Do not make idols or set up an image or a sacred stone for yourselves, and do not place a carved stone in your land to bow down before it. I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 26:1 NIV)
The Leviticus passage above held very clear and definite meaning (See Leviticus 19:4; Deuteronomy 5:8) for the ancient (immediate) audience. To the ancients God declares that there should be no idols. This passage has a well used Hebrew word for "idol" and yet it has its own uniqueness.
The NET Bible Translator Notes, in regards to "idols" suggests that the etymology and meaning of the term is difficult. The NET Notes go on to say, "Regarding the difficult etymology and meaning of the term for “idols” (אֱלִילִים, ’elilim), see B. A. Levine, Leviticus (JPSTC), 126; J. E. Hartley, Leviticus (WBC), 304; N. H. Snaith, Leviticus and Numbers (NBC), 89; and Judith M. Hadley, NIDOTTE 1:411. It appears to be a diminutive play on words with אֵל (’el, “god; God”) and, perhaps at the same time, recalls a common Semitic word for “worthless; weak; powerless; nothingness.” Snaith suggests a rendering of “worthless godlings.”(1)
Snaith's mention of "worthless godlings" might be worth repeating in our day and time. The meaning though, in some languages "may be best translated “worthless (or, useless) things [used for worship].”(2) Keil and Delitzsch suggest "Ye shall not make to you elilim, nugatory gods..."(3) Nugatory(4) may just about be a forgotten term in common vernacular but its meaning should never. It means something that has little or no consequence; having no force. The range of meaning does not have to include physical statuary. In 1995 Everett Fox, professor of Judaic and Biblical Studies at Clark University, published a translation of the Torah into English. Leviticus 26:1 interestingly reads:
26:1 You are not to make for yourselves no-gods, a carved-image or a standing-pillar you are not to establish for yourselves, a decorated stone you are not to place in your land, to prostrate yourselves to it, for I Yhwh am your God! (Fox, E. (1995). Vol. 1: The five books of Moses : Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy ; a new translation with introductions, commentary, and notes. The Schocken Bible (Le 25:55). New York: Schocken Books.)
In addition, there was to be no physical structures are to receive worship due the Almighty. The actual syntax early on informs us that it is future tense imperative. No "nugatory gods" or "worthless godlings" should ever be made, now or at a later time. The ancients recognized the four expressions, in this verse, that directly refer to false gods that are expressly forbidden to the people of Israel. Idols or worthless things for worship, graven images, worship pillars, and figure stones used for awe and worship of ancient deities. The Authorized Version translates “idol” 17 times, “image” once, “no value” once, and “things of nought” once. The term is used as an adjective to describe certain items as "good for nothing" or "worthless" such as physicians, a shepherd, and a divination. (5)
Today, as we survey our ever increasing plurality, modern culture and the media actually suggest that idolaters worship the true God in the best way they know. In fact, Charles Swindoll says it has even become "fashionable". Not long ago, "A distinguished panel of Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Jewish religious leaders had a serious dialogue on "how to connect" (See article here)
Rajan Zed, a Hindu chaplain, recited the first Hindu prayers in Colorado and New Mexico Senates. He will also be reading Hindu opening prayers in three more Western states in the coming weeks, thus creating a religious milestone in American history.
Zed will recite these "history making prayers containing ancient Sanskrit mantras in Utah, Washington and Arizona, which will reportedly be the first Hindu prayers of these Senates since their formation." "Zed, who lives in Reno (Nevada), will deliver these prayers from ancient Hindu scriptures at Senate halls in State Capitols of Salt Lake City (February 13), Olympia (February 22), and Phoenix (March 24). After first reciting in Sanskrit, he will then read the English translation of the prayer." (See article here)
On a cold morning, in January this year, about 100 Christians and Muslims gathered at Ladue Chapel Presbyterian Church in Ladue to discuss a letter. The letter was signed by 138 Muslim leaders from a wide spectrum of major Islamic traditions around the world and titled, "A Common Word Between Us and You," the letter was sent to more than two dozen Christian leaders in October (Click here for STLtoday article) . Tim Townssend of STLtoday.com says "Pope Benedict XVI's name was first on the list. That's because a year earlier, in a lecture at the University of Regensburg in Germany, the pope quoted a 14th-century emperor who said Islam's influence was evil and was spread by violence."
