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Andree/Belleview Christian College

Mrs. Andree's essay on Idolatry was written during fall semester, 2000, as one of the requirements for Rel 112: The New Testament Church.


By Vicki Andree

As we look at the subject of Idolatry, perhaps we should ask ourselves, What exactly is Idolatry?  Idolatry is defined in Websters Dictionary as 1) the worship of a physical object as a god and 2) immoderate attachment or devotion to something.  This is a modern definition of the word.  Not that the word doesnt always include this definition, but we must clearly understand that the meaning of idolatry has changed over time.  You will find quite a difference in the definition of idolatry between the Old Testament and the New Testament. This may surprise you.  Take a look at Websters primary definition.  The worship of a physical object as a god.  This is the definition used in the Old Testament.  We will explore specific idols of the Old Testament as we follow the journey of the idolatrous Hebrews through the pages of a time long since gone.  After that, we will move into the days of the early church.  Then we will look at whats going on in the world today concerning idolatry.

Again, lets look at Websters definition.  This time lets look at the secondary definition, immoderate attachment or devotion to something.  The key to the differences in the definitions is, of course, found in Scripture.  The New Testament gives us an expanded definition of idolatry, which links to the secondary definition previously quoted, in Colossians 3:5, Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  These definitions envelop a myriad of possibilities for failure as we attempt to avoid idolatry in our everyday lives.  Avoiding the little wooden statue in ancient times seems quite simple compared to the ethical questions that arise as we address the New Testament definition which includes fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness.  Finally, we will look at whats happening today.  When we finish our study we may come to the conclusion that we have come full circle, returning to the pagan practices of old.

"The first clear case of idolatry in the Bible is the account of Rachel stealing her father's teraphim, which were images of household gods (Gen 31:19).  Such images were used in Babylonia.  Without Jacob's knowledge, Rachel stole them from Laban and carried them with her to Canaan" (International Dictionary of the Bible, Douglas and Tenney).  So it begins, the story of idolatry, of deceit, rebelliousness and disobedience.  When Laban confronted Jacob regarding the theft, Jacob welcomed a thorough search in order to prove that no one in his family or in those traveling with him was guilty.  Jacob was not aware of Rachels theft of the idols.  These particular idols were called teraphim. These were small enough to be hidden in a camel saddle, but were valuable possessions.  Their ownership involved the ownership of the property of Laban and were used for divination.

When it was Rachel's time to be searched the Scriptures report, "Now Rachel had taken the household idols, put them in the camel's saddle, and sat on them. And Laban searched all about the tent but did not find them.  And she said to her father, 'Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise before you, for the manner of women is with me.' And he searched but did not find the household idols" (Gen 31:34-35 NKJV).
Apparently Laban never dreamed that a woman would dare take a chance to contaminate the idols.  But what a blow this was to the teraphim they became nothing gods, for a woman who claimed to unclean sat on them (vv.34-35; cf. Lev. 15:29).

The Bible Knowledge Commentary goes on to show us how God used idols, even from the very beginning of idolatry, to accomplish His own purposes.  In their last confrontation God appeared to Jacob (v.3) and to Laban (v 24) in dreams for the purpose of separating them.  Earthly, selfish interests, such as Rachels theft of the idols and Labans self-seeking animosity, complicated the entire event.  Interestingly at the end God Himself was invoked to watch between them, , because he said, May the LORD watch between you and me when we are absent one from another (Gen 31:49 NKJV).    . . .This account later had great significance for Israel:  God would deliver and protect Israel as He brought them back to the land from Egypt.  Here Israel would see Gods victory over idols and idolaters, Gods use of dreams for deliverance and protection, and the boundary by which God would keep His people apart from her enemies. (The Bible Knowledge Commentary)  And so Jacobs wife brought idols to Canaan.  Dont let me mislead you.  There were probably already idols present in the land of Canaan.  However, they were not belonging to Israelites.  As you can see, from the very beginning, even before God changed Jacobs name to Israel, idols were present in his household.

The next time idols are mentioned in the Scriptures it is in the Book of Leviticus.  Verse 19:4 says, Do not turn to idols, nor make for yourselves molded gods: I am the LORD your God.  Surely God has a reason for this admonition.  Because His people had been enslaved in Egypt for over four hundred years, idol worship had become common practice.  They had made Egypt their home and consequently turned to the gods of the Egyptians.

Oh, yes, and did the Egyptians ever have gods!  Moses was chosen by God to deliver His people from the Egyptians.  At the same time God would show His power over the gods worshiped by the Egyptians.  Pharaohs people considered him to be the god, Horus, son of Hathor.  Hathors father was the god Amon-Re.  The plagues were designed to show the powerlessness of Pharaoh.  Additionally, each plague targeted specific gods.  You must understand the Egyptians had many gods and goddesses who had more than one function or area of responsibility.  They also were sometimes worshiped in certain cities and locations and in certain periods of time.
Their religion was very complex and even contradictory.  Some examples of the gods worshiped by the Egyptians were:
 1) the ibis, tucks its head under its wing when it sleeps resembling the shape of the heart.  The ibis is related to the god Thoth (god of wisdom).  Egyptians believed that Thoth hovered over them in the form of an ibis and that he taught them the occult arts and sciences.
 2) the hawk, in ancient Egypt, was an emblem of the soul.
 3) Horus Falcon - headed god
 4) Sekhet Lioness headed god
 5) Anubis Jackal headed god
 6) Hathor - cow- headed god
 7) the sun
 8) the moon
 9) the stars
10) heavenly bodies
11) water
12) rain
13) too many to list here!

