Christ. At the same time, I need to be helping believers recognize the subtle forms of idolatry that can creep into their lives, so that together we may serve the Lord in all purity.
Father, help me indeed place nothing ahead of You. I am all too prone to let my own comfort and convenience get in the way of obedience. Help me love and serve You with single-minded devotion, letting nothing rival You in my heart, so that You may be glorified as all of Your plans for me are fulfilled. Thank You. Praise God!