Chapter three of Exodus tells of Moses’ encounter with God.  In the course of that encounter, God reveals his name to Moses.  Some scholars translate that name as “one who will be present to you.”  For the Israelites God’s existence (their faith in God) was very much linked to experiencing his presence.  When they did not experience his presence, his activity in their lives, they became discouraged, began to complain that they had been abandoned.  They then turned away from God and to the worship   of some idol.

We can be like those people.  There are times when we do not experience God’s presence in our lives.  When, in fact, we experience the opposite. We can feel alone, discouraged, perhaps even abandoned by God. We can then be tempted to turn to some idol.

Because of various descriptions of the Israelites falling into idolatry we tend to think of idols as external things made by human hands. But idolatry can also mean worshipping objects constructed from our psychological needs.

We don’t literally build a golden calf as the Israelites did.  But sometimes we do allow something to replace God in our lives. Not completely, but in the sense of allowing something to become more important than God.

That’s what idolatry really is: allowing something other than God to become the dominant value in our lives. When you stop to think about it you realize it is hard not to do that.  Actually, idolatry in that sense can be a very subtle thing as it creeps into our lives.  The dominant value system in our contemporary culture is contrary to the gospel.  Our society places great value on material wealth, on efficiency and comfort, and on

individual freedom.  It is a struggle to keep those values from effectively becoming idols for us. The challenge to follow Jesus includes ridding one’s life of any idols.

They say that after the capture of Jerusalem in the year 63 BC, the Roman general, Pompey, went to the temple and forced his way into the Holy of Holies.  He found it empty and was greatly astonished. He should not have been.  The emptiness of the Holy of Holies symbolized the absence of idolatry.  It was a symbol of the essential truth of Judaism;
that the Lord is one and there must be no other beside him.  In a sense, we, too, must create for ourselves a Holy of Holies, an empty space, a space exclusively for God, entirely free of any idols.