Lets take a look at the possible Egyptian gods and goddesses attacked by the plagues.  The following information is charted in the Bible Knowledge Commentary:

 The first plague turned the Nile River to blood.  This was an attack on the god Hapi, the bull god, god of the Nile; Isis, goddess of the Nile; Khnum, ram god, guardian of the Nile; and others.  The second plague was the plague of frogs.  This was an attack on Heqet, goddess of birth, with a frog head.  The third plague was of gnats.  This was an attack on Set, god of the desert.  Plague number four was of the flies.  This was an attack on Re, a sun god; or the god Uatchit; possibly represented by the fly.  Like all the plagues it was also a direct confrontation of the Egyptian Gods and Pharaohs power to protect the land and the people.  Plague number five was the death of livestock, an attack on Hathor, goddess with a cow head; Apis, the bull god, symbol of fertility.  Next was the boils, an attack on Sekhmet, goddess with power over disease; Sunu, the pestilence god; Isis, goddess of healing.  The seventh plague was of hail, attacking Nut, the sky goddess; Osiris, god of crops and fertility; Set, god of storms.  Number eight was locusts, attacking Nut, the sky goddess; Osiris, god of crops and fertility.  Darkness was the ninth plague, attacking Re, the sun god; Horus, a sun god; Nut, a sky goddess; Hathor, a sky goddess.  Finally, the tenth plague was the death of the firstborn.  This plague attacked Min, god of reproduction; Heqet, goddess who attended women at childbirth; Isis, goddess who protected children; Pharaohs firstborn son, a god (The Bible Knowledge Commentary).
After witnessing all this, you would think God would have gotten the attention of the Israelites.  In fact, He did.  However, what happened next is not a tribute to the length of the attention span of the average Hebrew of the day!  The Israelites packed up and ran for the Red Sea.  God miraculously opened the Red Sea and the people passed through as on dry land.  Pharaoh then changed his mind and the Egyptian Army pursued the Israelites.  God caused the sea to rush over the Egyptians, drowning all of them.   Can you even imagine witnessing this spectacular event?  Maybe it was surreal.  One miracle after another continued happening, each one greater than the last.  Bam!   Bam!  Bam!  And they were free!  Perhaps they were in shock.  Whatever the reason or excuse, its hard to believe that when Moses went up to pray on Mt. Sinai they made a golden calf to worship!!
What were they thinking?  Aaron went along with this idea.  Un-be-lie-v-able.  While Moses was absent, they persuaded Aaron to make them a golden calf?  Please!  This idol was an emblem of the fertility god of Egypt.  I am floored when I reflect on this scene.  When Moses returns, he reveals the Ten Commandments.  The second commandment forbids people to make and bow down to images of any kind, and was directed against idolatry.  God clearly spelled it out for them.
 "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, (Exo 20:4-5 NKJV).
 You shall not make for yourself a carved image; any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, (Deu 5:8-9 NKJV).
 "Take careful heed to yourselves, for you saw no form when the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, lest you act corruptly and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of any figure: the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth or the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground or the likeness of any fish that is in the water beneath the earth.  And take heed, lest you lift your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, you feel driven to worship them and serve them, which the LORD your God has given to all the peoples under the whole heaven as a heritage (Deu 4:15-19 NKJV).
 "Take heed to yourselves, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God which He made with you, and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of anything which the LORD your God has forbidden you (Deu 4:23 NKJV).
 The above mentioned Scripture mentions nine things we are not to worship:
1. Graven image of male/female likeness
2. Graven image of beast likeness
3. Graven image of fowl likeness
4. Graven image of creeping things on the ground
5. Graven images of fish likeness
6. The Sun
7. The Moon
8. The Stars
9. Hosts of Heaven (heavenly bodies)

 It wasnt until the period of the judges that the nation of Israel again committed the sin of worshiping idols.  Judges tells of successive apostasies, judgments, and repentance.  The narrative concerning Micah follows:

Now there was a man from the mountains of Ephraim, whose name was Micah.  And he said to his mother, The eleven hundred shekels of silver that were taken from you, and on which you put a curse, even saying it in my ears; here is the silver with me; I took it. And his mother said, May you be blessed by the LORD, my son!  So when he had returned the eleven hundred shekels of silver to his mother, his mother said, I had wholly dedicated the silver from my hand to the LORD for my son, to make a carved image and a molded image; now therefore, I will return it to you.  Thus he returned the silver to his mother. Then his mother took two hundred shekels of silver and gave them to the silversmith, and he made it into a carved image and a molded image; and they were in the house of Micah.  The man Micah had a shrine, and made an ephod and household idols; and he consecrated one of his sons, who became his priest.