In regards to the Levitical passage Swindoll goes on to say that "passages like these treat idolatry as a sign of a hardened heart, not a searching one. That is the same point Paul made in Romans 1:18–25, where he argued that idolatry resulted from humanity’s refusal to honor God as the Creator. Those who follow false gods today, just as then, “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (1:18)" (6) In Romans Paul states:
1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness, 1:19 because what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 1:20 For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes– his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse. 1:21 For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened. 1:22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 1:23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image resembling mortal human beings or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. 1:24 Therefore God gave them over in the desires of their hearts to impurity, to dishonor their bodies among themselves. 1:25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped nd served the creation rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (Romans 1:18-25 NET)
Rarely do we use stone idols today. In fact we have probably missionized the "uttermost parts of the earth" that Luke mentions in Acts 1:8 and are now seeking to evangelize , possibly again, parts of earth where the Gospel was birthed or even had early roots. Our success in this endeavor is up for discussion. In fact, it seems other world religions are having success to as they evangelize us, as well.
Our postmodern society probably perceives an idol very different than the ancients audience of Moses but, still, Swindoll makes a salient point. Seeking idolatry, or its presence, is a sign of a hardened heart and not one who is searching. Creation and the light of conscious has clearly demonstrated for mankind that there is a God, not made with hands or imagination. To satisfy that understanding by idols of our minds and hands indicates a rejection of the Creator. Imagine the audacity of one who worships the creation while ignoring the Creator?
In fact, to show how dissimilar our times are, even using a time much later than the Levitical writing, Harry Golden commented that if "studies had been taken in the Roman Empire in 65 A.D. on religious preferences, they would have shown 51% for Jupiter, 30% for Zeus, about 9% for Mithra and about 10% for Jesus." (7) North American Christians have little understanding of what this might translate to if we were to actually live in those times. Christianity though has done its part to not only civilize behavior but to bring Christ-like thinking to society. Christ-like thinking is based upon moral axioms that we know such as the very difference between good and evil. Human thought is the better because of Christ and His Word, not to mention the souls of lost mankind.
In Numbers 15:17-21 The LORD said to Moses,
(18) "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'When you enter the land to which I am taking you (19) and you eat the food of the land, present a portion as an offering to the LORD. (20) Present a cake from the first of your ground meal and present it as an offering from the threshing floor. (21) Throughout the generations to come you are to give this offering to the LORD from the first of your ground meal. (NIV)
This passage relates to a common Jewish offering later called the heave offering. Verse 17 lets us know that the Lord is indeed uttering this command. In verses 20 and 21 we find the phrase “Of the first ... to the Lord.” It is obvious that God is concerned with being preeminent in the lives of his people. This heave offering was an actual waving of sacrificial gifts. It was used to serve as a reminder that everything they possessed came from, and ultimately belonged to the Almighty.
Idolatry Viewed by The Modern Church:
Even among the civilized or those of refined thought, there is still idolatry albeit in a different form. Our idols are not miniature or even large stone carvings of ancient deities, rather they are jobs, cars, computer, movies, Internet, the simple things of life and sometimes tradition. The principle of the Leviticus passage is that nothing should be held above our worship and commitment to the One True God. We are not to bow down or give homage to materialism or items that we have exalted above a correct priority of Godly things.
Idolatry should be viewed by the Church as anything which removes God from the throne of the human heart. In the New Testament, we see the expansion of meaning when Paul indicates that greed is a form of idolatry (See Col. 3:5). Whatever comes between a believer and their Lord must be an idol then. Paul and John admonished that believers are also to flee all forms of idolatry (1 Cor. 10:14; 1 John 5:21). The Lord Himself will will not allow the inheritance of the kingdom of God to idolaters (1 Cor. 6:9,10; Gal. 5:20,21; Rev. 22:15). We don't wave various material gifts or bring cakes before God today as a sign of our devotion per se. It should be very important to us, however, that God remains first and a priority in our lives. From Him do all blessings flow.
Idols and Traditions:
In Leviticus 26:1 Moses is discussing the Moral Law and specifically the Second Commandment (See Exodus 20) against idolatry. David Guzik comments that "Israel had significant trouble with the worship of idols until the Babylonian captivity (some 800 years); the attraction was not so much to the molded gods themselves, than as to what they represented - financial success, pleasure, and self-worship." He goes on to mention that "After the Babylonian captivity, Israel was cured of gross idolatry of molded gods, and began a more insidious form of idolatry - idolatry of the nation itself, idolatry of the temple and it ceremonies, idolatry of tradition." (8
MORE TO COME...
5. The exhaustive concordance of the Bible Strong, J. (1996). : Showing every word of the test of the common English version of the canonical books, and every occurence of each word in regular order. (electronic ed.) (H457). Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship.