What is Idolatry? 3 Profound Reasons Idolatry is a Sin

The Cairo Curse, by Pepper Basham quote

The second commandment warns us against idolatry, but have you ever wondered what is idolatry or some things that can become idols?

Maybe you think idolatry ended with the Israelites and don’t see how it applies to believers today. Let’s dig into this topic and see how we can avoid the pitfalls.

What is Idolatry?

The Oxford Dictionary Online defines idolatry as extreme admiration, love, or reverence for something or someone.

While this gives us a starting point, it’s not enough, so let’s go deeper.

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia defines idolatry in the following ways:

  • the worship of idols, or the worship of false gods by means of idols
  • any worship of false gods, whether by images or otherwise,
  • the worship of Yahweh through visible symbols giving to any creature or human creation the honor or devotion which belonged to God alone, the giving to any human desire precedence over God’s will.

Whew! That’s quite a mouthful, so let’s break it down.

Anything that we worship (express adoration or reverence to) that is not the Creator is idolatry. If we create an image and claim that it is the Creator and worship it, that’s idolatry.

Any deity that is worshipped that is not the Creator is an idol.

If we give anyone the honor which belongs to the Creator or put a human desire above God’s will, that’s an idol.

What things can be idols?

Anything that is put in the place that belongs to Jehovah becomes an idol. So what are some things that can become idols? When we read the Bible, we repeatedly see the children of Israelites worshipping images or the deities of foreign nations.

They put their faith in these items that were inanimate and useless. Could a god that had been created by hands rescue, heal, or deliver?
The answer seems obvious to us today, yet this was a trap the Israelites fell in again and again.

But maybe we shouldn’t be pointing fingers at the children of Israel. After all, we have our own idols today. Because the trouble with idolatry is that anything can become an idol.

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.

Psalm 20:7 NIV

Maybe if we rewrote this verse using modern-day items, the image would be clearer.

Some trust in money and some in fame
Some trust in family and some in friends
Some trust in parents and some in children
Some trust in people and some in self

Is it becoming clearer? My friend, idolatry is a slippery slope that we can slide down many times.

The trick is not to stay down or to keep sliding once we identify our idols.

Why Is Idolatry a Sin?

The simple answer to this question is that it breaks the Lord’s commandment. Now you may ask which commandment and most persons will say the second. I don’t disagree with that answer, but I’d like to expand on it.

Let’s look at the first three commandments in Exodus 20.

And God spoke all these words, saying:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

“You shall have no other gods before Me.

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain” (Exodus 20:1-7 NKJV).

Do you realize how fluid the first three commandments are? Almost as if one gave rise to the next. If you’re anything like me, you might find it difficult to separate them because they are so closely intertwined.

Let’s answer the question of why idolatry is a sin by looking at an example of idolatry in the Bible.

Shortly after the Lord gave the people the commandment, Moses went up to the mountain to speak with God. In his absence, the people became restless and demanded that Aaron make a god for them.

Aaron created a golden calf and the Israelites worshipped the golden statue. You can read the full account in Exodus 32. But let’s talk about how this act of idolatry obliterated multiple commandments.

  1. When they worshipped the calf, they placed this god before their Creator. That broke the first commandment.

They even went so far as to give the golden calf credit for what God had done for them. Look at the Israelites’ statement after Aaron had made the calf:

Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!” Exodus 32:4 NKJV

This negated the statement that God made at the beginning of the Ten Commandments:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” Exodus 20:2 NKJV

  1. When they created the calf, they broke the second commandment by making for themselves a carved image. Then they proceeded to bow down before it.

Now you may say, “I’ve read that account and there’s no mention of them bowing down before the calf” and you’d be correct. But let’s go back to Exodus 20:5 for a moment.

Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

– Exodus 20:5 KJV

The word translated as bow down is the Hebrew word shâchâh, (pronounced shaw-khaw’) which means to depress, i.e. prostrate (especially in homage to royalty or God). While it means to bow oneself down, it could also have been translated as worship.

So when God said His people were not to bow down before idols, He meant they were not to worship them. And there was worship happening in the story of the golden calf. They even brought offerings to the golden calf (Exodus 32:6-8).

  1. The third commandment says that we should “not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Exodus 20:7).

The word translated as vain was the Hebrew word shâvᵉʼ, (pronounced shawv) and could also have been translated to mean false(-ly), lie, or lying. Shâvᵉʼ is used in the Bible to mean emptiness, nothingness, or vanity.