In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.  Now there was a young man from Bethlehem in Judah, of the family of Judah; he was a Levite, and was staying there.  The man departed from the city of Bethlehem in Judah to stay wherever he could find a place. Then he came to the mountains of Ephraim, to the house of Micah, as he journeyed.  And Micah said to him, Where do you come from? So he said to him, I am a Levite from Bethlehem in Judah, and I am on my way to find a place to stay.  Micah said to him, Dwell with me, and be a father and a priest to me, and I will give you ten shekels of silver per year, a suit of clothes, and your sustenance. So the Levite went in.  Then the Levite was content to dwell with the man; and the young man became like one of his sons to him.  So Micah consecrated the Levite, and the young man became his priest, and lived in the house of Micah.  Then Micah said, Now I know that the LORD will be good to me, since I have a Levite as priest!

In those days there was no king in Israel. And in those days the tribe of the Danites was seeking an inheritance for itself to dwell in; for until that day their inheritance among the tribes of Israel had not fallen to them.  So the children of Dan sent five men of their family from their territory, men of valor from Zorah and Eshtaol, to spy out the land and search it. They said to them, Go, search the land. So they went to the mountains of Ephraim, to the house of Micah, and lodged there.  While they were at the house of Micah, they recognized the voice of the young Levite. They turned aside and said to him, Who brought you here? What are you doing in this place? What do you have here?  He said to them, Thus and so Micah did for me. He has hired me, and I have become his priest.  So they said to him, Please inquire of God, that we may know whether the journey on which we go will be prosperous.  And the priest said to them, Go in peace. The presence of the LORD be with you on your way.

So the five men departed and went to Laish. They saw the people who were there, how they dwelt safely, in the manner of the Sidonians, quiet and secure. There were no rulers in the land who might put them to shame for anything. They were far from the Sidonians, and they had no ties with anyone.  Then the spies came back to their brethren at Zorah and Eshtaol, and their brethren said to them, What is your report?  So they said, Arise, let us go up against them. For we have seen the land, and indeed it is very good. Would you do nothing? Do not hesitate to go, and enter to possess the land.  When you go, you will come to a secure people and a large land. For God has given it into your hands, a place where there is no lack of anything that is on the earth.  And six hundred men of the family of the Danites went from there, from Zorah and Eshtaol, armed with weapons of war.  Then they went up and encamped in Kirjath Jearim in Judah. (Therefore they call that place Mahaneh Dan to this day. There it is, west of Kirjath Jearim.)  And they passed from there to the mountains of Ephraim, and came to the house of Micah.

Then the five men who had gone to spy out the country of Laish answered and said to their brethren, Do you know that there are in these houses an ephod, household idols, a carved image, and a molded image? Now therefore, consider what you should do.  So they turned aside there, and came to the house of the young Levite man; to the house of Micah; and greeted him.  The six hundred men armed with their weapons of war, who were of the children of Dan, stood by the entrance of the gate.  Then the five men who had gone to spy out the land went up. Entering there, they took the carved image, the ephod, the household idols, and the molded image. The priest stood at the entrance of the gate with the six hundred men who were armed with weapons of war.  When these went into Micahs house and took the carved image, the ephod, the household idols, and the molded image, the priest said to them, What are you doing?  And they said to him, Be quiet, put your hand over your mouth, and come with us; be a father and a priest to us. Is it better for you to be a priest to the household of one man, or that you be a priest to a tribe and a family in Israel?  So the priests heart was glad; and he took the ephod, the household idols, and the carved image, and took his place among the people.

Then they turned and departed, and put the little ones, the livestock, and the goods in front of them.  When they were a good way from the house of Micah, the men who were in the houses near Micahs house gathered together and overtook the children of Dan.  And they called out to the children of Dan. So they turned around and said to Micah, What ails you, that you have gathered such a company?  So he said, You have taken away my gods which I made, and the priest, and you have gone away. Now what more do I have? How can you say to me, What ails you?  And the children of Dan said to him, Do not let your voice be heard among us, lest angry men fall upon you, and you lose your life, with the lives of your household!  Then the children of Dan went their way.

And when Micah saw that they were too strong for him, he turned and went back to his house.  So they took the things Micah had made, and the priest who had belonged to him, and went to Laish, to a people quiet and secure; and they struck them with the edge of the sword and burned the city with fire.  There was no deliverer, because it was far from Sidon, and they had no ties with anyone. It was in the valley that belongs to Beth Rehob. So they rebuilt the city and dwelt there.  And they called the name of the city Dan, after the name of Dan their father, who was born to Israel. However, the name of the city formerly was Laish.  Then the children of Dan set up for themselves the carved image; and Jonathan the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh, and his sons were priests to the tribe of Dan until the day of the captivity of the land.  So they set up for themselves Micahs carved image which he made, all the time that the house of God was in Shiloh (Judges 17:1-18:31 NKJV).

This  illustrates the way idolatry was often combined with outward worship of God.  It is significant that Jonathan, a Levite and a grandson of Moses, assumed the office priest to the images of Micah and that later he allowed himself to be persuaded by some Danites, who had stolen Micahs idol, to go with them as the priest of their tribe.  He became the first of a line of priests to officiate at the shrine of the stolen idols at the time that the tabernacle was at Shiloh.  The prophet Samuel persuaded the people to repent of their sin and to renounce idolatry. Samuel even admonished King Saul, For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He also has rejected you from being king" (1 Sam 15:23 NKJV).  However, in Solomons reign the king himself made compromises that affected disastrously the whole future of the kingdom.  Solomons wives brought their own heathen gods with them and openly worshiped them.  Rehoboam, Solomons son by an Ammonite mother, continued the worst features of his fathers idolatry  (New International Dictionary).

