I am fascinated by Bible stories. Not only do they tell me a lot about God; they also tell me about ancient cultures so very different from—and yet so similar to—my own. When we read the Old Testament, we are looking through a window into the lives and conversations of real humans who lived thousands of years ago. And it’s just fascinating.
Here’s an example. When Jacob flees from his father-in-law Laban and begins the long journey south toward Canaan, one of his wives, Rachel, sneaks into her dad’s house to steal something very precious to her—“her father’s household gods” (Genesis 31:19). So think about it. She could have taken anything, a bag of silver, his precious jewels, his golf clubs. But she chose to take his teraphim.
The meaning of this word is not altogether certain, but it probably refers to “small images of household gods in human form . . . worshipped as givers of earthly prosperity, and . . . consulted as oracles.”1 People who possessed teraphim “believed they were responsible for human happiness when worshiped, and human misery when ignored.”2
Maybe Rachel pulled these out when her kids were sick or when the crops were poor. Maybe she set them up after a tough night with a baby or a long argument with one of her fellow wives. Household idols provided a simple, actionable way to feel in control of both the present and the future.
But before we’re too hard on Rachel,3 it’s important to remember we often fall into the same trap. The pressures and uncertainties of life in a broken world can cause us to turn regular household items into household idols. We turn to something other than God for our peace, security, and identity. But, instead of bringing peace, these idols produce a distinct hum of anxiety, fear, and pride in our hearts.
Let’s look at two household items which may have become idols in your home—and how you can return them to their rightful place.
When bills pour in and family uncertainties multiply, few things can provide a sense of security like extra dollars. Money is a good tool, but it can also become the household idol to which we look for peace and joy in the midst of mounting pressure. This can look different ways depending on the household.
1. Spending money we don’t have
According to a recent article on lendingtree.com, during the 3rd quarter of 2021, 52% of all active credit cards in the United States carried a balance from one month to the next. In other words those households spent more money than they actually had.
I’m sure the reasons felt important: the happiness of the kids, the comfort of the parents, or the reputation of the family. Chances are, however, many of those households were looking to dollars to do what only God can do.
2. Obsessing about money we do have
A sure sign of adulthood is when you and your wife can’t stop talking about your new budgeting app. While “financial peace” is a desirable goal, be careful not to treat your financial plan as the means to peace that only God can give. Checking your investment portfolio or tweaking your financial strategy several times a day may be a sign that something is askew in your heart.
Dollars become god when we turn to them before we turn to the One who alone gives us our daily bread (Matthew 6:11). Household idols may promise peace, security, and identity, but, in the end, they produce anxiety, fear, or pride in our hearts.
Let’s look at one more household idol. One of the hardest parts of raising kids is the continual cycle of sickness that plagues our homes. (I hear it was even harder in previous generations.) Nothing is more frustrating than finally getting through a month-long bout of respiratory sickness only to have your toddler start to throw up in the night.
If only there were an actionable, effective solution for sickness! Meet our second household idol—the pursuit of total health this side of eternity. Living in a broken world means we will inevitably face sickness. But, instead of turning to the Lord who “heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103:3), we can easily turn to a powdered drink or an arsenal of essential oils for peace of mind.
Please understand. It is responsible and God-glorifying to pursue your own health and the health of your family. But when we turn to a line of health products for peace, security, or identity, we are asking them to do for us what only God can do. We are turning a household item into an idol.
Instead of bringing peace, household idols leave our hearts with a distinct hum of anxiety, fear, or pride.
Putting It Back in Its Place
So how do we turn household idols back into regular household items?
The Apostle John concludes his first epistle with an important sentence: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).
I used to think this was sort of like John’s somewhat unrelated “P.S.” But I’ve begun to realize this sentence is a perfect conclusion to everything John has been saying. Right before this command, he tells us the only solution to idolatry of the heart.
Listen to what he says: “We are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life” (5:20b).
Once you turn a household item into an idol, there’s only one way to get it back in its proper place—worship Jesus Christ, the only true God and the source of your life. When you are in Christ, He provides you with everything you need! Take a moment to look up the following references.
- Because Jesus gives us living water, we don’t have to look to things for earthly satisfaction and joy (John 4:13).
- Because we have been raised with Jesus, we don’t have to look to things for our identity and purpose (Colossians 3:1–5)
- Because Jesus will never leave us or forsake us, we don’t have to look to things for our security and safety (Hebrews 13:5).
- Because Jesus gives us the blessings of His heavenly kingdom, we don’t have to look to things for our daily peace of mind (Matthew 6:25–34).
Only the one true God is able to clothe, keep, provide for, protect, and sustain you and your family.
So before you look to a household item to do for you what only God can do, take a moment to bring your need to your Savior. He alone is God!
Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 1 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), 190. ↩︎
James M. Freeman and Harold J. Chadwick, Manners & Customs of the Bible (North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 1998), 61. ↩︎
She eventually left her “foreign gods” behind (Genesis 35:1–4). ↩︎
Growing Fathers Team
John serves as an associate pastor at Burge Terrace Baptist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. John and his wife, Abbie, have four young children.View all posts by John