He certainly knew how to wow a crowd. With a garage full of chariots and thoroughbreds to pull them, with a entourage of 50 paid flunkies ready to answer his every beck and call (2 Sam. 15:1), with manly good looks, unblemished skin, and a mane of flowing hair (2 Sam. 14:25–26), Absalom was able to cast himself as a pop figure in his father David’s kingdom. He became, like so many in Western culture today, famous despite having done virtually nothing. In other words, he achieved celebrity.
Of course, we would have no celebrities today if there were no droves willing to follow their vacuous exploits via Entertainment Tonight, the Internet, or fan magazines, and then to strive to imitate their appearance, dress, and often-boorish behavior. And it was the same in Absalom’s time—he never could have “stolen the hearts” of the people of Israel if they had better guarded their affections against his deceptions.
The fact that they failed in this as spectacularly as we do suggests that a natural human tendency is at work here. In truth, it all goes back to the human proclivity we have been exploring in this issue of Tabletalk. Think of it this way—Absalom was the Kelly Clarkson or Ruben Studdard of his time. Kelly and Ruben won the hearts of legions en route to winning the American Idol competition. Absalom was the Israelite idol.
Isn’t it interesting how we employ the word idol to describe those who achieve a certain level of celebrity? We speak of sports idols, film idols, musical idols, and so forth. Sometimes, in popular American jargon, we even hear the word god substituted for idol in the above descriptions. And it is not even unusual to hear a devoted fan speak of “worshiping” a certain star.
Of course, we all know that nobody bows down to a movie star or offers sacrifices to a National Football League quarterback. Nevertheless, our language is telling. We are, indeed, idol factories, and our products include those human beings we revere far beyond their true worth.
The Scriptural prohibitions against idolatry clearly apply to this form of it, for obvious reasons. First, man is but a creature. Scripture does declare that God has “crowned [man] with glory and honor” (Ps. 8:5), and the same Hebrew word translated here as “glory,” kabod, is used elsewhere in the Bible to speak of God’s own glory (His “splendor” or “honor”). Still, it is manifestly obvious that the one who bestows glory retains glory to a greater degree than the one upon whom it is bestowed. The fact that God has given mankind a greater dignity than the physical creation or the animals does not make him worthy of worship. Besides, the Bible is clear that God is jealous for His glory. He has declared, “I am the Lord, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another, nor My praise to carved images” (Isa. 42:8). He will not tolerate any worship of an idol, whether it be made of wood or of flesh and blood.
Second, man is not worthy of worship not only because he is a creature, but because he is a fallen creature. In speaking of the folly of sinful human beings in Romans 1, Paul writes, “Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things” (Rom. 1:22–23). How foolish to reject the worship of the God of infinite perfections to give homage to human beings full of sin and evil. And yet, we do so constantly, somehow looking past or excusing the shortcomings of those we idolize. Paul once had to restrain the people of Lystra from making sacrifices in honor of him and Barnabas after God worked a miracle through them. He did so by declaring, “We also are men with the same nature as you” (Acts 14:15). He was telling them to look at their own black hearts to learn the folly of their ways. Paul and Barnabas were unfit to be worshiped.
Finally, Scripture repeatedly tells us that idols have no power to act on our behalf, and human idols are no different. Idols cannot rescue us from temporal danger (2 Chron. 25:15), and they cannot save us from our transgressions (Isa. 45:20). Indeed, they cannot even preserve themselves (Jer. 51:17–18). The same is true of our human idols. They are powerless to meet our most pressing needs, and therefore are unworthy of worship.
It is altogether good and proper to esteem other human beings. We are free to admire and appreciate people. But we should never let our devotion to another person morph into idolatry, particularly if the object of our affections has no accomplishments or virtues to justify our esteem. In short, we must not bend the knee to the Absaloms in our lives, the vacuous celebrities who have earned no esteem, much less worship. But neither can we allow ourselves to place worthy men and women on too lofty a pedestal. We must worship no man. Whenever we find ourselves giving too much esteem to another human being, we must rigorously follow the example of the Thessalonians—turn from idols to serve the living and true God (2 Thess. 1:9).