Idolatry: Introduction

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Friday, January 8, 2021 0 comments

by Charlie Wolcott

For much of the second half of 2020, I spent a lot of time in Old Testament history and the prophets. The #1 charge against Israel was the crime of idolatry. Every king of Israel and Judah was labeled as a good king or a bad king depending on how they handled idolatry. In the Northern Kingdom of Israel, every king (except three, two of which lasted less than a month, Zimri and Shallum, and the last king, Hosea) was judged on their stance regarding Jeroboam’s two golden calf idols (see my post on this for details). Most of these kings merely permitted the worship there, but others actively participated in the worship of other idols. In the Southern Kingdom of Judah, the kings were judged by how the high places were allowed to operate. In both kingdoms, they were judged and sentenced by God to exile because of idolatry.

Why does God take idolatry so seriously? Is He that petty and that desperate for worship? My answer to that is “no.” God takes idolatry seriously because it is ultimately a root for all sorts of evil. Some may say pride is the root, or the love of money is the root, but if you pay attention, the love of self or the love of money are both forms of idolatry. It hit me recently that idolatry and idolatrous practices in some way, shape, or form violate all 10 of the Commandments. Some have said that the Ten Commandments were the “wedding vows” between God and Israel. So, to commit idolatry was a violation of wedding vows, and many of the prophets use marriage to showcase what idolatry was (Hosea 4 is one example). Israel turned herself into a prostitute, sleeping with every man she could find, and only giving lip service to her husband. This was a serious crime.

There are multiple facets to idolatry. I’m going to cover just the basics here, then for the next 10 weeks, I’m going to explore each of the Ten Commandments and how idolatry violates them, then give a conclusion on how to break free of idolatry. First, on the simplest level, idolatry is the worship of something other than the true God, in place of God. Man was created to worship God. That is part of being made in the image of God. Our primary purpose of existence is for the glory of God, which is why all we do should be for that purpose. Idolatry takes that glory that we give and attributes it to another. Man is meant to function as a person with God as his fuel. A human being does not function as he ought to function without God. This is why sin breaks us and we malfunction in it. When we seek a different fuel for our needs that only God can provide, it’s idolatry. What’s more is all these other sources are only temporary. None of them last, so when we worship idols, it’s never enough. There is always a need for more. You need more gods, more sources to fill your needs, or you need harder and “better” worship. And there’s never any way to know if you did enough or not.

Idolatry, especially for the case of Israel, was saying: “God, I don’t trust You. I don’t believe You.” When we don’t believe someone, it’s like we are calling them liars and saying they cannot and should not be trusted. It doesn’t matter who you are; when someone says, “I don’t believe you,” it’s insulting. There are a number of people who should not be believed, but when the person who has a long track record of being trustworthy is not believed, it’s insulting to that person at best. What’s worse is that especially regarding Israel, idolatry doesn’t just call God a liar; it makes YOU a liar. Here’s why. Israel had made a covenant with God. God laid out the terms on Mt. Sinai (the Ten Commandments) and Israel agreed to the terms. It didn’t take them long to break their vows and to break their end of the deal. God kept His, but Israel didn’t keep hers. It’s not different today. Many people claiming to be Christians, “signing on” to the New Covenant Christ gave us are breaking our vows and turning to idols today. Our idols take different forms than Israel’s, but it’s still the same key issue.

Idolatry was not merely a personal affair. It was a family affair. Jeremiah 7:17-19 describes how the whole family would work together for the idolatrous rituals. Now, the kids may only be doing it due to obedience to their parents, however, kids learn most from observing their parents, which is why generational curses persist. It takes a willful decision to break that curse. And some kids weren’t willing participants. Many were killed as a sacrifice to some of these idols.

The rituals in idolatrous practices were full of debauchery and in some cases sadistic. Many rituals involved drinking, drugs, and sex. Many of the shrines had prostitutes who worked for the temples (men, as well as women), and don’t think children weren’t sold to work the temples too. In India in the late 1800s to early 1900s, Amy Carmichael rescued 300 orphans, mainly girls, from such practices still going on in recent times.

Israel had a unique charge against them regarding idolatry that many tend to miss. In all their idolatrous practices, they STILL did the sacrifices and ceremonial laws that God had established. That’s why Elijah asked the people: “How long will you waiver? Either the Baal is God, or the Lord is? Make up your mind.” (my paraphrase). That’s why Hosea said: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Because it was ritual only and they were treating the True God like any other pagan god. They were just trying to cover all their bases, trying to make sure they hit all the religions possible, just in case one was wrong. They always had a Plan B.

The final thing I’ll point out here in my introduction to this series is the arrogance Israel had in their idolatrous practices. They knew they were God’s people. They knew that the True God had singled them out to be His people. They had the words from God Himself. As a result, they thought they were above reproach. Because God had saved them so many times in the past, despite their sin, they thought they were invincible, and that any trouble they were in was because they weren’t serving the “gods” well enough. They knew of God’s great acts of mercy, and His great acts of judgment upon their enemies, but it never entered their mind that God might turn on them because of their rebellion and treachery. It wasn’t as though they weren’t warned. This reminds me of many modern “Christians” who think because they are saved that they can believe whatever they want about God, doctrine, any secondary issue, or whatever but as long as they confess Jesus Christ, they are getting in. Israel though the same thing too. As long as they confessed Jehovah and did the sacrifices, they were in. I’m not calling for legalism or any work-based salvation here, but our faith in Christ requires more than mere agreement to doctrine. It requires a trust in Him and Him alone. There is no other name under heaven by which man might be saved.

So, over the next couple months, I am going to go into detail about idolatry and how it violates all ten of the Ten Commandments directly or indirectly and why God takes it so seriously.

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