Why All the Hullabaloo Over an Idol?

17 Sep
from Google Images

from Google Images

Some time ago my son-in-law and I went to pick up our order of food from a local Chinese restaurant. While we waited for our order, I noticed an idol on display off to the side of the counter where we picked up our dinner. Before the idol was some food. I don’t remember exactly what the food was, but it was a mixture of fruit and vegetables. I caught myself smiling and so turned away, not wanting to offend the people serving us. Perhaps my reaction to the idol was too nonchalant; I don’t know. Nevertheless, I do know that such things were taken very seriously by the God of the Bible.[1] Why? What’s the big deal over what amounts to a ‘happy meal’ set before a hunk of stone (or plaster) that can neither help nor hurt anyone?

I suppose one can say that an idol is to religion as “x” is to algebra. Just as “x” isn’t just a letter, neither is an idol simply a hunk of stone. It is representative of an unknown or something not described. So, if an idol is representative of a wife’s adulterous interests, should a husband be concerned? I would think that, if the husband is committed to his marriage, he would be concerned over the wandering eye of his beloved, which is why God found Israel’s harlotry (idolatry) such a painful betrayal (Ezekiel 16:15, 25). From the very beginning Israel had shown her rebellious heart (Exodus 24:3, 7; cf. 32:1, 7-8). The problem was not so much in the images that were made but in the fact that Israel thought she could make a representation of God and worship him (through the images) in the same manner she remembered the Egyptians worshiping their gods.

“What’s the harm in that?” one might ask. Well, some of the ceremonies of worldly worship involved fornication, out of which prostitution developed. Other forms involved human sacrifice etc. God didn’t want his people to practice such things as an expression of worship (honor) towards him. He simply was not honored in such practices. Rather, God taught his people how to live and act toward one another. He gave them a moral way of life that wasn’t known among the nations of that time.

Therefore, when Israel went ahead anyway and worshiped idols in the same manner that the nations around them did (1Kings 14:22-24; cf. Deuteronomy 12:2), they were really rejecting the God they had chosen to obey (Exodus 24:3, 7) in the same way that an adulterous wife might reject her husband in favor of another man. If it is understandable that the offended husband would be hurt and ‘jealous’ over such a thing, why is it so foreign to one’s understanding that God, in whose image man was made (Genesis 1:27), would also feel pain and betrayal?

Idolatry preserves the rebellious spirit of mankind. God cannot simply forgive rebellion (cf. Joshua 24:19). When the American colonies rebelled against Britain, they became an independent nation, no longer ruled or even influenced by the King of England. Had Abraham Lincoln made peace with (forgave) the southern states who rebelled against the Union, we would be at least two nations today instead of one, and not necessarily friendly. Ancient idolatry sought to manipulate the gods (reality). The ancients believed the gods and their world were reality, while we and the world in which we live were the shadows of the real world in the heavens. They thought that, if they worshiped in a way that acted out their desires, this would force the gods to respond as “requested”, because the shadow is able to do only what the real acts out. Therefore, even the worship Israel did to honor God was, in fact, rebellious and manipulative. They sought to force God to act out in our world what they desired him to do.

True love, according to 1Corinthians 13:5 does not insist on its own way. This is why God in the New Testament has set us free—for freedom’s sake alone (Galatians 5:1). Will we continue to rebel or will we submit to God, our Creator? In the same manner, will we allow God to be God? Will we give him the same freedom he has given us, by not seeking to manipulate him in worship or the manner in which we express our ‘honor’ towards him?


[1] As I said HERE, this current theme about “making sense of the Old Testament God” is based upon the book: Is God a Moral Monster by Paul Copan. These are my thoughts about his book. He may or may not agree with the impression his book has made upon me, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading what Paul wrote and recommend his book to anyone who is looking for a good read concerning defending our faith.

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Posted by on September 17, 2015 in apologetics


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