If you are familiar with the book of Judges, you know that Israel, due to their sin, was in a constant shift between oppression and freedom. In one particular instance, Midian oppressed Israel and made them “greatly impoverished”. Then the Angel of the LORD (preincarnate Christ) shows up to talk to a man named Gideon. Gideon was the “least” among an inconsequential family, and was threshing wheat while hiding it from the Midianites. The Angel of the LORD told Gideon that he would defeat Midian and free Israel from its oppression, as He will be with him. After proving Himself God, the Gideon is given his first directions.
“And it came to pass the same night, that the LORD said unto him, Take thy father's young bullock, even the second bullock of seven years old, and throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath, and cut down the grove that is by it: And build an altar unto the LORD thy God upon the top of this rock, in the ordered place, and take the second bullock, and offer a burnt sacrifice with the wood of the grove which thou shalt cut down. Then Gideon took ten men of his servants, and did as the LORD had said unto him: and so it was, because he feared his father's household, and the men of the city, that he could not do it by day, that he did it by night.” –Judges 6:25-27
An important order of events is set here. Gideon is poised to do great things, freeing his people after seven years of difficult oppression. But something had to happen first. God’s first direction is not to build an army. His direction is to throw down the altar and cut down the grove by it. See, Israel continually fell into idolatry, worshipping the Canaanite god Baal and a similar goddess of fertility. This led to a wide array of immorality, because how the nations around Israel worshipped is how they began to worship. (God had told them to rid the land of the remaining nations, but Israel didn’t, and the problems are obvious.) While the rest of Israel was seeking after false gods, God held Gideon to a higher standard.
Gideon had to get rid of the immorality in his house. There was no place for service to God in his life while he still had an altar to a false god in his backyard. In order to serve God, the idolatry had to go.
And so Gideon went out and did as God said. And in fact, there was such a negative response to it that he and his men couldn’t do it in daylight.
“And when the men of the city arose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was cast down, and the grove was cut down that was by it, and the second bullock was offered upon the altar that was built. And they said one to another, Who hath done this thing? And when they inquired and asked, they said, Gideon the son of Joash hath done this thing. Then the men of the city said unto Joash, Bring out thy son, that he may die: because he hath cast down the altar of Baal, and because he hath cut down the grove that was by it. And Joash said unto all that stood against him, Will ye plead for Baal? will ye save him? he that will plead for him, let him be put to death whilst it is yet morning: if he be a god, let him plead for himself, because one hath cast down his altar. Therefore on that day he called him Jerubbaal, saying, Let Baal plead against him, because he hath thrown down his altar.” –Judges 6:28-32
When the rest of Gideon’s society saw that he had destroyed the idolatry in his own house, they were ready to go to great lengths to punish him. In fact, they were ready to kill him. When you put off the idolatry in your life (remember that an idol is anything that gets the attention or glory that God deserves), there will be backlash from the world. They will hate you for reaching towards God’s standard rather than their standard. And while we know that God will be the final Judge, they are not certain of it and hence try to do the reckoning for their own idols. “Well this is what we think is right, and if you don’t agree then we’re going to _______.” Gideon even earns himself a nickname. “Intolerant, bigot, Bible-thumper…” While these are not meant to be kind, we can wear them as a blessing, knowing it’s all part of serving God. (Remember, even “Christian” at first was an insult.)
It's also important to notice what Gideon was told to do afterwards. He was not just to throw down the altar and cut down the grove. He was told to build an altar to God in their place. When we remove the idolatry, we cannot simply leave that void in our hearts. We were made with the desire to worship something. Idolatry must be replaced with true worship of God. If a void is simply left without putting God where He belongs, we will eventually go back to the same things we cut out. This was Israel's constant repeated action in Judges. We must get rid of idolatry, but God must be put in its place.
No, it’s not easy to put off the idolatry from your life. Not easy because it is so ingrained into our lives, and not easy because of what those around you will say. But it is a commandment from God. He has great things planned for every one of us if we are willing to obey Him. But that starts with removing anything that hinders us from serving God. Throw down the altars, cut down the groves, and built an altar to God in its place. Then watch Him work.
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us…” –Hebrews 12:1