As I continue my reflections on the character of God we come to the second key word: God is ‘Incomparable’ which means that He is beyond comparison; He is matchless and unequalled. Our first pit-stop as we reflect on this is Exodus 20:1-21 which is about Moses receiving the Ten Commandments. For twenty years in the margin of my Bible there have been headings against each demonstrating that this list of commandments actually reflects the character of God. Have a look at the list below:
- No other God’s – God is a Jealous God
- No idols – God is Spirit
- Do not take the Lord’s name in vain – God is not to be challenged
- Keep the Sabbath Holy – God is to be worshipped
- Honour your Father & Mother – God is a God of respect & honour
- Do not murder – God is the giver of life
- Do not commit adultery – God is a faithful God
- Do not steal – God is the provider
- Do not give false testimony – God is truth
- Do not covet – God is outward looking
Its a fascinating way to think about the Ten Commandments and it is very helpful to us as we think about God as Incomparable. Specifically our focus today is on commandments 1 and 2 which reflect God as Jealous and distinguishes Him from all that He has created.
I don’t know about you but the idea that God is a jealous God provokes an immediate negative reaction. Traditional usage distinguishes Jealousy (when we fear losing something that is important to us) and envy (when we desire that which someone else has). However in recent times we have increasingly uses jealousy/envy more interchangeably. When Moses describes God as a jealous God (see quote below) he is describing a righteous jealousy for those who are rightfully His. It is the kind of jealousy that is natural and right for a husband or wife to show towards their spouse: to the one who they have made vows to love and honour.
23 Be careful not to forget the covenant of the Lord your God that he made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the Lord your God has forbidden. 24 For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.Deuteronomy 4:23-24
God alone is rightfully worthy of our our worship. When we give that worship to anyone or anything else the Bible calls it idolatry. This is why the first of the Ten commandments makes it clear that we are to have no other God’s before Him. In Ezekiel 16 God tells the prophet to confront His people and show them how they were acting like an adulterous wife. The language used here is incredibly strong as God tries to show them how unacceptable their unfaithfulness towards Him was . We read about how God will deal with them in his “jealous anger” (v38 & 42). God has been utterly faithful to us but again and again we commit spiritual adultery by chasing after other gods.
Despite God’s clear command, idolatry is a thread which runs right though the Bible. We are somewhat spoiled for choice when it comes to delving into what the Bible has to say about this but I want to focus on Isaiah: the beginning of the so-called servant songs. In this section of Isaiah God seeks to bring comfort and challenge to His people.
18 With whom, then, will you compare God? To what image will you liken him? 19 As for an idol, a metalworker casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it. 20 A person too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot; they look for a skilled worker to set up an idol that will not topple.Isaiah 40:18-20
The question here is clear; “with whom will we compare God?” It seems ludicrous to fashion a metal idol and adorn it with silver/gold or a wooden idol and try to ensure that it won’t fall over!
25 ‘To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One. 26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.
16 Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, ‘Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.’ 17 From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, ‘Save me! You are my god!’ 18 They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so that they cannot see, and their minds closed so that they cannot understand.
5 Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good.’ 6 No one is like you, Lord; you are great, and your name is mighty in power… 10 But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King. When he is angry, the earth trembles; the nations cannot endure his wrath.Isaiah 40:25-26, 44:16-18, Jeremiah 10:5-6, 10
These are but a small sample of the rich material that we could look at to show that compared to any of these things God is simply beyond comparison. He is not an idol made of earthly materials: no God is Spirit. He is the true God and the creator of all things not something that one of the people He created threw together in their workshop!
Now I recognise that in our modern day Western societies such physical idols would also be seen as somewhat ridiculous: perhaps however in certain parts of the world that would be more commonplace. No our idols are somewhat different. Remember in Exodus 20 God said: “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them” (v4-5). Its a pretty clear instruction which encompasses every created thing. Absolutely anything in life can become an idol, as something that takes the place of God in our lives. We chase after false lovers (e.g. money, sex & power), we look for a saviour in the wrong places (e.g. control, security & significance) and we find ourselves serving the things that we love.
What does our bank account, social media account or diary have to say about the things that we worship. Idolatry takes even the best things of life to an extreme and in doing so they take the place of God. These are sobering thoughts and I know that there is plenty in my life which at times takes God’s rightful place. My heart can easily focus on the pursuit of treasures and pleasures rather than resting in God and so readily chases the never ending task of getting things done as if that were an ultimate end in itself. Recently I have been looking back over my time involved with student: nearly 22 years! Yet I know that there have been times when ministry became too important in my life. I allowed too much of my value and significance to be determined by my “success” (lack thereof) in ministry. God helped me to learn (and I am still learning) not to hold on too tightly!
So let me encourage you (and remind myself) that there is no-thing and no-body that in reality can compare God with. He is simply beyond comparison. Compared to Him the nations “are like a drop in a bucket” and “dust on the scales” (Isaiah 40:15). The truth is that He has no equal. He says:
‘I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.Isaiah 42:8
Other Posts in this series