Guard Against Idolatry of Every Sort
“What agreement does God’s temple have with idols?”—2 CORINTHIANS 6:16.
1. What was typified by Israel’s tabernacle and temples?
JEHOVAH has a temple that does not house idols. It was typified by Israel’s tabernacle constructed by Moses and by the temples later built in Jerusalem. Those structures represented “the true tent,” Jehovah’s great spiritual temple. (Hebrews 8:1-5) That temple is the arrangement for approaching God in worship on the basis of Jesus Christ’s ransom sacrifice.—Hebrews 9:2-10, 23.
2. Who become pillars in God’s great spiritual temple, and what position is enjoyed by the great crowd?
2 Each anointed Christian becomes “a pillar in [God’s] temple,” receiving a place in heaven. “A great crowd” of Jehovah’s other worshipers is “rendering [God] sacred service” in what was represented by the courtyard of the Gentiles at the temple rebuilt by Herod. Because of faith in Jesus’ sacrifice, they have a righteous standing that results in preservation through “the great tribulation.”—Revelation 3:12; 7:9-15.
3, 4. To what is the congregation of anointed Christians on earth likened, and of what defilement must it be free?
3 The congregation of anointed Christians on earth is also figuratively likened to another temple free of idolatry. To such ones ‘sealed with the holy spirit,’ the apostle Paul said: “You have been built up upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, while Christ Jesus himself is the foundation cornerstone. In union with him the whole building, being harmoniously joined together, is growing into a holy temple for Jehovah. In union with him you, too, are being built up together into a place for God to inhabit by spirit.” (Ephesians 1:13; 2:20-22) These 144,000 sealed ones are “living stones” being “built up a spiritual house for the purpose of a holy priesthood.”—1 Peter 2:5; Revelation 7:4; 14:1.
4 Since these underpriests are “God’s building,” he does not allow this temple to be defiled. (1 Corinthians 3:9, 16, 17) “Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers,” warned Paul. “For what fellowship do righteousness and lawlessness have? Or what sharing does light have with darkness? Further, what harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what portion does a faithful person have with an unbeliever? And what agreement does God’s temple have with idols?” Anointed Christians, who belong to “Jehovah the Almighty,” must be free of idolatry. (2 Corinthians 6:14-18) Those of the great crowd must also avoid idolatry of every sort.
5. Aware that Jehovah deserves exclusive devotion, true Christians do what?
5 There are both outright and subtle forms of idolatry. No, idolatry is not limited to the worship of false gods and goddesses. It is the worship of anything or anyone other than Jehovah. As the Universal Sovereign, he rightly requires and deserves exclusive devotion. (Deuteronomy 4:24) Aware of this, true Christians heed Scriptural warnings against all idolatry. (1 Corinthians 10:7) Let us consider certain forms of idolatry to be avoided by Jehovah’s servants.
Christendom’s Idolatry Foreshadowed
6. What detestable things did Ezekiel see in vision?
6 While in Babylonian exile in 612 B.C.E., the prophet Ezekiel had a vision of detestable things practiced by apostate Jews at Jehovah’s temple in Jerusalem. Ezekiel saw a “symbol of jealousy.” Seventy elders were observed offering incense in the temple. Women were seen weeping over a false god. And 25 men were worshiping the sun. Of what significance were these apostate acts?
7, 8. The “symbol of jealousy” may have been what, and why did it incite Jehovah to jealousy?
7 The idolatry of Christendom was foreshadowed by the detestable things that Ezekiel saw in vision. For instance, he said: “Look! to the north of the gate of the altar there was this symbol of jealousy in the entranceway. And [Jehovah God] went on to say to me: ‘Son of man, are you seeing what great detestable things they are doing, the things that the house of Israel are doing here for me to become far off from my sanctuary?’”—Ezekiel 8:1-6.
8 The idolatrous symbol of jealousy may have been a sacred pole representing the false goddess that the Canaanites viewed as the wife of their god Baal. Whatever the symbol was, it incited Jehovah to jealousy because it divided Israel’s exclusive devotion to him in violation of his commandments: “I am Jehovah your God . . . You must not have any other gods against my face. 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.”—Exodus 20:2-5.
9. How has Christendom provoked God to jealousy?
9 Worshiping the symbol of jealousy in God’s temple was one of the great detestable things being done by apostate Israelites. Similarly, Christendom’s churches are defiled with God-dishonoring symbols and images that divide the exclusive devotion they claim to give to the One they profess to serve. God is also provoked to jealousy because the clergy reject his Kingdom as mankind’s only hope and idolize the United Nations—“the disgusting thing . . . standing in a holy place,” where it should not stand.—Matthew 24:15, 16; Mark 13:14.
