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People's Dictionary of the Bible


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Idolatry. The worship of other objects or beings than the one true God. Probably the heavenly bodies were among the earliest objects of idolatrous reverence. Thus the sun and moon, the Baal and Astarte of Phœnician worship, were regarded as embodying these active and passive principles respectively. And the idol deities of other nations bore similar characters. It is easy to see how such worship would be tainted by licentiousness of thought, and that the rites of it would be immoral and obscene. Unnatural lusts would be indulged, till the frightful picture drawn by the apostle Paul of heathenism was abundantly realized among even the most refined nations of antiquity. Romans 1:18-32. It was in order to guard the Israelites against such abominable things that many of the enactments of the Mosaic law were directed.

Deuteronomy 22:5. The ancient Hebrews had no fixed form of idolatry; but they frequently imitated the superstitions of other nations. Genesis 31:30; Joshua 24:23; Judges 2:11-12; Judges 8:27; Judges 17:5; Judges 18:30-31. Solomon, seduced by his strange wives, caused temples to be erected in honor of their gods, and himself impiously offered incense to them. 1 Kings 11:6-7. Under the reign of Ahab, idolatry reached its greatest height; and the impious Jezebel endeavored to destroy the worship of Jehovah. Even the sacrifice of children, forbidden as it was under the most severe and summary penalties, became common. Leviticus 20:2; Jeremiah 7:31; Ezekiel 16:21. The severe chastisement of the captivity in a great measure uprooted Hebrew idolatry. Perhaps those who went into Egypt were the worst class of the Jews. Jeremiah 44:15-30. Yet even there idolatry did not last among them. And, though after the return there was much lukewarmness shown, and alliances were made afresh with ungodly nations,, and false prophets appeared, Ezra 9:1-2; Nehemiah 6:14, yet so far as we can judge by the national covenant, Nehemiah 10:1-39, and the general tone of the post-exilian prophets, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, idolatry ceased to nourish. In the New Testament the Christians, who were continually brought into contact with idolaters through the extent of the Roman empire, were cautioned as to their behavior. Not only were they to abhor idol-worship itself, but they were also to abstain from meats which had been offered to idols. Acts 15:29. It was true that the meat itself was not thereby defiled, for an idol was nothing; and therefore Christians need not be too particular in inquiring into the history of what was set before them But, if any one apprised them that it had been so presented, they were not to eat, lest an occasion of offence should be given to a weak brother or to a censorious heathen. 1 Corinthians 8:4-13; 1 Corinthians 10:25-32.

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Bibliography Information
Rice, Edwin Wilbur, DD. Entry for 'Idolatry'. People's Dictionary of the Bible. 1893.

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