Do we worship any false gods?
It’s a more complicated question than we give it credit for.
Most of us would say no. Our common-sense understanding of worshipping ‘false’ gods has usually meant the notion of believing in an alternative religion and professing the existence of (and our adherence to) some divine being instead of Yahweh: The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; Father of Jesus, God of our Christian faith.
The problem of worshiping false gods plagued the ancient Israelites. They were forever chasing after other gods, building shrines to them, participating in rituals that praise them. So pervasive was this worshiping of false gods that the very first commandment given to the Israelites was “Thou shalt have NO OTHER gods Before me.
Why? Why was this such a stumbling block for otherwise faithful people?
As it turns out… the allure of worshipping other gods was simply the sinful, human desire to secure prosperity, favor, pleasure, and plenty by any means available. Often, the REASON why people chased after other gods in the ancient world is because they promised all sorts of things people desired: good weather for planting, good fortune for self and family, good fertility, and protection from harm. When life was threatening… and it seemed as though Yahweh wasn’t answering… people would flee to worship other gods in hopes that, by those religious rituals, they would secure the favor of the other gods.
So, I ask again, do we worship any false gods?
According to the common-sense understanding… probably not. We probably haven’t gone to the shrine of Baal, or a temple of the Greek gods, or professed to have become a Jedi Knight in service to the divine Force. But, driven by the same simple, sinful, human desire to seek prosperity, favor, pleasure, and plenty by any means available, we probably HAVE worshiped false gods of a different sort: riches, fame, safety, security, pleasure, science, politics, etc. When we have felt Yahweh wasn’t answering, we probably have chased and invested ourselves in the rituals and practices of other gods because they promise all sorts of things we desire success, fame, fortune, love, knowledge, protection… just like the ancient Israelites.
So, in every generation, some faithful prophet must rise up and remind the people that Yahweh is the one true God and all others are FALSE and incapable of bestowing any power, prosperity, or protection. Elijah was the prophet of his generation to do this. He publicly challenges the false gods of his day for all to see. Here is the extended story from 1 Kings 18:
17 When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” 18 He answered, “I have not troubled Israel; but you have, and your father’s house, because you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals. 19 Now therefore have all Israel assemble for me at Mount Carmel, with the four hundred fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”
20 So Ahab sent to all the Israelites, and assembled the prophets at Mount Carmel. 21 Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” The people did not answer him a word. 22 Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets number four hundred fifty. 23 Let two bulls be given to us; let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it; I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. 24 Then you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the Lord; the god who answers by fire is indeed God.” All the people answered, “Well spoken!” 25 Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many; then call on the name of your god, but put no fire to it.” 26 So they took the bull that was given them, prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, crying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no answer. They limped about the altar that they had made. 27 At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” 28 Then they cried aloud and, as was their custom, they cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them. 29 As midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice, no answer, and no response.
30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come closer to me”; and all the people came closer to him. First he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down; 31 Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lordcame, saying, “Israel shall be your name”; 32 with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. Then he made a trench around the altar, large enough to contain two measures of seed. 33 Next he put the wood in order, cut the bull in pieces, and laid it on the wood. He said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” 34 Then he said, “Do it a second time”; and they did it a second time. Again he said, “Do it a third time”; and they did it a third time, 35 so that the water ran all around the altar, and filled the trench also with water.
36 At the time of the offering of the oblation, the prophet Elijah came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. 37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” 38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God.” (1 Kings 18:17-39)
God will always reveal God’s power and presence to those who faithfully seek, prepare, call upon, and wait. God will always unmask the false gods of this world and reveal them for what they are… nothing.
Our challenge today is to trust in God… even when it doesn’t seem like God is listening, acting, or answering our prayers. Our challenge today is to resist the temptation to go chasing after every promise the false gods of this world offer.
Our God is an awesome God… worthy of our praise and trust. If we remain close to God, God will remain close to us, revealing truth and power and promise unrivaled by any ‘god’ of this world.