Summary: Looking at the second of the three movements found in this story.
Have you ever wondered why the Israelites kept going back to worship idols? From the beginning of the Old Testament to the end, these idols appear repeatedly. Genesis 35 records Jacob’s instruction to his family:
“Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you and purify yourselves”.
Zechariah, the penultimate book of the Old Testament contains the words:
“The idols speak deceit, diviners see visions that lie; they tell dreams that are false, they give comfort in vain. Therefore the people wander like sheep oppressed for lack of a shepherd.”
So, in spite of constant instructions from God not to do this, in spite of all the hardships that worshipping these idols brought upon them. The Israelites still kept going back to idol worship.
I know that I am taking this verse out of context, but I believe that Jesus gave one answer to this why in his words to the woman at the well “we worship what we do know”. The Israelites worshipped idols because they could know these gods (and that is gods with a small g). They could put them on a shelf in their house and see them day-by-day. With the Almighty God, they could not do this; He was a God who could not be seen unless you were somebody very special like Moses or Elijah. He was a God who could not be heard unless you were somebody like them. He was a God who could not even be approached, the only person who could enter God’s presence was the High Priest, and he could only do that on one day in each year. It was so much easier to know and therefore worship an idol than it was to know and worship Yahweh, the Almighty God.
And if the Israelites found it easier to know an idol and worship it, how much harder it must have been for the Samaritans to worship God. The Samaritans knowledge of the God they tried to worship was based only on the first five books of the Old Testament. Can you imagine how difficult it must have been to worship God when you have no Psalms to use in worship? When you have little knowledge of the God of salvation for none of the words that the prophets spoke about salvation were known to the Samaritans.
“We worship what we know”, yet even though the Jews had a much fuller knowledge of Yahweh than the Samaritans did they still found it easier to worship idols that they could see, than to worship the God that they could only hear about.
Is it any different for us today? When you look at the difference between what the Samaritans knew about God and what the Jews knew, and then compare that to the difference between what the Jews knew and what we can know about God today, we are so blessed. The author of the book of Hebrews wrote at the start of the book:
“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways”.
That describes the position that the Jews of Jesus’ time were in. God had made himself known to them by revelation through Abraham, Moses, Joshua, the Judges, King David and King Solomon and then on through all of the prophets. But the author of Hebrews does not stop there, he does not write that God revealed Himself through these people and then stopped. He writes:
“but in these last days he has spoken to us by Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.”
Just in case you think I read the verse wrong there, some modern versions of the Bible use the words ‘he has spoken to us by his Son’ in this verse. Many scholars now believe they have this slightly wrong for the Greek states clearly ‘spoken by Son.’ God did not send Jesus here because he could explain all about God. He sent Him because He is God, and there could be no better revelation of God than God himself.
We are so blessed because we have so much more knowledge of who God is and of what He is like than the Jews did. There should be no excuse at all for people today being involved in idol worship. Yet, sadly, even in the Church, we still fall into this old error. We don’t have the same idols as the Jews did to tempt us, you won’t find many Christians in this country who bow their heads before a Buddha on the mantelpiece each day, our idols are much more sophisticated than this.
Many of them, you will know about, money, leisure, family, sex, all of these can be idols in people’s lives. For some people, even the Church can be an idol. When a change is suggested in the way things happen in the Church, they are immediately outraged by it; their god remains the same yesterday, today and forever. Even the smallest things can be idols in our lives, for an idol is simply anything that is more important than God in your life or anything that you know more than God in your life. For example, Sunday lunch can be an idol for some people. They go to all the trouble of getting to Church on a morning, they take part in the worship and the prayers, sit and listen carefully to the sermon, but if the service goes on for longer than it should, there is trouble. Their time with God has to finish at a certain time or their lunch will be spoilt. If the service finishes late, the Minister of the Church gets more complaints than they would have done if somebody had stood here and said that red was black. When the length of the service becomes more important than the God who is found in that service, you can tell that at least some of the people involved have a problem with idols.