 Now Judah did evil in the sight of the LORD, and they provoked Him to jealousy with their sins which they committed, more than all that their fathers had done.  For they also built for themselves high places, sacred pillars, and wooden images on every high hill and under every green tree.  And there were also perverted persons in the land. They did according to all the abominations of the nations which the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel  (1 Ki 14:22-24 NKJV).
 In the ritual of idol worship the chief elements were:
1) Offering burnt sacrifices and incense: So Naaman said, Then, if not, please let your servant be given two mule-loads of earth; for your servant will no longer offer either burnt offering or sacrifice to other gods, but to the LORD.  And he did likewise for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods (1 Ki 11:7-8 NKJV).
2) Pouring out libations: Among the smooth stones of the stream Is your portion; They, they, are your lot! Even to them you have poured a drink offering, You have offered a grain offering. Should I receive comfort in these? (Isa 57:6 NKJV).
3) Presenting tithes and the firstfruits of the land: For she did not know That I gave her grain, new wine, and oil, And multiplied her silver and gold; Which they prepared for Baal (Hosea 2:8 NKJV).
4) Kissing the idol: "Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him" (1 Ki 19:18 NKJV).
5) Stretching out the hand to it in adoration, prostrating oneself before it, and sometimes cutting oneself with knives: So they took the bull which was given them, and they prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even till noon, saying, O Baal, hear us! But there was no voice; no one answered. Then they leaped about the altar which they had made.  And so it was, at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened.  So they cried aloud, and cut themselves, as was their custom, with knives and lances, until the blood gushed out on them (1 Ki 18:26-28 NKJV).

Some of these practices were analogies to the worship of the Lord.

For an Israelite, idolatry was the most heinous of crimes.  In the OT the relation between God and his covenant people is often represented as a marriage bond. (Isa 54:5; Jer. 3:14), and the worship of false gods was regarded as religious harlotry.  The penalty was death, "He who sacrifices to any god, except to the LORD only, he shall be utterly destroyed (Exo 22:20 NKJV).

To attempt to seduce others to false worship was a crime of equal enormity. "If your brother, the son of your mother, your son or your daughter, the wife of your bosom, or your friend who is as your own soul, secretly entices you, saying, 'Let us go and serve other gods,' which you have not known, neither you nor your fathers, of the gods of the people which are all around you, near to you or far off from you, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth, you shall not consent to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him or conceal him; but you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people.  And you shall stone him with stones until he dies, because he sought to entice you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage (Deu 13:6-10 NKJV).

The God of Israel is a jealous God.

Jeroboam, first king of the northern kingdom, erected golden calves at Bethel and at Dan and had his people worship there instead of in Jerusalem.  The kings who followed Jeroboam in the Northern Kingdom differed little from him.  One of them, Ahab, to please Queen Jezebel, built a temple and an altar to Baal in Samaria.  And it came to pass, as though it had been a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took as wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians; and he went and served Baal and worshiped him.  Then he set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal, which he had built in Samaria.  And Ahab made a wooden image. Ahab did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him  (1 Ki 16:31-33 NKJV).

In the meantime, this wicked Jezebel was busy putting to death as many prophets of the Lord as she could find .

  For so it was, while Jezebel massacred the prophets of the LORD, that Obadiah had taken one hundred prophets and hidden them, fifty to a cave, and had fed them with bread and water.)  (1 Kings 18:4).
As you can see, the result of idol worship is that, because the idol is made of wood or stone, it cannot teach morality.  Therefore, the idols worshiper makes his own morality.  In this case murdering the prophets of God became acceptable in the eyes of the idol worshiper.
So they left all the commandments of the LORD their God, made for themselves a molded image and two calves, made a wooden image and worshiped all the host of heaven, and served Baal.  And they caused their sons and daughters to pass through the fire, practiced witchcraft and soothsaying, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke Him to anger.  Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel, and removed them from His sight; there was none left but the tribe of Judah alone (2 Ki 17:16-18 NKJV).
Sadly, Baal worship came to be identified with the kingdom of Israel, and no king ever rose up against it.  All of the Israelite kings are described as evil kings. God will not forever tolerate the mixing of idolatrous practices and true worship.

Things went somewhat better in the southern kingdom.  Hezekiah restored the temple services, which had been abandoned during his fathers reign, but the change was only outward:

  Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem; and he did not do what was right in the sight of the LORD, as his father David had done.  For he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, and made molded images for the Baals.  He burned incense in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, and burned his children in the fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel.  And he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places, on the hills, and under every green tree.  Therefore the LORD his God delivered him into the hand of the king of Syria. They defeated him, and carried away a great multitude of them as captives, and brought them to Damascus. Then he was also delivered into the hand of the king of Israel, who defeated him with a great slaughter (2Chr 28:1-6).
Later, King Ahaz sent to the kings of Assyria to help him.  For again the Edomites had come, attacked Judah, and carried away captives. The LORD brought Judah low because of Ahaz king of Israel, for he had encouraged moral decline in Judah and had been continually unfaithful to the LORD.  Ahaz also took part of the treasures from the house of the LORD, from the house of the king, and from the leaders, and he gave it to the king of Assyria; but he did not help him.  Now in the time of his distress King Ahaz became increasingly unfaithful to the LORD.
For he sacrificed to the gods of Damascus which had defeated him, saying, Because the gods of the kings of Syria help them, I will sacrifice to them that they may help me. But they were the ruin of him and of all Israel.

