Idols versus God

God has revealed himself to be the only God. He is not a construct of a human mind or by human hands, rather He is eternal (Psalms 90:2). As the only true and living God, He has clearly expressed that there was no other God before Him and that it is impossible for any new God to come onto the scene in the future.

Isaiah 43:10b-11 Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. 11 I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no savior. (NIV)

The first and second commandments are a logical extension to this truth that God is one (Mark 12:29). If there is only one God then He has every right to demand that He alone be worshipped by His Creation (Colossian 1:16).

Exodus 20:3-4 "You shall have no other gods before me. 4 "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. (NIV)

Leviticus 26:1 "'Do not make idols or set up an image or a sacred stone for yourselves, and do not place a carved stone in your land to bow down before it. I am the LORD your God. (NIV)

Even with these clear warnings, the people were quick to follow after idols, often merging their worship with the worship of God or pitting them directly against God. This epic struggle spanned most of the Old Testament. In terms of a boxing match, here are the contenders:

In this corner we have the idols. While their supporters point to there great number and diversity, they don't seem to have much to say for themselves. So, by way of introduction, let's hear what others have to say about them.

Deuteronomy 4:27-28 The LORD will scatter you among the peoples [because of your rebellion], and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which the LORD will drive you. 28 There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell. (NIV) [See also Deuteronomy 28:36, 64]

Jeremiah 10:5 Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good." (NIV)

Deuteronomy 27:15 "Cursed is the man who carves an image or casts an idol - a thing detestable to the LORD, the work of the craftsman's hands - and sets it up in secret." Then all the people shall say, "Amen!" (NIV)

Psalms 106:28 They yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor and ate sacrifices offered to lifeless gods (NIV)

Habakkuk 2:18-20 "Of what value is an idol, since a man has carved it? Or an image that teaches lies? For he who makes it trusts in his own creation; he makes idols that cannot speak. 19 Woe to him who says to wood, 'Come to life!' Or to lifeless stone, 'Wake up!' Can it give guidance? It is covered with gold and silver; there is no breath in it. 20 But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him." (NIV)

Isaiah 2:8 Their land is full of idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their fingers have made. (NIV)

1 Kings 18:27 At noon Elijah began to taunt them. "Shout louder!" he said. "Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened." (NIV)

1 Kings 11:4-6, 33 As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. 5 He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. 6 So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done. ... 33 I will do this because they have forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Molech the god of the Ammonites, and have not walked in my ways, nor done what is right in my eyes, nor kept my statutes and laws as David, Solomon's father, did. (NIV)

2 Kings 19:17-19 "It is true, O LORD, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. 18 They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by men's hands. 19 Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God." (NIV) [See also Isaiah 37:19-20]

2 Kings 23:8, 13-15 Josiah brought all the priests from the towns of Judah and desecrated the high places, from Geba to Beersheba, where the priests had burned incense. He broke down the shrines at the gates - at the entrance to the Gate of Joshua, the city governor, which is on the left of the city gate. ... The king also desecrated the high places that were east of Jerusalem on the south of the Hill of Corruption - the ones Solomon king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the vile goddess of the Sidonians, for Chemosh the vile god of Moab, and for Molech the detestable god of the people of Ammon. 14 Josiah smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles and covered the sites with human bones. 15 Even the altar at Bethel, the high place made by Jeroboam son of Nebat, who had caused Israel to sin - even that altar and high place he demolished. He burned the high place and ground it to powder, and burned the Asherah pole also. (NIV)

Hosea 8:5-6 Throw out your calf-idol, O Samaria! My anger burns against them. How long will they be incapable of purity? 6 They are from Israel! This calf - a craftsman has made it; it is not God. It will be broken in pieces, that calf of Samaria. (NIV)

Isaiah 17:7-8 In that day men will look to their Maker and turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel. 8 They will not look to the altars, the work of their hands, and they will have no regard for the Asherah poles and the incense altars their fingers have made. (NIV)

Daniel 5:23 Instead, you [Belshazzar] have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways. (NIV)

1 Samuel 31:10 They put his [Saul's] armor in the temple of the Ashtoreths and fastened his body to the wall of Beth Shan. (NIV)

Ezekiel 16:20-21 "'And you took your sons and daughters whom you bore to me and sacrificed them as food to the idols. Was your prostitution not enough? 21 You slaughtered my children and sacrificed them to the idols. (NIV)

Supporters of the idols have been known to talk about God in the same manner as they do the idols. In fact, in a tactic sure to confuse many, they have sometimes even called their idols by God's name.

