Idols and Idol Worship: With Notes

The first and reliable notice of idolatry on record, is in connection with Israel's great progenitor—Abraham (Josh. 24:22And Joshua said unto all the people, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor: and they served other gods. (Joshua 24:2)). At what precise time this awful evil was introduced into the world, it is impossible to say, certainly not previous to the flood, but probably at or soon after the dispersion. Whether idol worship originated in the land of the Pharaoh's or in the northern power of Assyria, cannot be determined, nor is it a point, we conceive, of the slightest importance.
Idolatry is the worship of demons (1 Cor. 10:2020But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. (1 Corinthians 10:20)). Satan succeeded in getting himself introduced before the conscience of man, as the author and source of all evil and all good; hence he soon came to be worshipped. He quickly deified the passions, virtues, powers of man and of nature. He worked upon men's feelings, fears, and pride. The great effort was to lower the creatures' conception of the Creator. Man, under the guiding hand of Satan "changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image, made like to corruptible man." Could the intelligent creature sink lower? Could a step be reached in the fast descending scale of moral corruption, yet lower? Yes; and let the Word of God, amply confirmed by the facts of history now well-known and accessible to all, rebuke the unbelief of Christendom and the savants of the nineteenth century, when the world's regeneration and the development of human nature are so loudly proclaimed and so strongly insisted upon. It was not the ignorant heathen, but the wise and learned—whose works are now the subject of study and research in our learned universities—who "changed the glory of the uncorruptible God... to birds and four-footed beasts," and, as if that were not low enough, Satan rested not till he secured the world's worship of himself—under the form of the serpent or "creeping things" (Rom. 1:2323And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. (Romans 1:23); Gen. 3:1414And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: (Genesis 3:14)). The worship of Satan once so prevalent and almost universal, singly or in conjunction with the sun, will yet be general over these lands of present light and privilege (Rev. 1314And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live. (Revelation 13:14); 2 Thess. 23But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil. (2 Thessalonians 3:3)) The deities of the ancients were usually worshipped in pairs; thus, Sir H. Rawlinson tells us that "every god" of the Assyrians "is associated with a goddess." What a degrading conception of the one and only true God!
That the reader may form some idea of the extent to which idolatry was practiced, we append a list, by no means complete, of heathen deities. It will be observed, that all which could possibly act upon and influence man, is here represented by its distinctive divinity. How completely this shut God out from the thoughts of man:-+
Angenoria, goddess of industry.
Angerona, goddess of silence.
Apollo, goddess of music, etc.
Astrma, goddess of justice.
Ate, goddess of revenge.
Aurora, goddess of the morning.
Autumnus, god of fruits.
ֶolus, god of the winds.
ֶsculapius, god of physic.
Bacchus, god of wine.
Bapta, goddess of shame.
Bellona, goddess of war.
Boreas, god of the north wino.
Ceres, goddess of agriculture.
Collina, goddess of hills.
Comus, god of mirth.
Concordia, goddess of peace.
Cupid, god of love.
Cybele, goddess of the earth.
Diana, goddess of hunting; of marriage, and chastity.
Discordia, goddess of contention.
Fama, goddess of report.
Flora, goddess of flower
Fortune, goddess of misery and happiness.
Harpocrates, god of silence.
Hebe, goddess of youth.
Historia, goddess of history.
Hygeia, goddess of health.
Hymen, god of marriage.
Janus, god of the year.
Juno, goddess of heaven.
Jupiter, the supreme male deity.
Mercury, god of eloquence.
Minerva, goddess of wisdom.
Mnemosyne, goddess of memory.
Momus, god of raillery.
Mors, goddess of death.
Mars, god of war.
Morpheus, god of dreams.
Neptune, god of the sea.
Pan, god of shepherds.
Pitho, goddess of eloquence.
Pluto, god of hell.
Plutus, god of riches.
Pomona, goddess of fruits.
Proserpine, queen of the infernal regions.
Psyche, goddess of pleasure.
Saturn, god of time.
