Q: #247. What is idolatry in the Bible?
By: Steve Shirley
A: Idolatry in the Old Testament almost exclusively involved making a visible, tangible, physical object into a "god" and the object of worship and sacrifice. These "gods" could be celestial bodies like the sun, moon, planets (2 Kin 23:5)(Acts 7:42), live animals like oxen, frogs, goats, beetles, different birds, objects like trees or rivers, or hand-made likenesses of numerous things (i.e. the golden calf). (See Q: #220 for a list of many of these "gods") They also built temples for them (1 Chr 10:10)(2 Kin 10:21,23,26-27)(1 Kin 16:32), had priests and prophets for them (2 Kin 23:5)(2 Kin 10:19)(2 Kin 18:21-40), and even made and sold small replicas of them so people could have "household idols" to worship at home (Gen 31:19,34-35: Rachel and the first recorded instance of idols)(2 Kin 23:24)(Ezek 21:21). (These were still around in the New Testament and Paul spoke out against them in Acts 19:23-28.)
God so hated this sin, and it was so rampant,
that the first two of His 10 Commandments addressed this:
#1. "You shall have no other gods before Me." (Ex 20:3)
#2. "You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God..." (Ex 20:4-5)(NASB)
God called this sin an "abomination" (Deut 7:26)(Deut 27:15)(Isa 44:19)(1 Kin 21:26) and said those practicing it were to be put to death (Ex 22:20)(Deut 17:2-5)(Num 25:2-5)(1 Kin 18:40) as well as those who enticed others to practice it (Deut 13:1-18).
God said those who practice this sin: forget God (Deut 8:19)(Jer 18:15), go astray from God (Ezek 44:10), are estranged from God (Ezek 14:5), forsake God (2 Kin 22:17)(Jer 16:11), hate God (2 Chr 19:2-3), and provoke God (Deut 31:20)(Isa 65:2)(Jer 25:6) among many other bad things.
Today, most of us might find it silly and foolish to bow down and worship these kinds of objects (although some religions still do so today). Nonetheless, we also can practice idolatry, but in a different form. A good definition of idolatry is: anything or anyone that we love or worship more than God, place ahead of God, or put in place of God. This list of things can be NUMEROUS! We can love people (family, friends, sports stars, movie stars) more than God, thereby putting them ahead of God. We can also make money, jobs, houses, cars, television, sports, pleasure, sex, food, etc... more important than loving and worshipping God.
The New Testament speaks more to this type of idolatry. It is perhaps best summed up in (Rom 1:25) saying it is "worshipping and serving created things rather than the Creator." It is likened to the sin of covetousness in (Col 3:5). It is listed with the "works of the flesh" in (Gal 5:19-20). It is even stated that anyone who practices this "has (no) inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God" (Eph 5:5)(1 Cor 6:9-10).
Idol worship has at it's heart SELF. It is self-centered rather than God-centered. It is about what a "god" (or idol) can do for us. It is being "worldly" minded. God warns us a number of times in the Bible the dangers of being a part of the "world" and its standards. He tells us to keep ourselves unspotted from the world (James 1:27), to not be conformed to the world (Rom 12:2), and whoever is a friend of the world is the enemy of God (James 4:4). And, He says in (1 Jn 2:15-17), "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (16) For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. (17) And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
We must be constantly on guard against allowing any of these "worldly" things to become a stronghold in our lives, and thereby taking the rightful place of God as first and foremost in our thoughts and actions. We must guard against setting up "idols in our hearts" (Ezek 14:3-4) or making a god "in our image." There is a quote on this that I love: "In the beginning God made man in His own image, and since the fall, man has been seeking to return the compliment." Are you doing this? Is their anything in your life that is ahead of the God of the Bible? This is a "god in your image." If you have one of these "gods" in your life, prayerfully do everything you can with God's help to remove it as soon as possible, because each day it gets a little harder to do so.
This can all be summed up in one simple verse: "Flee from idolatry" (1 Cor 10:14)!