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 calf worship.
(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 or object.
(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 Persians).
(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 those profane who form any image of the gods, of perishable materials and after the likeness of men; the Divinity they describe as supreme, eternal, unchangeable, imperishable; hence there are no images in their cities or their temples, with these they would not flatter kings nor honour Caesars."
(12) tsiyr, "a pang," also "a mould" or "shape" (Isaiah 45:16).
(13) matseebah, a "statue" set up (Jeremiah 43:13, margin). Obelisks to the sun god at the city (house) of the sun, as Beth-shemesh or Heliopolis mean; "On" in Genesis 41:45; 2 Kings 3:2; 2 Kings 10:26-27 margin. The "images" or standing columns of wood (subordinate gods worshipped at the same altar with Baal) are distinct from the standing column of stone or "image" of Baal himself, i.e. a conical stone sacred to him.
The Phoenicians anointed stones (often aerolites, as that "which fell down from Jupiter," sacred to Diana of Ephesus, Acts 19:35) to various gods, like the stone anointed by Jacob (Genesis 28:18; Genesis 28:22) at Bethel, called therefore Baetylia (compare also Genesis 31:45). The black pyramidal stone in Juggernaut's temple, that of Cybele at Pessinus in Galatia, the black stone in the Kaaba at Mecca reported to have been brought from heaven by the angel Gabriel, all illustrate the wide diffusion of this form of idolatry. So the Lingams in daily use in the worship of Siva in Bengal, and the black stone daily anointed with perfumed oil in Benares.
(14) chammanim, "sun images." The Arabic Chunnas is the planet Mercury or Venus. The symbol of the Persian sun god was the sacred fire, Amanus or Omanus, Sanskrit homa (2 Chronicles 34:4; 2 Chronicles 34:7; 2 Chronicles 14:3; 2 Chronicles 14:5). Chamman, is a synonym of Baal the sun god in the Phoenician and Palmyrene inscriptions, and so is applied to his statues or lofty, obelisk like, columns (Isaiah 17:8; Isaiah 27:9 margin). These "statues" are associated with the Asherim ("groves" KJV), just as Baal is associated with Asherah or Astarte (1 Kings 14:23, margin 2 Kings 23:14). The Palmyrene inscription at Oxford is, "this chammana the sons of Malchu have dedicated to the sun." Ezekiel 6:4; Ezekiel 6:6; sun worship and Sabeanism or worship of the heavenly hosts (tsebaowt) was the oldest idolatry.
Job, one of the oldest books in the Bible, alludes to it (Job 31:26), "if I beheld the sun when it shined or the moon ... and my heart hath been secretly enticed, or my mouth hath kissed my hand, this were an iniquity," etc. In opposition to this error God is called "Lord God of Sabaoth." The tower of Babel was probably built so that its top should be sacred to the heavens (not that its top should reach heaven, Genesis 11:4), the common temple and idolatrous center of union. The dispersion defeated the purpose of the builders, but still they carried with them the idolatrous tendency, attributing their harvests, etc., to the visible material causes, the sun, moon, air, etc. (Jeremiah 44:17). Soon a further step was deifying men, or else attributing every human vice, lust, and passion to the gods. Cicero ridicules this groveling anthropomorphic worship, yet was himself a priest and worshipper!
These sun columns towering high above Baal's altars (2 Chronicles 34:4; 2 Chronicles 34:7) were sometimes of wood, which could be "cut down" (Leviticus 26:30). The Phoenician Adon or Adonis, the Ammonite Moloch or Milcom, the Moabite Chemosh, the Assyrian and Babylonian Bel, and the Syrian Hadad, the Egyptian Ra, are essentially the same sun god. Adrammelech was the male, and Anammelech the female, power of the sun. Gad was the sun, or Jupiter, representing fortune, Meni the moon or Venus, representing fate (Isaiah 65:11). As the sun represents the active, so the moon the passive powers of nature. The two combined are represented as at once male and female, from whence in the Septuagint Baal occurs with masculine and feminine articles, and men worshipped in women's clothes, and women in men's clothes, which explains the prohibition Deuteronomy 22:5.
