Thursday, 2 October 2014


This is not my article, rather it is part of a sermon by Rev. Andrew Giffen of Kirkintilloch Baptist
Church. It is based on the story of the Golden Calf in Exodus 32.

The people of Israel created a golden calf because they wanted an image that their minds could grasp. They bowed down to the calf and worshipped it as if it were God. They knew that it was man-made and breakable. But that was exactly the sort of God they wanted –one they could control. The vast God reduced to something that could be imprisoned in a few ounces of gold. A shrunken powerless God who will do their bidding, protect them alone, and destroy their enemies.

But God instead commands his people to worship him as he is, not as they (or we) would like him to be. God forbids idolatrous imagination. For you see that is the fundamental problem,that the second commandment addresses. We don’t want God to create us – we want to create God. God in my image – not man in God’s image. We want a God we can control, manipulate, regulate. The default position for you and me today is to imagine God the way we want him to be, not the way he has revealed himself to be. For instance you might want a God who saves all people, who sends no-one to hell – so you create in your mind a loving God who is never angry.

But the Bible is clear that God is both a God of love and a God of wrath and judgement. He is justly angry with sin and wickedness. You can do it the other way as well – emphasise God’s wrath and judgement to the extent that you ignore God’s love. Again some people decide that miracles are impossible for modern people to believe, so they imagine a God who walks on a sand-bar rather than on water, who becomes incarnate but without a virgin birth. In so doing they diminish the almighty,all powerful God, into someone who must obey man made rules. Or you and I might look at the world and find it unpredictable, so we turn to a God who is not really in control, or a God who cannot be relied upon to act consistently. We ignore the fact that the Bible teaches that God is sovereign, that he is intimately involved in his creation, that he is always at work for our good,that he is in control.

But perhaps it is the very closeness of God that we are afraid of. We don’t like the idea of God being close to us, aware of our every action, so we imagine God as distant. We disregard what the Bible says about God’s omnipresence. God is everywhere – we cannot flee from him. Or maybe it is closer to our experience to say that you and I want a God who we can blame for our mistakes. We want to be able to say that “my God understands when I run after the pleasures of this world”.

But the Bible says that man is responsible for his sin. The true God calls us to holiness. In a similar way we distort the image of God when we proclaim that God only allows good things to happen to us. We want a God who makes our life comfortable, who gives us what we want when we want it. So we create such a God. But we have forgotten what the Bible says about the importance of suffering and hardship. We want a God we can bargain with and bribe – a God we can manipulate and control.

Most of all we want a God who is safe – who doesn’t make demands on us. But God the Son calls us to lay down our life and to take up our cross. All those ideas, all those things we try to do to God, are distortions. They are idolatrous imagination. You and I can proclaim all we like that we worship the true God, but when we distort God in any of these ways, and ignore what God reveals of himself in the Bible and in the person of Jesus, then you and I are idolaters, haters of the true God,and the consequences for us are serious.

We invoke God’s jealousy and anger. Even if we sincerely believe that the distorted image we create is a true representation of God, there is no way that it can be, and in God’s eyes it is not worship of him – it is giving to others what is due only to him –hence his jealousy. Take a look at verses 5, (reading from verse 4).
4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God,punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me . . .” (Ex20:4-5, NIV).
If we make an idolatrous image, physically or in our imagination, we are God haters. Such indifference to the true God, as he has revealed himself to us, is contagious, it affects future generations – the distortion is perpetuated.

Jewish homes would often have contained three or even four generations in a household. Idolatrous worship, distortion of the true image of God, would naturally have affected the whole family, the whole household. God punishes idolatry, in whatever form, to the third and fourth generation. He deals with it according to its seriousness.The language is a covenantal type judgement. But the striking contrast is verse6. Limited judgement is contrasted with unlimited blessing. Have a look, verse6,
6 “but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Ex 20:6, NIV).
A thousand generations is much longer than biblical history. God is saying in effect that he will show his steadfast love to innumerable descendants who love him. There is no limit to God’s blessing. God wants you and me today to know him as he really is – as he has revealed himself though the pages of the Bible.

He wants us to worship him in truth as well as in spirit. God loves us so much that he cannot bear it when our desires and loyalties go elsewhere. He wants to give us himself so that we can glorify him and enjoy him forever. If you or I worship and serve anything less than who God really is we have completely failed to worship him. We are missing out – you are missing out on the blessing of relationship with the true and living God. The illustration is made of being the friend of someone famous.If we rely on TV news reports we are unlikely to genuinely know the person.Their image is usually distorted. We would need to get to know the real person.In a similar way you and I need to talk directly to God. We need to read and study his word the Bible. As he speaks to us from its pages he will reveal himself as he truly is. An idolatrous imagination is never in our best interest because it is so much less than knowing the true God. The second commandment prohibits idolatrous images and idolatrous imagination.

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