So Ahaz gathered the articles of the house of God, cut in pieces the articles of the house of God, shut up the doors of the house of the LORD, and made for himself altars in every corner of Jerusalem.  And in every single city of Judah he made high places to burn incense to other gods, and provoked to anger the LORD God of his fathers.  Now the rest of his acts and all his ways, from first to last, indeed they are written in the book of the kings of Judah and Israel.  So Ahaz rested with his fathers, and they buried him in the city, in Jerusalem; but they did not bring him into the tombs of the kings of Israel.

Then Hezekiah his son reigned in his place.  Hezekiah became king when he was twenty-five years old, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Abijah the daughter of Zechariah.  And he did what was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father David had done.  In the first year of his reign, in the first month, he opened the doors of the house of the LORD and repaired them.  Then he brought in the priests and the Levites, and gathered them in the East Square, and said to them: Hear me, Levites! Now sanctify yourselves, sanctify the house of the LORD God of your fathers, and carry out the rubbish from the holy place.  For our fathers have trespassed and done evil in the eyes of the LORD our God; they have forsaken Him, have turned their faces away from the dwelling place of the LORD, and turned their backs on Him.  They have also shut up the doors of the vestibule, put out the lamps, and have not burned incense or offered burnt offerings in the holy place to the God of Israel.  Therefore the wrath of the LORD fell upon Judah and Jerusalem, and He has given them up to trouble, to desolation, and to jeering, as you see with your eyes.  For indeed, because of this our fathers have fallen by the sword; and our sons, our daughters, and our wives are in captivity.  Now it is in my heart to make a covenant with the LORD God of Israel, that His fierce wrath may turn away from us.  My sons, do not be negligent now, for the LORD has chosen you to stand before Him, to serve Him, and that you should minister to Him and burn incense.

Then these Levites arose: Mahath the son of Amasai and Joel the son of Azariah, of the sons of the Kohathites; of the sons of Merari, Kish the son of Abdi and Azariah the son of Jehallelel; of the Gershonites, Joah the son of Zimmah and Eden the son of Joah; of the sons of Elizaphan, Shimri and Jeiel; of the sons of Asaph, Zechariah and Mattaniah; of the sons of Heman, Jehiel and Shimei; and of the sons of Jeduthun, Shemaiah and Uzziel.  And they gathered their brethren, sanctified themselves, and went according to the commandment of the king, at the words of the LORD, to cleanse the house of the LORD.  Then the priests went into the inner part of the house of the LORD to cleanse it, and brought out all the debris that they found in the temple of the LORD to the court of the house of the LORD. And the Levites took it out and carried it to the Brook Kidron.  Now they began to sanctify on the first day of the first month, and on the eighth day of the month they came to the vestibule of the LORD. Then they sanctified the house of the LORD in eight days, and on the sixteenth day of the first month they finished.  Then they went in to King Hezekiah and said, We have cleansed all the house of the LORD, the altar of burnt offerings with all its articles, and the table of the showbread with all its articles.  Moreover all the articles which King Ahaz in his reign had cast aside in his transgression we have prepared and sanctified; and there they are, before the altar of the LORD.

Then King Hezekiah rose early, gathered the rulers of the city, and went up to the house of the LORD.  And they brought seven bulls, seven rams, seven lambs, and seven male goats for a sin offering for the kingdom, for the sanctuary, and for Judah. Then he commanded the priests, the sons of Aaron, to offer them on the altar of the LORD.  So they killed the bulls, and the priests received the blood and sprinkled it on the altar. Likewise they killed the rams and sprinkled the blood on the altar. They also killed the lambs and sprinkled the blood on the altar.  Then they brought out the male goats for the sin offering before the king and the assembly, and they laid their hands on them.  And the priests killed them; and they presented their blood on the altar as a sin offering to make an atonement for all Israel, for the king commanded that the burnt offering and the sin offering be made for all Israel.  And he stationed the Levites in the house of the LORD with cymbals, with stringed instruments, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, of Gad the king's seer, and of Nathan the prophet; for thus was the commandment of the LORD by his prophets.  The Levites stood with the instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets.

Then Hezekiah commanded them to offer the burnt offering on the altar. And when the burnt offering began, the song of the LORD also began, with the trumpets and with the instruments of David king of Israel.  So all the assembly worshiped, the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded; all this continued until the burnt offering was finished.

And when they had finished offering, the king and all who were present with him bowed and worshiped.  Moreover King Hezekiah and the leaders commanded the Levites to sing praise to the LORD with the words of David and of Asaph the seer. So they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed their heads and worshiped.  Then Hezekiah answered and said, Now that you have consecrated yourselves to the LORD, come near, and bring sacrifices and thank offerings into the house of the LORD. So the assembly brought in sacrifices and thank offerings, and as many as were of a willing heart brought burnt offerings.  And the number of the burnt offerings which the assembly brought was seventy bulls, one hundred rams, and two hundred lambs; all these were for a burnt offering to the LORD.  The consecrated things were six hundred bulls and three thousand sheep.  But the priests were too few, so that they could not skin all the burnt offerings; therefore their brethren the Levites helped them until the work was ended and until the other priests had sanctified themselves, for the Levites were more diligent in sanctifying themselves than the priests.  Also the burnt offerings were in abundance, with the fat of the peace offerings and with the drink offerings for every burnt offering. So the service of the house of the LORD was set in order.  Then Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced that God had prepared the people, since the events took place so suddenly (2 Chr 28:23- 29:36 NKJV).