When they ascribed the Lord’s name to the golden calf (Exodus 32:5), they took the name of the Lord in vain.

In one act, they broke three commandments (and there may have been more). Do you see now why idolatry is a sin?

Because it’s a deceptive act that puts someone or something else in a place that only Jehovah can occupy.

This quote from The Cairo Curse by Pepper Basham had me thinking about what idolatry is:

The way God kept killing Frederick’s idol of his family’s legacy was almost humorous.

The Cairo Curse Review

The Cairo Curse, by Pepper Basham, is the sequel to The Mistletoe Countess. In this charming follow-up, Grace and Frederick are off to honeymoon in Italy with a quick side trip to visit the pyramids in Egypt. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, since Grace is involved, lots. It’s hard to tell if trouble finds Grace or if she goes looking for it. The result is the convoluted and often hilarious reasoning of a woman who thinks in fiction.

I enjoyed reading The Cairo Curse as it gave additional insight into Frederick and Grace’s marriage. It was good to see this couple settling into their relationship and inviting other people into their circle to experience healing and hope.

Readers will enjoy trying to solve the mysteries while following along with Grace, Frederick, and their friends as they explore Egypt.

The cast of characters had more than the usual amount of villains, but everyone’s lives were so connected it was difficult to discern who had committed what crime. You’ll see the harmful effects of putting people and things in the place that belongs to Jehovah.

The Cairo Curse will remind readers that the things we did in the past or what people say about us do not define us. We are who God says we are. When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we become new creations in Him.

The Cairo Curse will also remind readers that sometimes the things we cling to become idols, making it difficult for us to see how God is working in our lives.

The First Line of The Cairo Curse

“Gunfire erupted from outside, sending Frederick Percy, Earl of Astley, leaping from his chair.” – The Cairo Curse, Pepper Basham

If you’ve read The Mistletoe Countess or The Cairo Curse then you know this sentence is a perfect clue that Grace is up to her usual hijinks.

I received an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher through NetGalley and CelebrateLit; a positive review was not required.

About The Cairo Curse

Clue meets Indiana Jones with a fiction-loving twist only Grace Percy can provide.
Newlyweds Lord and Lady Astley have already experienced their fair-share of suspense, but when a honeymoon trip takes a detour to the mystical land of Egypt, not even Grace with her fiction-loving mind is prepared for the dangers in store. From an assortment of untrustworthy adventure-seekers to a newly discovered tomb with a murderous secret, Frederick and Grace must lean on each other to navigate their dangerous surroundings. As the suspects mount in an antiquities’ heist of ancient proportions, will Frederick and Grace’s attempts to solve the mystery lead to another death among the sands?
The Cairo’s Curse is a delightful sequel to The Mistletoe Countess by Pepper Basham in the Freddie and Grace Mystery series.
Purchase The Cairo Curse on Amazon | Christianbook

About Pepper Basham

Pepper Basham is an award-winning author who writes romance “peppered” with grace and humor. Writing both historical and contemporary novels, she loves to incorporate her native Appalachian culture and/or her unabashed adoration of the UK into her stories. She currently resides in the lovely mountains of Asheville, NC where she is the wife of a fantastic pastor, mom of five great kids, a speech-language pathologist, and a lover of chocolate, jazz, hats, and Jesus.

Her nineteenth novel, Authentically Izzy, debuts in November with Thomas Nelson. She loves connecting with readers and other authors through social media outlets like Facebook & Instagram.

You can learn more about Pepper and her books on her website at www.pepperdbasham.com

Modern-day Idolatry

In The Cairo Curse, the main character, Frederick, put a lot of stock into who his family was. Their position in society was important to him, but they were flawed human beings and did things that caused a lot of harm to other people. Frederick had to realize that he had put his family on a pedestal–one that should only be occupied by God.

He didn’t create a golden image and bow down before it, but his family and his opinion of them was his idol. Frederick’s modern-day idolatry is something many of us struggle with. We put our families, jobs, possessions, and even worries and fears in the center of our hearts and lives.

My friend, it should not be so. God has done too many things for us, even sending Christ to die for our sins. Let us discard these modern-day idols and revere Jehovah as our Sovereign and King.

What idols do you have in your life? Even more important, what steps are you going to take to topple those idols?

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What is Idolatry? 3 Profound Reasons Idolatry is a Sin
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