By William R. Newell
1. Definition: Idolatry is man’s placing a visible object of worship before his eyes to protect him from God, thus silencing his conscience that he may indulge his lusts. God’s “invisible things are clearly seen” by all His responsible creatures. In idolatry, man deliberately “changes the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man,” and of lower creatures—even to “creeping things” (Romans 1:23). Idolatry is man’s deliberate, determined putting away from the thoughts of the concept of the holy God, and choosing and “changing” therefore a concept that will not judge his sin, and the setting up an “image” of that concept, a “likeness,” as an outward object with which the bodily senses may be occupied. This effectually excludes God.
2. History: Idolatry was unknown before the flood. The cherubim were placed at the gate of Eden, with “the flame of a sword.” Thus was man kept from the tree of life, that he might not live forever in his sinful state; and thus, perhaps, was he restrained from that hideous insult to God which idolatry ever is, just as in Israel’s case, “Israel served Jehovah all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua, and had known all the work … that he had wrought for Israel” (Joshua 24:31). Not until after the apostasy that preceded the flood (and which the flood judged) do we find record of man’s being permitted to throw off all knowledge by means of idolatry. Probably the earliest idolatry spoken of in Scripture is in the same chapter (Joshua 24:2, 14).
From “beyond the river” (Euphrates)—that is, from Mesopotamia, more particularly from Babel (later Babylon), and still more definitely from the daring acts of Nimrod, the “mighty destroyer” whose wife, Semiramis, (one of the most able and wicked women of the human race) was, upon her death deified as “queen of heaven,” do we trace the beginnings of idolatry, which eventuates in Satan-worship by means of “the image of the Beast,” seen in Revelation 13. From Babylon, idolatry extended to every land, for Babylon became “a land of graven images … mad over idols.” “Babylon hath been a golden cup in Jehovah’s hand, that made all the earth drunken: the nations have drunk of her wine; therefore the nations are mad” (Jeremiah 50:38, 51:7). Idolatry spread thence to every nation, and God was blotted out from man’s knowledge. Read Isaiah 44:12-20. God’s sad and awful irony concerning the idolator!
And see the obscene stories and idols of every “mythology,” to show that it has always been as in Exodus 32 and Numbers 25.
3. Why man gladly makes a god of a fellow-man (as in Revelation 13):
Thus is attained the first great end of idolatry—release from “the glory of the invisible God”: that glory being now exchanged for the “likeness” of the god man has chosen. This “likeness” is held in the idolater’s mind; he forms his “images” after that “likeness.”127
4. It should be noted, solemnly, that God “gives up” idolaters to their idols. “They that make them shall be like unto them.” See Psalm 115—a great lesson! The “covetous man, who is an idolater,” also: the “likeness” he holds in his mind is treasure; the “image,” gold coin, stocks, bonds. He becomes like a coin—metallic, hard, cruel, harsh. The “likeness” held in the Romish mind is the (imagined) “queen of heaven”; the “image,” pictures and statues of “the Virgin”; these Romanists also become like unto their Babylonian “goddess.” To say the very least, their inner hearts are feminized, and lose the sense of the all-holy God; to say the most, they become so vile that they are the scandal of history. But ah, what will Revelation 13 bring forth, when men take Satan’s Christ so deep into their hearts that “they worship the dragon” because he gives his authority unto their darling, the Man of Sin!
5. The story of the Gentile powers shows:
If you doubt this, see Lenin in Russia,—already held a god! Or Mussolini’s daring and growing claims in Italy, and Hitler’s in Germany. Or, sad to admit, the rush to grasp power, exalt self, and compel subjection at any cost of abandoned promises, and political, moral and domestic safeguards—when the opportunity is given, in the United States of America!
127 This is the claim of all idolaters, that they “do not worship the idol, but the concept behind the idol.” Paul tells us they “sacrifice to demons, and not to God” (1 Corinthians 10). And the awful hideousness of the idols they make reveals the true character of the demons they worship!
It should be remembered, however, that even the deepest idolaters, who have “refused to have God in their knowledge,” yet “know the ordinance of God, that they that practice such things are worthy of death” (See Romans 1:28-32). The state of the heathen is wilful and guilty. Do not lose sight of this for one moment! The terrible calamities, for example, upon China, and the horrible degredation of India—what is it but the “indignation” of Jehovah, the true God, the living God, an everlasting King, pouring out upon idolaters His wrath (See, carefully, Jeremiah 10:1-10). It is like a flash of divine jealousy—it is that. See the eleventh verse of this chapter, the one Aramaic (or earth-language) in a whole Hebrew book: “Thus shall ye say unto them, The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, these shall perish from the earth, and from under the heavens.”