The Bible is not always as PG-rated as we would like to think. While teaching the Bible in a flippant manner is not good, I also think that there is a shock value in many Biblical texts that we are supposed to steep in rather than gloss over.
Here in February, I’ve been starting through the book of Jeremiah. This is a book of the Bible that I have never spent a ton of time in, but as part of God’s Word I know that it is useful for my training in righteousness. As I was reading through the first few chapters the last couple days, I’ve been caught totally off guard by the language it uses when talking about the idolatry of God’s people.
Through the lips of Jeremiah, God proclaims that the spiritual idolatry of His people is equivalent to whoredom.
You read that right.
Not only that, but the Lord goes on to use even more shocking imagery for the sins of His people.
In essence, Jeremiah 2-3 teaches us a few things about idolatry.
IDOLATRY IS ADULTERY
Idolatry is adultery. This imagery, this theme, is all throughout the Biblical story, most often seen in the prophets.
Look at the language that God uses through the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 2-3.
This is what the Lord says: “I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the wilderness, through a land not sown. – Jeremiah 2:2
Long ago you broke off your yoke and tore off your bonds; you said, ‘I will not serve you!’ Indeed, on every high hill and under every spreading tree you lay down as a prostitute. – Jeremiah 2:20
You have lived as a prostitute with many lovers – would you now return to me?” – Jeremiah 3:1b
Then in the most stunning language we see this:
(you are) a wild donkey accustomed to the desert, sniffing the wind in her craving – in her heat who can restrain her? – Jeremiah 2:24a
Why such abrasive and shocking language?
Because the reality of idolatry is deplorable.
God made a covenant with His people in the Old Testament, and although He rescued and redeemed them time and time again, they turned from Him and worshipped other gods. They were not faithful. All one has to do is read the Old Testament with even the slightest attention to idolatry and you will see that it seeps into almost every story. God’s people regularly and religiously pursued false gods of the other nations and false gods of their own creation.
What idols have you created? What fills your heart and mind besides the Lord?
IDOLATRY IS CONTAGIOUS
So we’ve seen in this passage that idolatry is equated to spiritual adultery.
Sadly, it gets worse. Jeremiah says that idolatry is contagious. According to Jeremiah 3:7-10, we see that the faithlessness of Israel leads Judah into sin as well.
When a country or community becomes dominated by idolatry, the idolatry starts to become the new normal. Idolatry can become the status quo, seeping into the very nature of the community.
How many of us find our confidence and security in our possessions? How many of us find our confidence and security in our government or military? How many of us find our confidence and security in our ability to follow man-made religious traditions? How many of us find our confidence and security in the praise of others?
All of the above are foolish.
Here’s a not-so-subtle form of idolatry I’ve found myself in: needing the praise of man.
There’s nothing wrong with desiring appreciation. That’s a natural desire. But when the praise of man becomes the source of energy, life, and joy in my heart, I’ve fallen into idolatry. One way the praise of man has become a contagion in our communities is through social media. Now, every person has the ability to speak up about practically anything. Now, we can parade our accomplishments before a litany of ‘friends’ and ‘followers’ who will build us up with their likes, and if we’re lucky, their heart emojis.
This is all fine and dandy when the likes are coming.
It becomes discouraging when the likes run dry.
Even writing about this seems silly. Ultimately it is.
Social media gets us consistently and constantly comparing our lives to the lives of others, filling our minds with things that are neither pure nor lovely.
In a world of people-pleasing affirmation addicts, the idolatry of needing affirmation became contagious. I fall into it time and again.
WE CAN TURN FROM IDOLATRY
Here’s the good news. Both for me and for you if you too struggle with idolatry.
Jeremiah 3 has some profound words about the grace of God.
” ‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will frown on you no longer, for I am faithful,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will not be angry forever. . . . . . . . “Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding.” – Jeremiah 3:12b, 22a
I’m not faithful to God. I’m a spiritual harlot. I’m a donkey in heat. Yet God says here in the book of Jeremiah that He will receive His people back to Him. This theme of God’s forgiveness and grace in the midst of our vile sins runs throughout the entire narrative of Scripture.
He is not angry forever. He relents from giving us what we deserve. He is faithful, even when we are not. He is powerful enough to cure us of our backsliding.
I backslide a lot.
Like a lot a lot.
Yet each time I return to the Lord, each time I limp my way back to Him, He is faithful to receive me and restore our relationship.
There is a way out of the idolatry you find yourself in, the idolatry that is ingrained in your psyche, the idolatry that is likely even culturally acceptable.
Return to the Lord, to your first love.
Lay your idols down at His feet.
Let your heart and mind be filled with praise for Him.
In His Name,