Somnus, god of sleep.
Sylvanus, god of the woods.
Terminus, god of boundaries.
Thetis, goddess of the sea.
Vacuna, goddess of idleness.
Venus, goddess of love, beauty, and marriage.
Vertumnus, god of the spring.
Vesta, goddess of fire.
If the foregoing list shows the multiform character of idolatry, the following list of countries and towns gathered alone from the Scriptures, may give an idea of its universality. We have only named those places in immediate or remote connection with Israel:-
ASSYRIA (2 Kings 17; SAMARIA (Isa. 10 II).
The blessed Lord sketches the past, present, and future state of Judah in relation to idolatry in Matt. 12:43-4543When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. 44Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. 45Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation. (Matthew 12:43‑45). The unclean spirit of idolatry left Judah at the epoch of the Babylon captivity, and from the return to Jerusalem the house was "empty, swept, and garnished."Idolatry was again and again forced upon the people, but as often and sternly rejected. There was no idolatry in Immanuel's land from the return to Palestine till Christ, nor amongst the people since. But there is a terrible future in store for Judah ere "the LORD build up Zion." When restored to her land by the friendly help of an unnamed maritime nation, this will in the first instance be her truly dreadful condition; "then goeth he and taketh with himself seven other spirits (Idolatry perfected) more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there, and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation."
Baal, 1 Kings 18:2121And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word. (1 Kings 18:21).-This god is mentioned about 25 times in the Holy Scriptures. Baal is often associated with Ashtoreth, the former connected with bloody rites, the latter with licentiousness. Baal was more frequently worshipped by the ancient world than any other god mentioned in Scripture. It was generally a male deity representing the "Sun."
[In the apostate days of Ahab, King of Israel, this idol had no less than 450 prophets devoted to his special service, besides 400 prophets of the "groves"-where he would also be worshipped (1 Kings 17.). There are traces still extant of customs in Ireland, Wales, and parts of Scotland, which evidently show that Baal worship was practiced by our ancestors under the ancient Druids. In Perthshire there is a town called Tilliebeltane-the hill of the fire of Baal.]
Baal-berith, Jud. 8:33.-The worship of "Baal" by the Shechemites.
Baal-peor, Num. 25:33And Israel joined himself unto Baal-peor: and the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel. (Numbers 25:3).-Worship of the " sun " practiced by the Moabites, etc., under the most indecent circumstances, and whose women seduced Israel to this filthy form of idolatry.
Baal-Zebub, 2 Kings 1:26.-The god of the Philistines, or "god of Ekron." Baal signifies "Lord," and Baal-Zebub means the "Lord or god of flies."
Bel, Jer. 1. 2.-Chief male deity of the Babylonians. It is uncertain what form of worship was represented by Bel. This deity had a most superb temple erected for its worship, said to have been 600 feet high, while its base covered a square of 200 yards.
Chiun, Amos 5:2626But ye have borne the tabernacle of your Moloch and Chiun your images, the star of your god, which ye made to yourselves. (Amos 5:26).-An idol worshipped by Israel in the wilderness, and regarded as a form of "star" worship. This is a solemn passage as intimating that in light of grace effecting deliverance from Egyptian bondage, they yet carried with them the idolatry of that land.
Dagon, 1 Sam. 5:22When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon. (1 Samuel 5:2), etc.-The Philistine national deity, in form partly a man and partly a fish. Ashdod and Gaza were the principal seats of its worship, Assyrian sculptures present this compound idol of fish and man.
Diana, Acts 19:2424For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, which made silver shrines for Diana, brought no small gain unto the craftsmen; (Acts 19:24)-35.-A goddess of great renown amongst the Greeks. Her temple at Ephesus was a most magnificent structure. She is generally represented with many breasts, symbolizing the generative powers of nature and her ability to communicate fruitfulness in offspring. In the month of May, sacred to the goddess,
immense numbers of models and shrines were sold to strangers, and thus carried all over the world. The Grecian goddess of the same name is not the Ephesian Diana—they differ in many respects.
