It was the apostle John's final warning to his readers:
Little children, guard yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:21)
"Watch out," said John, in effect. "Be on guard against anything that might occupy the place in your heart that should be reserved for God."
John never qualified that warning. The aged apostle deliberately refrained from classifying the idols or giving us a comprehensive list to follow. It's an unconditional command. Any idol, regardless of its beauty or usefulness or original purpose, is to be set aside so that Christ might reign supreme, without a single competitor.
I don't have many temptations to worship evil things. It's the good things that plague me. It isn't as difficult for me to reject something that is innately bad or wrong as it is to keep those good and wholesome things off the throne. That, I believe, is where the battle line begins.
Do you remember the experience of the Israelites in Numbers 21? They were hot and irritable as they wandered across the wilderness. They began to gripe about the lack of food and water. They complained again about the manna. So God sent snakes among them—"fiery serpents"—that bit many people and brought death into the camp. Realizing their sin, they begged Moses to ask God to remove the serpents. God told Moses to make a bronze serpent, hold it high up on a long pole . . . and whoever would look upon that bronze serpent would be healed. It was a miraculous, glorious provision—and it worked. In fact, Jesus mentioned it in John 3:14–15 as an example of what He would accomplish when He died on a cross. The bronze serpent had been blessed of God and was, therefore, an effective means of deliverance.
But do you know what happened to that metallic snake? If you don't, you're in for a big surprise. In 2 Kings 18:4 we read:
He [King Hezekiah] removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah [idol altars]. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan.
This occurred about the sixth century BC. The original event with the snakes took place much earlier—around 1450 BC. For about eight centuries they had hung on to that bronze serpent. Can you believe that! They dragged it here and carried it there, preserved it, protected it, and polished it. Finally, they made an idol of it and even gave it a name: Nehushtan. That word simply means "a piece of bronze." And that's all it was. But they turned it into an object of worship. Something that had once been useful and effective had degenerated over the years into an idol.
It happens today. You can make an idol out of anything or anyone in life. Often it's the good things that slither up unnoticed, and soon you discover that they have first place in your heart.
It's high time they be dethroned; we'll talk about that tomorrow.