Over the next two weeks, we will be digging in to Exodus 32-34. Here is some helpful background on why Israel (and we) love idols. The information is from one of my favorite professors at Gordon-Conwell, Dr. Doug Stuart.
Idolatry is attractive because it is:
1. Guaranteed: Presence of a god was guaranteed by presence of idol. The idol image was like an ancient cell phone. People believed that the offerings they brought before an idol of a god and the prayers they said the idol’s presence were fully and unfailingly perceived by the god.
2. Selfish: Idolatry was an entire materialistic system of thinking. The one ‘hold’ or advantage that humans had over the gods was the ability to feed them. If you fed the god, it was obligated to use its power on behalf of the worshiper.
3. Easy: Frequency and generosity of sacrifices were the sole significant requirements of faithful idolatrous religion. Idolatry minimized the importance of ethical behavior. As long as you kept the food coming, you could do whatever you want.
4. Convenient: In contrast to the Lord’s command to come up to Jerusalem three times a year, idol shrines were erected on every hilltop and street corner. You could drop by to offer a sacrifice at your convenience– virtually any time of day, any day of the week, at a location of your choosing.
5. Normal: everyone did it. If an Israelite asked his Canaanite neighbor how to farm in these parts, the Canaanite would begin with an explanation for how to worship the local idol. If you want to fit in, worship the idol.
6. Logical: idolatry was polytheistic, syncretistic, and pantheistic. It made sense to have a multiplicity of gods, each one covering a different facet of life. It was enormously attractive to think one could gain assured access to those gods who had power over your greatest need simply by being in the presence of an idol.
7. Pleasing to the senses, indulgent, erotic: The images of divinity were ‘beautiful’. The worship ‘services’ were huge feasts. The more frequently one ate meat and the more meat one ate, the more likely one could curry favor with the gods. Heavy eating and drinking were encouraged. Temple prostitution was common because it was believed that if you had sex in the presence of the idol, it would encourage the gods to have sex and provide what you need– fertility, more crops, more cattle. Ritual sex would stimulate things to be born on earth.