Christian Witness

What Do Idols Represent? Fallen Images

When Israel was delivered from the hands of the Egyptians, not long after Pharaoh and his mighty army were buried by the waters of the Red Sea. They met at the foot of the mountain to swear fealty to the Lord of Hosts; to worship the God of all the earth. However, within a very short period of time they forgot about God, about Moses and demanded that an idol be fashioned for them. For what purpose? To what end? They wanted a representation of the gods that had delivered them. One the golden calf that they could see, the other the invisible Lord they could not see (Exod 32.4). To these gods they gave offerings and sacrifices and had a feast in their name. They ate, they drank and practiced in devilry (Exod 32.5-6).

What you are witnessing as you read this section of Scripture is an act of syncretism, a combining or joining of two beliefs systems in equal status. The problem is when such worship is offered, even if the name of the Lord is mentioned, it is an act of false worship. In truth, such practices have nothing to do with worshiping the God of heaven and earth. Instead, they have everything to do with worshiping the idols of the heart.

The Israelites were not alone, for the Bible says people in general participate in this practice.

  • “For although [human beings] knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen” (Rom 1.21-25).

In short, idol worship is common practice for sinners. Rather than give praise, honor, and glory where they are due, sinners in their zeal, offer these things to lesser beings.

Why?

Well, the answer is simple enough but few want to accept it. When Adam sinned in the garden he did no less than the Israelites recently freed from Egypt, for he too sought to give praise, honor and glory to a lesser being—himself. In fact, I would argue that what our forefather did was much worse (cf. Rom 5.14). His sin was what introduced sin into earthly[1] creation.

  • “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom 5.12; cf. Gen 3.17-19, 22-24; Rom 8.19-22)

On that day Adam experienced death. The promise given to him by his Creator proved true (cf. Gen 2.17). This confuses many people today. We read the word “death” and we assume cessation from life; entrance to the grave. As I have taught previously the Bible does not define death that way. Death in Scripture means “separation.”[2] And on that day in the garden both Adam and his wife Eve experienced true death.

They were immediately separated from God in their hearts. This is demonstrated by their attempt at covering their nakedness (Gen 3.7); which, is an illustrative way of showing their attempt to cover (atone for) their sin (shame).  And, they hid from the Lord when He made His presence known in the garden (Gen 3.8-10).[3] The final illustration of this death is found in being driven from the garden of the Lord; being denied access to the Tree of Life (again separation, not cessation). The only hope of life now would be at the mercy of their Creator.

The death of Adam was the antecedent to the rest of humanity, as his offspring we all experience this death (the consequent). “The wages of sin is death” (Rom 6.23). As sinners we are separated from our Creator, from life, from righteousness and holiness and goodness. Ultimately, we are separated from properly imaging God in this world.

I pointed out a couple posts back that our responsibility is to love God with our minds. This is true because God is meant to be sovereign over our minds (our reason[ing]). What exactly did sin effect in the Fall (Gen 3)? If we could put a percentage on sin’s effects on the human nature, the human mind, then what should our numbers be? 50%? 75%? 100%?

Pelagius who argued with Augustine believed it was zero. Most evangelicals won’t go that far. Neither will Rome. Yet, few today desire to say 100%, but on what grounds?

What’s the Bible say? I know that is not the standard many wish to appeal to. Not many want to be dependent on that source entirely. It leaves little wiggle room. And, we love room to wiggle!

We’re Dead…

Regardless of our preferences we are left with the following statement of truth. Before we were made alive in Christ Jesus we were all dead in trespasses and sins (Eph 2.1, 5). Even we who are truly born again must admit that we “once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph 2.2-3). Even though we were originally made upright that is not our default position (Eccl 7.20, 29). For the only offspring that we can produce now is something unclean and hell bent (Job 15.14; Psa 58.3).

READER: “Wait a minute, Kris…you said in your last post that you were going to talk about Psalm 115. What does any of this have to do with that Psalm?”

ANSWER: Everything.

Psalm 115 is a song of comparison.

The focus of Psalm 115 is the Lord above (as depicted in verse 1, but we’ll get to that a little later). The writer offers the rhetorical question of the nations, “Where is their God?” (Psa 115.2). For those unfamiliar with the history of the period, gods and goddesses ruled over the nations in their own localities. More often than not the gods of the pagans were not limited to a monotheistic model, preferring a polytheistic pantheon of gods/goddesses instead. Each nation attributed victories in battle, blessings of the field and womb, wisdom and knowledge, and many other desirable venues to the particular deities of their choosing. I say “of their choosing” because these people groups would fashion a god or goddess after the likeness of their own imaginations, going to great lengths to cover all their bases (see Acts 17.23).

Israel was different. Israel’s God was not like the rest of the nations, for making an image of any kind was forbidden. Theologically, this makes perfect sense, since God created mankind to be His image bearers in creation, and Israel was set-apart by God to be a light to the nations (cf. Exod 19.5-6; Deut 4.5-8; Isa 49.3-6).[4] Of whom, Jesus the Christ is said to be the perfect representation of the invisible God (Heb 1.3; Col 1.15), the light of the world (John 8.12), the true Adam (1Cor 15.45) and image bearer. What Christ is, man ought to be.

