Manners & Customs: Idols
Idols in ancient Bible times
Idol in Easton's Bible Dictionary
(1.) Heb. aven, "nothingness;" "vanity" (Isa. 66:3; 41:29;
32:21; 1 Kings 16:13; Ps. 31:6; Jer. 8:19, etc.).
(2.) 'Elil, "a thing of naught" (Ps. 97:7; Isa.
19:3); a word
of contempt, used of the gods of Noph (Ezek. 30:13).
(3.) 'Emah, "terror," in allusion to the hideous
form of idols
(4.) Miphletzeth, "a fright;" "horror" (1 Kings
15:13; 2 Chr.
(5.) Bosheth, "shame;" "shameful thing" (Jer. 11:13;
9:10); as characterizing the obscenity of the
worship of Baal.
(6.) Gillulim, also a word of contempt, "dung;"
(Ezek. 16:36; 20:8; Deut. 29:17, marg.).
(7.) Shikkuts, "filth;" "impurity" (Ezek. 37:23;
(8.) Semel, "likeness;" "a carved image" (Deut.
(9.) Tselem, "a shadow" (Dan. 3:1; 1 Sam. 6:5), as
distinguished from the "likeness," or the exact
(10.) Temunah, "similitude" (Deut. 4:12-19). Here
forbids the several forms of Gentile idolatry.
(11.) 'Atsab, "a figure;" from the root "to
labour;" denoting that idols are the result of man's
(Isa. 48:5; Ps. 139:24, "wicked way;" literally, as
translate, "way of an idol").
(12.) Tsir, "a form;" "shape" (Isa. 45:16).
(13.) Matztzebah, a "statue" set up (Jer. 43:13); a
stone like that erected by Jacob (Gen. 28:18; 31:45;
by Joshua (4:9), and by Samuel (1 Sam. 7:12). It is
given to the statues of Baal (2 Kings 3:2; 10:27).
(14.) Hammanim, "sun-images." Hamman is a synonym of
sun-god of the Phoenicians (2 Chr. 34:4, 7; 14:3, 5;
(15.) Maskith, "device" (Lev. 26:1; Num. 33:52). In
the words "image of stone" (A.V.) denote "a stone or
the image of an idol, as Baal, Astarte, etc." In
"chambers of imagery" (maskith), are "chambers of
walls are painted with the figures of idols;" comp.
ver. 10, 11.
(16.) Pesel, "a graven" or "carved image" (Isa.
denotes also a figure cast in metal (Deut. 7:25;
(17.) Massekah, "a molten image" (Deut. 9:12; Judg.
(18.) Teraphim, pl., "images," family gods (penates)
worshipped by Abram's kindred (Josh. 24:14). Put by
David's bed (Judg. 17:5; 18:14, 17, 18, 20; 1 Sam.
"Nothing can be more instructive and significant
multiplicity and variety of words designating the
and inventions of idolatry."
Idol in Fausset's Bible Dictionary
Of the 19 Hebrew words for it and IMAGE many express the
abhorrence which idolatry deserves and the shame and sorrow
of the idolater.
(1) Awen, "vanity," "nothingness," "wickedness,"
"sorrow" (Isaiah 66:3; Isaiah 41:29; Deuteronomy 32:21; 1
Kings 16:13; Psalm 31:6; Jeremiah 8:19; Jeremiah 10:8;
Zechariah 10:2; 1 Samuel 15:23). "Beth-el," the house of
God, is named "Beth-aven," house of vanity, because of the
(2) Eliyl, either a contemptuous diminutive of Eel,
God, godling; or from al "not," a "thing of naught." There
is a designed contrast between the contemptible liliym and
the Divine Elohim (Psalm 97:7; Isaiah 19:3, "non-entities"
margin Ezekiel 30:13).
(3) emah, "terror," (Jeremiah 1:38) "they are mad
after their idols," hideous forms more fitted to frighten
than to attract, bugbears to frighten children with.
(4) miphletseth, "a fright": Maachah's idol which
Asa cut down (1 Kings 15:13; 2 Chronicles 15:16); the
phallus, symbol of the generative organ, the nature goddess
Asherah's productive power. Jeremiah 10:2-5 graphically
describes the making of an idol and its impotence.