2 Chronicles 32:19 They spoke about the God of Jerusalem as they did about the gods of the other peoples of the world - the work of men's hands. (NIV)

Exodus 32:4-5 He took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, " This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt." 5 Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, "Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD." (NASU)

1 Kings 12:28-30 After seeking advice, the king [Jeroboam] made two golden calves. He said to the people, "It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt." 29 One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan. 30 And this thing became a sin; the people went even as far as Dan to worship the one there. (NIV)

For the record - and to help clear up some confusion - the idols (false gods) mentioned in the Bible are many. Throughout history people have continued to invent more, but their characteristics remain the same. For example a few of them are:


Artemis is a Greek goddess (called Diana in KJV) of fertility worshiped at Ephesus and elsewhere in the Roman world during the New Testament era. Her worship combined Greek, Roman, and Anatolian elements and dates back to ca. 1000 BC. A well-known statue/idol of Artemis emphasizes fertility.


Following the Exodus, Israel had only been in the land for a short time before they turned to the deities of the Canaanites as detailed in the Book of Judges. The people especially worshipped Asherah and her supposed husband Baal (Ashteroth is an alternative name for Asherah). The names could reference interchangeably the representations/idols or the deities themselves. Asherah was represented by a sacred pole or a (carved) wooden image. Occasionally Asherah is portrayed as a sea-goddess, though far more frequently fertility.


Ashtoreth was a popular goddess in several cultures including the Phoenicians and the northwest Semitic peoples around Israel. Again, the Israelites began to worship her shortly after their settlement in Canaan. Excavations, especially at Solomon's fortress city of Arad, show that the people had turned Ashtoreth into a female consort to Yahweh, worshipping them both side-by-side. Her representation/idol was often nothing more than a standing stone.


Baal was the most significant male deity of the Canaanites. The numerous references to Baal in the Old Testament indicate how much the Israelites chose to worship him. During the time of Ahab and Jezebel Baal was declared the official national deity, complete with a temple and hundreds of priests to present animal sacrifices. Baal's name derives from the Semitic word "ba'lu," meaning "lord." He was assumed to fulfill several significant roles by the peoples who worshiped him; god of the storm, god who created, god who granted fertility, and god of justice. Baal, like Asherah, was also worshiped at high places. Some of the northern kingdom rulers even "made their sons pass through fire" - offering their own sons as sacrifices to Baal. Sacred prostitutes, both male and female, were available to worshipers - supposedly encouraging the fertility of both the land and the people.

Baal-zebub, Beel-zebul:

Baal-zebub is a Phoenician god worshiped at Ekron in Old Testament times. The name means "Lord of the flies" - perhaps somewhat like the Egyptian Scarab which was considered a god, though merely a dung-beetle. In Jesus' day this god was derisively even called Beel-zebul (Beelzebub in NIV) or "lord of dung." Carved scarabs, similar to the ones in Egypt, have been found in Israeli excavations.


Chemosh was a primary god of the Moabites and Ammonites even before the time of the Exodus. During the reign of Solomon worship of Chemosh was established and promoted in the city of Jerusalem. Chemosh was held to be a God over their particular nations.


Dagon was a widely worshipped god of the Philistines. Excavations show major Philistine cities having a temple for the worship of this god. The temple statue/idol portraying Dagon was characterized by an upper human torso and a lower body of a fish. The major cultic rite in Dagon's worship was human sacrifice. Dagon was held to be a god over their nation/people.


