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Three Great Prophetic Truths that Transformed the World Part 2: Idolatry is an Abomination

One can hardly keep from noticing that the writing prophets (Isaiah through Malachi) seem a tad preoccupied with combating the societal inclination in Israel (and the nations) to Idolatry. We can speculate as to the exact process by which men became idol worshippers—many speculate based on Scriptural passages or pre-conceived notions about the nature of “primitive man,”—but the process is outside the scope of real scientific inquiry.

What we do know is that out of the darkness of a world steeped in truly vile forms of worship—ranging from human sacrifice, child sacrifice, cult prostitution and even one society that demanded that every woman give her virginity as a prostitute in the temple of the goddess—a vision of the creator emerges from the least likely of places to begin a millennia long process of defeating paganism on the world stage.

In pagan worship, idols/images are carved to be indwelt by the spirit of the god, instruments for his attendance in his temple, and instruments by which the worshiper gains a measure of manipulative power over the god through terrified, sycophantic and ritualized worship. Men worship not for love, but for fear of the things the gods will do if they don’t, and for a desire to reap the personal and societal benefits of a happy god. Through sympathetic magic, the worshiper becomes a participant in the work of the god, turning his or her divine power to fulfill the desires of the worshiper.

These gods are portrayed as having a beginning, being limited in knowledge, isolated in space, changing in time, often foolish and short sighted, selfish and easily manipulated. They need man, and grow weak and strong based on the ritual actions of men. Pagan deities cannot be trusted, being fickle and irrational. They are nothing more than the worshiper writ large… craven and debase, demanding craven and debase worship, caring little for the hardships, horrors or deaths of human beings—often plotting that end for trivial irritations. Men are on their own, but must of needs use the gods for their own human ends.

Apart from the emergence (some would say, re-emergence) of monotheism through prophetic revelation, one can never guess how many more centuries and millennia the societies of the world would remain in the thrall of debase, violent, and dehumanizing systems of worship.

Monotheism does not emerge from Egypt, though many will claim that it did. Monotheism did not emerge from the priests or philosophers of the great civilizations of Sumer, Assyria, Babylon, or Persia… no not even from Greece or Rome. A merchant from Ur forsakes all and launches out by visionary command into an inheritance that neither he nor his descendants will gain for centuries. He eschews idols, worshiping the one true God, creator of all, who breathed in the nostrils of man, driving him from his presence when he falls into rebellion, yet promising a redeemer who would bring creation to its desired end.

Moses, his descendent, leads the rest of Abraham’s people out of Egypt in glorious manifestations of power into that inheritance, the place from which the growing chain of prophets will continually reveal the nature of that creator and the implications of his existence and revelations to them as they relate to each other and to the nations about them.

God is one. His name, YHWH, means either creator (he causes to be) or he who is, in opposition to those many vile gods who are not. He is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, eternal, immutable, all wise, loving, gracious and merciful. He can be trusted with the lives of his worshipers with whom he covenants. He is everything that the pagans’ deities are not and requires that his worshipers reflect his higher character, will and purpose in every aspect of their lives.

Man has been made in his image, called as regent over creation, his instrument for bringing creation into its fullness in subjection to him. The stories play upon anti-idol imagery by casting the creation and commission of man in temple and idol imagery. As divine image bearers, man, and not the idol, was made to be indwelt by the Spirit of God, led by the Spirit of God, in subjection to the Spirit of God. The creator will not be manipulated.

Every ideological development springs from this most basic of realities. We are each creatures made in the image on the one Holy Creator of all, to whom we owe all allegiance, faith and trust. Made in his image, we are called to be his representatives in this world, to reflect his character, will and purpose as a light in the darkness.

Here lies the whole history of Judaism and Christianity in seed form. While paganism and idolatry has not been stamped out, even today, the rising tide of monotheistic worship of YHWH who revealed himself to the world through the prophets of Israel, drove it from the world stage, establishing a great light shining from sea to sea. That light is often dimmed and resisted by the wickedness of men in their selfish pursuits of wealth, power, and self-gratification, but it is and has been quite real. Indeed, Western Civilization could not be what it is without this one great idea, springing into the whole testimony of Scripture, concerning the obligations of mankind before God and his fellow man.

Idolatry does not require an actual idol of course, as even scripture declares. Ezekiel 14:3-5 says, “Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their heart, and put the stumbling block of their iniquity before their face.” Paul equates covetousness with idolatry saying in Colossians 3:5 “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, the which is idolatry.” Tozer, to paraphrase him, has defined idolatry as an act of the heart that seeks to receive from something other than God what only God can give, or to give to something other than God what only God should receive.

Here lies the truest power of Holy Scripture and the Church, imperfect as the Christians might be. They shine a light on the idolatrous nature of the human heart, exposing its sin, calling men to repent, being an ever-present voice in the ear of society saying, “Eschew selfishness; love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself, for this one true God who sees all, knows all, loves all, is Holy and righteous and just and will judge you in the end; you will answer for what you do with your life. It is your highest duty to seek him, to know him, to reflect him in all your dealings.”

Many imagine that they can extract our message of love for neighbor and dispense with Scripture, church and gospel without a negative impact. There is, however, nothing in secularist philosophy upon which to base such a message. The sentiments around such a notion, borrowed as they are from a culture founded, however distantly upon such ideas, will only last so long. In the end, the true fruit of hearts and societies cut free from the moorings of Judaism and Christianity will drift back… as the slaughter of some 200 million people in the 20th century shows.

We have already seen the levels of depravity to which the heart of man can sink in both ancient pagan forms of worship and modern secularist social engineering. Without a counter-voice to basic human inclination rooted in the eternal, without this light, this beacon of morality, this testament to human purpose, we will sink there again.

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