(5) bosheth, "shame": not merely shameful, but the
essence of shame, bringing shame on its votaries and
especially expressing the obscenity of Baal's and Baal
Peor's worship (Jeremiah 11:13; Hosea 9:10).
(6) gillulim, from gal "a heap of stones"
(Gesenius): Ezekiel 30:13; Ezekiel 16:36; Deuteronomy 29:17,
"dungy gods" margin
(7) shiquts, ceremonial "uncleanness" (Ezekiel
37:23). The worshippers "became loathsome like their love,"
for men never rise above their object of worship; "they that
make them are like unto them, so is everyone that trusteth
in them" (Psalm 115:4-8).
(8) ceemel, a "likeness" (Deuteronomy 4:16).
(9) tselem, from tseel "a shadow" (Daniel 3:1; 1
Samuel 6:5), "the image" as distinguished from the demuth,
"likeness," the exact counterpart (Greek eikoon; Colossians
1:15; Genesis 1:27). The "image" presupposes a prototype.
"Likeness" (Greek homoiosis) implies mere resemblance, not
the exact counterpart and derivation, hence the Son is never
called the "likeness" of the Father but the "Image" (1
Corinthians 11:7; John 1:18; John 14:9; 2 Corinthians 4:4; 1
Timothy 3:16; 1 Timothy 6:16; Hebrews 1:3). The idol is
supposed to be an "image" exactly representing some person
(10) timahuh "similitude," "form "(Deuteronomy 4:12-
19, where Moses forbids successively the several forms of
Gentile idolatry: ancestor worship, as that of Terah (Joshua
24:2), Laban (Genesis 31:19; Genesis 31:30; Genesis 31:32),
and Jacob's household (Genesis 35:2-4), to guard against
which Moses' sepulchre was hidden; hero worship and relic
worship (Judges 8:27; Judges 17:4; 2 Kings 18:4); nature
worship, whether of the lower animals as in Egypt, or of the
heavenly bodies, the sun, moon, and stars, as among the
(11) atzab, etzeb, otzeb, "a figure," from aatzab
"to fashion"; with the additional idea of sorrowful labour
(Isaiah 48:5; Psalm 139:24), "see if there be any wicked way
(way of pain, way of an idol, Isaiah 48:5) in me, and lead
me in the way everlasting." The way of idolatry, however
refined, proves to be a way of pain, and shuts out from the
way everlasting (1 John 5:21; Revelation 21:8; 1 Corinthians
10:20-21). Tacitus, the Roman historian (Hist. 5:4), notices
the contrast between Judaism and the whole pagan world,
which disproves the notion that it borrowed from the latter
and consecrated several of their rites.
"The Jews conceive the Divinity as One, and to be
understood only by the mind; they deem...
Idol in Naves Topical Bible
Ex 20:4; 32:4,20; De 4:23; Isa 40:19,20; 44:9-12,17;
2:18; Ac 19:24,25
-Manufacture of, forbidden
Ex 20:4; 34:17
Ex 32:3,4; Ps 115:4-7; 135:15-17; Isa 2:20; 30:22;
Isa 2:20; 30:22; 31:7; Ho 8:4
Wood and stone
Le 26:1; De 4:28; 2Ki 19:18; Isa 37:19; 41:6; 44:13-
-Prayer to, unanswered
1Ki 18:25-29; Isa 16:12
-Things offered to, not to be eaten
Idol in Smiths Bible Dictionary
An image or anything used as an object of worship in place
of the true God. Among the earliest objects of worship,
regarded as symbols of deity, were the meteoric stones,which
the ancients believed to have been images of the Gods sent
down from heaven. From these they transferred their regard
to rough unhewn blocks, to stone columns or pillars of wood,
in which the divinity worshipped was supposed to dwell, and
which were connected, like the sacred stone at Delphi, by
being anointed with oil and crowned with wool on solemn
days. Of the forms assumed by the idolatrous images we have
not many traces in the Bible. Dagon, the fish-god of the
Philistines, was a human figure terminating in a fish; and
that the Syrian deities were represented in later times in a
symbolical human shape we know for certainty. When the
process of adorning the image was completed, it was placed
in a temple or shrine appointed for it. Epist. Jer 12:1 ...,
19:1 ... Wisd. 13:15; 1Co 18:10 From these temples the idols
were sometimes carried in procession, Epist. Jer 4:26 on
festival days. Their priests were maintained from the idol
treasury, and feasted upon the meats which were appointed
for the idols' use. Bel and the Dragon 3,13.
