Tuesday, January 18, 2011

IDOLS AND ALTARS

My definition of the word idol is – a person, thing, or concept that holds sway over one’s life instead of God; a substitute considered of highest value/worth over the one true God; a major distraction that causes us to take our focus off of God and place it on something or someone else.
Now, that stated without going to the dictionary, let’s look at what the dictionary does say.
–noun
1. an image or other material object representing a deity to which religious worship is addressed.
2. Bible .
a. an image of a deity other than god.
b. the deity itself.
3. any person or thing regarded with blind admiration, adoration, or devotion: Madame Curie had been her childhood idol.
4. a mere image or semblance of something, visible but without substance, as a phantom.
5. a figment of the mind; fantasy.
6. a false conception or notion; fallacy.
(Source: http://www.dictionary.com/)
As you can see from number two and letter “a”, my definition was a little wordy compared to theirs but I had the same thought.
The word idols (plural form) appeared 172 times in a word search on http://www.crosswalk.com/.  After studying how the word was used in the verses, the following is what I found out about idols.
Idols are a detestable thing to the LORD (Dt. 27:15). [You are cursed if you make one]
"Cursed is the man who carves an image or casts an idol--a thing detestable to the LORD”
They should not be a thing you create to replace God (Dt. 5:8). [A command]
"You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.”
They were usually things made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood that cannot see, hear, or walk (Rev. 9:20).
“…they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood--idols that cannot see or hear or walk.”
They were breathless things (Jeremiah 10:14).
“…every goldsmith is shamed by his idols. His images are a fraud; they have no breath in them.”
Sometimes they were made of a lot of jewelry (Eze. 7:20).
“They were proud of their beautiful jewelry and used it to make their detestable idols and vile images.”
Their purpose was to fill a void once you were separated from someone/something else (Eze. 14:7).
" 'When any Israelite or any alien living in Israel separates himself from me and sets up idols in his heart and puts a wicked stumbling block before his face and then goes to a prophet to inquire of me, I the LORD will answer him myself.”
People went so far as to make sacrifices unto it, even their own children (Eze. 23:37).
“They committed adultery with their idols; they even sacrificed their children, whom they bore to me, as food for them.”
The fact can probably be deduced, but none-the-less it was stated, idols provide No Grace (Jonah 2:8).
"Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.”

Although idols in the Bible took the form of an object most of the time (i.e. the Golden Calf, Ex. 32:1), many idols don’t have to take a physical form to replace your relationship with God.  Now-a-days other relationships, than the one people have with God, are put first, therefore becoming an idol. Their jobs, any events or activities (habits that continually draw them away from a deeper relationship with God) can be an idol.  Of course any material thing has a powerful pull on people too.  Things we can sense with our five senses get top priority.  The next level of discernment, the spiritual, tends to be neglected.

I encourage you to tend to your relationship with God.  If you are reading this and you are not a believer in Christ as your Savior, with God’s help you can still do away with your idols and accept Jesus as Master, Savior, King, and Friend of your life.  I made that decision to follow Christ when I was nine years old and have never regretted it.  Jesus tells us how creation once was – in right standing with God. What happened – sin or willful rebellion entered creation through the fallen creature Lucifer or Satan.  How to fix it – believe in Jesus’ work on the cross and resurrection from the dead, for without both there is no salvation.  “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) 
There is no specific magical mantra or prayer to say, but you still need to pray and talk to God about your spiritual condition.  Something you might consider praying would be – “Dear Jesus, I confess before you and all of heaven that I am a fallen creature, that I was born into a fallen nature and that my righteousness is as filthy rags.  In short Jesus, I am a sinner destined to spend eternity separated from you in Hell and I need your salvation you provided on the cross and out of the grave.  I choose to believe in your provision for me – which you died on the cross for and rose from the dead on the third day.  I invite you into my mind, my heart, my spirit, my soul, and my life Lord Jesus.  I ask you to do away with all my idols and that you take control of my life.  Thank you for the price you paid for me, in your name, Jesus I pray, amen.”  If you just prayed that prayer for the first time, congrats – you are now one of my fellow brothers/sisters in the LORD and I would be thrilled to know if you sincerely gave your life to Him.  But, know this – just because you are saved (from hell/lake of fire or eternal separation from God) does not mean you will not be tempted to revert back to your old ways and reclaim some old idols.  Pray and get around other believers that will pray with you and will encourage you in the faith.

If you are already a believer in Christ, I encourage you to perform a “spiritual spring cleaning” of sorts.  Reflect on your life and pray to God that He would reveal any idols that have been “trumping” the relationship you have with Him.  A prayer here might go like – “Dear Lord, ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.’ (Ps. 139:23)  My favorite chapter in Psalms is this Psalm.
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Altars, they seem to have evolved over time.  Many years ago they were uncut fieldstones (Dt. 27:5-6; Josh. 8:31).  Then later altars became a structure made to be housed within the Tabernacle of Moses.  Still further on, the altar in Solomon’s Temple was an updated version of the Tabernacle altar.  Fast forward to today and we have altars in church.  Some of us have altars in our home and many of us believe wherever we humble ourselves and pray – there is our altar (within our heart).

