For years, I couldn’t figure out why the children of Israel chose a golden calf as an idol. I thought they were turning their backs on God — whose deliverance and great works they had seen firsthand — for a ridiculous statue. A calf? Underage livestock? How can that represent anything of value compared to the God who overcame the power of Egypt?
A teacher recently pointed out to me that the key to this is the greatest commandment, the beginning of the Law that Moses received: the phrase Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 6:4 (NIV): “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.”
Israel had come out of Egypt, a culture with many gods, such as Ra, Set and Anubis, many of which were represented by animals — maybe thus the calf. Maybe they weren’t thinking of turning away and trading God the deliverer for another god but, rather, trying to “add on” another god, in the style of their Egyptian captors: an “extra” god to get them a little farther along, to give a little extra power, maybe extra comfort.
Few if any of us would trade Jesus outright for any other god, and so idolatry may not seem like a big concern. But we are often tempted to seek something extra. When hurting, when frustrated, when filled with desire for something out of reach: At those times, do we seek to be satisfied with Jesus, or try to find something else, something additional, to gain satisfaction — an “add on” to provide some extra bit of comfort or happiness?
Jesus repeats to us: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:29-30, NIV).
Paul writes that Jesus spoke to him saying “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9, NIV). He is sufficient, he is enough, he is all we need.