Idolatry in Easton's Bible Dictionary
image-worship or divine honour paid to any created object.
describes the origin of idolatry in Rom. 1:21-25:
God, and sank into ignorance and moral corruption
The forms of idolatry are, (1.) Fetishism, or the
trees, rivers, hills, stones, etc.
(2.) Nature worship, the worship of the sun, moon,
as the supposed powers of nature.
(3.) Hero worship, the worship of deceased
ancestors, or of
In Scripture, idolatry is regarded as of heathen
as being imported among the Hebrews through contact
nations. The first allusion to idolatry is in the
Rachel stealing her father's teraphim (Gen. 31:19),
the relics of the worship of other gods by Laban's
"on the other side of the river in old time" (Josh.
During their long residence in Egypt the Hebrews
idolatry, and it was long before they were delivered
(Josh. 24:14; Ezek. 20:7). Many a token of God's
fell upon them because of this sin.
The idolatry learned in Egypt was probably rooted
among the people during the forty years' wanderings;
the Jews entered Israel, they came into contact with
monuments and associations of the idolatry of the
Canaanitish races, and showed a constant tendency to
the living God and follow the idolatrous practices
heathen nations. It was their great national sin,
which was only
effectually rebuked by the Babylonian exile. That
purified the Jews of all idolatrous tendencies.
The first and second commandments are directed
idolatry of every form. Individuals and communities
amenable to the rigorous code. The individual
devoted to destruction (Ex. 22:20). His nearest
not only bound to denounce him and deliver him up to
(Deut. 13:20-10), but their hands were to strike the
when, on the evidence of two witnesses at least, he
(Deut. 17:2-7). To attempt to seduce others to false
a crime of equal enormity (13:6-10). An idolatrous
the same fate. No facts are more strongly declared
in the Old
Testament than that the extermination of the
Canaanites was the
punishment of their idolatry (Ex. 34:15, 16; Deut.
20:17), and that the calamities of the Israelites
were due to
the same cause (Jer. 2:17). "A city guilty of
looked upon as a cancer in the state; it was
considered to be in
rebellion, and treated according to the laws of war.
inhabitants and all their cattle were put to death."
the theocratic King of Israel, the civil Head of the
commonwealth, and therefore to an Israelite idolatry
was a state
offence (1 Sam. 15:23), high treason. On taking
the land, the Jews were commanded to destroy all
traces of every
kind of the existing idolatry of the Canaanites (Ex.
34:13; Deut. 7:5, 25; 12:1-3).
In the New Testament the term idolatry is used to
covetousness (Matt. 6:24; Luke 16:13; Col. 3:5; Eph.
Idolatry in Smiths Bible Dictionary
strictly speaking denotes the worship of deity in a visible
form, whether the images to which homage is paid are
symbolical representations of the true God or of the false
divinities which have been made the objects of worship in
I. History of idolatry among the Jews. --The first
undoubted allusion to idolatry or idolatrous customs in the
Bible is in the account of Rachel's stealing her father's
teraphim. Ge 31:19 During their long residence in Egypt the
Israelites defiled themselves with the idols of the land,
and it was long before the taint was removed. Jos 24:14; Eze
20:7 In the wilderness they clamored for some visible shape
in which they might worship the God who had brought them out
of Egypt. Ex 32:1 ... until Aaron made the calf, the
embodiment of Apis and emblem of the productive power of
nature. During the lives of Joshua and the elders who
outlived him they kept true to their allegiance; but the
generation following who knew not Jehovah nor the works he
had done for Israel, swerved from the plain path of their
fathers and were caught in the toils of the foreigner. Jud
2:1 ... From this time forth their history becomes little
more than a chronicle of the inevitable sequence of offence
and punishment. Jud 2:12,14 By turns each conquering nation
strove to establish the worship of its national God. In
later times the practice of secret idolatry was carried to
greater lengths. Images were set up on the corn-floors, in
the wine-vats, and behind the doors of private houses, Isa
57:8; Ho 9:1,2 and to check this tendency the statute in De
27:15 was originally promulgated. Under Samuel's
administration idolatry was publicly renounced, 1Sa 7:3-6
but in the reign of Solomon all this was forgotten, even
Solomon's own heart being turned after other gods. 1Ki 11:14
Rehoboam perpetuated the worst features of Solomon's
idolatry. 1Ki 14:22-24 erected golden calves at Beth-el and
at Dan, and by this crafty state' policy severed forever the
kingdoms of Judah and Israel. 1Ki 12:26-33 The successors of
Jeroboam followed in his steps, till Ahab. The conquest of
the ten tribes by Shalmaneser was for them the last scene Of
the drama of abominations which had been enacted
uninterruptedly for upwards of 250 years. Under Hezekiah a
great reform was inaugurated, that was not confined to Judah
and Benjamin, but spread throughout Ephraim and Manasseh.