Not long before the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylonia, Josiah made a final effort to bring about a purer worship, but it did not last:
Josiah was eight years old when he became King, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem.  And he did what was right in the sight of the LORD, and walked in the ways of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.  For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was still young, he began to seek the God of his father David; and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the wooden images, the carved images, and the molded images.  They broke down the altars of the Baals in his presence, and the incense altars which were above them he cut down; and the wooden images, the carved images, and the molded images he broke in pieces, and made dust of them and scattered it on the graves of those who had sacrificed to them.  He also burned the bones of the priests on their altars, and cleansed Judah and Jerusalem.   And so he did in the cities of Manasseh, Ephraim, and Simeon, as far as Naphtali and all around, with axes.  When he had broken down the altars and the wooden images, had beaten the carved images into powder, and cut down all the incense altars throughout all the land of Israel, he returned to Jerusalem.

In the eighteenth year of his reign, when he had purged the land and the temple, he sent Shaphan the son of Azaliah, Maaseiah the governor of the city, and Joah the son of Joahaz the recorder, to repair the house of the LORD his God.  When they came to Hilkiah the high priest, they delivered the money that was brought into the house of God, which the Levites who kept the doors had gathered from the hand of Manasseh and Ephraim, from all the remnant of Israel, from all Judah and Benjamin, and which they had brought back to Jerusalem.  Then they put it in the hand of the foremen who had the oversight of the house of the LORD; and they gave it to the workmen who worked in the house of the LORD, to repair and restore the house.  They gave it to the craftsmen and builders to buy hewn stone and timber for beams, and to floor the houses which the kings of Judah had destroyed.  And the men did the work faithfully.

Their overseers were Jahath and Obadiah the Levites, of the sons of Merari, and Zechariah and Meshullam, of the sons of the Kohathites, to supervise. Others of the Levites, all of whom were skillful with instruments of music, were over the burden bearers and were overseers of all who did work in any kind of service. And some of the Levites were scribes, officers, and gatekeepers.

Now when they brought out the money that was brought into the house of the LORD, Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the Law of the LORD given by Moses.  Then Hilkiah answered and said to Shaphan the scribe, I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the LORD. And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan.  So Shaphan carried the book to the king, bringing the king word, saying, All that was committed to your servants they are doing.  And they have gathered the money that was found in the house of the LORD, and have delivered it into the hand of the overseers and the workmen.  Then Shaphan the scribe told the king, saying, Hilkiah the priest has given me a book. And Shaphan read it before the king.

Thus it happened, when the king heard the words of the Law, that he tore his clothes.  Then the king commanded Hilkiah, Ahikam the son of Shaphan, Abdon the son of Micah, Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah a servant of the king, saying,  Go, inquire of the LORD for me, and for those who are left in Israel and Judah, concerning the words of the book that is found; for great is the wrath of the LORD that is poured out on us, because our fathers have not kept the word of the LORD, to do according to all that is written in this book.

So Hilkiah and those the king had appointed went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tokhath, the son of Hasrah, keeper of the wardrobe. (She dwelt in Jerusalem in the Second Quarter.) And they spoke to her to that effect.  Then she answered them, Thus says the LORD God of Israel, Tell the man who sent you to Me, Thus says the LORD: Behold, I will bring calamity on this place and on its inhabitants, all the curses that are written in the book which they have read before the king of Judah, because they have forsaken Me and burned incense to other gods, that they might provoke Me to anger with all the works of their hands. Therefore My wrath will be poured out on this place, and not be quenched.  But as for the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the LORD, in this manner you shall speak to him, Thus says the LORD God of Israel: Concerning the words which you have heard; because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before God when you heard His words against this place and against its inhabitants, and you humbled yourself before Me, and you tore your clothes and wept before Me, I also have heard you, says the LORD.  Surely I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace; and your eyes shall not see all the calamity which I will bring on this place and its inhabitants.   So they brought back word to the king.  Then the king sent and gathered all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem.  The king went up to the house of the LORD, with all the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem; the priests and the Levites, and all the people, great and small. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant which had been found in the house of the LORD.  Then the king stood in his place and made a covenant before the LORD, to follow the LORD, and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant that were written in this book.  And he made all who were present in Jerusalem and Benjamin take a stand. So the inhabitants of Jerusalem did according to the covenant of God, the God of their fathers.  Thus Josiah removed all the abominations from all the country that belonged to the children of Israel, and made all who were present in Israel diligently serve the LORD their God. All his days they did not depart from following the LORD God of their fathers (2 Chr. 34:1-33 NKJV).

