Idols and Idolatry by Jack Kettler
“Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.” (Psalm 25:4)
In this study, we will look at Idols and Idolatry. What is an Idol? What is Idolatry? How to guard against it.
As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, lexical evidence, commentary evidence and confessional support for the purpose to glorify God in how we live. May God be glorified always!
Definitions from two sources:
The worship of false gods; the worship of the one true God by images; the worship of the one true God conceived as less than He is; the giving of honor due to the one true God “to some of His creatures or to some invention of His creatures;” the valuing of anything or anyone more than the one true God.. *
An idol is a representation of something in the heavens or on the earth. It is used in worship and is often worshiped. It is an abomination to God (Exodus 20:4). Idolatry is bowing down before such an idol in adoration, prayer, or worship. In a loose sense, idolatry does not necessitate a material image or a religious system. It can be anything that takes the place of God: a car, a job, money, a person, a desire, etc. Idolatry is denounced by God at the beginning of the Ten Commandments and is considered a form of spiritual fornication. **
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:3-6)
The Pulpit Commentary on Exodus 20:3:
Verse 3. – Thou shalt have. The use of the second person singular is remarkable when a covenant was being made with the people (Exodus 19:5). The form indicated that each individual of the nation was addressed severally, and was required himself to obey the law, a mere general national obedience being insufficient. No one can fail to see how much the commands gain in force, through all time, by being thus addressed to the individual conscience. No other gods before me. “Before me” literally, “before my face,” is a Hebrew idiom, and equivalent to “beside me,” “in addition to me.” The commandment requires the worship of one God alone, Jehovah – the God who had in so ninny ways manifested himself to the Israelites, and implies that there is, in point of fact, no other God. A belief in the unity of God is said to lie at the root of the esoteric Egyptian religion; but Moses can scarcely have derived his belief from this source, since the Egyptian notions on the subject were tinged with pantheism and materialism, from which the religion of Moses is entirely free. Outwardly the Egyptian religion, like that of the nations of Western Asia generally, was a gross polytheism; and it is against polytheistic notions that the first commandment raises a protest. (1)
“Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves.” (Romans 1:21-24)
Comments from the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary on Romans 1:21:
21. Because that, when they knew God—that is, while still retaining some real knowledge of Him, and ere they sank down into the state next to be described.
they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful—neither yielded the adoration due to Himself, nor rendered the gratitude which His beneficence demanded.
but became vain—(compare Jer. 2:5).
in their imaginations—thoughts, notions, speculations, regarding God; compare Mt 15:19; Lu 2:35; 1Co 3:20, Greek.
and their foolish—”senseless,” “stupid.”
heart—that is, their whole inner man.
was darkened—How instructively is the downward progress of the human soul here traced! (2)
Idol – Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words:
[1, G1497, eidolon]
Primarily a phantom or likeness (from eidos, “an appearance,” lit., “that which is seen”), or “an idea, fancy,” denotes in the NT
(a) “an idol,” an image to represent a false god, Acts 7:41; 1 Corinthians 12:2; Revelation 9:20;
(b) “the false god” worshipped in an image, Acts 15:20; Romans 2:22; 1 Corinthians 8:4, 1 Corinthians 8:7; 1 Corinthians 10:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; 1 Thessalonians 1:9; 1 John 5:21.
“The corresponding Heb. word denotes ‘vanity,’ Jeremiah 14:22; Jeremiah 18:15; ‘thing of nought,’ Leviticus 19:4, marg., cp. Ephesians 4:17. Hence what represented a deity to the Gentiles, was to Paul a ‘vain thing,’ Acts 14:15; ‘nothing in the world,’ 1 Corinthians 8:4; 1 Corinthians 10:19. Jeremiah calls the idol a ‘scarecrow’ (‘pillar in a garden,’ Jeremiah 10:5, marg.), and Isaiah, Isaiah 44:9-Isaiah 44:20, etc., and Habakkuk, Habakkuk 2:18-Habakkuk 2:19 and the Psalmist, Psalms 115:4-Psalms 115:8, etc., are all equally scathing. It is important to notice, however, that in each case the people of God are addressed. When he speaks to idolaters, Paul, knowing that no man is won by ridicule, adopts a different line, Acts 14:15-Acts 14:18; Acts 17:16, Acts 17:21-Acts 17:31.”* [* From Notes on Thessalonians, pp. 44, 45 by Hogg and Vine.] (3)
Idolatry – Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words:
[1, G1495, eidololatria]
Whence Eng., idolatry, (from eidolon, and latreia, “service”), is found in 1 Corinthians 10:14; Galatians 5:20; Colossians 3:5; and, in the plural, in 1 Peter 4:3.