2Ch 31:1 and to all external appearances idolatry was
extirpated. But the reform extended little below the
surface. Isa 29:13 With the death of Josiah ended the last
effort to revive among the people a purer ritual. If not a
purer faith. The lamp of David, which had long shed but a
struggling ray, flickered for a while and then went out in
the darkness of Babylonian Captivity. Though the conquests
of Alexander caused Greek influence to be felt, yet after
the captivity better condition of things prevailed, and the
Jews never again fell into idolatry. The erection of
synagogues had been assigned as a reason for the comparative
purity of the Jewish worship after the captivity, while
another cause has been discovered in the hatred for images
acquired by the Jews in their intercourse with the Persians.
II. Objects of idolatry.--The sun and moon were
early selected as outward symbols of all-pervading power,
and the worship of the heavenly bodies was not only the most
ancient but the most prevalent system of idolatry. Taking
its rise in the plains...
Idolatry in the Bible Encyclopedia - ISBE
i-dol'-a-tri (teraphim, "household idols," "idolatry";
eidololatreia): There is ever in the human mind a craving
for visible forms to express religious conceptions, and this
tendency does not disappear with the acceptance, or even
with the constant recognition, of pure spiritual truths (see
IMAGES). Idolatry originally meant the worship of idols, or
the worship of false gods by means of idols, but came to
mean among the Old Testament Hebrews any worship of false
gods, whether by images or otherwise, and finally the
worship of Yahweh through visible symbols (Hos 8:5,6; 10:5);
and ultimately in the New Testament idolatry came to mean,
not only the giving to any creature or human creation the
honor or devotion which belonged to God alone, but the
giving to any human desire a precedence over God's will (1
Cor 10:14; Gal 5:20; Col 3:5; 1 Pet 4:3). The neighboring
gods of Phoenicia, Canaan, Moab--Baal, Melkart, Astarte,
Chemosh, Moloch, etc.--were particularly attractive to
Jerusalem, while the old Semitic calf-worship seriously
affected the state religion of the Northern Kingdom (see
GOLDEN CALF). As early as the Assyrian and Babylonian
periods (8th and 7th centuries BC), various deities from the
Tigris and Euphrates had intruded themselves--the worship of
Tammuz becoming a little later the most popular and
seductive of all (Ezek 8:14)--while the worship of the sun,
moon, stars and signs of the Zodiac became so intensely
fascinating that these were introduced even into the temple
itself (2 Ki 17:16; 21:3-7; 23:4,12; Jer 19:13; Ezek 8:16;
The special enticements to idolatry as offered by these
various cults were found in their deification of natural
forces and their appeal to primitive human desires,
especially the sexual; also through associations produced by
intermarriage and through the appeal to patriotism, when the
help of some cruel deity was sought in time of war. Baal and
Astarte worship, which was especially attractive, was
closely associated with fornication and drunkenness (Am
2:7,8; compare 1 Ki 14:23 f), and also appealed greatly to
magic and soothsaying (e.g. Isa 2:6; 3:2; 8:19).
