I've been reading through Deuteronomy again for the past couple days, and the passage on idolatry in chapter four stood out to me this time, and as most of us know, idolatry was an issue that the Israelites struggled with frequently. In fact, it makes up much of their history as they fell, time and time again, into worshipping other gods from other nations.
While I didn't do an extensive study of this passage, I read it in its context and mentally connected the passage to other places in Scriptural history. The reason God gave here for forbidding idolatry was interesting: You saw no form of any kind the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol..." (Deut.4:15-16a, NIV). Since the Israelites had not been permitted to see a physical image of God, they were warned against creating an representative object of which to worship. Even Moses, the meekest man, had not been permitted to see God's face, and the Lord Himself had to protect Moses from seeing His glory. They did not know what the image of God looked like, save that they were created in His image, and therefore, they must not attempt to create a replica of something which they had never seen.
Not only were they not to create an idol, but they were not to make and image of any shape: not a man or woman, not an animal on earth or a bird, not like any creature that moves on the ground or a fish in the water, not a heavenly body or anything whatsoever.
The Fire that spoke from the burning bush had rescued His people from the furnace of Egypt. The One who had not revealed His face had placed His image on the faces and hearts of men. The One who commanded them to cross the Jordan would one day send His Son to "cross the Jordan" (figuratively) to redeem Israel. The Covenant-Maker commanded His covenant-breakers not to attach themselves with any other gods. The God who gathered Israel as a nation would scatter them for their rebellion. The gods who turned the peoples' hearts away would eventually be the motivator to turn their hearts back to Yahweh.
God was God then, and God is God now. The God who rescued, scattered, and redeemed His people also does the same with us today when we leave the worship of His throne and join with others to worship our own heart's desires. This passage was a reminder of that. We tend to idolize things such as people, money, or places...even things like self-pity, grief, or happiness can become places of idolatry because our hearts are bent on placing something or someone on the throne rather than Christ.
Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.
(1 John 5:21, NIV)