Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold. “‘Make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you. If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it. And do not go up to my altar on steps, or your private parts may be exposed.’ – Exodus 20:22-26
We recently spent a Sunday afternoon with some good friends taking family photos in a park. Our friend, Tina, is an excellent photographer and she brought several props for our photo session, including two beautifully ornate wooden chairs. Tina placed the two wooden chairs in the middle of the natural scenery and took pictures of my family sitting on them. As I looked at the chairs sitting in the midst of nature I was struck by the contrast of beauty – beauty in the trees, shrubs and flowers, beauty in my family, and beauty in the carefully crafted wooden chairs.
Romans 1:18-32 tells us that God’s eternal power and divine nature are revealed by the world that He created. These verses also tell us that man is sinful and is wired for worshiping created things instead of the Creator. If you go back to our photo session in the woods, there was glory in the people, trees, flowers and river that God created. There was also glory in the chairs that were made by an expert craftsman. Why are some people quick to believe that the trees are just a product of random natural selection while the chairs are a product of intelligent design and skill? Which is more glorious the tree or the chair? The chair would not exist apart from the tree. In a sense, the chair is just recycled glory. I mean what is greater the light bulb invented by men or the sun that provides life to the earth? What is greater a solar panel that can capture the sun’s energy and convert it into electricity or a leaf that can capture the sun’s energy and turn it into food and oxygen? What is more glorious a plane or a bird, a car or a horse, a mountain or its photo? Many of the things that man has created are glorious but they were inspired by our Creator’s masterpieces.
We were created in the image of God and were created to create. We were created to reflect our Heavenly Father’s glory. It’s not a sin to be glorious, we were created for glory, it’s a sin to put human glory ahead of the glory of God. We do this when we worship the things that our hands have created like smart phones, sports cars, our homes, our church buildings, technology, ect. and settle for recycled glory instead of the true glory of God.
Exodus 20:22-26 is a very interesting section of Scripture that is about idols and altars. God told Moses, “Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.” When Aaron made the golden calf to pacify the Israelites, because Moses was taking a long time talking to God on Mount Sinai, he was bringing a god alongside Yahweh (Exodus 20). The people were familiar with the Egyptian god Apis, who took the form of a bull. Because of Apis, the bull was the most sacred animal in Egypt. The Egyptians believed that Apis was an intermediary between humans and God. The Israelites asked Aaron for a God that they could see and touch to assure them of the presence of Yahweh.
Aaron’s golden calf was not the only one that the Israelites worshiped. When the Kingdom of Israel was split after King Solomon’s reign, King Jeroboam set up golden calves in Bethel and Dan for the people to worship so that they would not go down to Jerusalem to make their sacrifices at the temple and be tempted to take Rehoboam as their king. (Rehoboam was King Solomon’s son, 1 Kings 12:25-33)
Jesus was well aware of man’s desire to add tangibility to our worship of God. When he was talking to a Samaritan woman at a well he told her that true worshipers must worship the Father in Spirit and in truth because God is spirit.
“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” – John 4:21-24
Going back to Exodus 20, God told Moses to make altars out of dirt. He went on to say that if the people were determined to make an altar out of stones, that they should not use any tools on them or build them with steps. Worship was meant to be simple. Finely crafted altars detract attention away from the sacrifice and God to the craftsmanship of the altar. Adding steps up to the altar puts the priest up higher than the people and draws attention away from God and the sacrifice to the person making the sacrifice.
We don’t build altars anymore because “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:10) God is not impressed by cathedrals with fresco paintings and stain glass windows – with mega churches with restaurants and books stores. The path to His heart does not require large choirs, professionally trained worship leaders, and preachers who have books on the New York Times best sellers list. According to Psalm 51:17, the sacrifice that God desires is a broken and repentant heart. If you want to approach the throne of God you have to come to him with empty hands…just the way that you are. You must leave your pride at the door before you come into the presence of the Creator of the Universe. We must leave our tools at home. The path to God is through faith alone.