Marduk was the chief god of Babylon, referenced both as creator and ruler. Jeremiah directly references this pagan god.


Milcom appears to be the chief deity of the Ammonites and Moabites, worshipped by the descendants of Lot. Solomon built a worship facility for this god in Israel.


Molech or Moloch was another major God of the Ammonites. Solomon built a high place for this god in Jerusalem. Worship of this god required human sacrifice.

Queen of Heaven:

Referenced by Jeremiah, this female deity was particularly worshiped by Israeli women (in Judah and Egypt). Children were gathering firewood; women were busily kneading dough for cakes to be offered to this queen. The description of what was being done suggests that she was the Canaanite goddess Astarte - again frequently associated with fertility.


Tammuz was a Syrian and Phoenician god of fertility, commonly displayed in the form of idols. The Greeks adopted Tammuz as one of their prominent gods, changing his name to Adonis. Ezekiel references this god as one that was being worshipped in the temple area at Jerusalem. Worship included elaborate rituals including chanting litanies of woes (see Ezekiel 8:14, "mourning" in NIV).

In the opposite corner we have God. While His supporters seem to be somewhat fewer (Matthew 7:14) and often less vocal, He has had much to say in the past (Romans 15:4). Truly this seasoned veteran doesn't need much by way of an introduction as He has been in the ring from the very beginning, as contenders have come and gone (Psalms 90:2). But, for the record and as an introduction, here are some of His words that have been recorded for posterity (Psalms 119:89).

God hears...

Exodus 2:24 God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. (NIV)

Exodus 16:12 "I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, 'At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.'" (NIV)

1 Kings 9:3 The LORD said to him: "I have heard the prayer and plea you have made before me; I have consecrated this temple, which you have built, by putting my Name there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there. (NIV)

1 John 5:14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. (NIV)

God sees...

Genesis 16:13 She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: "You are the God who sees me," for she said, "I have now seen the One who sees me." (NIV)

Psalms 33:13-14 From heaven the LORD looks down and sees all mankind; 14 from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth - (NIV)

Psalms 10:11 He [the wicked, see v2] says to himself, "God has forgotten; he covers his face and never sees." (NIV)

God speaks...

Psalms 50:1-3 A psalm of Asaph. The Mighty One, God, the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets. 2 From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth. 3 Our God comes and will not be silent; a fire devours before him, and around him a tempest rages. (NIV)

Deuteronomy 5:24-27 And you said, "The LORD our God has shown us his glory and his majesty, and we have heard his voice from the fire. Today we have seen that a man can live even if God speaks with him. 25 But now, why should we die? This great fire will consume us, and we will die if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any longer. 26 For what mortal man has ever heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire, as we have, and survived? 27 Go near and listen to all that the LORD our God says. Then tell us whatever the LORD our God tells you. We will listen and obey." (NIV)

"Hear the word of the Lord (or Lord God)..." 44 times throughout Scriptures.

God eats...

As God in human flesh, unlike any other so-called god, Jesus ate with his disciples.

Luke 22:15 And he said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. (NIV)

Luke 24:41-42 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, "Do you have anything here to eat?" 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish... (NIV)

Unlike the offerings left before idols, or in tombs to dead gods, God did not require offerings to eat (or pretend to eat), rather the consecrated bread was for the priests (Luke 6:4), as was a portion of other offerings, with the remainder for the giver.

God walks...

Genesis 3:8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. NIV

Psalms 23:2-4 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (NIV)

Genesis 18:16, 22 When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way. ... The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD. (NIV)

Mark 1:16, 2:14, 23 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ... 2:14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. ... 2:23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. (NIV)

Luke 4:30 But he [Jesus] walked right through the crowd and went on his way. (NIV)

God is always working (versus sleeping, Habakkuk 2:19-20 again)...

John 5:17-18 Jesus said to them, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working." 18 For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. (NIV)

God lives...

