Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
The Evil of Idolatry
So the LORD plagued the people because of what they did with the calf which Aaron made. Exodus 32:35NKJV
This week we look again at Question 110 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “What are the reasons annexed to the second commandment, the more to enforce it?” The last section of the answer reads, “The reasons annexed to the second commandment the more to enforce it, contained in these words For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments; are, besides God’s sovereignty over us, and propriety in us, his fervent zeal for his own worship, and his revengeful indignation against all false worship as being a spiritual whoredom; accounting the breakers of this commandment such as hate him, and threatening to punish them unto divers generations; and esteeming the observers of it such as love him and keep his commandments, and promising mercy to them unto many generations.” Last time we considered the motivations to obedience we should receive from God’s fervent zeal and revengeful indignation. Today we look more closely at the Catechism’s description of how God accounts those who break this commandment.
Worshiping God as Creator and Redeemer is the highest and most noble activity and purpose that human beings can do and have. To glorify and intentionally honor the most glorious being for all that He is and all that He has done is the most important, the most significant work that a rational being ever perform. In salvation God’s people are restored to this noble calling of being His worshipers. We who were His enemies, rebels and would be assassins are given new hearts whereby we despise and condemn all of our sinful lawbreaking and desire and delight in all obedient law-keeping. Being justified by faith alone in Christ alone we are forgiven through His atonement and imputed and declared to be righteous by His obedience. And with the granting of this new status and the giving of these new hearts, we enter once again into the number of rational beings who are permitted to glorify, honor, and worship the God who has saved us for this purpose. Jesus taught that the Father is seeking those who will worship Him in spirit and truth, and in our redemption we are given the ability to do just that.
In the light of these truths about worship we must contrast the great evil of the sin of idolatry. What could be a greater insult to the God of our salvation than playing the spiritual whore by giving our highest adoration and worship to something other than our Savior God, whose very salvation of us was so that we would be able to give these things to Him alone? Today’s portion of the Catechism teaches that God accounts those who break this second commandment by in some way committing the sin of idolatry as those who hate Him. God accounts them as haters of God. That means that God sees them and treats them this way. We can profess with our lips how much we love God and confess our desire to worship Him alone, but if we bow down before idols – whether actual idols as Israel in the verses above or the false gods of our hearts – we show that we actually hate God and so God rightly accounts us so.
What does it mean to be accounted by God as one who hates Him? Here the Catechism rightly applies that part of the commandment which speaks of God “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me,” to all such as break this commandment. The divines expounded this text as God “threatening to punish (idolaters) unto divers generations.” Why would God threaten those people who profess to believe in Him? Only because such threats are needed by God’s children on this side of eternity, for our sanctification and ultimate good. In fact the Confession lists “trembling at the threatenings” of God’s law as one of those things real Christians will do by their faith in Christ (WCF 14:2). God is not unjust to visit future generations with our acts of idolatry. In fact if He gave idolatrous actions the full justice they deserve we would have no future generations at all, for He would consume us the moment we prostituted ourselves. Rather than see any excess severity in this commandment I pray that you will see the great evil of idolatry, and even God’s mercy in the midst of it. So that the threatenings of this commandment would be for your greater obedience!