- Deuteronomy 6:4
"You shall not make for yourselves idols, nor shall you set up for yourselves and image or a sacred pillar, nor shall you place a figured stone in your land to bow down to it; for I am the LORD your God."
- Leviticus 26:1
"Is is not I, Yahweh? And there is no other God besides Me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none except Me."
The other day, while visiting my sister in Tennessee, I drove past a church marquee that read, "Jesus is my BFF, who is yours?" At this my brother-in-law remarked that he often hears a neighbor refer to God as "the Man in Charge" or "the Big Man Upstairs" but none of these names are how God refers to Himself in Scripture. He does call Himself our friend (John 15:14) but that is directly followed by a call to obedience. He holds our hand (Psalm 37:24), but He is also called our Master (lit. "Lord").1 He is our Shepherd (Psalm 23), but also our King (Psalm 47:7). He is our Father (James 1:17), but also The Most High God (El Elyon).2
There are many names for God in Scripture and His names signify His attributes and character. J. H. Keathley notes:
In our twentieth century Western culture, personal names are little more than labels to distinguish one person from another. Sometimes nicknames are chosen which tell something about a person, but even this is a poor reflection of the significance of names in the Bible. Unfortunately, to many the names God or Lord convey little more than designations of a supreme being. It says little to them about God’s character, His ways, and what God means to each of us as human beings. But in Scripture, the names of God are like miniature portraits and promises. In Scripture, a person’s name identified them and stood for something specific. This is especially true of God. Naming carried special significance. It was a sign of authority and power. This is evident in the fact that God revealed His names to His people rather than allowing them to choose their names for Him.3So often we pick and choose the names of God that are most comforting and rewarding to us at any given time. God is our Comforter when we are hurting, but certainly not our Convictor in those moments. He is loving, forgiving, and a friend of sinners during the times we cannot shake a sin habit, but it is suddenly easier to downplay God as Holy and Righteous. He is Almighty and Sovereign during the times that we feel lost, but what about the times that we feel self-sufficient?
Not long after God gave Israel the first of ten major commandments, "I am the LORD your God...and you shall have no other gods before Me, you shall not make for yourself an idol"...(Exodus 20:2-4), the nation was begging Aaron to construct and idol for them. It was not so much that they were rejecting Yahweh as their God, but trying to make him tangible and containable and something that fit more in line with the kind of God they wanted.
"He [Aaron] took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioned it with a tool. Then they said, 'this is your god, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.' When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, 'Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD [lit. Yahweh].' So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry." - Exodus 32:4-6So often idolatry in the Old Testament was not rejecting God but adding other gods into the mix. Baal was sometimes considered to be Yahweh's brother and Asherah (often represented by a sacred pillar) was believed to be God's wife. Most often the people of Israel still viewed Yahweh as one of the various universal gods, but the worship of Baal and Asherah allowed Israel to indulge in corrupt sexual practices and aligned them with the surrounding nations. As they worshipped other gods they could pick and choose the type of god and connecting attribute that was most needed and convenient.
When we worship certain attributes and Names of God to the exclusion of others it is a form of idolatry. God is revealed as Father, Master, Shepherd, Lamb, Savior, Judge, Loving, Jealous, Warrior, Peace, and the list goes on and on. He is all of these things completely and it is not for us to stack one attribute as more favorable than another. We must maintain a relationship that is balanced between intimacy and reverence, rest and obedience. Avoid the idolatrous temptation to reduce, contain, or add to God.
1 Kurios: Greek word translated “Lord.” Stresses authority and supremacy. It can mean sir (John 4:11), owner (Luke 19:33), master (Col. 3:22), and it is used mostly as the equivalent of Yahweh of the Old Testament. It too is used of Jesus Christ meaning (1) Rabbi or Sir (Matt. 8:6); (2) God or Deity (John 20:28; Acts 2:36; Rom. 10:9; Phil. 2:11).
2 El Elyon: “The Most High God.” Stresses God’s strength, sovereignty, and supremacy (Gen. 14:19; Ps. 9:2;Dan. 7:18, 22, 25).
4 Image taken from richfaithrising.blogspot.com