Heathen sacrifices were sacrificed to demons, 1 Corinthians 10:19; there was a dire reality in the cup and table of demons and in the involved communion with demons. In Romans 1:22-Romans 1:25, “idolatry,” the sin of the mind against God (Ephesians 2:3), and immorality, sins of the flesh, are associated, and are traced to lack of the acknowledgment of God and of gratitude to Him. An “idolater” is a slave to the depraved ideas his idols represent, Galatians 4:8-Galatians 4:9; and thereby, to divers lusts, Titus 3:3 (See Notes on Thess. by Hogg and Vine, p. 44). (4)
Idolatry from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:
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 (Ho 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 (1Co 10:14; Ga 5:20; Col 3:5; 1Pe 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 (Eze 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 (2Ki 17:16; 21:3-7; 23:4,12; Jer. 19:13; Eze 8:16; Am 5:26).
Topical Bible outline for “Idolatry.”
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 1Ki 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 (Ho 4:13); libations were poured out (Isa 57:6; Jer 7:18); the first-fruits of the earth and tithes were presented (Ho 2:8); tables of food were set before them (Isa 65:11); the worshippers kissed the idols or threw them kisses (1Ki 19:18; Ho 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 (1Ki 18:26,28; for a fuller summary see EB ).
See a list of verses on IDOLATRY in the Bible.
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 (Le 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 (Eze 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.
See also GOLDEN CALF; GODS; IMAGES; TERAPHIM.
See the definition of idolatry in the KJV Dictionary
See also the McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia.
Wm. Wake, A Discourse concerning the Nature of Idolatry, 1688; W.R. Smith, Lectures on the Religion of the Semites; E.B. Tylor, Primitive Culture; J.G. Frazer, Golden Bough (3 vols); L.R. Farnell, Evolution of Religion, 1905; Baudissin, Studien zur semitischen Religionsgeschichte; Beathgen, Der Gott Israels u. die Gotter der Heiden, 1888.
Camden M. Cobern (5)
In closing, a great sermon on Idolatry:
Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892)
Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.—1 John 5:21
John has, in this epistle, written much concerning the love of Jesus, as well he might, for he knew more about that love than any other man knew. And yet, when he had written concerning love to Jesus, he was moved to an intense jealousy lest by any means the hearts of those to whom he wrote should be turned aside from that dear Lover of their souls who deserved their entire affection. And, therefore, not only love to them, but also love to Jesus made him wind up his letter with these significant words, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols”…
First, keep yourselves from worshipping yourselves. Alas, how many fall into this gross sin! Some do it by indulgence at the table. How much of eating, and especially of drinking, is there which, correctly speaking, is nothing better than gluttony and drunkenness! There are professing Christians who perhaps never are regarded as intoxicated, yet they sip and sip and sip until, if they do not lose the control of their brain, they cause observers to raise the question whether they ever had any at all. It is almost a pity for some professing Christians that they can thus indulge themselves at home…It is a scandalous thing when there is such a sin as this in the Church of God…I urge all of you, beloved, to see to it that you offer no sacrifices to gluttony nor pour out libations to Bacchus. For if you do, you prove that you are idolaters worshipping your own bellies and that God’s love dwelleth not within you.
There are others who worship themselves by living a life of indolence. They have nothing to do, and they seem to do it very thoroughly. They take their ease, and that is the main thing in which they take any interest. They flit from pleasure to pleasure, from show to show, from vanity to vanity, as if this life were only a garden in which butterflies might fly from flower to flower, and not a sphere where serious work was to be done and all-important business for eternity was to be accomplished. Worship not yourselves by trifling as these indolent people do.