10. What did Ezekiel see inside the temple, and how does this compare with what is noted in Christendom?
10 Entering the temple, Ezekiel reports: “Look! there was every representation of creeping things and loathsome beasts, and all the dungy idols of the house of Israel, the carving being upon the wall all round about. And seventy men of the elderly ones of the house of Israel . . . were standing before them, each one with his censer in his hand, and the perfume of the cloud of the incense was ascending.” Just think! Israelite elders in Jehovah’s temple, offering up incense to false gods, represented by detestable wall carvings. (Ezekiel 8:10-12) Comparably, birds and wild animals are used to symbolize Christendom’s countries, to which people give devotion. Moreover, many of the clergy are guilty of helping to mislead the masses by advocating the erroneous theory of man’s evolution from subhuman, animal life-forms instead of upholding the true Bible account of creation by Jehovah God.—Acts 17:24-28.
11. Why were apostate Israelite women weeping over Tammuz?
11 At the entrance of the gate of Jehovah’s house, Ezekiel saw apostate Israelite women weeping over Tammuz. (Ezekiel 8:13, 14) Babylonians and Syrians viewed Tammuz as the god of vegetation that grows in the rainy season and dies during the dry period. Its death pictured that of Tammuz, annually bewailed by his worshipers at the time of the greatest heat. With the reappearance of vegetation during the rainy season, Tammuz supposedly returned from the underworld. He was represented by the first letter of his name, the ancient tau that was a form of the cross. This may well remind us of Christendom’s idolatrous reverence for the cross.
12. What did Ezekiel see 25 apostate Israelite men doing, and what similar action takes place in Christendom?
12 In the temple’s inner courtyard, Ezekiel next saw 25 apostate Israelite men worshiping the sun—a violation of Jehovah’s command against such idolatry. (Deuteronomy 4:15-19) Those idolaters also held out to God’s nose an obscene twig, perhaps representing the human male organ. No wonder God would not answer their prayers, even as Christendom will seek his help during the “great tribulation,” but in vain. (Matthew 24:21) As those apostate Israelites worshiped the light-giving sun with their backs to Jehovah’s temple, so Christendom turns her back on light from God, teaches false doctrines, idolizes worldly wisdom, and winks at immorality.—Ezekiel 8:15-18.
13. In what ways do Jehovah’s Witnesses avoid the forms of idolatry seen in Ezekiel’s vision?
13 Jehovah’s Witnesses avoid the forms of idolatry practiced in Christendom, or antitypical Jerusalem, as foreseen by Ezekiel. We do not idolize God-dishonoring symbols. Though we show respect for governmental “superior authorities,” our subjection to them is relative. (Romans 13:1-7; Mark 12:17; Acts 5:29) Our heart devotion is given to God and his Kingdom. We do not substitute the evolution theory for the Creator and his creation. (Revelation 4:11) Never do we adore the cross or idolize intellectualism, philosophy, or other kinds of worldly wisdom. (1 Timothy 6:20, 21) We also guard against all other forms of idolatry. What are some of these?
Other Sorts of Idolatry
14. What position do Jehovah’s servants take with regard to the “wild beast” of Revelation 13:1?
14 Christians do not share with mankind in idolizing a symbolic “wild beast.” Said the apostle John: “I saw a wild beast ascending out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, and upon its horns ten diadems . . . All those who dwell on the earth will worship it.” (Revelation 13:1, 8) Beasts can symbolize “kings,” or political powers. (Daniel 7:17; 8:3-8, 20-25) So the seven heads of the symbolic wild beast stand for world powers—Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, and the Anglo-American combine of Britain and the United States of America. Christendom’s clergy show great disrespect for God and Christ by leading mankind in idolizing the political system of Satan, “the ruler of this world.” (John 12:31) As Christian neutrals and Kingdom advocates, however, Jehovah’s servants reject such idolatry.—James 1:27.
15. How do Jehovah’s people view worldly stars, and what did one Witness say in this regard?
15 God’s people also refrain from idolizing the world’s stars of entertainment and sports. After becoming a Witness of Jehovah, one musician said: “Music for entertainment and for dancing can arouse wrong desires . . . The performer sings about happiness and tenderness that many listeners may feel is missing in their partner. The artist often comes to be identified with what he is singing about. Some professionals I know are for this reason real favorites with women. Once someone is submerged in this world of fantasy, it can lead to his idolizing the performer. It may begin quite harmlessly by a person’s asking for an autograph as a souvenir. But some come to view the artist as their ideal, and by putting him on a pedestal, they make him into an idol. They may hang the star’s picture on the wall and begin to dress and groom themselves as he does. Christians need to keep in mind that adoration belongs only to God.”
