Why Guard Against Idolatry?
“Little children, guard yourselves from idols.”—1 JOHN 5:21.
1. Why is the worship of Jehovah free of idolatry?
JEHOVAH is no idol of metal, wood, or stone. He cannot be housed in an earthly temple. Since he is the almighty Spirit, invisible to humans, it is impossible to make an image of him. Hence, the pure worship of Jehovah must be totally free of idolatry.—Exodus 33:20; Acts 17:24; 2 Corinthians 3:17.
2. What questions merit our consideration?
2 If you are a worshiper of Jehovah, then, you might well ask, ‘What is idolatry? How have Jehovah’s servants been able to avoid it in the past? And why guard against idolatry today?’
What Idolatry Is
3, 4. How may idolatry be defined?
3 Generally, idolatry involves a ceremony or a ritual. Idolatry is the veneration, love, worship, or adoration of an idol. And what is an idol? It is an image, a representation of something, or a symbol, that is an object of devotion. Usually, idolatry is directed toward a real or supposed higher power believed to have animate existence (a human, an animal, or an organization). But idolatry can also be practiced with regard to things inanimate (a force or a lifeless object of nature).
4 In the Scriptures, Hebrew words referring to idols often stress worthlessness, or they are terms of contempt. Among these are words rendered “carved or graven image” (literally, something carved out); “molten statue, image, or idol” (something cast or poured out); “horrible idol”; “vain idol” (literally, vanity); and “dungy idol.” The Greek word eiʹdo·lon is rendered “idol.”
5. Why can it be said that not all images are idols?
5 Not all images are idols. God himself told the Israelites to make two golden cherubs for the ark of the covenant and to embroider representations of such spirit creatures on the inner covering of ten tent cloths for the tabernacle and on the curtain separating the Holy from the Most Holy. (Exodus 25:1, 18; 26:1, 31-33) Only officiating priests saw these representations that served primarily as a picture of the heavenly cherubs. (Compare Hebrews 9:24, 25.) It is evident that the tabernacle representations of cherubs were not to be venerated, since righteous angels themselves would not accept worship.—Colossians 2:18; Revelation 19:10; 22:8, 9.
Jehovah’s View of Idolatry
6. What is Jehovah’s view of idolatry?
6 Servants of Jehovah guard against idolatry because he is against all idolatrous practices. God commanded the Israelites not to form images as objects of veneration and worship them. Among the Ten Commandments are found these words: “You must not make for yourself a carved image or a form like anything that is in the heavens above or that is on the earth underneath or that is in the waters under the earth. You must not bow down to them nor be induced to serve them, because I Jehovah your God am a God exacting exclusive devotion, bringing punishment for the error of fathers upon sons, upon the third generation and upon the fourth generation, in the case of those who hate me; but exercising loving-kindness toward the thousandth generation in the case of those who love me and keep my commandments.”—Exodus 20:4-6.
7. Why is Jehovah opposed to all idolatry?
7 Why is Jehovah opposed to all idolatry? Principally because he exacts exclusive devotion, as shown above in the second of the Ten Commandments. Moreover, he said through his prophet Isaiah: “I am Jehovah. That is my name; and to no one else shall I give my own glory, neither my praise to graven images.” (Isaiah 42:8) At one time, idolatry ensnared the Israelites to such an extent that “they would sacrifice their sons and their daughters to demons.” (Psalm 106:36, 37) Idolaters not only deny that Jehovah is the true God but also serve the interests of his chief Adversary, Satan, together with the demons.
Loyal Under Test
8. What test was faced by the three Hebrews Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego?
8 Loyalty to Jehovah also makes us guard against idolatry. This is illustrated by the incident recorded at Daniel chapter 3. To inaugurate a great golden image that he had set up, Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar assembled officials of his empire. His order included Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—three Hebrew administrators over the jurisdictional district of Babylon. All present were to bow down before the image at the sound of certain musical instruments. This was an attempt by Babylon’s real god, Satan, to make the three Hebrews bow before an image representing the Babylonian Empire. Imagine that you are on the scene.
9, 10. (a) The three Hebrews took what position, and how were they rewarded? (b) What encouragement can Jehovah’s Witnesses derive from the course of the three Hebrews?
9 Look! The three Hebrews are standing. They recall God’s law against making and serving idols or carved images. Nebuchadnezzar gives them an ultimatum—bow down or die! But in loyalty to Jehovah, they say: “If it is to be, our God whom we are serving is able to rescue us. Out of the burning fiery furnace and out of your hand, O king, he will rescue us. But if not, let it become known to you, O king, that your gods are not the ones we are serving, and the image of gold that you have set up we will not worship.”—Daniel 3:16-18.