Because Israel was different, the nations mocked. They made light of the God of Israel. But, the psalmist answers their question with the following retort:

  • “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psa 115.3).

In other words, our God is not like your little gods or goddesses. He does not merely rule over the skies, or the battlefield, or this city or that state. His domain is not limited to the land of this nation or that nation. He doesn’t concern Himself about this group of people over here, or that flock of animals over there. No…He rules it all. He sits above the circle of the earth far beyond the sight of mere creatures. He is king over all that is in the heavens and that which dwells on the earth.

  • “[Your] idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they make no sound in their throat” (Psa 115.4-7).

In other words, you claim that your gods are gods, that they are mighty in power and deed. You cower before them, and offer them sacrifices and prayer. You have festivals in their honor and dedicate your children to them. You pretend that they are alive, that they are living, but they are dead! They are unseeing, unhearing, unfeeling, unable to smell or speak or move. You claim that your gods are gods, all the while mocking our own, but you worship dead things. Things created by your own hands. Things created in your own minds.

What are idols? They are reflections of the minds of man. What are idols? They are image bearers of fallen man. What are idols? They are representations of their creator.

  • “Like them are their makers, every one who is trusting in them” (Psa 115.8; YLT).[5]

Like the one who created them, these idols are dead things. Scripture uses various expressions to state that people are spiritually dead. They are said to have ears and not hear (i.e. deaf), eyes and not see (i.e. blind)[6]; they are said to have legs, but are incapable of walking (i.e. lame)[7]; they are said to have hands, but are incapable of feeling (i.e. leprous)[8]; freedom appears to guide their lives, but it does not (i.e. slaves)[9]; wisdom appears to guide their minds, but it does not (i.e. fools)[10]; knowledge is what they profess to have, but they do not (i.e. pseudo-knowledge).[11]

What’s my point?

The biblical testimony of the Triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit)[12] continually mocks and ridicules the idols of human beings. He chides foolish people who believe (trust) in them. What we need to understand is that these idols are accurate representations of their creators. Not physical representations, but mental representations of the imaginations of fallen image bearers.

We will worship anything other than the Lord God. We will go to great lengths to fashion a god of our choosing, to bow down to. It doesn’t matter if the object is made of wood, precious metal or stone (cf. Isa 44.8-20). We may even take a portion of the truth revealed in the Bible, profess faith in God or in Jesus as incarnate deity, acknowledge the divine person-hood of the Holy Spirit, but then turn around and form and fashion Him into an idol of our own choosing (comp Matt. 7.21-23).

In short, fools beget fools. Idols are birthed from the hearts of dead men, and as God points out repeatedly those idols are an accurate representation of a non-living being. “The question of man’s depravity considers not the extent of his guilty before God, but the extent of his corruption in sin.”[13] So radically corrupted is the human mind, due to its dependency (i.e. bondage) to sin, that though the truth of God may be clearly perceived internally (cf. Rom 2.14-16) and externally (cf. Rom 1.18-20), man prefers to offer allegiance to anything other than the Lord—i.e. idols fashioned in the crucible of fallen minds.

What Troubles Me…

Is that in our rebellion we deny the very fact that the Bible so clearly reveals, human reason is broken, left as a tattered remnant of what it once was. The battle for man’s ability to reason correctly was lost in the garden, and unless some other victor comes marching on the field to bind that corruption that has dominated our hearts we are powerless to ever come to the knowledge of the truth (cf. Luke 11.21-22; Eph 2.4-6).

Unfortunately, I have now stepped into turbulent waters. There is no greater affront to our fallen minds, than to attack the sacred golden calf of human reason. And yet, should we not—we who profess that we know God (Rom 10.9-11; John 20.28)—declare with the psalmist:

  • “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and our faithfulness![14] …You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord! …The heavens are the Lord’s heavens, but the earth he has given to the children of man. The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any who go down into silence. But we will bless the Lord from this time forth and forevermore. Praise the Lord!” (Psa 115.1, 11a, 16-18).

How much glory, how much praise, how much fear and trust do we show in the Lord, when we present the truth of God to fallen mankind in a manner that makes the man the judge (reasoner) over and above the Creator? We present light to men whose eyes have been gouged out, ears that have been blown, expecting them to see and hear without the Lord first giving them eyes to see and ears to hear…what folly is this?[15]

Should we not rather, as we carefully/prayerfully consider our fallen brethren’s plight, present to them the truth as definable within a biblical framework trusting that the Lord is mightier than their fallenness. Should we not refuse to present evidences or facts at the feet of fallen image bearers allowing them to sit in a seat of judgment as if they were a god; rather, confronting them with evidence of their willful suppression of the truth. God is judge, not mankind. God sits on the throne not mankind. The evidence and facts of the Christian faith present the rightful condemnation of all (cf. Rom 3.19); they are only delightful truths to members of the faith, not the other way around.[16] Should we not let this weight burden their hearts, providing the Lord the opportunity to grant repentance?

