Sunday Thoughts: Idol Factories

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Here at PJ Media, I’ve written about idolatry multiple times. Several years ago, I wrote a column about the idols that we put before God in our lives. I’ve also written about how people turn cultural personalities and political figures into idols.


We don’t talk about it often, but idolatry is a problem in all of our lives. John Calvin wrote, “The human heart is a perpetual idol factory,” and it’s painfully true. We can put all sorts of things in our lives in first place above God — usually temporarily and sometimes without thinking about it.

Anything in our lives can become an idol. We can make idols out of our jobs, our families, the pursuit of wealth and success, culture, politics, pleasure, and (gulp) even sports teams. That’s something we have to check ourselves about constantly.

“While we may not all worship little statues today, idolatry is still very much a great temptation. Idols also include anything in your life that takes the rightful place of God,” writes Antonio Coppola at Tabletalk. He adds, “Whenever you choose to worship anything in creation over the Creator, you have committed idolatry and, as Romans 1:25 says, ‘exchanged the truth about God for a lie.’”

I’m leading a small group at church where we’re going through the book of Daniel. In my prep for chapter 6, which contains one of the most familiar stories in the Old Testament — Daniel in the lion’s den — one of the commentaries I read had some interesting things to say about idolatry.

Related: Sunday Thoughts: This Independence Day, Don’t Allow Patriotism to Become an Idol

If you need to refresh your memory, Babylon ransacked Jerusalem and took the kingdom of Judah into exile, including Daniel. Later, the Medes and Persians raided Babylon and overtook it. Unlike Babylonian kings Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar, King Darius of the Medes befriended Daniel, whom he placed as one of his key leaders in the kingdom.


In Daniel 6, some of the other leaders became jealous of Daniel and sought a way to take him down.

Then these high officials and satraps came by agreement to the king and said to him, “O King Darius, live forever! All the high officials of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors, and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an injunction, that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions. Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.” Therefore King Darius signed the document and injunction.

Daniel 6:6-9 (ESV)

The jealous officials sweet-talked Darius into making himself an object of worship, knowing that Daniel was so faithful to Yahweh that he wouldn’t give in to the command to worship the king. When Daniel refused to give in, Darius had no choice but to throw Daniel into the lion’s den. The king fretted about his friend’s fate, but God took care of Daniel; the lions didn’t hurt him at all. Darius changed his tune and decreed that his subjects fear the God of Israel.

In his commentary on Daniel, “Hope in the Midst of a Hostile World: The Gospel According to Daniel,” George M. Schwab has some fascinating and valid observations about idolatry in the Bible, particularly in the story of Daniel and the lion’s den.


“Idolatry was universal, institutional, and dangerous for anyone who refused to comply,” Schwab writes about the kingdom of the Medes. “Enforcement against rejecting the culture’s ideology was swift and terrible.”

He cites the prophet Ezekiel’s message from God to the exiles:

Therefore speak to them and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Any one of the house of Israel who takes his idols into his heart and sets the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes to the prophet, I the Lord will answer him as he comes with the multitude of his idols, that I may lay hold of the hearts of the house of Israel, who are all estranged from me through their idols.

Ezekiel 14:4–5 (ESV)

“God told Ezekiel that the Jews had set up idols in their hearts,” Schwab points out. “These are not wood and stone idols. God sees into the human heart, and there he finds idols. Idolatry is internalized. It is an attitude of arrogance and self-reliance.”

While in the Old Testament, idols were actual man-made objects — and sometimes people, in the New Testament and beyond to our world today, idols aren’t as easy to spot.

“Usually in the Old Testament, idolatry is an external religious act of bowing before a wood or stone idol,” Schwab writes. “In the New Testament this is internalized. Boasting in anything, trusting in anything, serving, coveting, are idolatries of the heart—chasing after another god.”


Naturally, there are applications for us today. We can examine where idols may be hiding in our own lives.

“The text asks the reader, what competes with God in your heart? In what do you boast? Your accomplishments? Your successes? Having the right answers (like the wise men of Babylon)? Having a high position?” asks Schwab. “The book of Daniel shows there is no difference between pride and false worship, between avarice and idolatry, craving delicacies and bowing the knee to wood and stone.”

My challenge to you (and myself) this week is to shut down the idol factory in your heart. Examine your life, repent if necessary, and do everything you can to put God first!



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