Sacrifices to the idols were offered by fire (Hos 4:13);
libations were poured out (Isa 57:6; Jer 7:18); the first-
fruits of the earth and tithes were presented (Hos 2:8);
tables of food were set before them (Isa 65:11); the
worshippers kissed the idols or threw them kisses (1 Ki
19:18; Hos 13:2; Job 31:27); stretched out their hands in
adoration (Isa 44:20); knelt or prostrated themselves before
them and sometimes danced about the altar, gashing
themselves with knives (1 Ki 18:26,28; for a fuller summary
Even earlier than the Babylonian exile the Hebrew prophets
taught that Yahweh was not only superior to all other gods,
but reigned alone as God, other deities being nonentities
(Lev 19:4; Isa 2:8,18,20; 19:1,3; 31:7; 44:9-20). The severe
satire of this period proves that the former fear of living
demons supposed to inhabit the idols had disappeared. These
prophets also taught that the temple, ark and sacrifices
were not essential to true spiritual worship (e.g. Jer 3:16;
Am 5:21-25). These prophecies produced a strong reaction
against the previously popular idol-worship, though later
indications of this worship are not infrequent (Ezek 14:1-8;
Isa 42:17). The Maccabean epoch placed national heroism
plainly on the side of the one God, Yahweh; and although
Greek and Egyptian idols were worshipped in Gaza and Ascalon
and other half-heathen communities clear down to the 5th or
6th century of the Christian era, yet in orthodox centers
like Jerusalem these were despised and repudiated utterly
from the 2nd century BC onward.
Idols Scripture - 2 Corinthians 6:16
And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye
are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will
dwell in them, and walk in [them]; and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
Idols Scripture - 2 Kings 21:11
Because Manasseh king of Judah hath done these abominations,
[and] hath done wickedly above all that the Amorites did,
which [were] before him, and hath made Judah also to sin with
Idols Scripture - 2 Kings 21:21
And he walked in all the way that his father walked in, and
served the idols that his father served, and worshipped them:
Idols Scripture - Ezekiel 18:12
Hath oppressed the poor and needy, hath spoiled by violence,
hath not restored the pledge, and hath lifted up his eyes to
the idols, hath committed abomination,
Idols Scripture - Ezekiel 22:4
Thou art become guilty in thy blood that thou hast shed; and
hast defiled thyself in thine idols which thou hast made; and
thou hast caused thy days to draw near, and art come [even]
unto thy years: therefore have I made thee a reproach unto the
heathen, and a mocking to all countries.
Idols Scripture - Ezekiel 6:6
In all your dwellingplaces the cities shall be laid waste, and
the high places shall be desolate; that your altars may be
laid waste and made desolate, and your idols may be broken and
cease, and your images may be cut down, and your works may be
Idols Scripture - Habakkuk 2:18
What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath
graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the
maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols?
Idols Scripture - Jeremiah 50:2
Declare ye among the nations, and publish, and set up a
standard; publish, [and] conceal not: say, Babylon is taken,
Bel is confounded, Merodach is broken in pieces; her idols are
confounded, her images are broken in pieces.
Idols Scripture - Micah 1:7
And all the graven images thereof shall be beaten to pieces,
and all the hires thereof shall be burned with the fire, and
all the idols thereof will I lay desolate: for she gathered
[it] of the hire of an harlot, and they shall return to the
hire of an harlot.
Idols Scripture - Romans 2:22
Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou
commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit
The teraphim. In the land of Babylonia, from which Abraham had originally come, there was family worship of household gods, and the home had its altar along with clay figurines of these gods, which were called "teraphim." These family gods served as guardian angels of the home. At the death of a father, these household gods, or teraphim, would often be left to the oldest son, with the understanding that others' of the family would have the right to worship them.
When Jacob left the home of Laban in Haran, Genesis says, "Rachel had stolen the images (Teraphim] that were her father's" (Genesis 31:19). Laban was very much agitated over this theft. He pursued Jacob's party and said to him, "Wherefore hast thou stolen my gods?" (Genesis 31:30). But why was Laban so concerned about discovering those lost teraphim? Sir Charles Leonard Woolley, in charge of excavations at Ur of the Chaldees, tells of a tablet of that region which reveals a law that throws light on Rachel's theft. Dr. Woolley puts the law thus: "The possession of the household gods conferred the privilege of primogeniture."
Thus Rachel must have stolen her brother's birthright when she took her father's teraphim, and she was thereby seeking to make Jacob the legal heir to the wealth of Laban.
This ancient form of idolatry was vitally linked to family affairs. It would seem that Rachel brought forth those stolen teraphim when the family was about to move from Shechem to Bethel. Jacob said to his family at that time, "Put away the strange gods that are among you and be clean" (Genesis 35:2). The presence of these relics of former days would indicate an effort to combine the superstitions and heathen charms of an idolatrous worship along with the worship of the true and living GOD. The teraphim appeared on several occasions in later history of the Israelites.
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