Magic influences were attributed to sowing mingled seed in a field and to wearing garments of mixed material; hence the prohibition Leviticus 19:19. In Ezekiel 8:17, "they put the branch to their nose" alludes to the idolatrous usage of holding up a branch of tamarisk (called barsom) to the nose at daybreak while they sang hymns to the rising sun (Strabo, 15, section 733). Baal or sun worship appears indicated in the names Bethshemesh, Baal Hermon, Mount Heres ("sun"), Belshazzar, Hadadezer, Hadad Rimmon (the Syrian god).
(15) maskiyt (Leviticus 26:1; Numbers 33:52): "devices"; with eben "stones of device," namely, with figures or hieroglyphics sacred to the several deities on them; "effigied stones" (Minucius Felix, 3). Like "the chambers of imagery" or priests' chambers with idolatrous, pictures on the walls as seen in vision (Ezekiel 8:12), answering to their own perverse imaginations. Gesenius, "a stone with an idol's image, Baal or Astarte."
(16) teraphim. (See TERAPHIM.)
(17) pecel. The process by which stone, metal, or wood was made into a graven or carved image (literally, one trimmed into shape and having had the finishing stroke) is described Isaiah 44:10-20. It was overlaid with gold or silver, and adorned with chains of silver (worn lavishly by rich orientals) and embroidered robes (Jeremiah 10:8-9). "Fastened with nails that it should not be moved" (Isaiah 41:7), to keep the god steady! and that his influence might be secured to the spot (Isaiah 40:19-20; Isaiah 45:20; Ezekiel 16:16-18; margin Judges 3:19; Judges 3:26 (See EGLON, (See EHUD); Deuteronomy 7:25).
(19) nesek, masecah (Isaiah 41:29). "Molten images" (Deuteronomy 27:15). In Exodus 32:4 "Aaron fashioned it with a graying tool (cheret) after he had made it a golden calf." The sense is, he formed it first of a wooden center, then covered it with a coating of gold, the image so formed being called masecah. The mode of its destruction shows this; the wooden center was first-burnt, then the golden covering was beaten or rubbed to pieces (Deuteronomy 9:20; Deuteronomy 9:21). So Septuagint, Keil, etc. The rendering "he bound it (the gold) up in a bag" is less probable. In Genesis 35:2, Jacob's charge to "his household and to all that were with him Put away the strange gods ('the gods of the foreigner,' the Canaanites) among you, and be clean and change your raiment," it seems surprising that idols should have had place in his household.
The explanation is gathered from what went before, but the connection is so little obvious that it can only be the result of truth not contrivance. Rachel had stolen Laban's images (teraphim) without Jacob's knowledge (Genesis 31:32); perhaps not for worship but for their gold and silver, to balance what was withheld by him from her. Laban had divined by them, as Genesis 30:27, "I have learned by experience," ought to be translated "I have learned by divination" literally, I have hissed, "I have divined by omens from serpents." Moreover the sons of Jacob had just before (Genesis 30:34) carried away all the spoils of Shechem's city, and among them doubtless their gold and silver idols. The words "all that were with him" point to the captured wives and women, etc. "Change your raiment" was a charge needed for all who had taken part in the slaughter, and so were ceremonially defiled.
There are two degrees in idolatry. Against the worst, that of having other gods besides Jehovah the one only God, the first commandment is directed. Against the less flagrant degree, worshipping the true God under the form of an image or symbolic likeness, representing any of His attributes, the second is directed. The Baal and Asheerah ("groves") worship violated the first command. meat; Aaron's calf worship and Jeroboam's violated the second. Compare 1 Kings 16:30; 2 Kings 10:26-28; 2 Kings 10:31; 2 Kings 17:7-23. So the Roman and Greek universals violate the second commandment in the adoration of the eucharistic mass, the bowing before images, etc., and go perilously near violating the first in the divine titles wherewith they invoke the Virgin Mary. Jeroboam's calves paved the way for Baal worship. See Exodus 20:3, "thou shalt have no other gods before My face."
