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.
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).
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.
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.
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 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.
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 is always working (versus sleeping, Habakkuk 2:19-20 again)...
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.
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?
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...
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
of Lion Tracks Ministries. (c) 2005.