This week we begin with Question 17 of the New City Catechism, found in Part 1 (questions 1-20), which focuses on God, creation and the fall, and the law.
Question 17: What is idolatry?
Answer: Idolatry is trusting in created things rather than the Creator for our hope and happiness, significance and security.
Chances are you have never been tempted to bow down to a carved image and worship it. But in the ancient world that was a very common practice. Why do you think people were so eager to worship idols back then? What did they gain from that practice?
They actually gained a lot, at least in their own minds. In the ancient world, it was widely believed that various gods ruled over different territories, as well as different areas of life. So if you wanted your crops to grow, there would be one god responsible for that. If you wanted your business to do well, there was another god for that. If you wanted victory for your nation in battle, there was another god for that. And so on. So it was believed that, if you could worship these various gods and get them on your side, life would be good for you and for your community. So that also meant that your neighbors and family members expected you to go along with the worship practices, or else you might put their well-being at risk. So there was a lot of pressure to worship false gods or become an outcast among your own family and community.
The first command given to Israel was this: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:3). Israel was God’s special possession, and he demanded that they be loyal to him alone. Although there are other spiritual forces in the heavenly realm (Paul calls them “rulers,” “authorities,” and “cosmic powers over this present darkness” in Eph. 6:12), there is only one God who created all things and rules over all things, including those spiritual powers. We are to worship no other god but him alone. Idolatry, or the worship of any created thing, is simply foolishness in the light of the reality of who the true God is. No matter what you may think you have to gain from created things, there is only one God who is worthy of your worship.
Suggested passage for family or personal reading: Psalm 115. How does this psalm contrast the true God with the idols of the nations? How should we respond to God?