Some worship themselves by decorating their bodies most elaborately. Their first and their last thought being, “What shall we wear?” Fall not into that idolatry.
Then there are some people who make idols of their wealth. Getting money seems to be the main purpose of their lives. Now it is right that a Christian man should be diligent in business. He should not be second to anybody in the diligence with which he attends to the affairs of this life. But it is always a pity when we can be truthfully told, “So-and-so is getting richer every year, but he has got stingier also. He gives less now than he gave when he had only half as much as he now has.” We meet occasionally with people like the man who, when he was comparatively poor, gave his guinea; but when he grew rich, he only gave a shilling…
Some worship the pursuit which they have undertaken. They give their whole soul up to their art or their particular calling, whatever it may be. In a certain sense, this is a right thing to do; yet we must never forget that the first and great commandment is, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Mat 22:37). This must always have the first place.
Let me here touch a very tender point. There are some who make idols of their dearest relatives and friends. Some have done this with their children. I remember reading a story of a good man who seemed as if he could never forgive God for taking away his child. He sat in a Quakers’ meeting, bowed down and sorrowful, and his time of deliverance came when a sister rose [and] uttered these words, “Verily, I perceive that children are idols,” and then resumed her seat. Such a message as that is often needed; yet it is a pity that it should be. Make no idol of your child or your wife or your husband; for by putting them into Christ’s place, you really provoke Him to take them from you. Love them as much as you please—I would that some loved their children, their husbands, or their wives more than they do—but always love them in such a fashion that Christ shall have the first place in your hearts.
The catalogue of idols that we are apt to worship is a very long one…It would take me a very long while to make a list of the various forms which the idolatry of the heart will take. But in a sentence let me say to you: remember that God has a right to your whole being. There is nothing, and there can be nothing which ought to be supreme in your affections save your Lord. And if you worship anything or any ideal whatever it may be, if you love that more than you love your God, you are an idolater; and you are disobeying the command of the text, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols”…
I would say to you, beloved, in closing my observations upon this point: in the matter of your faith, be sure to keep yourselves from the idol of the hour. Some of us have lived long enough to see the world’s idols altered any number of times. Just now, in some professedly Christian churches, the idol is “intellectualism,” “culture,” “modern thought.” Whatever name it bears, it has no right to be in a Christian church, for it believes very little that appertains to Christ. Now I have some sort of respect for a downright honest infidel, like Voltaire14 or Tom Paine.15 But I have none for the man who goes to college to be trained for the Christian ministry, and then claims to be free to doubt the deity of Christ, the need of conversion, the punishment of the wicked, and other truths that seem to me to be essential to a full proclamation of the gospel of Christ. Such a man must have strange views of honesty. And so has the minister who goes into a pulpit and addresses people when he knows that he does not believe any of the doctrines that are dearer to them than their own lives. Yet, the moment he is called to account for his unbelief, he cries out, “Persecution! Persecution! Bigotry! Bigotry!” A burglar, if I found him outside my bedroom door and held him till the policeman came, might consider me to be very bigoted because I did not care to have my property stolen by him and because I interfered with his liberty. So, in like manner, I am called bigoted because I will not allow a man to come and assail from my own pulpit the truths which are dearer to me than my life. I am quite willing to give that man liberty to go and publish his views somewhere else and at his own expense. But it shall not be done at my expense nor in the midst of a congregation gathered by me for the worship of God and the proclamation of the truth as it is revealed in the Scriptures. Keep yourselves from this idol of the times; for it is the precursor of death to any church that gives it admittance…
Believe me, my brethren, that the Church of Christ, if not the world, shall yet learn that the highest culture is a heart that is cultivated by divine grace; that the truest science is…Jesus Christ and Him crucified; and that the greatest thought and the deepest of all metaphysics are found at the foot of the cross; and that the men who will keep on simply and earnestly preaching the old-fashioned gospel, and the people who will stand fast in the old paths are they who will most certainly win the victory. When those who are sailing in a frail bark, which they or their fellow-sinners have constructed, without a rudder, without a pilot at the helm, shall drift away and be dashed to pieces upon the rocks, they who trust in the Lord and have Him as their Pilot shall be kept clear of the rocks on which others have made shipwreck and shall be safely steered into the haven of peace and there be at rest for ever. (6)
Westminster Shorter Catechism on Idolatry with Proof Texts:
Q. 45. Which is the first commandment?
A. The first commandment is, Thou shalt have no other gods before me. 
119] Exodus 20:3. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Deuteronomy 5:7. Thou shalt have none other gods before me.
