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.
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 can ever perform. In salvation God’s people are restored to this noble calling of being His worshipers. Being justified by faith alone in Christ alone we are forgiven through His atonement and declared just by His imputed righteousness. 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. 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 it.
Only as we consider the glorious privilege of worshipping the one true God can we see the great evil of the sin of idolatry. What could be a greater insult to the God of our salvation than engaging in “spiritual whoredom” 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, to our everlasting blessedness? Today’s portion of the Catechism teaches that God accounts the practicing of the sin of idolatry as hating Him. Therefore, God accounts idolaters as haters of God. We can profess with our lips how much we love God and say we 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 seeing any excess severity in this commandment we ought to see the great evil of idolatry and the mercy of God in warning us of it. So that the threatenings of this commandment would be for our greater benefit.