In the light of the recent gruesome activities of the Islamic State (IS) it is timely to re-examine biblical teaching about idolatry and connect this to ideologies, secularism and IS. In this first post we will look at idolatry in the Old Testament.

Idol worship is something which no follower of Jesus wants. Christians know deep down that serving idols violates God’s covenant (Exodus 20:1-3).

So how did ancient people worship their idols?

First they would sever something from its immediate surroundings, refashion it and erect it on its own feet in a special place. The idol might look like a bull, a frog or a golden calf (Exodus 32).

Second they would ritually consecrate it and prostrate themselves before it, seeing it as an entity which has life in itself. The ancient Egyptians would call down demonic powers so that they would enter the idol.

Third they would bring sacrifices and look to the idol for instruction and guidance. In short they would worship the idol. Worship brings with it a decrease in the power of the idolater. Now the god reveals how they should live and behave.

Fourth they now expect the god to repay their reverence, obedience and sacrifice with health, security, prosperity and happiness. The idol has become their saviour.

Fifth the idol activates fear in the worshippers. Panic and alarm seize hold of idolaters when the god is not placated and appeased in the designated way. Just reflect for a moment upon the ancient worship of the god Molech. The Ammonites would fill a tall, hollow iron image of Molech (the idol) with hot coals and they would gradually ‘turn up the heat’. Then the followers of Molech would begin to dance. A pulsating rhythm would be established by the drums and worshippers of the god would work themselves up into a frenzy. Then at the right moment (when the coals have turned white) young children of the tribe would be thrust into the glowing hands of the idol and die a horrible sacrificial death. The cries of the dying infants would be drowned out by the sound of the drums! Molech is a terrifying god. You don’t upset him!

Finally after making and worshipping idols, people gradually become transformed into the likeness of their gods. The disciple of Molech becomes ever more cruel and heartless like his god. The Psalms put it like this:

The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
made by the hands of men.
They have mouths, but cannot speak,
eyes but they cannot see;
they have ears, but cannot hear,
nor is there breath in their mouths.
Those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them.

Psalm 135:15-18

In the next post we will explore idolatry in the New Testament.

Mark Roques

Mark Roques

Mark taught Philosophy and Religious Education at Prior Park College, Bath, for many years. As Director of RealityBites he has developed a rich range of resources for youth workers and teachers. He has spoken at conferences in the UK, Holland, South Korea, Spain, Australia and New Zealand. Mark is a lively storyteller and the author of four books, including The Spy, the Rat and the Bed of Nails: Creative Ways of Talking about Christian Faith. His work is focused on storytelling and how this can help us to communicate the Christian faith. He has written many articles for the Baptist Times, RE Today, Youthscape, Direction magazine and the Christian Teachers Journal.