Dragon, Beast, and "another Beast" or Man of Sin, (2 Thess. 2) Rev. 13 - In the short period—dark and awful—lying between the translation of the saints to heaven and their subsequent return with the Lord in glory, a triune form of Devil-worship will extensively prevail. Satan, also the head of the revived Latin Empire, and the Antichrist will be worshipped in imitation of the Christian revelation of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Gad and Meni, Isa. 65:1111But ye are they that forsake the Lord, that forget my holy mountain, that prepare a table for that troop, and that furnish the drink offering unto that number. (Isaiah 65:11) (see margin).-In the text the words are rendered "troop" and "number." These false deities are supposed, on the authority of Gesenius, to be the representatives of Jupiter and Venus—stars of good fortune.
God of Forces, Dan. 11:3838But in his estate shall he honor the God of forces: and a god whom his fathers knew not shall he honor with gold, and silver, and with precious stones, and pleasant things. (Daniel 11:38).- The antichristian king reigning in Palestine in the future days of Judah's apostacy will introduce a form of idolatry hitherto unknown amongst the Jews, here called the "god of forces" or of war. The worship of war-implements is, however, common enough amongst the Hindoos. Tradesmen of various crafts, and even scholars sacrifice to their books.
Groves, Judg. 3:77And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and forgat the Lord their God, and served Baalim and the groves. (Judges 3:7), etc.- The recesses of forests and gardens for the better concealment of the rites connected with idolatrous worship.
Golden calf, Ex. 32:11And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. (Exodus 32:1)-6; 1 Kings 12:2828Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. (1 Kings 12:28).- This was a form of idolatry borrowed from Egypt. By this low kind of image-worship man not only lowered his own glory (Psa. 106:2020Thus they changed their glory into the similitude of an ox that eateth grass. (Psalm 106:20)), but changed the glory of the Creator (Rom. 1:2323And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. (Romans 1:23)) to that of the meanest of the creatures. Five centuries afterward Jeroboam established this form of idolatry (1 Kings 1228Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. (1 Kings 12:28)), no doubt because of its familiarity to him when in Egypt (1 Kings 11:4040Solomon sought therefore to kill Jeroboam. And Jeroboam arose, and fled into Egypt, unto Shishak king of Egypt, and was in Egypt until the death of Solomon. (1 Kings 11:40)).
High places, 2 Kings 15:3535Howbeit the high places were not removed: the people sacrificed and burned incense still in the high places. He built the higher gate of the house of the Lord. (2 Kings 15:35), etc.-These were generally built on very hilly and exposed situations, and specially appropriated to idolatrous purposes. Solomon and others of the kings erected these places for the express purpose of idol worship. It was a standing reproach even to the godly kings that they failed to exterminate this favorite mode of idolatry (2 Chron. xv. 57, etc.). In patriarchal times, however, the summits of hills and mountainous places were used in the pure worship of Jehovah (Gen. 22:22And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. (Genesis 22:2)).
Jupiter and Mercurius, Acts 14:1212And they called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercurius, because he was the chief speaker. (Acts 14:12).- Jupiter was the supreme heathen divinity; and supposed to have absolute control over all gods and creation. Mercurius was the "god of speech or eloquence," and the special messenger of Jupiter. Hence Barnabas, probably because of his venerable appearance or supposed likeness to their god, was named "Jupiter" by the Lystrians; and Paul, because of his speech, "Mercurius."
Moloch, 2 Kings 23:1010And he defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the children of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech. (2 Kings 23:10).-The representative of fire, and an exceedingly cruel form of idol-worship. The arms were made red hot, and human victims, especially children, placed upon them, while the cries of the agonized sufferers were drowned by the beating of drums. The idolatry practiced by the Moabites and Ammonites was both disgusting and cruel.
Nebo, Isa. 46:11Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth, their idols were upon the beasts, and upon the cattle: your carriages were heavy loaden; they are a burden to the weary beast. (Isaiah 46:1).-Worshipped by the Assyrians and Babylonians, and regarded as the god of speech and learning, and thus equivalent to the "Mercury" of the Latins. He seems to have been the tutelar deity of the royal race, as the name is incorporated in several of the kings' names.