10 These loyal servants of God are cast into the superheated furnace. Amazed to see four individuals walking in the furnace, Nebuchadnezzar calls the three Hebrews out, and they emerge unharmed. At that the king exclaims: “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who sent his angel [the fourth person in the furnace] and rescued his servants that trusted in him and that changed the very word of the king and gave over their bodies, because they would not serve and would not worship any god at all except their own God. . . . There does not exist another god that is able to deliver like this one.” (Daniel 3:28, 29) The integrity keeping of those three Hebrews provides encouragement for Jehovah’s present-day Witnesses to be loyal to God, maintain neutrality toward the world, and avoid idolatry.—John 17:16.
Idols Lose in Court
11, 12. (a) What record involving Jehovah and idol-gods was made by Isaiah? (b) How did the gods of the nations fare when challenged by Jehovah?
11 Another reason to guard against idolatry is that veneration of idols is useless. Though some man-made idols may seem lifelike—often with a mouth, eyes, and ears—they cannot speak, see, or hear, and they can do nothing for their devotees. (Psalm 135:15-18) This was shown in the eighth century B.C.E., when God’s prophet recorded at Isaiah 43:8-28 what is, in effect, a court case between Jehovah and idol-gods. In it God’s people Israel were on one side, and the worldly nations on the other. Jehovah challenged the false gods of the nations to tell “the first things,” to prophesy accurately. Not one could do so. Turning to his people, Jehovah said: “You are my witnesses . . . and I am God.” The nations could not prove that their gods existed ahead of Jehovah or that they could prophesy. But Jehovah foretold Babylon’s ruin and the release of his captive people.
12 Further, God’s delivered servants would say, as described at Isaiah 44:1-8, that they “belong to Jehovah.” He himself said: “I am the first and I am the last, and besides me there is no God.” There is no rebuttal from the idol-gods. “You are my witnesses,” Jehovah again said of his people, adding: “Does there exist a God besides me? No, there is no Rock.”
13. What does idolatry reveal about an idolater?
13 We also guard against idolatry because engaging in it betrays a lack of wisdom. With part of a tree that he chooses, an idolater makes a god to worship, and with another part he lights a fire to cook his food. (Isaiah 44:9-17) How foolish! A maker and devotee of idol-gods suffers shame also because of being unable to give a convincing witness proving their godship. But Jehovah’s Godship is unquestionable, for he not only foretold the liberation of his people from Babylon but also caused this to occur. Jerusalem was reinhabited, the cities of Judah were rebuilt, and Babylon’s “watery deep”—the Euphrates River—evaporated as a source of protection. (Isaiah 44:18-27) As God also foretold, Cyrus the Persian conquered Babylon.—Isaiah 44:28–45:6.
14. In the Universal Supreme Court, what will be proved permanently?
14 The idol-deities lost that legal case regarding godship. And what befell Babylon is sure to befall her modern counterpart, Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion. She and all her gods, religious paraphernalia, and objects of idolatry will soon be gone forever. (Revelation 17:12–18:8) In the Universal Supreme Court, it will then be permanently proved that Jehovah alone is the living and true God and that he fulfills his prophetic Word.
Sacrifices to Demons
15. What did the holy spirit and the first-century governing body indicate regarding Jehovah’s people and idolatry?
15 Jehovah’s people also guard against idolatry because they are guided by God’s spirit and organization. The first-century governing body of Jehovah’s servants told fellow Christians: “The holy spirit and we ourselves have favored adding no further burden to you, except these necessary things, to keep abstaining from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication. If you carefully keep yourselves from these things, you will prosper. Good health to you!”—Acts 15:28, 29.
16. In your own words, how would you express what Paul said about things sacrificed to idols?
16 Another reason to guard against idolatry is to avoid demonism. Regarding the Lord’s Evening Meal, the apostle Paul told Corinthian Christians: “Flee from idolatry. . . . The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of the Christ? The loaf which we break, is it not a sharing in the body of the Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, although many, are one body, for we are all partaking of that one loaf. Look at that which is Israel in a fleshly way: Are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers with the altar? What, then, am I to say? That what is sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No; but I say that the things which the nations sacrifice they sacrifice to demons, and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers with the demons. You cannot be drinking the cup of Jehovah and the cup of demons; you cannot be partaking of ‘the table of Jehovah’ and the table of demons. Or ‘are we inciting Jehovah to jealousy’? We are not stronger than he is, are we?”—1 Corinthians 10:14-22.
