Yes, God is the Creator of all things and we should continuously stand in awe and wonder at all his mighty and wonderful works (Psalm 104). And Yes, God has been faithful to his promises and redeemed his people out of slavery and bondage to reveal his goodness to them and his greatness to the nations (Psalm 105). But He did not do all this in a vacuum! In fact, He did all his wonderful deeds in the context of a rebellious humanity who too quickly and easily forgot and turned to false gods (Psalm 106).
Kidner says of Psalm 106 that “This psalm is the dark counterpart of its predecessor, a shadow cast by human self-will in its long struggle against the light.” (# 29)
It begins well:
Praise the Lord.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
2 Who can proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord
or fully declare his praise?
3 Blessed are those who act justly,
who always do what is right.
And right there we have the problem! Too often in their history God’s people turned away from acting justly and too often did not do what is right. In fact, this psalm reveals a “long catalogue of failures… Israel really does have cause to thank God for his goodness and enduring love when she recognizes that she has been so undeserving.” (# 5)
It is indeed a very “long catalogue of failures” in the midst of God’s goodness and power. I will quote below those particularly related to idolatry, but there is more (see verses 7, 13-15, 16, 21, 24-25, 32-33):
19 At Horeb they made a calf
and worshiped an idol cast from metal.
20 They exchanged their glorious God
for an image of a bull, which eats grass…
28 They yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor
and ate sacrifices offered to lifeless gods…
34 They did not destroy the peoples
as the Lord had commanded them,
35 but they mingled with the nations
and adopted their customs.
36 They worshiped their idols,
which became a snare to them.
37 They sacrificed their sons
and their daughters to false gods.
38 They shed innocent blood,
the blood of their sons and daughters,
whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan,
and the land was desecrated by their blood.
39 They defiled themselves by what they did;
by their deeds they prostituted themselves…
The psalmist summarizes the whole sordid story with the words:
43 Many times he delivered them,
but they were bent on rebellion
and they wasted away in their sin.
“The Jewish nation was persistently infected by and guilty of worshiping idols… An idol is simply a substitute for God or a supplement to God… in putting Yahweh on the same level with the false gods, the people were robbing Him of His uniqueness and His glory… God’s declaration is unequivocal: ‘I am the Lord your God… You shall have no other gods before me.’ (Exodus 20:2,3) … God didn’t ‘tolerate’ the worship of other gods. He hated and despised it, and he chastened his people for practicing idolatry… [something our ‘pluralistic society’ finds unacceptable].”
He then asks an important question:
“Why was God so hard on the Jews when they apostatized and worshiped other gods? Because their apostasy was threatening the very plan He had for bringing salvation to the whole world… Thus, the sin of idolatry had personal, national, and international consequences. The individual worshipers were robbing themselves of the richness of their spiritual heritage, and this was affecting their character and conduct. The nation was not fulfilling its God-ordained purpose in the world, to be a light to the Gentiles and a revealer of the glory of the true God. As a result, the other nations were left without a clear witness.” (# 49) Besides all this, Psalm 115 reveals the shortsightedness (and plain absurdity) of worshiping false gods! Read it for yourself.
Sadly, idolatry isn’t the exclusive activity of the Jewish nation as revealed in the Bible. Modern idolatry includes not only ‘graven images’ of so-called gods (as practiced in some religions), but also the ‘worship’ of God’s creatures rather than himself, the Creator. Then of course there is the worship of money, fame, power and sensuality. It is all too easy to be “infected by and guilty of worshiping idols’ in our modern world.
“Father in heaven, You are the true and living God, and I worship you! I adore you! Deliver me from the worship of substitutes, May I worship the Creator, not the creation or the creature. May I worship the Redeemer, not the experience of redemption or the blessings it brings to my life. Tear from my heart every idol! May I worship and serve you and You alone. Through Jesus Christ, your beloved Son. Amen” (# 49)