Two Journeys Ministry
In-Depth Biblical Content by Pastor Andy Davis
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Idolatrous Slaves

Does being a victim of oppression make someone innocent in the eyes of God?

by Andy Davis on July 25, 2023

idolatry"During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. 24 God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25 So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them." - Exodus 2:23-25

"But they rebelled against me and would not listen to me; they did not get rid of the vile images they had set their eyes on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt. So I said I would pour out my wrath on them and spend my anger against them in Egypt." - Ezekiel 20:8

I must say that the recounting of the long history of Israel’s idolatry in Ezekiel 20 caught me by surprise. I was doing extended memorization of Ezekiel when I got to chapter 20, and God’s anger at Israel’s idolatry in Egypt was revealed. In Ezekiel 20:4-10, God tells the prophet Ezekiel to confront the elders of Israel with the wretched history of their ancestors’ idolatry, beginning in Egypt. I was shocked as I mulled the significance of what God was revealing - that when God first came to Israel while they were in Egypt, God called them to give up the idols they had come to worship during the centuries they lived in that pagan land after the days of Joseph. They had seen the many idols of Egypt and had been seduced by them; they had bowed down to them and followed the ways of Egypt’s idolatrous religion. God commanded them plainly: “Each of you, get rid of the vile images you have set your eyes on, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” (Ezek. 20:7)

When did this happen? Who was the messenger? Was it Moses? Some earlier prophet? What’s amazing to me is that this moment of warning and holy command from a jealous God was not in any way recorded in the Book of Exodus. Instead, in Exodus 1-2, we have the picture of a subjugated and suffering people, a people God looked upon with deep compassion for their bitter servitude. In fact, we could get the image of a purely innocent people, pure as the driven snow, victims of rank oppression, needing only physical deliverance for them to become God’s holy and obedient people.

But the subsequent history of Israel immediately after the Exodus from Egypt shows how false such a narrative would have been. Israel was unbelieving at the Red Sea, and faithless at Massah and Meribah when they clamored for food and drink. They openly rebelled against the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai when they made the golden calf. In fact, that shows their true nature as idolaters. And finally, they rebelled against God when the ten spies spread a bad report about the Promised Land and spoke of stoning Moses and going back to Egypt. God slaughtered almost all of them… their bodies were strewn in the desert. In fact, when Paul wrote those words as a warning to the Corinthians, he said these Jews were idolaters. (1 Cor. 10:5-7)

The comparison of the radically different history in Exodus 1-2 with that of Ezekiel 20 should not lead us to question the inerrancy of scripture. Rather we should understand that God can teach us history any time he chooses, and all of it is perfect. The truth of the matter is, Israel was in fact idolatrous while slaves in Egypt. The concept of innocent victims of oppression is false… none of us is innocent. All of us naturally are idolaters unless transformed by grace. This also should rid the 21st century church of the false soteriology of “Liberation Theology” which posits God’s work in history always as saving the innocent oppressed from the wicked human oppressor.

"The concept of innocent victims of oppression is false… none of us is innocent. All of us naturally are idolaters unless transformed by grace."

The fact is, the true slavery is sin… for Jesus said, “Anyone who sins is a slave to sin.” (Jn. 8:34) And the true liberation is from sin - from its eternal penalty in hell, and from its deep pollution, and in fact from its very presence - and that salvation is worked by Christ alone through the cross and empty tomb. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!” (Jn. 8:36) The fact that Israel was both severely oppressed by their Egyptian taskmasters and wickedly idolatrous at the same time is vital for us to understand. Christ is the true Liberator!

Tags: idolatry