Deuteronomy 5:26 For what mortal man has ever heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire, as we have, and survived? (NIV)

Jeremiah 10:2-5, 8-10 This is what the LORD says: "Do not learn the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the sky, though the nations are terrified by them. 3 For the customs of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. 4 They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter. 5 Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good." ... 8 They are all senseless and foolish; they are taught by worthless wooden idols. 9 Hammered silver is brought from Tarshish and gold from Uphaz. What the craftsman and goldsmith have made is then dressed in blue and purple - all made by skilled workers. 10 But the LORD is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King. When he is angry, the earth trembles; the nations cannot endure his wrath. (NIV)

Acts 14:15 "Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. (NIV)

"Living God..." Used 28 times in Scriptures.

Most idols were local deities to help protect a specific nation or people or to enable them to be successful in battle. Almost all these gods shared power with others including consorts. Some professed to be over things of nature, including rain, wind, and waves. A few claimed to be creator. A great number supposedly controlled fertility, enabling people to have children or flocks to multiply. Consider for a moment that God revealed and proved Himself in regards to all these things.

God created all that exists (Genesis 1:1, Psalms 95:3-7) and proved it by miracles of Jesus such as making one born blind to see again (John 9:2-7; out of dirt, as with original creation of man).

God is sovereign over all nations, including his own people and the people of pagan lands (Isaiah 14:26-27). When He revealed by his prophets that a nation would fall, or be successful, it always was (Isaiah 43:12-13).

God withheld and sent rain as He saw fit (Deuteronomy 11:17, 1 Kings 8:35-36, 1 Kings 17:1, 18:1).

God used the wind and rain for His purposes, especially as displayed in the account of Jonah (Jonah 1:4, 15) and Jesus walking on the water (John 6:19) and calming the storm (Mark 4:39).

God closed wombs (Genesis 20:18, 1 Samuel 1:5), or gave children to the unlikely (Luke 1:36, Genesis 18:10-11), again as He saw fit.

Well, as for the fight, there really isn't one. As you hopefully can see, the so-called gods of the nations are merely inventions of people. They are powerless to do anything, much less save. At the end, when everything tainted by sin is destroyed to be remembered no more, God alone will be left standing (2 Peter 3:10-13). Whose side are you on?

Final Thoughts

It might seem like an easy thing to say that you should not have idols. Of course anything that would represent a false God has to be wrong! But, what about representations of the one true God? The Bible is very clear that God is not to be represented in any fashion...

Deuteronomy 4:15-19 You saw no form of any kind the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, 16 so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, 17 or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, 18 or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below. 19 And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars - all the heavenly array - do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the LORD your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven. (NIV)

Some would say that since Jesus has come, and that He is the exact representation of God (Hebrews 1:3) that it would now be legitimate to make representations of Him. Consider, though, that God had Jesus come at a time (Galatians 4:4) when people couldn't take photos, and in such a way that no one even made a drawing or painting. Even those close to Jesus could have made such a drawing or painting in the years following His ascension, but they didn't. As with this whole subject of idols, God knew how easy it would be for people to start worshipping the object versus the one it was to represent. In addition, since no manmade object could fully represent the majesty and holiness of who God is, the image would never be a true representation. This would in effect be leading people astray, regardless of how much they tried to be faithful to the original. [In contrast, God's Word is a perfect revelation of who He is assuring that through it we can worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).]

Having stood in a number of "Christian" shrines throughout the world, filled with images (realistic or abstract) of Jesus, Mary, the apostles, or markers of professed (or real) sites of biblical events, I have seen first hand how people have turned these objects into an item of devotion. Sometimes this is shown by kissing the object, a touch, bowing, or crossing one's self. Regardless of the wording game that goes on, officially calling this veneration, it in practice is no different than the idol worship of old which professed to only be focusing on the god (or God) that was being represented.

"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus... (Hebrews 12:2)" by faith! The focus is not that which is seen but rather that which is not seen (2 Corinthians 4:18). Don't let anything standing the way.


Written by Brent MacDonald of Lion Tracks Ministries. (c) 2005.
Duplication permitted as long as the source is cited.