The Idol of Self
“And the Sons of Israel did The Evil in the eyes of Yahweh: they forgot Yahweh their God. Thus, they served the Ba’als and the Ashtoroth.”
We have already seen the language that refers to “The Evil,” earlier in the text of Judges, so we understand that the people are not simply doing any old evil thing, but they are doing “The Evil Thing,” which, as we discussed before, normally ties in with idolatry. This verse is worded in such a way that it permits us to narrow the discussion of the evil thing even further, for the evil thing here is “forgetting” Yahweh their God. And what then is the result of this forgetting? Idolatry.
But what does it mean to “forget” God? Is it the same thing as when we forget a fact or a figure or forget to bring home something from the grocery store? One could argue that forgetting includes just that, but when the scriptures speak about forgetting God, it means so much more. Forgetting God is reflected in the way we live our lives. We may remember the things of God, perhaps taught to us when we were children and in Sunday School, but if we do not live our lives in submission to the God we know and even claim as our own, then we are guilty of forgetting. With this in mind, there are many professing Christians (even in our churches!) who have effectively “forgotten” Yahweh because the knowledge of Yahweh has no effect on their lives. In our modern sense, they may not bow before Ba’al or Asherah, but they bow to another, arguably more insidious, idol: self.
When people pursue the idol of self — when church bodies pursue the idol of self — virtually all things become permissible and often those things that the Bible permits, these things become impermissible. The first is a tendency toward antinomianism, the latter is a tendency toward legalism — both are sin. On the one end, churches in America have embraced a model of worship that is built on entertainment and not on thoughtful, Biblical worship. The man becomes the center of the stage and the gathering becomes an event. Theology takes a back seat to passion.
On the other end, we find a pervasive legalism when it comes to pet objections — things that become sin to the church, though they are not sins before God. Some denominations have taken a strong stand against ever drinking an alcoholic drink. While the Bible clearly condemns drunkenness, Jesus was known to spend time with people who enjoyed drinking and even turned water into wine at a wedding. Paul even instructs Timothy to take some wine with his meals as a remedy for his stomach ailments. Other denominations ban gambling, yet where in the scriptures is gambling condemned? Does not God ordain wherever the dice fall (Proverbs 16:33)? Did not Peter choose Mathias through a form of gambling? Certainly abuse of gambling would fall into the realm of theft from one’s own family, but responsible gambling as a form of entertainment surely cannot be condemned Biblically.
In both cases, what often happens is that some sins are condemned unequivocally while others are ignored. It is true that homosexual behavior is condemned in scripture, yet how many church leaders openly condemn homosexual behavior as immoral while ignoring the immorality of heterosexual behavior outside of marriage? Or how many speak of the first, pay lip-service to the second, and then ignore auto-erotica as immoral? Yet are not all sin before God? Isn’t any sexuality outside of that which honors the spouse in the marriage bed immoral? Shouldn’t all be equally condemned from the pulpit? When one makes an idol of self and forgets Yahweh, this happens.
Perhaps the most dangerous side-effect of forgetting Yahweh is the neglect of His word. Pet passages of scripture are upheld, but not the whole. Again, if we are to claim to be Christians, we must be whole-Bible Christians. And so, we could fairly say that much of the church in America has forgotten Yahweh, their God and turned toward idols. That means it is time to repent.