Polytheism ancient and modern is willing to grant Jehovah the first place among deities; but He will have none "in His presence" which is everywhere (Psalm 139:7). Again no outward form can image God, it only debases instead of helping the worshipper. The principle involved is stated by Paul on Mars' hill, surrounded by the choicest works of genius representing deity (Acts 17:29), "forasmuch as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device." Once that the first visible representation of God is made, or adopted, it entails another and another endlessly, no one or more idols or symbols ever adequately representing all the countless attributes of God. Hence a female deity was added to the male; an Apollo, Venus, Mercury, Diana, etc., etc., must be added to Jupiter; and, instead of one omnipresent God, deities whose power was restricted to localities were worshipped (1 Kings 20:23; 1 Kings 20:28; 2 Kings 17:26).
Like all deviations from truth, the first lie necessitates countless others. "The express image of the Father's person" is the incarnate God Jesus. He alone (not visible images and pictures of Him), as represented in the written word, is the appointed revealer of the unseen God (John 1:18). Israel was God's representative and "peculiar treasure above all people, a kingdom of priests and an holy nation"; the same relation Christ's church now holds (1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 2:9). Israel's kings (when Israel had chosen a visible head instead of the invisible King alone) were under God as their feudal superior (1 Kings 3:14; 1 Kings 11:11). The penalty of overt, idolatry, as being treason against the divine King, was death. The offender's nearest relatives must denounce him, and even be first to stone him (Exodus 22:20; Deuteronomy 13:2-10; Deuteronomy 17:2-5).
Especially Moloch's worship with human sacrifices and passing through the fire entailed death as the penalty. The Canaanites were exterminated for it (Exodus 34:15-16; Deuteronomy 7; Deuteronomy 12:29-31; Deuteronomy 20:17). Israel's disasters were the punishment of their idolatry (Jeremiah 2:17). Saul lost his throne, Achan his life, and Hiel his family, for retaining or restoring anything of a people doomed for idolatry (1 Samuel 15; Joshua 7; 1 Kings 16:34). God works out His ends, even His judgments, in the way of natural consequence. The calves of Jeroboam and Baal's groves were the sin. The disgust of all godly Israelites, intestine divisions, a perpetual conflict between the Mosaic law, still in force, and the established national idolatry, and the immorality which results from idolatry, were the natural and penal consequence, bringing ruin finally on the state.
Israel, foremost in the offense under Jeroboam and then Ahab, is first to have prophets sent as censors and seers to counteract the evil, but proving refractory is the first to be carried into captivity. Judah, following the bad example in her turn, has prophets sent whom she rejects and even kills, and at nearly the same interval between the sin and the punishment follows Israel into captivity. Idolatry on the part of the Old Testament Israel, and the spiritual Israel, is high treason against the heavenly King (1 Samuel 8:7) whose direct subjects we avowedly are. The punishments were then temporal (Deuteronomy 17:2-13). Israel's original contract of government is in Exodus 19:3-8; Exodus 20:2-5; Deuteronomy 28, 29, 30.
Often Israel fell from the covenant, and at intervals renewed it. The remarkable confirmation of the divine authority of the law is, it was only in prosperity Israel neglected it, in distress they always cried to God and returned to the law, and invariably received deliverance (Judges 10:10; 2 Chronicles 15:12-13); especially at the return from Babylon (Nehemiah 9:38). Israel's idolatry was not merely an abomination in God's sight, as that of the Gentiles, but spiritual "adultery" against Jehovah her Husband (Isaiah 54:5; Jeremiah 3:14; Ezekiel 16). Hosea 2:16-17; "thou shalt call Me Ishi (my Husband, the term of affection), no more Baali" (my Lord, the term of rule, defiled by its application to Baal, whose name ought never to be on their lips: Exodus 23:13; Zechariah 13:2), etc.
Fornication formed part of the abominable worship of the idols, especially Baal Peor and Ashtoreth or Astarte, who represented nature's generative powers and (Numbers 25:1-2) to whom qideeshim and qedeeshot public male and female prostitutes, were "consecrated" (as the Hebrew means: Deuteronomy 23:17, etc.; 2 Kings 23:7; Hosea 4:14), "separated with whores (withdrawn from the assembly of worshippers for carnal connection with them) ... sacrifice with the harlots" (so Hebrew) (Herodotus i. 199). This horrid consecrated pollution prevailed in Phoenicia, Syria, Phrygia, Assyria, and Babylonia, and still in Hindu idolatry. Man making lust a sacred duty! This is the force of the phrase, "Israel joined himself unto Baal Peor," as appears in 1 Corinthians 6:16-17, "He which ... is joined to an harlot is one body; for two, saith He, shall be one flesh.
