For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters,
And hewn themselves cisterns—broken cisterns that can hold no water.
The Lord was speaking through the prophet Jeremiah about the Israelites' worship of false gods. Rarely do we see God's people bowing down to idols of wood, clay and stone these days, but what about the idols of money, food, sex, alcohol, even people? What makes something an idol in our lives?
If we worship it.
What is worship? I probably don't have the perfect explanation for this. I know it is NOT limited to lighting candles, offering sacrifices or bowing down to it like we might envision. God makes it clear in His word that he cares more about our hearts than our actions.
The 4th definition offered in my Merriam-Webster dictionary says that worship is "extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem."
In Matthew 22:36-37, Jesus states that the greatest commandment is, "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength." (Deut. 6:5)
Aren't we supposed to love our spouse, children, friends, etc? Obviously the answer is "yes" since God commands it. (And common sense!) But even then, our love for people (or anything else) should never come before or exceed our love for God. As best as I can tell, that is when someone or something becomes an idol.
If we obey it (or our desire for it) instead of obeying God, it's an idol. If we find that our heart yearns for it more than for God, it's an idol. If we prioritize it over the Lord with our time, resources and/or our thoughts, it's an idol.
Dangers of idolatry:
I couldn't possibly go into all of the dangers of idolatry, but I will expand on the two that are named in this passage:
1. "They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters,"
When we worship idols, we turn from God. He does not allow us to serve both Him and them. We choose our own way and we sheep then don't have a shepherd. We are exposed to all kinds of danger.
2. "And hewn themselves cisterns—broken cisterns that can hold no water."
When we turn away from God and turn to idols, we have an expectation that the idol will meet some need(s) in our lives. But the fact is, no matter what they promise to deliver, they are broken cisterns. They can hold no water. We were created to crave and thrive on Living Water...nothing else will do. Idols will always leave us empty. The time spent serving idols is always wasted...whether it is a moment or a lifetime.
Picture yourself dying of thirst. You see a fountain of fresh water. Instead of diving in and drinking as much as you need, you pick up a cup with a large crack in it. You hold it under the flow of water waiting for the cup to fill up so you can drink. How long will you stand there, waiting for the cup to fill up? It will never be full. You will never be satisfied. You will only grow thirstier.
What do you do if you realize you have been serving one or more idols?
Thank the Lord for the gift of repentance! He gives us all of the grace we need to admit we have been serving idols, to repent, be completely forgiven and to turn back to Him. But we must remember that He demands full allegiance. Just as a husband, no matter how godly, will not share his wife with another man, God will not share our affections with idols. He is worthy of all of our affections and He knows that we will destroy ourselves if we continue to serve idols. No matter how deceived we may be, because He loves us, He won't allow us to continue on that path of destruction.
Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life. John 4:13-14
(This study was inspired by a teaching by Nancy Leigh Demoss at a Revive Our Hearts Conference. It is very applicable for me and my journey to recognize the idols in my own life.)