Part of Israel’s preparation for leaving the wilderness was the extensive warnings Moses gave them concerning idolatry. As soon as many hear the word idolatry, they immediately tune out everything that follows because they have no desire to bow down before a likeness of anything. Never have, never will, end of story.

They want to be left alone so they can hurry back to their gluttonous entertainment, spirit-numbing materialism, technological addictions and social media obsessions. All the while they are assuring us that idolatry isn’t a problem in the developed world. It’s only a struggle for people living in primitive cultures, you see.

There’s more to idolatry than they think. Idolatry includes, but is not limited to, bowing down before an idol. It can be taking a good thing (like the bronze serpent on a pole) and turning it into a bad thing by elevating it to a place it doesn’t belong. The rich, young ruler did this with his possessions. It’s immaterial that he didn’t literally bow before them. He placed his wealth before God and that’s where it didn’t belong. In doing so, he bowed down in his heart before it.

Anything can become an idol when we elevate it to a place it doesn’t belong—our marriage, family, job, possessions, relationships, etc. We can even make an idol out of worship when we are more concerned about how it makes us feel than venerating God.

The silver lining of having been in the pandemic wilderness is that it forced us to step back from life as we knew it and think about what is important and what is just froth and bubbles. As we head out, we would be wise to carry that perspective with us.

Rule #1 is never make God #2.

Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:21)