As Christians we have no right, whatsoever, to pander to the pride of unbelievers. We are not to be peddlers of the Word of God (cf. 2Cor 2.17), but are commanded to present the truth. In this only Christ Jesus will reserve the right to boast, for the salvation of fallen image bearers is the work of God…not man (cf. 1Cor. 1.28-31; Php 3.3). We are ring bearers, nothing more.[17]

ENDNOTES:


[1] The chief of sinners was already in the garden before the man and woman fell—Satan; the devil; that vile serpent of old (Rev 12.9). The focus of the biblical account is earthly in that it is given on man’s behalf; from our vantage point. Even though, it is completely accurate to refer to the Word of God as God-breathed (theopneustos); an accurate retelling from God’s vantage point—to/for man.

[2] The reader needs to understand that “death” in Scripture does not mean cessation—i.e. ceasing to exist. Death in the Bible conveys the idea of separation. Therefore, death is described in the Bible in at least three different ways: 1) separation from our Creator (cf. Gen 3.8); 2) separation from being a slave to sin (cf. Rom 6.4); 3) separation from the body, what we describe as physical death (cf. Eccl 12.7).

[3] This hiding from the sound of the Lord was an act of rebellion. Adam admits that fear drove him to this course of action. No doubt, fear of His holy Creator and of the complete death that rightfully awaited him did make the man seek some refuge where God might not find him. However, the Lord made the man accountable for his actions. Even though he desired to be away from God as far as possible, the Lord made him answer for his offense.

[4] All other false religious belief systems attempt to mimic this truth, but in a watered down, distorted version.

[5] The ESV like some other translations present this verse in the following pattern: “Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.” The order is logically inconsistent, for an image bearer represents the image for which it was created, not the other way around. The fact that people desire to make idols based upon their own imaginative minds shows that the idols accurately represents its maker—a dead thing.

[6] Cf. Deut 29.4; Matt 15.14; Rom 11.8-11; 2Cor 4.4; 1John 2.11; comp Isa 42.16

[7] Cf. Lev 21.18; Prov 26.7; contrasted with Isa 35.5-6; Matt 15.30.

[8] Cf. Lev 13.2-3, 44-46; Num 12.10-12; 2Sam 3.29; contrasted with 2King 5.1-17; Luke 4.27; Matt 8.2-3.

Many misunderstand the significance of these blemishes (including all that I have included before, above) found in the human body as a picture of sin. These individuals were cut-off from the congregation in Israel and access to the sanctuary of God via the priests. The only person who could remove this malady from them is the Lord God. His healing made them clean and grafted them into the fellowship of the covenant community. The purpose of Jesus’ healing in the N. T. is a highlighting of this fact. He brought healing in his wings. He alone could heal the nations (people). Jesus alone as the High Priest could declare what was clean versus unclean. Thus, the underlying foundation of the signs which he performed contrary to many “word of faith” preachers or liberal theologians today.

[9] Cf. Job 14.4; John 8.34; Tit 3.3; 2Chron 6.36

[10] Cf. Psa 14.1-3; Eccl 9.3; 1Cor 1.20.

[11] Cf. Deut 32.29; Prov 1.22, 29; 1Tim 6.20.

[12] Stress needs be laid on the doctrine of the Trinity—the One God revealed in three coeternal/coexistent persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Not three gods, but One Being; for the Father is not the Son nor the Spirit, neither is the Son the Father or the Spirit, nor can we say that the Spirit is the Father or the Son. They are distinct in functionality, but united in purpose and essence. In terms of salvific history, the Father sends the Son and gives to the Son the elect; the Son gives His life in honor to the Father for the life of the people given to Him; the Spirit is sent out from the Father and the Son in order to represent the Son in exaltation to those given by the Father and received by the Son, preserving and perfecting the elect for the final day of presentation. Therefore, God alone deserves the glory, honor and praise.

[13] Richard D. Phillips, What’s so Great about the Doctrines of Grace? (Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2008), 24, Adobe Digital Editions.

[14] Contrary to fallen image bearer’s own attestation: “Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?” Or as this verse is rendered in the KJV: “Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find?” (Prov 20.6).

[15] “Speculation which is independent of God’s word cannot lead a rebellious sinner to a proper knowledge of God. For the believer, the Christ of Scripture is the basis of human knowledge; He is the necessary starting pint for knowledge, or else man’s intellectual efforts will lead to utter skepticism.” Greg L. Bahnsen, Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended, ed. Joel McDurmon (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision Press & Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, [2008], 2011), 29. Adobe Digital Editions.

[16] “Facts and logic are meaningful and useful to man within the context of Christ’s word.” Ibid, 29. Italics added.

[17] In case this last analogical reference is misunderstood, allow me to explain. The ring bearer presents the ring of union to the bride and groom. The two rings represent one life. The gospel is the ring that we bring forth to fallen man, but only the husband may put the ring on the one he has taken to be his bride. This act is an act of devotional love bestowed on the woman. The man is the first to act because he has preeminence, the woman follows suit because without the husband movement towards her (i.e. his putting his love on her), she would not be able to respond. Unfortunately, the beauty of this act is lost somewhat in our generation because of the feminist theology that pervades human thought (both inside and outside the church).

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