Smashing Our IdolsErwin W. Lutzer | April 18, 1993
Selected highlights from this sermon
Did you know that every time you deliberately sin you’re breaking the first commandment? “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.”
As Pastor Lutzer takes us through the ten plagues in Egypt, we see how the true God humiliated the false gods of the Egyptians, including Pharaoh himself. And today, God is still at war with the idols in our hearts.
My sermon topic this morning is entitled Smashing Our Idols. The first commandment that was ever given is Thou shall have no other gods before me.
Do you realize that every time we choose to sin deliberately we break that commandment because what we are doing is deciding that there is something or someone that is more important to us than God? The reason that we have to understand idolatry is because, first of all, all gods make promises. They make promises. Unfortunately, they don’t keep their promises, but they make many of them. And not only that, we need to understand what God has to say about idolatry and see how He wars against it.
If you have your Bibles I want you to turn today to the book of Exodus. We begin with Exodus 7, and regular members and attenders will know that we are in a series on the life of Moses. Moses has been called of God to go back to the land, you remember, back to Egypt that he might be able to bring the people of Israel out from that land. They had settled in the land of Goshen and they had become a great and strong nation. And consequently what the Lord was saying is that He wanted them to be brought out. But Pharaoh wouldn’t let the people go, and so in these chapters what we have is the story of how God had a contest with the gods of Egypt and how the Lord won.
We must understand that there were about 80 different gods in Egypt, and what the Lord did was choose some of them to humiliate them. Every one of these plagues was directed to one of the gods or the goddesses of Egypt or a combination thereof. For example, they had a god that was connected with the Nile River. And so the first plague, as we shall see, is the Nile turning to blood.
They had gods of fertility, gods to protect people from bad weather, and so we will see that there was hail and thunder and lightning. In fact, Pharaoh himself thought that he was a god. The Pharaoh of this particular passage of Scripture is Amenhotep II, and he was a very proud man, and in his garments he wore the symbols of deity.
You may say to yourself, “Well, how can somebody call himself a god? That’s ridiculous.” I know it is, but we have people today who are doing it. Shirley MacLaine has done it. Frank Peretti has imagined what that must be like for the Lord God. He says, “Imagine! Here is the Lord who fills the whole universe—His greatness and His majesty. He is the creator of the sun, the moon and the stars. And as He looks down from heaven He sees this speck running out onto Malibu beach shouting, ‘I’m God! I’m God.’ And God says to Michael, ‘Michael, come over here and just look at this. Do you see this here?’” And so we have people today who think that they are God. And Pharaoh thought that he was God. And God is going to humiliate him, too.
Now, with your Bibles open we’re going to take a very quick tour today. As a matter of fact, we aren’t going to walk. We aren’t even going to march. We are going to run. And we’re going to look at the ten plagues and we’re going to see how God dealt with the idolatry of the Egyptians.
Now, when Moses went back to the land it says in chapter 7 that in order to do a miracle for Pharaoh so Pharaoh would believe, it says that Moses threw his staff down before Pharaoh and it became a serpent. That’s chapter 7, verse 10. And then it says that Pharaoh called for the wise men and the sorcerers, and they also—the magicians of Egypt—did the same with their secret arts. Now they did this with perhaps trickery. They were magicians. They also may have done it with demonic power or a combination thereof because, you see, false religion always tries to imitate true religion.
And now the Bible says in verse 13: “Still Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them.” You’ll find that frequently it says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. Sometimes it says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. As I explained in a previous message, what happened is the Lord withdrew His restraint. The Lord withdrew His grace and just allowed Pharaoh to be as hard and as stubborn as he wanted to be.
But now let’s take the tour of the ten plagues. The first plague is turning the Nile River into blood. This is chapter 7, verses 14 to 25. Moses put forth his rod, and the Nile, which was the giver of life, suddenly became blood, and all of the fish died, and the stench throughout Egypt was absolutely unbearable. But Pharaoh looked at it and he would not let the people go. He said, “Uh-uh, you’re not going.”
The second plague is in chapter 8 (As a matter of fact, chapter 8 has the next three plagues.), the plague of the frogs—verses 1 to 15. The Lord said to Moses, “If you put forth your hand (verse 3) the Nile will swarm with frogs which will come up and go into your house and into your bedroom, and into your bed and into the houses of your servants, and into your ovens, and into your kneading bowls.” Can you believe that?
