My people inquire of a piece of wood, and their walking staff gives them oracles. For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray, and they have left their God to play the whore. They sacrifice on the tops of the mountains and burn offerings on the hills, under oak, poplar, and terebinth, because their shade is good. Therefore your daughters play the whore, and your brides commit adultery. I will not punish your daughters when they play the whore, nor your brides when they commit adultery; for the men themselves go aside with prostitutes and sacrifice with cult prostitutes, and a people without understanding shall come to ruin. – Hosea 4:12-14 ESV
Idolatry should seem like a not-so-subtle form of idiocy to us. The idea of taking a piece of wood and carving an image out of it and bowing down before it as some kind of god should come across as utterly ridiculous. The prophet, Isaiah, provides us with God’s very comical description of just how silly idol worship should be to us.
“the wood-carver measures a block of wood and draws a pattern on it. He works with chisel and plane and carves it into a human figure. He gives it human beauty and puts it in a little shrine. He cuts down cedars; he selects the cypress and the oak; he plants the pine in the forest to be nourished by the rain. Then he uses part of the wood to make a fire. With it he warms himself and bakes his bread. Then—yes, it’s true—he takes the rest of it and makes himself a god to worship! He makes an idol and bows down in front of it!” – Isaiah 44:13-15 NLT
Regarding idols, God pulls no punches. “How foolish are those who manufacture idols. These prized objects are really worthless. The people who worship idols don’t know this, so they are all put to shame” (Isaiah 44:9 NLT). And as sophisticated, modern believers, we would probably agree with His assessment. The thought of bowing down before a block of wood or some kind of man-make object sounds ridiculous to us. But for the people of Israel, idol worship was a part of the daily fabric of life. It was a common practice among all the nations surrounding them. Idol worship was socially acceptable. But the real issue behind all idol worship is the rejection of the one true God. God calls it a “spirit of whoredom.” What drives it is a desire for something other than God. It is built on dissatisfaction, distrust, and a belief that God is not enough. Rather than trust God and His promises, the people of Israel hedged their bets and turned to the gods of other nations in a hope that they would have all their bases covered. It God didn’t come through, maybe one of the other gods would. Some of their unfaithfulness to God was also driven by mere peer pressure, the desire to fit in with the nations around them. One of the reasons God had demanded that the people of Israel destroy all the nations living in the land of promise was so that they would not be tempted to worship their gods. But Israel failed to keep God’s command and soon found themselves intermarrying with those nations and worshiping their false gods.
By the time we get to the period in which Hosea prophesied, things had digressed to a dangerous point. Israel had actually manufactured their own idols – two golden calves – to replace the worship of Yahweh. They had set up their own priesthood and sacrificial system to replace that which God had instituted in Jerusalem. Their unfaithfulness had reached epic proportions and God had had enough. The “spirit of whoredom” was rampant. It even led their daughters to become actual prostitutes. The marriages of the people of Israel were marked by adultery and unfaithfulness. God declared, “your men are doing the same thing, sinning with whores and shrine prostitutes” (Hosea 4:14 NLT).
Unfaithfulness to God stems from an ignorance of God. If the Israelites had really known and understood just how great their God was, they would never have considered turning their back on Him. But over time, they had grown foolish in their understanding. They had lost their intimacy with God and had no real personal relationship with Him. God had become little more than a concept to them, an impersonal, distant deity whom they couldn’t see and with whom they had little or no interaction. The spirit of whoredom creeps in when we stray from God. The less time we spend with Him, reading His Word, sharing with Him our wants and needs, listening to His direction and hearing of His love for us, the more we will tend to stray from Him. They say distance makes the heart grow fonder, but distance from God is dangerous. It can lead to disinterest and, ultimately, unfaithfulness. Like the people of Israel, we will find ourselves turning to something other than God in order to have our needs met. And while we may not have wooden idols in our homes or shrines located under trees or on top of hills. we will find ourselves worshiping false gods. The spirit of whoredom will creep in, tempting us to seek out something other than God to bring us satisfaction, contentment, joy, pleasure, hope, peace, or fulfillment. Anything we turn to other than God is an idol in our lives. Anything we fear losing has become an idol in our lives. Anything we wake up at night worrying about has become an idol in our lives. If sleeping in means more to us than seeking God, sleep has become an idol. If watching TV brings us more joy than reading God’s Word, then TV has become an idol. If becoming successful is more appealing to us than becoming holy, then our job has become an idol to us. If we place more trust in our money than we do God, then money has become an idol to us. And we are suffering from the spirit of whoredom.
God is not enough for us. His love is insufficient for us. We need more. We demand more. When He doesn’t give us what we think we need, we turn to something else. When we think we deserve more or better, we seek what we’re looking for elsewhere. And when we do, we shouldn’t be surprised when our children end up seeking their hope, help, fulfillment and satisfaction from the things of this world. The spirit of whoredom is contagious. It can spread through a family, a church and a generation. In a very short time, we can find ourselves in the same predicament that Israel was in – unfaithful to God, spiritually adulterous and facing God’s wrath for their infidelity and insubordination. But God would have us return to Him, placing our faith and trust in Him. He wants to love us, bless us and fulfill His will in us.