The Bible is full of examples of people engaging in idolatrous behavior. But the idolatry didn’t start there. Their outward idolatrous actions were preceded by inward idolatrous ideas. Consider the story of Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ’You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (Gen. 3:1–6)
We are all familiar with the story of the Fall. Many of us have grown up in Sunday school hearing about how Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit. But the fall of mankind didn’t begin when the first pair took their first bite.
That is, it didn’t begin with a disobedient deed. Rather, it began with an incorrect idea. Specifically, the serpent—the devil—planted false ideas about God in the minds of the original pair.
First, Satan questions what God has said. “Did God actually say?” asks the serpent. He goes after God’s word. And Satan’s game plan hasn’t changed. Aberrant theologies nearly always start with questioning what God has said.
“Did God really say homosexual behavior is wrong?” “Did God really say people will go to Hell for their sin?” “Did God really say Jesus is the only way?” “Did God really say there are only two genders?” “Did God really say...?”
Second, Satan denies what God has said. “You will not surely die,” Satan deceivingly declares. Satan moves from questioning God’s word to denying it. Satan doesn’t deny God’s existence. No, his scheme is even more insidious. He denies what God has said so that he can replace truth with a lie.
Well, what’s the lie? This leads to the next point.
Third, Satan attacks who God is. In this very short dialogue, we see Satan attack the character of God. Think about the implications of what he says. Firstly, Satan plants the lie that God is withholding something good from them. After all, why would a loving God withhold something that appears to be pleasing to the eyes? The implication is that God is not loving. Satan gets them to believe the lie that God must not care about them; He must like keeping things from them; He must be cruel.
Of course, this isn’t true at all. We know that God is love. “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8).
Secondly, Satan plants the lie that God wasn’t telling Adam and Eve the truth. The implication is that God is not truthful. Satan—the father of lies—gets them to believe that God lied about the consequences of disobeying His command.
However, Satan is the one that cannot be trusted. In fact, we know that God cannot lie. “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind” (Numbers 23:19). Lying is against God’s nature.
Finally, Satan plants the lie that God isn’t sufficient. They need to take care of themselves. They begin to believe they can be their own gods. The implication is that God is not enough.
It’s only after Adam and Eve have fallen for this false understanding of who God is that they eat the fruit.
The same connection between ideas and actions can be seen during the events that took place while Moses was receiving the Law on Mount Sinai.
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” (Ex. 32:1–2)
For those unfamiliar with this story, Aaron melts the gold down and forms it into a golden calf for them to worship.
Now remember our main point: False ideas start in the mind before they get expressed as actions.
Before any gold was gathered or the calf was being sculpted, idolatry had already begun to germinate in the minds of the people. Rather than trusting God and His chosen leader, Moses, they began to doubt God. The text says that “the people saw that Moses delayed.” They had decided, in their minds, that God was taking too long with Moses. And they were growing impatient. God shouldn’t keep them waiting, should He?
Notice their response. When God doesn’t operate the way they think He should, they decide to sculpt a god who will. But, of course, this is futile thinking.
God just gave ten plagues showing that He is greater than the false gods of the Egyptians. For example, the Egyptians worshiped sun god Ra, so God put out the sun. But what do the Israelites do? They exchange the truth about God for a lie and demand to worship an image resembling a creature—a cow.
More examples could be given, but this is enough to show that false worship begins with false ideas about God.