Q. 46. What is required in the first commandment?
A. The first commandment requireth us to know and acknowledge God to be the only true God, and our God; and to worship and glorify him accordingly. 
 1 Chronicles 28:9. And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind: for the LORD searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek him, he will be found of thee; but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off forever. Isaiah 45:20-25. Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, ye that are escaped of the nations: they have no knowledge that set up the wood of their graven image, and pray unto a god that cannot save. Tell ye, and bring them near; yea, let them take counsel together: who hath declared this from ancient time? Who hath told it from that time? Have not I the LORD? And there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me. Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, that unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. Surely, shall one say, in the LORD have I righteousness and strength: even to him shall men come; and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed. In the LORD shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory. Matthew 4:10. Then saith Jesus unto him, get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.
Q. 47. What is forbidden in the first commandment?
A. The first commandment forbiddeth the denying,  or not worshiping and glorifying, the true God as God,  and our God;  and the giving of that worship and glory to any other, which is due to him alone. 
 Psalm 14:1. The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.
 Romans 1:20-21. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
 Psalm 81:10-11. I am the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it. But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me.
 Ezekiel 8:16-18. And he brought me into the inner court of the LORD’S house, and, behold, at the door of the temple of the LORD, between the porch and the altar, were about five and twenty men, with their backs toward the temple of the LORD, and their faces toward the east; and they worshipped the sun toward the east. Then he said unto me, hast thou seen this, O son of man? Is it a light thing to the house of Judah that they commit the abominations which they commit here? For they have filled the land with violence, and have returned to provoke me to anger: and, lo, they put the branch to their nose. Therefore will I also deal in fury: mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity: and though they cry in mine ears with a loud voice, yet will I not hear them. Romans 1:25. Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
Q. 48. What are we specially taught by these words before me in the first commandment?
A. These words before me in the first commandment teach us, that God, who seeth all things, taketh notice of, and is much displeased with, the sin of having any other God. 
 Deuteronomy 30:17-18. But if thine heart turn away, so that thou wilt not hear, but shalt be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them; I denounce unto you this day, that ye shall surely perish, and that ye shall not prolong your days upon the land, whither thou passest over Jordan to go to possess it. Psalm 44:20-21. If we have forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a strange god; shall not God search this out? For he knoweth the secrets of the heart. Ezekiel 8:12. Then said he unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen what the ancients of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the chambers of his imagery? For they say, The LORD seeth us not; the LORD hath forsaken the earth.
“Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.” (1 Corinthians 10:14)
“Man’s mind is like a store of idolatry and superstition; so much so that if a man believes his own mind it is certain that he will forsake God and forge some idol in his own brain.” – John Calvin
“Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.” (1 John 5:21)
“Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes.” (Psalm 119:12)
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
1. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, Exodus, Vol. 1, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), p. 131.
2. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977) p. 1142.
3. W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, “Idol,” (Iowa Falls, Iowa, Riverside Book and Bible House), pp. 573-574.
4. W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, “Idolatry,” (Iowa Falls, Iowa, Riverside Book and Bible House), pp. 574-575.
5. Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor, “Entry for ‘Idolatry,’” “International Standard Bible Encyclopedia,” (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, reprinted 1986), pp. 1447-1448.
6. Charles Spurgeon, from a sermon delivered, at The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington, on Lord’s-Day Evening, Sept. 6th, 1874.
“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. He served as an ordained ruling elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He worked in and retired from a fortune five hundred company in corporate America after forty years. He runs two blogs sites and is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: http://www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com
For more study:
* For a great source of theological definitions go to Rebecca writes at Rebecca Writes: http://www.rebecca-writes.com/theological-terms-in-ao/
** CARM theological dictionary https://carm.org/dictionary-hermeneutics
And at https://carm.org/