The word altars appeared 335 times in the word search on http://www.crosswalk.com/. After studying how the word was used in the verses, the following is what I found.

Altars in and of themselves are structures that were built to certain specifications and placed in a specific place for, as I have come to find out, many different uses.
The usual observation about altars is that they dealt with all the many sacrifices brought before the LORD throughout Jewish history.  Of course not only did Jews have a history of sacrificial altars but other cultures and races did as well (i.e. Mayans, Incas, etc.).  But for this text we are concerning ourselves with the Bible and it’s teaching on altars. 

However, not only was it a place of daily sacrifice, but much more. For instance, it was a place where one, usually the priest, would call on the name of the LORD. 
An altar might easily be a memorial to one of God’s many great works and was typically named or titled appropriately to the work (i.e. “The LORD is My Banner”, Ex. 17:15). 
It was portable (Ex. 27:7) "The poles are to be inserted into the rings so they will be on two sides of the altar when it is carried." 
A place of offering (Ex. 29:18) "Then burn the entire ram on the altar. It is a burnt offering to the LORD, a pleasing aroma, an offering made to the LORD by fire." 
A place of consecration (Ex. 29:21) "And take some of the blood on the altar and some of the anointing oil and sprinkle it on Aaron and his garments and on his sons and their garments. Then he and his sons and their garments will be consecrated."
A place of seeking holiness (Ex. 29:37) "For seven days make atonement for the altar and consecrate it. Then the altar will be most holy, and whatever touches it will be holy."
A place of personal cleanliness (Ex. 40:32) "They washed whenever they entered the Tent of Meeting or approached the altar, as the LORD commanded Moses." 
A place of death (Lev. 1:11-15) "He is to slaughter it at the north side of the altar before the LORD, and Aaron's sons the priests shall sprinkle its blood against the altar on all sides.  He is to cut it into pieces, and the priest shall arrange them, including the head and the fat, on the burning wood that is on the altar. 13 He is to wash the inner parts and the legs with water, and the priest is to bring all of it and burn it on the altar. It is a burnt offering, an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the LORD.  " 'If the offering to the LORD is a burnt offering of birds, he is to offer a dove or a young pigeon.  The priest shall bring it to the altar, wring off the head and burn it on the altar; its blood shall be drained out on the side of the altar." 
A place of continual burning (Lev. 6:12-13) "The fire on the altar must be kept burning; it must not go out. Every morning the priest is to add firewood and arrange the burnt offering on the fire and burn the fat of the fellowship offerings on it. The fire must be kept burning on the altar continuously; it must not go out." 
A place of atonement (Lev. 17:11) "For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life." 
A place of God’s presence (Judges 13:20)  "As the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame. Seeing this, Manoah and his wife fell with their faces to the ground." 
A place where you can worship the wrong thing (Judges 6:25) "That same night the LORD said to him, "Take the second bull from your father's herd, the one seven years old. Tear down your father's altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it."
Where oaths are sworn (1 Kings 8:31) "When a man wrongs his neighbor and is required to take an oath and he comes and swears the oath before your altar in this temple," 
Where prayers and supplications are made to the LORD (1 Kings 8:54) "When Solomon had finished all these prayers and supplications to the LORD, he rose from before the altar of the LORD, where he had been kneeling with his hands spread out toward heaven." 
Where the altar itself is cried out against (1 Kings 13:2) "He cried out against the altar by the word of the LORD: "O altar, altar! This is what the LORD says: 'A son named Josiah will be born to the house of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests of the high places who now make offerings here, and human bones will be burned on you.' "  
It was a place to take from and apply to (Lev. 16:12-13, 46-47) "He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the LORD and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. He is to put the incense on the fire before the LORD, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the Testimony, so that he will not die."
A place for seeking guidance (2 Kings 16:15). "King Ahaz then gave these orders to Uriah the priest: "On the large new altar, offer the morning burnt offering and the evening grain offering, the king's burnt offering and his grain offering, and the burnt offering of all the people of the land, and their grain offering and their drink offering. Sprinkle on the altar all the blood of the burnt offerings and sacrifices. But I will use the bronze altar for seeking guidance." 
It was a place that is cared for/tended to (Nu. 18:5) "You are to be responsible for the care of the sanctuary and the altar, so that wrath will not fall on the Israelites again."  
It was a place to worship before (2 Chron. 32:12). "Did not Hezekiah himself remove this god's high places and altars, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, 'You must worship before one altar and burn sacrifices on it'?" 
Finally, what might be most striking but definitely gets you pondering is that the earthly altars were patterned after a heavenly altar (Isaiah 6:6; Revelation 6:9, 8:3).  "Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar." and "When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained."  and "Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne."

I have a few altars.  One altar is at my church (the bottom of the steps that lead up to the stage).  Another altar is at my house (in my office).  The last altar is wherever I can quiet my heart and mind and pray (a garden, walking trail, etc.).  I’m finding myself plugged into these different located altars and not just to seek God’s hand for something.  I am seeking His face for that deeper relationship that only He can satisfy.  Everything else will be added unto me, He promises (Matthew 6:33).  I encourage you to do the same.