17. In the first century C.E., under what circumstances could a Christian eat meat sacrificed to idols, and why?
17 Part of an animal was sacrificed to an idol, a portion went to priests, and the worshiper got some for a feast. However, part of the flesh might be sold in a market. It was inadvisable for a Christian to go to an idol temple to eat meat even though he did not eat as part of a rite, for this could stumble others or draw him into false worship. (1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Revelation 2:12, 14, 18, 20) Offering an animal to an idol did not change the flesh, so a Christian could buy some at a market. He also did not have to ask about the source of meat served in a home. But if someone said it had been “offered in sacrifice,” he would not eat it, to avoid stumbling anyone.—1 Corinthians 10:25-29.
18. How could those eating something sacrificed to an idol get involved with the demons?
18 It was often thought that after the sacrificial rite, the god was in the meat and entered the body of those eating it at the worshipers’ feast. As people who ate together forged a bond between themselves, so those partaking of the sacrificial animals were sharers in the altar and had communion with the demon-god represented by the idol. Through such idolatry, demons kept people from worshiping the only true God. (Jeremiah 10:1-15) No wonder Jehovah’s people were to keep abstaining from things sacrificed to idols! Loyalty to God, acceptance of guidance by his holy spirit and organization, and determination to avoid involvement with demonism also prove to be powerful incentives to guard against idolatry today.
Why a Need to Be on Guard?
19. What kind of idolatry existed in ancient Ephesus?
19 Christians diligently guard against idolatry because it has many forms, and even one idolatrous act can compromise their faith. The apostle John told fellow believers: “Guard yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:21) This counsel was needed because many forms of idolatry surrounded them. John wrote from Ephesus, a city steeped in magical practices and myths about false deities. Ephesus had one of the seven wonders of the world—the temple of Artemis, a place of asylum for criminals and a center of immoral rites. The philosopher Heracleitus of Ephesus likened the dark approach to that temple’s altar to the darkness of vileness, and he considered temple morals worse than those of beasts. Thus, Ephesian Christians had to stand firm against demonism, immorality, and idolatry.
20. Why was it necessary to avoid even the slightest idolatry?
20 Christians need strong determination to avoid even the slightest idolatry because just one act of worship to the Devil would lend support to his challenge that humans would not remain faithful to God under test. (Job 1:8-12) When showing Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory,” Satan said: “All these things I will give you if you fall down and do an act of worship to me.” Christ’s refusal upheld Jehovah’s side of the issue of universal sovereignty and proved the Devil a liar.—Matthew 4:8-11; Proverbs 27:11.
21. With regard to the Roman emperor, what did faithful Christians refuse to do?
21 Neither would Jesus’ early followers do an act of worship supporting Satan’s side of the issue. Though they had proper regard for governmental “superior authorities,” they would not burn incense in honor of the Roman emperor, even if it cost them their lives. (Romans 13:1-7) In this regard Daniel P. Mannix wrote: “Very few of the Christians recanted, although an altar with a fire burning on it was generally kept in the arena for their convenience. All a prisoner had to do was scatter a pinch of incense on the flame and he was given a Certificate of Sacrifice and turned free. It was also carefully explained to him that he was not worshiping the emperor; merely acknowledging the divine character of the emperor as head of the Roman state. Still, almost no Christians availed themselves of the chance to escape.” (Those About to Die, page 137) If similarly tested, would you completely resist all idolatry?
Will You Guard Against Idolatry?
22, 23. Why should you guard against idolatry?
22 Clearly, Christians must guard against all forms of idolatry. Jehovah demands exclusive devotion. The three faithful Hebrews provided a fine example in refusing to idolize the great image set up by Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. In the universal court case recorded by the prophet Isaiah, Jehovah alone was shown to be the true and living God. His early Christian witnesses had to keep abstaining from things sacrificed to idols. The many loyal ones among them did not succumb to pressure to perform even a single idolatrous act that would constitute denial of Jehovah.
23 So, then, are you personally guarding against idolatry? Are you giving God exclusive devotion? Do you support Jehovah’s sovereignty and extol him as the true and living God? If so, it should be your determination to continue standing firm against idolatrous practices. But what further Scriptural points can help you to guard against idolatry of every sort?
What Are Your Thoughts?
◻ What is idolatry?
◻ Why is Jehovah opposed to all idolatry?
◻ What position did the three Hebrews take regarding idolatry?
◻ How could those eating things sacrificed to idols get involved with the demons?
◻ Why should we guard against idolatry?
[Picture on page 23]
Though their lives were threatened, the three Hebrews would not engage in idolatry