16. What shows that righteous angels reject idolatry?
16 Yes, only God deserves adoration or worship. When John “fell down to worship before the feet of the angel” that showed him amazing things, that spirit creature refused to be idolized in any way but said: “Be careful! Do not do that! All I am is a fellow slave of you and of your brothers who are prophets and of those who are observing the words of this scroll. Worship God.” (Revelation 22:8, 9) Fear of Jehovah, or deep reverence for him, makes us worship him alone. (Revelation 14:7) Thus, true godly devotion safeguards us from idolatry.—1 Timothy 4:8.
17. How can we guard against idolatrous sexual immorality?
17 Sexual immorality is another form of idolatry rejected by Jehovah’s servants. They know that “no fornicator or unclean person or greedy person—which means being an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of the Christ and of God.” (Ephesians 5:5) Idolatry is involved because the craving for illicit pleasure becomes an object of devotion. Godly qualities are imperiled by improper sexual desires. By inclining his eyes and ears to pornography, a person jeopardizes any relationship he might have with the holy God, Jehovah. (Isaiah 6:3) To guard against such idolatry, then, God’s servants must avoid pornography and corrupting music. They need to cling to strong spiritual values based on the Scriptures, and they must keep on “the new personality which was created according to God’s will in true righteousness and loyalty.”—Ephesians 4:22-24.
Avoid Greed and Covetousness
18, 19. (a) What are greed and covetousness? (b) How can we guard against idolatrous greed and covetousness?
18 Christians also guard against greed and covetousness, which are closely related forms of idolatry. Greed is inordinate or rapacious desire, and covetousness is greediness for anything belonging to someone else. Jesus warned against covetousness and spoke of a covetous rich man who could not benefit from his wealth at death and was in the sad state of not being “rich toward God.” (Luke 12:15-21) Paul appropriately counseled fellow believers: “Deaden . . . your body members that are upon the earth as respects . . . covetousness, which is idolatry.”—Colossians 3:5.
19 Those obsessed with love for money, with voraciousness for food and drink, or with ambition for power make such desires their idols. As Paul pointed out, a greedy person is an idolater and will not inherit God’s Kingdom. (1 Corinthians 6:9, 10; Ephesians 5:5) Hence, baptized individuals who practice idolatry as greedy persons could be disfellowshipped from the Christian congregation. By applying the Scriptures and praying earnestly, however, we can avoid greediness. Says Proverbs 30:7-9: “Two things I have asked of you [Jehovah God]. Do not withhold them from me before I die. Untruth and the lying word put far away from me. Give me neither poverty nor riches. Let me devour the food prescribed for me, that I may not become satisfied and I actually deny you and say: ‘Who is Jehovah?’ and that I may not come to poverty and I actually steal and assail the name of my God.” Such a spirit can help us to guard against idolatrous greed and covetousness.
Guard Against Self-Idolatry
20, 21. How do Jehovah’s people guard against self-idolatry?
20 Jehovah’s people also guard against self-idolatry. In this world it is common to idolize oneself and one’s own will. Desire for fame and glory causes many to act in devious ways. They want their will done, not God’s. But we could have no relationship with God if we yielded to self-idolatry by deviously seeking to get our own way and trying to lord it over others. (Proverbs 3:32; Matthew 20:20-28; 1 Peter 5:2, 3) As Jesus’ followers, we have renounced the world’s underhanded things.—2 Corinthians 4:1, 2.
21 Instead of seeking fame, God’s people comply with Paul’s admonition: “Whether you are eating or drinking or doing anything else, do all things for God’s glory.” (1 Corinthians 10:31) Being Jehovah’s servants, we do not idolatrously insist on our own way but joyfully do the divine will, accepting direction from “the faithful and discreet slave” and cooperating fully with Jehovah’s organization.—Matthew 24:45-47.
Keep on Guard!
22, 23. In what way can we keep on guard against idolatry of every sort?
22 As Jehovah’s people, we do not bow down before material idols. We also guard against subtle forms of idolatry. In fact, we must continue to avoid idolatry of every sort. We therefore comply with John’s counsel: “Guard yourselves from idols.”—1 John 5:21.
23 If you are one of Jehovah’s servants, always exercise your Bible-trained conscience and perceptive powers. (Hebrews 5:14) Then you will not be contaminated by the world’s idolatrous spirit but will be like the three faithful Hebrews and loyal early Christians. You will give Jehovah exclusive devotion, and he will help you to keep on guard against idolatry of every sort.
What Are Your Thoughts?
◻ How do Jehovah’s Witnesses avoid forms of idolatry seen in Ezekiel’s vision?
◻ What is the “wild beast” of Revelation 13:1, and what position do Jehovah’s servants take regarding it?
◻ Why guard against idolizing entertainment and sports stars?
◻ How can we guard against self-idolatry?
◻ Why keep on guard against idolatry of every sort?
[Pictures on page 26]
Do you know how the detestable things seen in Ezekiel’s vision foreshadowed Christendom’s idolatry?
Artwork (upper left) based on photo by Ralph Crane/Bardo Museum