Day Thirty-one – Idolatry

Blake; "Apollo from his shrine/ Can no more divine, With hollow shriek the steep of Delphos leaving..."

Blake; “Apollo from his shrine/ Can no more divine, / With hollow shriek the steep of Delphos leaving…”

This may come as a shock to some folks, but Christians generally accept the notion that there are many gods.   In the Hebrew Old Testament, the Hebrew word “elohim is used to represent the One True God, angels, the sons of God, the gods of foreign nations, the good and bad gods of the One True God’s Divine Council; even a ghost/spirit!  As Michael Heiser points out, “elohim” is more of a category than a specific designation.  In modern usage, we prefer to protect our monotheism by calling the good gods “angels” (the Septuagint does this some of the time) and the bad gods “demons”, “devils” or, when we want to completely deny their power, “idols”.

I think the latter designation can be dangerous.  On the one hand, it is worth noting that most of the things we chose to worship instead of God (e.g. work, social media, television, and money) are lifeless.  But on the other, we have to remember that spiritual warfare is about putting God before everything else: there is a war on for every human soul.  It’s not just fought in our minds or among men, but by spirits of the air.  Check out this progression from Deuteronomy:

  • 32:8-9 (the Song of Moses).  When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance [i.e. after the fall of the Tower of Babel], when He separated the sons of Adam, He set the bounds of the nations according to the number of the sons of God [Septuagint says “number of God’s angels”].  For the Lord’s portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.

This allotment is reiterated here:

  • 4:19-20.  Lest you lift up your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, whom the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.  But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of His own inheritance, as you are this day.

The point is that there are many gods, but there is One True God  He assigned gods below Him (i.e. the gods of His Divine Council) to lead the other nations, but He selected the Jews to be His own nation.  Of course, you know how this turned out:

  • 29:24-26.  All the nations will say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land? What caused the heat of this great anger?’  Then people will say, ‘It is because they [i.e. the Jews] abandoned the covenant of the Lord, the God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them out of the land of Egypt, and went and served other gods and worshiped them, gods whom they had not known and whom he had not allotted to them. 

And in 32:16-18 (the Song of Moses):

  • They [i.e. the Israelites] provoked Me [i.e. God] to jealousy with foreign gods; with their abominations they provoked Me to anger. They sacrificed to demons, and not to God, to gods they knew not; to new gods that came newly up, whom their fathers did not know. You abandoned the God who created you, and have forgotten the God who nourished you.

As you can see, it wasn’t just that the Israelites did this on their own.  Adultery requires a partner, and the demons relished their role as disrupter of God’s plan.  This is the point of Psalm 81/82 (Septuagint):

God stood in the congregation of the gods, and in the midst He shall stand out among gods. How long will ye judge unrighteously and accept the person of sinners? Judge for the orphan and the poor man, do justice to the humble and the pauper. Rescue the poor man and the needy, from the hand of the sinner deliver him. They have not known, nor understood; they walk in darkness. Let all the foundations of the earth be shaken. I said: Ye are gods, and all of you the sons of the Most High. But like men ye die, and like one of the rulers [i.e. Satan/the Morning Star] do ye fall. Arise, O God, judge the earth, for Thou shalt have an inheritance among all the nations.

We miss the point when we try to turn idolatry into how we spend our time or to what ends we give our attention; these may be the proximate cause of our harlotry, but there is more to the story.  Some translate the Psalm 95/96:5 as saying that “the gods of the nations are idols”; this is a mistake if one does not understand that the idols represented real gods.  A better translation of the Hebrew would be “the gods of the nations are worthless.”  The Orthodox Psalter (Septuagint) provides a more appropriate translation (echoed in 1 Corinthians 10:20); “the gods of the nations are demons.”

The Good News is that we are all called to be one nation in Christ.  The last line of Psalm 81/82 has God the Father commanding His Son: “Arise, O God, judge the earth, for Thou shalt have an inheritance among all the nations.” (see it’s fulfillment in St. Matthew 28:18-20)  The demons need have not sway over us; only what we give them.

And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.  Joshua 24:1540DAYSBLOG