I always thought I’d have life figured out by now. As a kid, I was sure I would figure everything out before I turned 18. Surely by that magical age of adulthood, I would know exactly what to do to have the perfect life.
Back then, I thought I knew what my adult self would be like: I’d be an independent thinker, always confident in my own perspective. I would get married and have several children, and I’d never be at a loss with what to do in the situations that cropped up in daily life.
I assumed my decisions and my circle of friends and acquaintances would guarantee this future for me. This was my definition of a successful life, and I idolized it.
An old, old story
We’re studying 1 Samuel on Wednesday nights at my church. Last week we worked through one of my favorite stories in the Old Testament: After the Philistines defeated the Israelites, the Philistines’ god fell down before God’s ark of the covenant.
The Philistines had stashed the ark in Dagon’s temple after they captured the ark in battle. The Israelites, shocked by an earlier defeat, had carelessly and insolently taken the ark into battle as a sort of talisman against continued losses. The Philistines quaked with fear when they heard that the God who routed the Egyptians was in the Israelite camp, wondering if this ark of the covenant signaled their deaths.
But God is not a genie to be wielded at will. Though the ark symbolized God’s presence with His people, He was never boxed inside it. Despite the Israelites’ confidence (and the Philistines’ fear), the heathen army captured the ark and killed the faithless priests who carried it.
If this was a legend or an Aesop’s fable, this is where the story would end. Silly Israelites lost their ark through their own bravado. Game over. Checkmate. Time to present the moral and move on.
But this is where it gets good.
The Philistines take the ark and place it next to their god, Dagon. The next morning, the priests find Dagon fallen on his face before the ark. Likely surprised, the priests set Dagon back up.
But the next day, it’s even worse. Not only has Dagon fallen again, but his head and hands have broken off and are lying on the threshold of the temple.
The moral of this story is clear: The God of the universe fights His own battles.
The log in our own eye
Notice how the Philistines respond to their idol’s helplessness. Do they recognize that the God of Israel just beat the socks off their puny god? Do they run to the Israelites for answers on how to follow this great God?
The writer of 1 Samuel wrote that long after Dagon’s falls, Philistine priests entering the temple reverently stepped over the threshold instead of on it. They honored the site of their idol’s humiliation. They didn’t get it. They should have chucked that idol in the river, but instead they propped it back up and kept bowing down before it.
We can point our fingers at the Philistines for their clueless idolatry. But as the saying goes, “when we point at someone else, that leaves three fingers pointing back at us.” Who — or what — do I worship? Who do you worship? We say we worship the true God, who vanquished the Egyptians and much greater enemies. But is He the only one we worship? Or do we look to fake gods of our own to meet our needs?
Career plans. Life goals. Political identity or opinions. Entertainment. The approval of other people. Our own ideas for our futures.
We make plenty of gods ourselves.
Even heavier burdens
The word “idol” shows up 157 times in the Bible (ESV). The Philistines weren’t the only ones worshiping fake gods. In Isaiah, God reminds His people that these fake gods were made of wood — they were mute and deaf. In the Philistines’ case, their idol was also handless and headless when in the presence of the God of Israel.
These fake gods even had to be carried, God told Jeremiah to remind the people. The idols that people trusted for guidance and victory literally added burdens for those who worshiped them.
Idol worshipers looked to their idols for victory and success, and instead found only heavier burdens and greater exhaustion. We look to our idols to satisfy and fill us, and what are we left with? Stress, busyness, disappointment. What did we ever gain by trusting in other people or our own fragile self-sufficiency? Not only do our idols not satisfy us, but they leave us worse off than we were without them.
Back at me
The Philistines’ story reminds me that no matter what I think my idols can do for me, only the true God is worthy of my worship and allegiance. Only God saves. Only God promises to care for us, lead us through every trial, walk with us, and take us home to be with Him forever.
So here I lay my idols down. And with them, all the anxiety, stress, and burden of trying to keep them propped up.
Copyright 2023 Lauren Dunn. All rights reserved.