In our westernized, Christian worldview, the idols of old made of stone and wood make little sense. We wonder how the peoples of the Ancient Near East (ANE) could be so foolish as to think that a statue of some sort was worthy of worship. How stupid could they have been back in those days? Obviously, if nothing else, they lacked the sophistication and knowledge that we have since we’d never bow down to some inert object.
Not so fast. It turns out there’s more to the picture than what we typically see. Modern Christianity doesn’t like to think of the concept of other gods. That makes us think of a pantheon of gods where God is just one of many, which surely isn’t the case. Well, yes and no.
When we read Bible translations that are faithful to the Hebrew text, we may see the word elohim used twice in the same sentence. Psalm 82:1 (ESV except where noted) is an example of that:
“God [Elohim] has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods [elohim] he holds judgment:”
Check it out: https://biblehub.com/text/psalms/82-1.htm
The distinction between God (Elohim) with a capital “E” and gods (elohim) with a lower case “e” is based on Hebrew context and noun-verb grammar rules. God (singular) “stands” whereas He can only administer judgment in the “midst” of something plural, i.e. multiple gods.
God has a Divine Council made up of other gods or holy ones. Here is Psalm 89:6-7 (LEB) which shows also this:
“For who in the sky is equal to Yahweh?
Who is like Yahweh among the sons of God [Elim],
a God [El] feared greatly in the council of the holy ones [qodesh] [Strongs 6918],
and awesome above all surrounding him?”
You can see the Hebrew here at these two links:
This group, these sons of God, are in the skies. God—Yahweh—is amongst His council of holy ones, i.e. His Divine Council.
The point is that there are other spiritual entities besides God, even besides the Trinity. Scripture is filled with such references, and they aren’t all angels! These other divine beings are God’s spiritual family, the sons of God.
Actually, the Bible uses elohim for any spiritual being. A more complete list includes:
- God of Israel – Psalm 82:1
- Divine Council members – Psalm 82:1,6
- Pagan gods of other nations – 1 Kings 11:33
- Demons (shedim) – Deuteronomy 32:17
- Disembodied human dead – 1 Samuel 28:13
Unfortunately, in years past, some number of the spiritual sons of God rebelled multiple times. From these rebellions we’ve ended up with what we typically term fallen angels, as well as demons. These are real spiritual entities.
Pagan nations, i.e. originally those in the ANE that chose not to follow Yahweh, the God of Israel, worshiped these other gods, the fallen sons of God. That came about through God’s response to the Tower of Babel incident in Genesis 11 where He scattered the people, created nations for them to inhabit, and confused their language. Over these nations, i.e. territorially, He placed His divine sons—loyal at the time—in order to superintend these nations and to point the people back to Yahweh as the One true God. The initial action of this concept is captured in Deuteronomy 32:8:
“When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance,
when he divided mankind,
he fixed the borders of the peoples
according to the number of the sons of God.”
But, because God’s sons have free will, just as we in His human family have free will, these spiritual beings all rebelled and became corrupt. Probably because they wanted to differentiate themselves from Yahweh who was not seen, they encouraged their subjects to create idols that could be seen. But the idols weren’t simply inert objects. Ancient ceremonies these gods instigated among their subjects in the nations they ruled caused these wood and stone statues to become inhabited with the actual spiritual being. The ceremony involved calling down the god and him entering through the mouth of the idol. According to most ANE beliefs, e.g. in Mesopotamia, a particular god could simultaneously inhabit any number of idols.
As a result, the idol had power and was revered. Idols were placed in temples and high places. They were intimately used as part of the worship of the deities they represented. The important thing to note is that the deities attached to the idols by way of the mouth.
Modern idolatry seems a long way from this ancient practice. What do we idolize? Money. Power. Sex. Celebrities. Sports stars. How do these relate to wooden statues? Should we even call the adulation of these people and things idolatry based on how Scripture describes it of old?
First, in one sense, I think we can corelate every area of idolatry with the primary cultural influences in society. These seven areas are:
- Banking / Finance
- Arts / Entertainment
- Government / Military
If you’re paying attention, these may look familiar. I purposely link them to the Seven Mountain Mandate of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). If these cover all aspects of our culture to which NAR wishes to ascend, it makes sense that these are the keys to every idolatrous inclination in society. Why? Because at the top of every so-called mountain will be a demonic entity of sorts. These fallen spiritual beings are the ones that pull the strings of the human puppets who aspire in each of these areas.
