It sounds so simple, but it’s really an impossible demand: Put God first. Place him above all other things, all other people, and all other powers.
Don’t be afraid of anything else as much as you are afraid of God. Don’t respect anything more than you respect God. Don’t love anything, and don’t trust anything more than you love and trust God.
The Israelites never got the hang of it. Even under the best of leadership — Moses, Joshua, the Judges, David, Solomon — they just couldn’t make it happen.
What about when the leaders — the not-so-great kings — worshiped other gods? Well, the people followed their example very well. By the time we get to the disintegration of the kingdom of Israel, neither the kings nor the people are anywhere close to keeping God first in their lives.
And that “have no other gods” thing? They wouldn’t be able to reduce their gods to a dozen. They had become typical of their day. They were polytheists.
It’s maybe not so visible nowadays, but many of us are polytheists as well. We might fear, respect, love and trust Jesus. But it’s nice to have a healthy bank account too. It’s good to have a solid position at work, one that makes us feel safe and secure. It’s a confidence boost to have a solid family around us, and friends who will have our backs when we need them.
We are willing to listen to the Bible. But we want to listen to our own reason too. And our culture. And our family and friends.
It’s not that any of those things are wrong or spiritually unhealthy in and of themselves. It’s just that our hearts love to take good things and turn them into ultimate things. We build our identity around them. We see our destiny springing from them. We find our purpose in them. We build community around them. And we see our possibilities as arising from them.
God was always ready with the Israelites to have them rid their hearts of their false gods, and simply return to him as the One and Only.
And God is still more than ready today to have us rid our hearts of our secret idols and false gods too. The one and only truly “Ultimate Thing” is the Triune God. And there is nothing better than to worship him alone through Jesus, his Son.
“When the Lord made a covenant with the Israelites, he commanded them: ‘Do not worship any other gods or bow down to them, serve them or sacrifice to them. But the Lord, who brought you up out of Egypt with mighty power and outstretched arm, is the one you must worship. To him you shall bow down and to him offer sacrifices. You must always be careful to keep the decrees and regulations, the laws and commands he wrote for you. Do not worship other gods. Do not forget the covenant I have made with you, and do not worship other gods. Rather, worship the Lord your God; it is he who will deliver you from the hand of all your enemies'” (2 Kings 17:35-39, NIV).
Our Bible reading for Wednesday, July 8, is 2 Kings 16:1 – 17:41, Acts 26:24 – 27:12 and Psalm 81:8-16.
Lord, I repent of being a closet polytheist. Forgive me for my sins of secret idolatry. Send me your Spirit that my heart may be undivided and worship you alone. I want my identity, my destiny, my purpose, my community and my possibilities to come only from Jesus.
Header image based on "Temple of Baal at Palmyra, Syria" by Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, CC By 2.0