“You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exo. 20:3)
John Calvin once said, “The human heart is a factory of idols. Every one of us is, from his mother’s womb, an expert in inventing idols.” We can turn even good things, like a child or a spouse or a job, into something that has a toxic grip on us.
Joseph had become an idol to Jacob. When Jacob learned of his son’s supposed death, Jacob’s response was that he’d go down to Sheol mourning. And when Jacob imagined Benjamin not returning from Egypt, he said basically the same thing. For Jacob, life without Joseph or Benjamin would be hell…a shadowy place with no joy where you stumble through like a zombie.
Jacob hadn’t always been that way. Many years before, when following God was the most important thing in his life, we read, “Then they gave Jacob all their foreign gods and their earrings, and Jacob hid them under the oak near Shechem.” (Genesis 35:4) Jacob had buried the family idols in Shechem. Now God wants Jacob to do it again. Benjamin wasn’t a carved statue, though; he was an idol of the heart.
When you boil idolatry down, it is really a matter of selfishness. We’re inventing gods that make us happy. Notice Jacob’s response after their first visit: “…It’s me that you make childless. Joseph is gone, and Simeon is gone. Now you want to take Benjamin. Everything happens to me!” (Genesis 42:36) And in the next chapter: “Why have you caused me so much trouble?” (Genesis 43:6)
He obviously loved his sons, but it was a selfish love. That love had become an idol. He was holding on too tightly, and God was prying his fingers loose.
Are there things in your life – maybe even good things – that have become idols? Is there something in your life that, if it were gone, you’d wither and die? What in your life do you hold with a selfish death grip? That’s an idol, and our jealous God won’t share our hearts with idols. It’s literally the second commandment.
We need to do like Jacob did and bury our idols in Shechem.
I hope you’ll join us Sunday for “Restoring Shalom” from Genesis 43.