“That was the time they made an idol in the form of a calf. They brought sacrifices to it and held a celebration in honour of what their hands had made. But God turned away and gave them over to the worship of the heavenly bodies …
“However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men. As the prophet says: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things?’” (verses 41-42, 48-50)
Worship. That was the bottom-line of God’s promise to Abraham. His descendants would be delivered out of 400-years of slavery in Egypt in order that they might worship the Lord God in the land of promise (verse 7). Worship – it’s the chief end of man. It’s what we were created to do.
But in the wilderness, journeying towards promise-fulfilment, God’s own people “held a celebration in honour of what their hands had made” (verse 41). They worshipped a golden calf. They had made it themselves, then they bowed down in worship.
How foolish. Not only was this sinful rebellion, it was incredibly small-minded and narrow-focused. When the One they were called to worship could say of heaven and earth, “Has not my hand made all these things?” (verse 39), why would they themselves focus on one miniscule segment of that expansive whole, exalting it disproportionately to the place of worship and in the process usurp the One who is alone worthy of all praise?
God’s people had just experienced his powerful hand delivering them from Egypt. If, at such close quarters to signs and wonders, they could turn their attention away from the Lord to worship something their own hands had made, perhaps there is an inbuilt human predisposition to worship the creation rather than the Creator.
Perhaps this is what motivates the religious leaders of Stephen’s own day. They are passionately dedicated to the Temple, yes. But it is simply the product of human hands. It can’t contain the Most High. Have these leaders, then, become so enamoured with something created by human hands that they have ended up missing the Lord himself? They “have not obeyed” (verse 53) his will. They “always resist the Holy Spirit” (verse 51). They “have betrayed and murdered” God’s own Son (verse 52).
So, Stephen cries out against them.
What would he say to us? Would he find evidence that we, too, have actually become distracted from the Lord, even as we passionately build churches and programs and ministries that are labelled with his name?
Obedience is the great sign of true worship. “To obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22). How are we doing?
Father, I want to worship you with an obedient heart. Thank you for giving me creative hands with which to work for your Kingdom. But keep me from ever becoming so focused on what I build that I lose sight of the One I build it for.
Reflect: As an act of worship, rededicate the work of your hands to the Lord. All the things you are currently spending time building (whether physically, or in relationships, or in ministry, or in artistry, or whatever) – dedicate them afresh to your Lord.