But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit." God chose Egypt as Israel's place of training, though an idolatrous country, but took every precaution, if they would only have heeded Him, to save them from the contagion. He placed them in a separate province; as shepherds they were an abomination to Egyptians, and sacrificed to God the very animals Egypt worshipped (Exodus 8:26). Finally, the Egyptians bitterly oppressed them. Yet the fascinations of idolatry spellbound Israel during their long stay in Egypt (Joshua 24:14; Ezekiel 20:7), and led them to relapse into the sin from which Abram had been rescued by his call from Ur. God by Moses smote the symbols of Egyptian idolatry with the ten plagues, "executing judgment against all the gods of Egypt" (Exodus 12:12), the river, the wind bringing locusts, the dust of the earth, the cattle, the symbol of Apis (Numbers 33:4). (See EGYPT.)
Yet Israel in all their history showed a continual tendency to adopt the idols of the neighbouring nations; in the desert they "sacrificed unto devils" (saeer, a shaggy goat, worshipped with the foulest rites at Mendes in Lower Egypt. Speaker's Commentary translated "to the evil spirits of the desert": Leviticus 17:7, compare Isaiah 13:21; Isaiah 34:14; 2 Chronicles 11:15). Behind the idols, though nonentities in themselves, lurk real demons, to whom consciously or unconsciously the worship is paid, as inspiration declares (Deuteronomy 32:17), "devils" lasheedim, "destroyers"; as Satan's name Apollyon means; slavish fear being the prompting motive, not love, the idol feaster has his fellowship with demons (1 Corinthians 10:20), even as the communicant in the Lord's supper has by faith real fellowship with the Lord's body once for all sacrificed, and now exalted as the Head of redeemed mankind.
In the northern kingdom of Israel, from Jeroboam down to Hoshea whom Shalmaneser dethroned, no one royal reformer appeared. In Judah several arose, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, Josiah. The Babylonian captivity almost thoroughly purged the Jews from their proneness to idols (Jeremiah 44:17-18, contrast Hosea 3:4). But traces appeared still in their partially adopting Greek idolatry and usages for worldly compromise, just before Antiochus Epiphanes' attempt to overthrow Jehovah's worship (1 Maccabees 1:43-54). The heroic resistance of the Maccabees, besides their contact with the Persians who rejected images, and especially the erection of synagogues and the reading the law every sabbath in them, gave them the abhorrence of idols which now characterizes them.
In the Christian church "the deadly wound" that was given to "the beast" (the God-opposed world) by Christianity (Minucius Felix, A.D. 180, and Arnobius adv. Gent. 4:1, mention that the Romans were shocked to find among Christians "no altars, no temples, no images") was speedily "healed" by image worship being revived in the Roman and Greek churches (Daniel 7:8; Daniel 7:11-24; Daniel 7:25; 1 Timothy 4:1-3), so that "the beast that was, and is not (during the brief continuance of the deadly wound), yet is" (Revelation 17:8); and in spite of God's judicial plagues men repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold and silver and brass and stone and wood, which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk" (Revelation 9:20). The deadly wound is healed also by the prevalenee of "covetousness which is idolatry" (Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5) in all Christendom, reformed and unreformed, and the "form of godliness without the power"; culminating in the willful king of the third kingdom (Daniel 8:11-12; Daniel 11:36; 2 Timothy 3:1-9 describes the hotbed from which the last anti-Christianity shall spring).
Probably the second beast is the same, the false prophet who causes an image to be made to the first beast (Daniel 7:8-26), and all who will not worship it to be killed, after the harlot has been unseated and judged (Revelation 13:14-18; Revelation 16:13-16; Revelation 16:17). The Lord will come "utterly to abolish the idols," and all "idolaters shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone" (Revelation 21:8; Isaiah 2:18-19; Zechariah 13:2-3). Self idolatry, self will, and self sufficiency must be subdued, if God is to be our God. 1 Samuel 15:23 implies that "conscious disobedience is idolatry, because it makes self will, the human I, into a god" (Keil).
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