Here are the people of Egypt walking along and they have to walk and crunch these frogs under their shoes. And then the women are baking bread and they have dough and suddenly the frogs get entangled in the dough. And they are croaking from the closets, and they are croaking from the cupboards until Pharaoh can scarcely take it anymore. And he calls Moses and he says, “Moses, pray to your God that these frogs will stop.” And so Moses prays to God, and the plague of frogs was ended, but Pharaoh would not let those people go.
So the third plague was that of lice. In chapter 8, verse 16 to 19, it says: “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Say to Aaron, “Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the earth, so that it may become gnats (or lice) in all the land of Egypt.”’” I want you to visualize this. All the dust suddenly turns into lice, and lice are everywhere. They are even on Pharaoh. Everywhere! Through the palace! Through the houses! Wherever you are there are lice.
Now it says that Pharaoh’s advisors called him and they began to speak to him. And they couldn’t do what Moses was doing. It says in verse 18: “The magicians tried by their secret arts to produce gnats, but they could not.” Nor could they stop the plague. See, false religion can do some things, but it can’t do everything.
And then it says in verse 19: "Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, ‘This is the finger of God.’” They are saying to their ruler, to their authority, to their (quote) god, “This is the finger of another god who is stronger than we are.” But Pharaoh hardened his heart, and he said, “Uh uh, you’re not going to go.”
Now let’s look at the next plague which is of flies and more insects. This actually is one of the plagues that was directed to the god of the sun that was represented by the fly. We pick it up in verse 20: The Lord said to Moses, “Rise early in the morning and go to Pharaoh and tell him that flies are suddenly going to encompass the entire land, and they are going to look like clouds that have come down from the sky. And the whole earth is going to be covered with them.”
Now it’s interesting to see that Pharaoh makes the first of three compromises. It says in verse 25: “Then Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron and said, ‘Go, sacrifice to your God within the land.’” Moses said, “We can’t do that.” He said, “We have to go outside of the land to do it.”
And then it says in verse 28: “So Pharaoh said, ‘I will let you go to sacrifice to the Lord your God in the wilderness; only you must not go very far away.’” He’s beginning to bend just a little bit. And then he adds something that should jump out at us from the text. He says, “And plead (pray) for me.”
We may say to ourselves, “Well, you know, this is a great spiritual breakthrough because Pharaoh is now recognizing that he needs prayer.” You know, when you find somebody with a hard heart and they tell you, “Pray for me,” you say to yourself, “Well, there’s hope for this person.” In fact, Moses may have been encouraged to think that Pharaoh might ultimately change his mind.
And so the Bible says that Moses prayed and the flies were blown away by a wind. And Pharaoh begins to rethink his decision, and he says to himself, “The sky is now clear.” He hardened his heart and he would not let the people go.
Well, the fifth plague is in chapter 9. It is the cattle that die out in the field. God says, “Because you haven’t let the people go, what’s going to happen is all those cattle that are on the field—not the ones in your barns (They were not affected because there were some cattle left, but all the cattle in the field),” the Lord says, you are going to find that they will die.” And the Lord says, “I’ll make a distinction between your cattle and the cattle of the Israelites. Theirs will remain alive and yours will die.” And so that’s exactly what happened.
And after the disease set in, Pharaoh sent and discovered that the other people’s (the Israelites) cattle had not died, but he hardened his heart. And he said, “I will not let you go.”
Well, there’s more to follow. Aren’t you enjoying this? Imagine what Pharaoh thought. He lived it. We’re just talking about it. He went through this over a period of maybe 7 or 8 months.
Now, the next one is hail (Chapter 9, verse 18 through 35). Now Egypt always has had hail, and various kinds of experiences.
Actually, I even missed boils. You wouldn’t mind if I skipped over the boils, would you? But logically we should make a comment about them. That is number six in chapter 9, verse 8. Can you imagine these ulcerated sores on Pharaoh and over all the people, and they’re going through this experience of the itching because of the boils? And still Pharaoh, though embarrassed and humiliated, hardened his heart and he said no.
Well, number 7 is the hail. That’s in chapter 9, beginning at verse 18. Suddenly the Lord God said that He would send hail and lightning throughout the land so that trees would be uprooted, and the barley and the flax would be chopped in two and totally destroyed.
Do you know what Pharaoh says after all of this? It says in verse 27 of chapter 9: “Then Pharaoh sent and called Moses and Aaron and said to them, ‘This time I have sinned; the Lord is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. Plead with the Lord, for there has been enough of God's thunder and hail. I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer,’”
It almost sounds like a conversion to me. “I have sinned. Pray for me. Forgive me this once.” It sounds as if Pharaoh is making some kind of a decision to serve the Lord God. Maybe a heart change, we might superficially think! But no! After the hail ended and the sky was clear, Pharaoh went for a walk and he breathed the deep fresh air of Egypt. And the sun came and stroked his face, and he said, “You’re not going. The answer is no. I spoke too soon, too quickly.”
