Stark Exchange


“They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass.”

Psalm 106:20

Is there a more stark, damning picture of sin than this? The Israelites didn’t even exchange the glory of God for an ox, but for the image of an ox. I’ll trade you God for this picture right here. The Holy Spirit speaks in several places in the Psalms and the Prophets about the foolishness of idolatry.

The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”

Isaiah 44:13-17 (ESV)

He burns up part of the tree to cook his lunch and worships what he makes out of the rest. We cannot help but snort at such foolishness. The picture is clear that this is not rational behavior. How could anyone do that? How primitive and ignorant! I would never….


Being haughty about avoiding someone else’s condition doesn’t get us any points with God, either (Luke 18:9-14; Matthew 7:1-5). The truth is, if we could see it for what it is, all sin is repugnant, sordid, and stupid when we understand that it separates us from God. We’re right that it is not rational to exchange our relationship with God for something less, yet we are all guilty of that exact thing.

This Lent is a good time to take stock of our lives and consider what “bovine busts” and “half-charred chunks of cedar” we have in our own lives. This isn’t necessarily an anti-nick-knack exhortation, but it would be a very poor deal to trade God for any nick-knack or trinket.

Lord, reveal to us those things in our lives that are offensive to you. May we see our actions and desires as you see them. By your Spirit, make us appalled at such foolish ignorance and give us the grace and strength to discard them like the rubbish they are. May we set our hearts only on you and the things that please you, that we may live under your grace and for your glory. Amen.


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