Can symbols become the objects of our worship, rather than what they represent?
The Israelites seem to run into this problem at least a couple of times:
In Numbers 21:6-9, after the Israelites had complained, God sent serpents to bite them. After Moses interceded for them, God had Moses make a serpent (which ended up being constructed from bronze). After this statue was raised up, God providing healing for those who were bitten and looked to it. In addition, this was a powerful symbol, foreshadowing Jesus’ death to save others.
However, years later, a king named Hezekiah had to destroy the bronze serpent, because people were worshiping it!
He removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. 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.
2 Kings 18:4 NASB
Even Gideon, who was used by God to rescue his people from oppressors, after wisely yielding leadership to God (see Judges 8:23), took gold gifts from the people and made an ephod out it. That, too, pulled Israelites away from God.
The weight of the gold earrings that he requested was 1,700 shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments and the pendants and the purple robes which were on the kings of Midian, and besides the neck bands that were on their camels’ necks. Gideon made it into an ephod, and placed it in his city, Ophrah, and all Israel played the harlot with it there, so that it became a snare to Gideon and his household.
Judges 8:26-27 NASB
I’m not trying to say that images and symbols don’t help. They can serve as reminders, or as a means to explain things (remember flannelgraphs?) However, when they become the object of what we worship, and not a means to worshiping the One who deserves it (God), we put ourselves on a slippery slope. Let us take care to not make anything in our lives an idol, even if our reasons for having it started innocently enough.
The other thing to watch out for is things that may be a symbol to us, but which could be an object – or even an idol – to someone else.
- Do you hold your cross necklace when you pray, to remember Jesus’ sacrifice for you? Your children watching you may need to hear from you what you believe about Jesus, and that the cross is just a reminder of His death for us.
- Do you show extra respect to pillars of the faith, whether they are pastors, speakers, authors, or just someone you know? Are there others who may mistake your references to these people as being your acceptance of their words as gospel (rather than the actual Gospel – the words of God)? Combat this by emphasizing the Biblical foundation behind principles that you may learn from others.
- Do you point to a symbol (whether a painting, cross, or steeple) when talking about Jesus? He knows what you mean, but maybe others around you need you to spell it out.
So, even if it means taking a few minutes to explain the details, don’t let symbols of your Savior, Lord, and God take His place…whether in your life, or those who are around you. One bronze serpent being worshiped was too many.
Point people to Jesus – the real thing – instead.