So what we have next is the plague of locusts. Actually this is chapter 10 now. You’ll notice that suddenly locusts go throughout the entire land, and they now take care of everything that the hail and the storm has not totally destroyed. In fact, it’s interesting that when these locusts came, the advisors to Pharaoh suddenly have the nerve to tell him something. Chapter 10, verse 7: “Then Pharaoh's servants said to him, ‘How long shall this man be a snare to us? Let the men go, that they may serve the Lord their God. Do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined?’” They are saying to Pharaoh… This is the Egyptian version of telling the king that he has no clothes. They are saying, “Pharaoh, don’t you understand? We’re being devastated. Let them go.” And they say, “At least let the men go. Let the wives and the children stay. Then the men will return. But let them go sacrifice. Let them go out of the land. Do something. Give a little bit, Pharaoh.”
Well, Pharaoh says in verse 17 of this chapter: “I have sinned (the middle of verse 16) against the Lord your God, and against you. Now therefore, forgive my sin, please, only this once, and plead with the Lord your God only to remove this death from me.”
Well, we know that Pharaoh wasn’t converted last time when he said he had sinned. We know that he later changed his mind and decided that he was far too stubborn to give in to God. But maybe this time it took. Well, the bad news is that it didn’t because after the plague was over it says in verse 20, “The Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he did not let the people go.”
The next plague is darkness over the land. That’s in the last part of chapter 10. This was unusual darkness. It was darkness, the Bible says, that even could be felt. And for three days, people couldn’t move around at all. They all had to sit where they were when the darkness came. It was total pitch darkness throughout the whole land for three days. And Pharaoh was so angry that it says in verse 27 that his heart was hardened, and he said finally in verse 28: “Get away from me; take care never to see my face again, for on the day you see my face you shall die.” And Moses said, “As you say! I will not see your face again.”
There is a tenth plague and that’s the one that we’re going to be discussing next week when we talk about the Passover, an amazing plague where the Angel of Death went throughout the land and killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, but those who belonged to the Hebrews, the sons of Israel, were exempt because they had blood on their doors. And the Angel of Death therefore passed them by. But oh what weeping and wailing throughout all of Egypt! And finally Pharaoh says in desperation, “Go,” but after they leave he changes his mind and begins to try to retrieve them, but is drowned.
Well, we’ve taken this very fast tour of the plagues, and maybe some of you were a little wearied with ten different episodes like this in the land of Egypt. What do we make of all this? Where does it land? What is its application? What is God trying to say?
A couple of comments! First of all, I want you to know that these plagues actually happened. They actually happened! I can imagine that there’s somebody here saying, “You know, I just don’t believe all this.” Well, I feel sorry for you because if you believe in God, it is not difficult to believe in these plagues. You say, “Well, they were natural occurrences. Egypt has always had frogs and darkness and hail storms.” That’s true. But did you notice in this quick tour that actually Egypt’s darkness and frogs and lice were always dependent upon the prayer of Moses? And when Moses prayed, they came, and when Moses prayed, the plague was lifted. As a matter of fact, the timing was in response to prayer. The intensity increased. The plagues got worse as they moved through. God used the arrows of His judgment and kept sending them more difficult ones as time went on.
And then notice the distinction that was made between the Israelites who did not have these plagues. God protected them, and the Egyptians had to endure the full effects of these awful judgments. Now, oftentimes magicians are wrong but the magicians of Pharaoh were very right when they said, “This is the finger of God.”
But there’s a second comment I must make, and that is a reminder that God is always at war—always at war with idolatry. God hates idols. God is the God who pervades the whole universe, and because He does, He says, “Thou shall have no other gods before Him.” There is no other being on planet earth who deserves praise and adoration and worship. And because God is unique and special, and there is none other like Him, He hates rivalry. You say, “Well, isn’t that pride?” It would be pride for us but it is not pride for God. You see, pride in our lives is sin because everything that we have is a gift of God. None of it is what we deserve, and therefore, all praise that comes to us must be passed on to the Almighty. But God has nowhere to pass on the praise that comes to Him. It stops with Him, and He says His Glory He will not share with another. He hates idolatry.
