Idolatry is tricky . . . the Bible tells me so. It creeps into our lives in some very deceptive ways. Idolatry can say “you don’t have enough” but it can also say, “you are everything you need to be.” It attacks our want and our arrogance, our lack and our fullness.
We make a big mistake when we attach idolatry to one thing–like the golden calf of this text or the McMansions of new wealth. There’s really only one place we should truly attach idolatry and that’s to our hearts. That’s why God hates it so much.
I did a lot of work on this text. I studied it from end to end and beyond. I had some amazing insights that I would have loved to have shared.
For instance, after the events of this chapter, the Lord speaks in Exodus 33:3, “Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” The Israelites’ sin causes God to separate himself from them. They will go on, he will remain. Their corruption is too much for him.
That passage carried me on to Revelation 21:2-3, “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.'”
In the first passage the corruption of man is too much for God to put up with. He will not be with them. In the last, corruption has been wiped out (Revelation 21:8) and the result is “he will dwell with them . . . God himself will be with them.” I came to appreciate that promise even more after reading Exodus 32.
But the reality was, that wasn’t my point. In fact, I saw that I had to approach this sermon as though Exodus 32 was NOT my text. 1 Corinthians 10 was my text. My point had to be Paul’s point. “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play (1 Corinthians 10:6-7).'” And, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:14).”
It might be one of those points that only the preachers would understand, but I felt constrained to go where Paul went. That both complicated my preparation and freed me.
The sermon was received well. We had a great crowd and they really hung with me. I wish I had developed the idea of our past mistakes being idols to us a little more. I think people really need to hear that.