The children of Israel struggled with idolatry. We see this pattern many times in the Old Testament. It seems to be a common theme in all of scripture, as even in the New Testament, we are warned over and over against idols. In 1 John, a book written to assure us of our salvation, and give us a picture of a true follower of Christ, the very last words are a warning:
Little children, guard yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:21)
In our twenty-first century American culture, we also struggle with idolatry; although, our idols are typically not a statue on a shelf. Here is a simple definition of idolatry, taken from The Gospel Project:
Idolatry is putting something or someone in the place of God.
Our idols usually look more like this: relationships, sex, money, possessions, power, success, reputation, education, children, a spouse, the size of our house, the clothes we wear, our image, our body type.
Why do we turn to idolatry? There are many reasons, but here’s one example in scripture.
Exodus 32:1-6 – Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 Aaron said to them, “Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” 5 Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” 6 So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.
Notice what precipitated the people’s action…Moses delayed to come down from the mountain.
Delayed (954) [buwsh] –to pale, i.e. by implication to be ashamed; also (by implication) to be disappointed or delayed:—(be, make, bring to, cause, put to, with, a-) shamed(-d), be (put to) confounded(-fusion), become dry, delay, be long. Properly, to put to shame one who waits, by detaining him too long
To understand this word, we can look at its use in another Old Testament story. It’s actually a little humorous. Remember when Ehud, the Israelite judge, stabbed Eglon, the king of Moab, Israel’s enemy? You can read the full story in Judges 3:15-30.
Eglon was a very fat man. Ehud made himself an 18” long sword, and concealed it in his cloak. He visited Eglon to bring him the tribute (taxes, I’m sure), and got Eglon to see him privately by telling him he had a secret message for him. Eglon foolishly sent out all his staff. Ehud took advantage of the situation, and stabbed Eglon. Eglon was so fat, that Ehud could not draw the sword out of his belly! All of this took place on the roof, in Eglon’s “cool chamber.”
Here’s where we gain an understanding of the word delayed.
Ehud slipped out alone, locking the doors behind him. Eglon’s staff noticed the doors were locked, and assumed he had just needed a little private time in the cooling room: When he [Ehud] had gone out, his servants came and looked, and behold, the doors of the roof chamber were locked; and they said, “He is only relieving himself in the cool room.” They waited until they became anxious; but behold, he did not open the doors of the roof chamber. Therefore they took the key and opened them, and behold, their master had fallen to the floor dead.
Eglon’s staff waited until they became anxious. This is the same word used when Moses delayed. You can just picture how they were feeling. At first they didn’t think anything was wrong, but the longer they waited, the more foolish they felt. Pretty soon they were anxious. I’m sure they were thinking, “What if we open the door and embarrass both our master and ourselves?” Finally the suspense was too much, so they acted.
For Eglon, it was a good thing they acted.
But for the children of Israel, their anxiety that led to their actions was truly a failure of faith.
The people made a bad decision because they were ashamed to wait for Moses any longer. They began to feel foolish and afraid, so they turned to Aaron to make them a god.
Have you ever felt like God was making you wait just a little too long?
Have you ever felt pressured to act, to do something, rather than just be still?
Has your family or friends, or the culture, made you feel foolish for delaying in obedience to God?
When God causes us to wait to the point we begin to feel foolish, we have a tendency to rush to idols – even good things that masquerade as idols; such as accepting a job too quickly, or making a decision because you feel the pressure to make it.
REMEMBER: An idol is anything we substitute for God! Allowing ourselves to be pushed into a point of action by culture, even our Christian culture, is idolatry, if God is clearly saying “wait.” We should not act until we have the peace of God’s confirmation (His Spirit speaking to our spirit).
Ultimately, it was a faith crisis for the children of Israel that led to their idolatry. They needed something tangible, something “real” to see, to touch, to bow down to. They forgot what God had already accomplished in their life and assumed that they needed to take control of the situation. Sadly, it led to a lot of destruction, anger, lies, and a broken relationship with their God. Just like our idolatry does today.
Waiting on God is just one of many reasons we turn away from Him to other things, or people. God says it’s idolatry.
If God delays, He has good reasons for it.
Let’s trust His sovereign timing and remain faithful.
Deuteronomy 6:4-5, 13-14 – Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. … You shall fear only the LORD your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name. You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you.