Now think with me just for a moment about the idols that we have in this culture—for example, the idol of sex, the idol of immorality. People say to themselves, “I want to have this idol in my life and I am willing to defy God. I’m willing to do anything that I can do. My own thing!” It’s the Woody Allen approach who, in a relationship with his step-daughter, said, “The heart wants what it wants.” And God says, “I am at war with fornicators and with adulterers.” The Lord says, “I personally am at war with them.”
He is at war with the idols of this generation within our school systems, and how our hearts should break. Young people are not only taught to be immoral but they are taught how to be immoral. And the present worldview within our culture seems to communicate to them that it does not make any difference whether you destroy this planet by AIDS or with abortion or with anything else just as long as you have your way. This is one idol that our culture is not willing to sacrifice. And God says, “I am at war with it, and I will devastate you, and I will smash your families, and I will bring guilt into your life, and in the crevices of your soul I will bring despair. And ultimately I will even destroy your country because you have set up an idol that is more important to you than the Lord God.
Of course, there are other idols. There is the idol of all kinds of different pleasures that people have, the addictions to which they give themselves with abandon, hoping that if it is true that you only go around once in life that people will grab for all the gusto that they have. And so these things become means by which God is pushed to the circumference of their life. He is pushed out. And God says, “I hate those idols.”
What about money? Oh, how money makes promises like all idols do, and then cannot fulfill them. Some of you, perhaps years ago, heard me tell about the time when my wife and I were at a hockey game with a woman who owned part of the team. And we were told that she was worth fifty million dollars. Fifty million dollars! No, she did not buy us our ice cream. We paid for that for ourselves. But you know, there she was with deep lines in her face, filled with anxiety. She would clap with her fingers crossed because she was superstitious. A year or two later she died of cancer. Well, money made all these promises. Surely this is where it’s at, and then the ultimate mockery. Fifty million dollars cannot save you when cancer sets in and destroys all the promises that the god made to you, the god of money, the god of power.
You have to understand that Pharaoh was the consummate control freak, the consummate control freak. He did not want to let the people go. He wanted to have them under his control. The thought of actually giving up these people, who were of benefit to the land with their flocks and herds, was absolutely unthinkable to someone who wanted to own and to control. And God says, “I hate that idol because it is based on pride that has not been brought to the point of humility before God.”
Now, of course, I told you that God is always at war with idols in our lives. He’s at war with the idols that I find in my heart. And how does God war with us with those idols? Well, one of the things that He does is to create within us a sense of dissatisfaction. I don’t know how it is when you sin deliberately, or when you begin to fasten on certain thoughts that begin to be the idol of your life, but God does not let me get away very long with those idols. Sometimes I feel as if it is like pulling weeds out of a garden. You think you have them all, and then suddenly from nowhere another one of these idols will spring.
And those of you who are born again Christians, you can understand me when I say that our whole Christian life is basically continually humbling ourselves before God and asking God to keep those idols rooted out of our lives. But oh how we struggle, and we say with Pharaoh, “Lord, if you do thus and so, I will do this and that.” And then God comes through and then we change our minds, and in our hearts we say, “No, no, no!” and we harden our hearts. And God keeps working us over until we yield.
The dearest idols I have known
Whate’er that idol be.
Help me, oh Lord, to grasp it from the throne
And worship only Thee.
Every single person who is born again, God will work on them to get the idols out of our hearts, out of our lives, out of our homes, and out of our experience because God hates idolatry.
Now what about in the lives of the unconverted? God also hates their idolatry, and do you know what His final judgment is with idol worshippers, those who say no to God? His final judgment is to make them comfortable and happy with their idols. That is the judgment of God.
Remember in the Old Testament there was a tribe by the name of Ephraim that succumbed to all kinds of idolatry. No matter how often the prophets preached to Ephraim, Ephraim refused to humble itself before God. And in the book of Hosea the Lord said to the prophet, “Ephraim is joined to his idols. Just let him alone.” Let him alone. Let him love those idols. Let him be satisfied with them. Don’t bother him. Make him content until the final judgment when he will see that he was in touch with idols who made promises they could not keep.
Let me ask you something this morning. Who is the worst off spiritually in this congregation? Is it somebody who has come here today with a sense of guilt, with a sense of failure, and saying, “Oh God, I wish that I were a better person; God help me in my need?” No, that’s not the person who’s the worse off. The person who is farthest from God is the one who has excluded God out of his life and is content with it, and is not bothered by the fact that God has been shoved out of their life. He has been ripped out of their souls. He has been forgotten, and they do not care. They are joined to their idols. God says, “Just let them alone. May they be content with their idolatry.”
