Tying up loose ends – Idolatry

Idolatry

Closely connected to the call to holiness is that of turning from idolatry, which when I did a dictionary search I found idol means “an image or representation of a god used as an object of worship” or “a person or thing that is greatly admired, loved, or revered“.

The notion of bowing down to an inanimate object representing something animate is not one that modern minds particularly identify with. They might also concur with the scornful ridicule of the prophet: “They that make a graven image are all of them vanity; and their delectable things shall not profit; and they are their own witnesses; they see not, nor know; that they may be ashamed … He burneth part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eateth flesh; he roasteth roast, and is satisfied: yea, he warmeth himself, and saith, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire: And the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image: he falleth down unto it, and worshippeth it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me; for thou art my god” Isaiah 44:9, 16-17.

But idolatry goes far beyond the obvious that Isaiah had observed. Besides making the observation that idolatry was widely practiced in the times of the Hebrew prophets and that practice as much as anything did cause Yahweh to punish his special people: Israel, it is evident that it is something that everyone of us could slip into, knowingly or unknowingly. The first two of the Ten Commandments that most Christians, except for keeping the Sabbath, see as binding, tell us “You shall have no other gods before me” and “You shall not make yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything …”, which both encapsulate the notion of avoiding idolatry. While most examples of idol worship can be found in the OT, it is very clear in the NT God is angry with and judges ANY who practices idolatry: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness … And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever” Romans 1:8, 23-25.   

In terms of avoiding idolatry (fleeing, killing maybe better words) the NT writers are unequivocal in their exhortations, knowing full well from the OT writings what were the consequences when that did not happen. Notwithstanding this was now the age of grace, the danger people can fall into who practice idolatry, even if momentarily or not all that deeply or even when the idol is something basically good. If you need to proof, check out: “Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry” 1 Corinthians 10:14, “For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” Ephesians 5:5, “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry” Colossians 3:5, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” 1 John 5:21 and “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” Revelation 21:8.

As one might expect, if one were to check out some of the many sermons and meditations on the subject of idolatry, we would find many examples of idolatry given, including what is good, but somehow it usurps the place of God who tells us to have no other god before him. Success, prosperity, power, status, ambition, prestige, fame, family, things, hobbies, sports, science, knowledge, sex, persons all come to mind as things that all may have their place, but if these come before the worship of the Almighty, it can quickly turn into idolatry on top of the things we know we should not be doing – and as for images – in these modern age where self and sophistication is prized in the culture, these may not even feature.

When we turn back to the Old Testament, idolatry was something that seriously concerned the prophets, although it was quite evident the practice of idolatry was widespread outside the confines of Israel among its close neighbors. The building of and bowing to the Golden Calf while Moses was up in the mountain receiving the Law is an early example of what led a severe judgement on the idolaters. God was very clear “Ye shall make you no idols nor graven image, neither rear you up a standing image, neither shall ye set up any image of stone in your land, to bow down unto it: for I am the Lord your God” Leviticus 26:1, and yet repeatedly in their history, at least until after the Exile, we find the Israelites doing the very thing that God forbade and in doing so reaping the consequences.

As for the Hebrew prophets and how God viewed idolatry, the following are some examples: “Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made” Isaiah 2:8, “A drought is upon her waters; and they shall be dried up: for it is the land of graven images, and they are mad upon their idols” Jeremiah 50:38, “Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face: should I be enquired of at all by them?” Ezekiel 14:3, “What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols?” Habakkuk 2:18, and “For the idols have spoken vanity, and the diviners have seen a lie, and have told false dreams; they comfort in vain: therefore they went their way as a flock, they were troubled, because there was no shepherd” Zechariah 10:2.

In the OT especially, many of these false gods / idols are name and two I will focus on: Baal and Molech. “And they built the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin” Jeremiah 32:35. Baal crops up many times and notably in that great contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal when the true God, Yahweh passed judgement over the false and when Elijah asked the Israelites why that were wavering between two opinions: whether to serve Yahweh or Baal? Molech crops up, as in this verse, with the sacrifice of children. Today people need to decide which god / God they are to serve and recognise much of the abortion industry is a sacrifice to Molech. As for me, I will continue to serve the living God.

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