Unfortunately, after Josiahs death the Jews returned to worshiping other gods.  Not even the Captivity cured the Jews of their idolatrous tendencies.  When Ezra went to Jerusalem from Babylon, he found to his dismay that many Jews had married foreign wives and that the land was filled with abominations, "which You commanded by Your servants the prophets, saying, 'The land which you are entering to possess is an unclean land, with the uncleanness of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations which have filled it from one end to another with their impurity  (Ezra 9:11 NKJV).  We ask ourselves, Will they ever learn?

More than two hundred years later, when Antiochus Epiphanes tried to eradicate Judaism and Hellenize the Jews, many of them obeyed his command to offer sacrifices to idols, although his action led to the Maccabean war.  As a result of Jewish unrest and the frustration of  [Antiochus Epiphanes'] plans by the Romans, he added to the insult of Temple looting the massacre of many of the citizens of Jerusalem, the selling into slavery of her women and children, and the burning of the city.  However, his fury was not satisfied; so he decided to root out the cause of Jewish opposition to his policies.  He would outlaw Judaism and force Hellenism on the Jews.  Accordingly he commanded all offerings and sacrifices to Jehovah to cease.  Sabbath observance was prohibited, and death was the penalty for the mere possession of the Torah or the performance of circumcision.  The Temple at Jerusalem was defiled and made a shrine of the Olympian Zeus, to whom a small altar was erected on the top of the altar of burnt offering.  This was called the abomination that maketh desolate in Daniel (11:31; 12:11) and 1 Maccabees (1:54) [And they commanded the cities of Judah to sacrifice.]  Ten days later (December 25, 168 BC) on the altar a sacrifice of swine prefaced the smearing of unclean blood in the Temple, while soldiers committed indecent acts in the sacred enclosure.  Heathen altars were erected in various places throughout the land on which the Jews were commanded to sacrifice swine (Exploring the New Testament, Blaney and Hanson).

 The first open opposition to the agents of Antiochus occurred at Modin, northeast of the Beth-horons near the edge of the coastal plain.  At the peaceful village Appelles, the kings officer, appeared with promises of royal favor to Mattathias, a retired, aged priest, on condition that he would sacrifice a pig on the altar to the gods of Greece.  Mattathias refused to comply.  When a degenerate Jew stepped forward to carry out the kings command, Mattathias killed the Jew and then the kings officer (Exploring the New Testament, Blaney and Hanson).  Afterward Mattathias hid in the hills with his five sons with the faithful Jews rallying to them.  This was the beginning of three years of savage warfare in which the Maccabees destroyed all evidences of apostasy and heathenism they could find.  The Maccabean War resulted in the Jews becoming fanatically opposed to the crass idolatry of OT times.  In the New Testament, references to idolatry are understandably few.

The Jews were never again tempted to worship images or gods other than the Lord.  Jesus, however, warned that to make possessions central in life is also idolatry, and said, You cannot serve both God and money (Matt 6:24).

Paul, in Romans 1:18-25, teaches that idolatry is not the first stage of religion, from which man by an evolutionary process emerges to monotheism, but it is the result of deliberate religious apostasy.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  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.  Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen (Rom 1:18-25 NKJV).
When man sins against the light of nature and refuses to worship the Creator revealed by nature, God as a punishment withdraws the light, and man then descends into the shameful absurdities of idolatry.   Christians in apostolic times, many of whom were converted from heathenism, are repeatedly warned in the letter of the NT to be on their guard against idolatry (e.g. 1 Cor 5:10; Gal 5:20).  The OT conception of idolatry is widened to include anything that leads to the dethronement of God from the heart, as for example, covetousness (Eph 5:5; Col 3:5)  (New International Dictionary).

The Scriptures warn:

[You cannot totally avoid] the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world,[but they are not to be considered Christian brothers.] (1 Cor 5:10 NKJV).

[The works of the flesh include] idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies. (Gal 5:20 NKJV).

For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God (Eph 5:5 NKJV).

Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Col 3:5 NKJV).

After His resurrection, Christ appeared on the shores of the sea of Galilee.  When Peter came ashore Jesus was cooking fish for breakfast and he asked Peter, Do you love me more than these?  I believe he was asking Peter if he loved the miracles Jesus did more than he loved Him.  Miracles are sometimes objects of idolatry.  Of course, Peter did not love the miracles more than the Lord, but many did and did not follow after Him when He left earth.  The point is that there are many things seen and unseen that are idols to the people of New Testaments times and now.   I believe one reason we dont know exactly where certain events of Christs life took place is that we would tend to worship those sites instead of Christ Himself.  Many of the traditional sites have shrines on them.  Any thing that takes away from the love of Christ is an idol.  Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry  (1 Cor 10:14 NKJV).

In the last book of the Bible the apostle John predicts a time of idolatrous apostasy in the last days, when the Beast and his image will be accorded divine honors.  Some questions we might ask ourselves are, Where are we in this time table? and  To whom or what are we giving divine honor?  Christians, Jews, and Muslims consider the worship of images a sin.  Since ancient times, the prohibition of idolatry has resulted in strict limits on the use of lifelike images in Islamic and Jewish art.  However, the early Christians used paintings, statues, and other art to depict sacred figures and stories from the Bible.  In Eastern Europe and the Near East, worshipers gave special reverence to icons (images of Jesus Christ or the saints).