You know, there’s another lesson, of course, that pops out of this text all over the place, and that is that no person can ever defy God and win. Nobody ever wins when they take on God. Nobody ever wins. Here is Pharaoh, and Pharaoh on three different occasions says to Moses, “Pray for me.” Why is it that Pharaoh didn’t change after saying, “Pray for me”? Well, the reason is because Pharaoh made those decisions when he was in a very tight place when he really needed God, but he was not willing to let God really change his heart. What he was saying is, “Pray for me because I’m desperate,” but after the desperation stopped, he went back to his old ways. If we may put it this way, he had a series of deathbed conversions, but he would not let God capture his heart.
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, do you think that there is anybody alive today who has a heart as hard as Pharaoh’s?” Well, I need to smile if you’re asking that question because I would like to say that there are probably unfortunately thousands and thousands of people who have a heart as hard as this Egyptian king. You know that in the Great Tribulation, the book of Revelation talks about the judgments that are going to fall on the earth, that are going to make the plagues of Egypt look very tame. They are going to look like an evening with the Boy Scouts in a tent. And then it says this: “And the rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues did not repent of the works of their hands.” They still worshipped their idols, and it says they did not repent of their murders, or their sorceries, of their immorality, and of their thefts. Their hearts were as hard as Pharaoh’s.
But the lesson that we learn from Pharaoh is this, that if you are not to bend in the presence of God, eventually you will break, because nobody ever takes on God and wins. Nobody! And I’ve known people who have said, “If there is a God, I don’t believe that He would allow all this evil in this world. I’m going to disbelieve in Him,” or “I’m going to shut Him out of my life and I’m going to run my own life.” And what they are doing is they are defying Almighty God whom we ought to be worshipping and loving and serving. And in doing that, they are showing the imprints of their own final doom and judgment.
You remember what did happen. Pharaoh let the people go, and then he changed his mind and went after them again. And even though he had let the people go, his heart was never brought right in the presence of God.
There’s a final comment, and that is that the only hope that we can ever have is that we come under the protection of Almighty God. It’s an exciting passage of Scripture, the twelfth chapter of Exodus. And that’s actually our passage for next week, but that’s where the Passover was instituted, and where the plague came and the oldest son of all the houses of Pharaoh died. And do you remember what the Lord said to the people of Israel? He said, “When this Angel of Death comes and deals one more powerful blow to Egyptian gods, if you put blood on the doorpost of your house, the Angel of Death will bypass you.” And all of us know that that blood represents the blood of Jesus Christ, because when Christ was there on the cross, making a sacrifice for all of us who by nature are idol worshippers, when Jesus was dying there on the cross, His death was a sacrifice for us so that when we believe in Him, we are forgiven. We are therefore exempt from the judgment of God. We become one of God’s children, and then God begins to work in our heart to rip out all of those idols. But He does it in love because we belong to Him forever.
At this moment I need to ask you a question. Do you have within your heart a desire to be a follower of God, or do you have the heart of a Pharaoh? Have you dug in your heels and have you said no to God? I ask you with all that is within me, “Open your life to Him because nobody says no to God and wins.” God is at war with idolatry, and guess who wins every single time?
Our Father, we have been confronted by the living and the true God, and we acknowledge Him to be Lord and King. And we think, Father, of all the idols of our culture, and how insulting we have become as a nation to You. We pray today, Father, for those who came here today who know You as Savior and who love You. We pray that we might open our hearts to You, and that You might help us to yield the idols that we have hung on to for so long.
And then we pray for those who do not know You as Savior. We pray that along with this message that appeared to be so harsh, they may see also the love of God and the forgiveness of God to those who open their lives to the Christ of the cross and the Christ whose blood was shed for us. Burn into our lives the message of Exodus. “Blessed are those whose God is the Lord for I hate false gods.” In Jesus’ name we pray.
And before I close this prayer now, I want you to talk to God wherever you may be. If you are a Christian just tell the Lord about that idol that you have been hanging on to. Ask Him to give you the grace to give it up. Just give it up! And if you are not a believer, Christ is monitoring your heart at this moment. You can even where you are seated believe on Christ and be saved. You can say, “Lord, I don’t want a hard heart. I want a soft one, and I respond to You in faith, trusting Christ as my very own.”
Have mercy upon us, Lord. We need You desperately. Show us Yourself, Your might and Your power, and may every weed in our lives be torn down that Christ might be totally enthroned. We pray in His name, Amen.