As an aside, I don’t believe for a minute that NAR will climb to the heights of these cultural mountains in the way its adherents may now think. If Kingdom Now theology did come to pass, it wouldn’t be a true Christian victory in any way, shape, or form because it involves winning the world, i.e. being in the world, rather than saving souls, i.e. not being of the world. The other mitigating obstacle is the Word of God. Nothing in Scripture confirms any Christian belief and successful activity in these seven spheres, particularly in these latter days. The false vision regarding this worldly conquest completely ignores that the earth will not come under Christian Dominionism through the activities of these deceived people. Lawlessness is increasing; the world is not getting better. Tribulation is coming; not a bright and shiny Christianized world that NAR will create so as to hand to Jesus when He returns.
Back to our main thesis. If this make any sense to you that rulers, powers, and authorities in high places reign over every area of the world for the time being, let’s take it a step further. Every secular, i.e. unsaved person in these spheres inevitably wants more. If these people don’t know God, they literally have that God-shaped hole in their hearts. Thus, in each of these areas, there are people aspiring, scheming, and acting to gain the world rather than to know the One who created them and came to save them.
Just like Christians realize how helpless we are in our own flesh and can do nothing worthwhile without God, how much different do you think it is with these people? Life is tough. There are always roadblocks. Breaks are few and far between. But if, in one way or another, a person with dreams of conquest is introduced to a spiritual entity that promises results—true success in their chosen field—with just a minor condition, why wouldn’t many Godless people choose this path? After all, the conditional payoff is a long way off. The debt is only paid at death. Besides, most of these people are very smart. Inevitably, they’ll figure out a way to welch on the deal. So they think.
I believe we would be shocked at the number of highly placed people in each of these mountains of influence who have literally sold their souls to the devil.
Coming back to the idols of the ANE, how does this relate? Let’s first look at Christianity. What is it that we must do to be born again? Romans 10:9-10 makes it simple:
“Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”
We confess with our mouth and believe in our heart. God’s requirement is for us to declare our believing loyalty to Him. True salvation is all about our allegiance to God. We’re told in the Old Testament that King David was a man after God’s own heart. What does that really mean? The one thing David NEVER did was to follow after any other god. Yes, he had sin issues, but he always repented. However, throughout his life, David showed steadfast devotion to God and never wavered. That’s what we’re supposed to do as obedient followers of Jesus Christ who walk in righteousness and holiness. We should have no desire to ever follow any other gods, whatever their form. That’s the criteria for believing loyalty to God.
We know that Satan and other fallen spiritual entities are marvelous copycats. Thus, the mouth becomes important. In the ANE, the ritual that caused the spiritual being to inhabit the idol focused on the mouth. That’s typically where the spirit entered.
I maintain that the mouth is the critical component for people who seek the favor of the spiritual realm, even today. They declare their desire for fame, money, whatever. When presented with the opportunity, they embrace it by opening their mouth and speaking their loyalty to the being that will fulfill their desires. In some (many?) cases, there may be actual possession as the demon enters through their mouth. No doubt many of you have read of exorcisms that involve the spewing out of all types of horrible creatures from the pit of hell through the possessed person’s mouth.
Are idols any different today than from the past? Then, they took the form of a statue that man created and the demonic entity possessed. Now, people themselves are the living statues that swallow the lie to gain the world.
An idol, whether made of inorganic material, or human substance where one becomes one’s own idol, is still something that focuses on—and causes believing loyalty to—anything but the One true God. It leads to destruction. Believing that it will bring fulfillment is a delusion, whatever its form.
Only Jesus Christ can satisfy the human yearning of the heart. He alone fills that void.
Gary W. Ritter is a lay pastor, Bible teacher, and serves as Missions Director at his church. He is also a prolific author. His Whirlwind Series is comprised of three books: Sow the Wind, Reap the Whirlwind, and There Is A Time. These books are contained in the collected volume of the Whirlwind Omnibus. Gary has been given the Christian Redemptive Fiction award for two novels: The Tattooed Cat and Alien Revelation. He has recently released a new novel on eco-terrorism called Green Dreams, and Looking Up – Volume 3, a non-fiction work that contains essays and devotions on end-times and prophetic events. Gary’s intent in all his writings is to bring a strong Christian witness to what people read. You can reach him at his website: www.GaryRitter.com or his Facebook Author page: https://www.facebook.com/gritter3390. You can also see his video Bible teachings on his Gary Ritter YouTube channel – look for the fish symbol.