Nergal, 2 Kings 17:3030And the men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, and the men of Cuth made Nergal, and the men of Hamath made Ashima, (2 Kings 17:30).-An Assyrian divinity of great repute, and was supposed to preside over the fortunes of "war" and "hunting. " In the monumental sculptures of the country, he is represented as partly lion and partly human.
Nibhaz, 2 Kings 17:3131And the Avites made Nibhaz and Tartak, and the Sepharvites burnt their children in fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim. (2 Kings 17:31).-One of the idols introduced into Samaria after the deportation of the ten tribes. A species of combined "dog and man" worship. "According to De la Roque, the colossal figure of a dog was found on the road to Tripolis, to which the inhabitants paid Divine honor."
Queen of Heaven, Jer. 7:1818The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto other gods, that they may provoke me to anger. (Jeremiah 7:18).-The "moon" was worshipped as the "queen of heaven," under the title "Ashtoreth," and was generally associated with "Baal," the sun. The rites connected with these ancient forms of idolatrous worship were, by some nations, of the most indecent description.
Succoth-benoth, 2 Kings 17:3030And the men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, and the men of Cuth made Nergal, and the men of Hamath made Ashima, (2 Kings 17:30).- Occurs but once in Scripture, and refers to booths or tents erected by the colonists sent to people Samaria in honor of the goddess of "uncleanness."
Tammuz, Ezek. 8:1414Then he brought me to the door of the gate of the Lord's house which was toward the north; and, behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz. (Ezekiel 8:14).- This Syrian idol was worshipped in the very heart of Jerusalem itself. "Women weeping for Tammuz" refers to their grief on the periodical absence of their god. The rites connected therewith were of the most filthy description.
Tartak, 2 Kings 17:3131And the Avites made Nibhaz and Tartak, and the Sepharvites burnt their children in fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim. (2 Kings 17:31).-Another of the heathen idols introduced into Samaria after the overthrow of the kingdom of Israel. Who or what "Tartak" represents is not known. According to the uncertain teachings of the Rabbins, it had the figure of an "ass."
Unknown God, Acts 17:2323For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. (Acts 17:23).-Athens was a city wholly given to idolatry, so that it has been termed "the altar of Greece;" yet this highly-polished and intellectual people publicly proclaimed their ignorance of God and all true knowledge of God, by erecting an altar and inscribing thereon, "To the unknown God."
The world's population has been roughly estimated at 1,350 millions, of whom about 360,000,000 are nominally Christian; but even this small proportion includes infidels and unbelievers of all kinds, besides the existence of nearly 1,300 rival sects and parties. On a rough average, we have 990,000,000 idolaters in the world—three-fourths of the entire population of the world.
It has been estimated that in the continents of Asia and Africa there are about 960,000,000, and not a nation amongst them who revere the Scriptures or worship God, except, perhaps, Liberia, early colonized by the United States of America, and consisting principally of emancipated slaves.
The Koran is accepted by about 60,000,000; Buddhism numbers about 360,000,000; Brahmanism about 150,000,000; besides Jews, the followers of Zoroaster or fire-worshippers of Persia, etc., and others who deny the fundamental truths of Christianity, of whom the numbers cannot be estimated.
"All over the ancient world the offering of perfumes formed a recognized and indispensable part of religious worship. There is a reference to this well-known fact in the inspired description of idols, 'Noses have they, but they smell not.' Until very recently the sweet sedge was strewn on the floors of the cathedrals of England, particularly Norwich cathedral, and it exhaled, when trodden, a delicious fragrance which filled the whole building as with incense."What is this but a modified form of idolatry so prevalent in the Greek church, and even in her western rival—Popery! Is Protestantism entirely free from the awful charge? Idolatry is having a center for the heart short of the living God, revealed in Christ, and personally known and loved as a Savior-god.