Beware of Idolatry

Beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them” (v. 19).  

- Deuteronomy 4:15–31

Our English term Deuteronomy is derived from the Greek words deuteros, which means “second,” and nomos, which means “law.” Deuteronomy means “second law” and is the name of the fifth book of Moses because it repeats many of the same stipulations given in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. It is a second giving of the Law, necessary because the nation of Israel failed to follow the Law upon its first revelation. On the edge of Canaan God repeated His covenant demands so that the people might not engage in the sins of their fathers.

Idolatry was the main reason why it was necessary for the Creator to remind His people of His law before sending them into the Promised Land. Episodes like the worship of the golden calf (Ex. 32) demonstrate just how easy it was for the Israelites to substitute non-ordained worship of the only true God. Even if the people thought they were worshiping Yahweh when they built the golden calf, they were building an image of the One who forbade images of His divine person (20:4–6). Hence, any visible representation of the divine nature was (and is) bound to be misleading and, therefore, the image of an altogether different god. In any case, we can distinguish between two different kinds of idolatry:

1. Crass Idolatry is that kind of idolatry wherein someone carves a figure of a deity out of a block of wood, piece of stone, or other type of physical material. One of the hardest things to do is to trust the God who is invisible to our five senses; thus, fallen men often create such statues and figures in order to have something they can touch and see. The problem with this, we have noted, is that visual depictions of the divine nature are absolutely prohibited. By and large, Westerners today would probably not be guilty of this kind of idolatry.

2. Refined Idolatry, on the other hand, is rampant in even the most technologically advanced nations on the planet. Idolatry of the refined sort includes the pursuit of anything other than the glory of God as one’s central purpose for being. But refined idolatry also occurs in a more subtle manner. Anytime we deny an attribute of the Lord revealed in Scripture or allow our own preferences to determine His character, we are guilty of refined idolatry.

 

Coram Deo

Their denial of biblical authority makes it easy to accuse liberals of committing refined idolatry. The evangelical church in our day, however, can also build refined idols. Those who believe in a “God of love” without acknowledging His just wrath are guilty of refined idolatry. Any attempt to make God less sovereign than He really is makes us refined idolaters. Where is your belief about the Lord not in line with what He has revealed about Himself in Scripture?

Passages for Further Study

Leviticus 19:4
Isaiah 44:9–20
1 Corinthians 10:14
1 John 5:21

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343