Christians known as iconoclasts opposed the use of icons because they considered it idolatry.  But other Christians argued that icons were merely symbols to help worshipers think of God.  A dispute called the iconoclastic controversy raged between the two sides during the AD 700's and early 800's.  The iconoclasts destroyed the pictures and statues in many churches.  A similar disagreement over the use of images broke out between Protestants and Roman Catholics during the 1500's.  Many old churches in England and other countries still have statues that were damaged by Protestants.

 During the 1200's, Christian missionaries from Europe traveled as far as China, and by the 1500's, they had also reached Africa and the Americas.  The missionaries described the religions of these lands as idolatry, but few of the peoples they encountered actually worshiped idols.  Many of the so-called idol worshipers used statues or other symbols of their gods much as Christians used religious art.  Other peoples who seemed to worship a nonliving object believed that a god or spirit dwelled in it.

Today, scholars who study ancient and modern religions do not use the term idolatry.  But the word often means giving someone or something other than God the devotion that should belong only to Him.  For example, an excessive love of money is sometimes called idolatry  ( Erika Bourguignon, Ph.D., Prof. Emeritus of Anthropology, Ohio State Univ.).

If you had been in Jerusalem sometimearound November 2000, you might have visited the Bible Lands Museum.  Its latest exhibit is called The Human Form Divine in order to distract us from what is actually being displayed.  An exhibit of idols in Jerusalem might be considered dangerous, hence the obscure title.  There are about 200 figurines on exhibit from a private collection.  Speculation abounds regarding which ones were worshiped for what.  But how were these teraphim, or household gods, used?  No one really knows with any certainty.  Perhaps they were apotropaic, intended to protect the household from evil.  But were they displayed or merely purchased and put away?  Were they simply gazed upon?  Or were prayers offered to them? Yet some of these figures do seem to express some eternal longing.  Others seem more like an ancient version of dirty pictures.  Still others seem like the incarnation of wisdom.  Or an ancient Pan-like creature who gets into all sorts of mischief.  Or a Voodoo practitioner  ("Idol Pleasures", Biblical Archaeology Review September/October 2000).  The article goes on to refer the reader to the beautifully produced catalogue from which one can order one of these figurines.  Included in this issue and the following issue of BAR is an advertisement for a good luck Talisman, seriously.  The irony in all this is that we really have come a long way since the early second millennium B.C.E.  Instead of buying idols outside the Temple we can now purchase the very same ones by mail order or via the internet!
November/December 2000
The above advertisement is from the November/December 2000 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.  "Capture the Power of the Ancients with the Magical Good Luck Talisman," reads the ad, "Protective Charms, Powerful Amulets."  It is difficult for me to comprehend that this respected magazine would resort to selling idols and good luck charms.  To me, BAR has been a leader in Biblical research.  It saddens me greatly to consider the implications.  This is a prime example of the idolatry we are faced with on a daily and, if you consider computers and television, an hourly basis.

In modern times we are continually faced with all types of idolatry.  In the United States many people love money and possessions more than they love God.  Some people think they cannot get along without money and the thought of praying or acknowledging God never crosses their mind.  Others worship power and their professions.  Some religions practice physical idolatry, such as Buddhism and Hinduism.  Voodoo uses idols, as does religions of the Eskimos and Native Americans (totem poles).  Instead of trusting God for protection and provision, some people carry such things as a rabbits foot, lucky coin and/or trolls.  The Shinto religion professes hundreds of gods ranging from god of the kitchen to god of the heavens.  Transcendental Meditation (TM) classes provide rooms in which to meditate which contain idols.

Since idols can be seen or unseen, we must be very careful that we dont let anything come between God and ourselves.  As we review the idols weve discussed thus far, we must recognize that idols of some kind have always been around.  The apple that first tempted Eve and the Tower of Babel could also be considered idols by New Testament standards.

Modern things that we trust instead of God are glaringly obvious, especially when we look at the world of science.  For instance the scientific community seesaws back and forth on the concept that some foods are bad for our bodies.  One day wine, pork or olive oil is good for you and the next day the front page warns us not to eat any of them.  Here we are depending on what other people tell us instead of reading Leviticus.  God figured all of this out a very long time ago!  Trust Him.

A sport is another thing some people tend to worship.  When someone is watching a televised football game on Sunday morning, I ask myself, Are they worshiping football or the TV?  Some Christians idolize parts of the faith and worship of God more than they do God Himself.  Consider those who love the Bible, Gospel singing, or even praying more than they do God.  This may sound silly to some, but we must be true to God and ask Him to thoroughly search our hearts and destroy any and all idols in our lives.  Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me.  And lead me in the way everlasting  (Psalm 139:23-24, The Wesley Bible, NKJV).


The Bible.  New King James Version.
The Bible Knowledge Commentary.  2 vols. Walvoord and Zuck.   Chariot Victor Publishing, 1998.
Biblical Archaeology Review.   November/December 2000.
     "Idol Pleasures," Biblical Archaeology Review.    September/October 2000.
Exploring The New Testament. Blaney and Hanson,   1955 ed.
The New International Dictionary of the Bible. J. D. Douglas and Merrill C. Tenney.   Zondervan, 1987.
Spirit Possession Belief and Social Structure. Erika Bourguignon, Ph.D.   1998.
Websters New Collegiate Dictionary.  Merriam, 1979.
The Wesley Bible.  New King James Version, 1990.

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