This is a continuation of my project, Modern-Day Idolatry, posted on E2 for much appreciated critique on writing style, continuity, and grammar. Thank you, again, to the writers who helped me with the first installment, the "Preface".
Where Did Idols Come From?
To state the question more specifically, I would ask, “What was the first idol on earth, and what was the method of introduction for idolatry?” When this question is posed, for many people the answer is, “I don't know,” or simply, “I don't care.” This is not to show that the people who are asked are uneducated or mindless, but it does show how ignorant we can be of yesterday's mistakes. I've often heard it said, "Learn from past mistakes," and I wonder how much I could learn from looking back at this "mistake" of mankind. Based on my personal observations, idolatry is the largest problem on earth today, and it would be worth our time to briefly look into the past to see what caused, and/or led to, its introduction. What can history teach us about our modern times?
One of the strongest contributors to the preservation of historical information is the written word, or written information, if you will. Vis-a-vis, a vast array of books (in whatever form that may have been) written long ago up till recently speak of idols and idolatry. The Internet is also a gargantuan source of information on this topic, and is accessible to practically anyone. I started looking to the Internet to see if I could find some answers to my questions regarding idolatry, but very shortly afterward found that the only credible source of information—a source that I could be sure of—was the Word of God. This does not mean that I then cut myself off from the world, but as Christians we fall back on the Word (as written in the Christian Bible). The Apostle John writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it." (John 1:1-5 NKJV) Believing in Jesus means believing His words; I believe that the Bible is Jesus' Word, and that it is the absolute truth. It has been an active and life-changing force which has proven itself many times over not only in my life, but in the lives of millions. My prayer is that the Word will guide you into a personal relationship with God.
People who do not have a personal relationship with God will always fall back on the words and knowledge of experts, psychologists, political leaders, and philosophers (to name just a few) of this world in times of trouble or distress. As followers of Christ Jesus, we must fall back on the Word when fear and doubt try to overwhelm us; this is not to say we must not make use of the skills of educated people, of course. I do, however, mean to say that my first reference to any situation in life should be, and is, the Word of God as recorded in the Bible. In my personal experiences, I found that the Word of God does not fill my mind with darkness and anxiety. There will be those times when we will have trouble comprehending the message of the Word, because the darkness which we have grown so accustomed to over the ages of human existence clouds our understanding.
Why do I say all this, you ask? Well, if the Bible says,"in the beginning was the Word," (John 1:1) where should I look to find the root of idolatry? The Word, of course! The Greek word used for "word" in John 1:1 is "logos," which means the message of the spoken word (in simple terms), and in His message, we will find our answers. If I need some questions answered, especially when it concerns ancient times, I must seek those answers in the words spoken and/or directed by the Author of all knowledge, wisdom, and creation. This approach should not only be used to find the answer to the question of this chapter, but to all our questions—the Word of God is alive and active (Hebrews 4:12). Let us, then, take a look into this living and active Word, brought to us by the Bible.
The first appearance of idols in Scripture was before the great flood which Noah survived. Little is written of that time, but the origination and introduction of idolatry is actually written very plainly. “If that is so,” you say, “then why can't we see it?” The thing is, you have probably read it a hundred times, but just never payed attention to it. For example, let's take cars. I went through a lot of cars, and each time I took interest in a different kind, I would suddenly start noticing them everywhere. Now, did people suddenly start buying that certain make and model just as soon as I took interest in it? Of course not. Since my thoughts were now centered on these cars, I began to involuntarily notice them. So it is with idolatry. Once you become fully aware of it, you will see it everywhere almost involuntarily. So, let's start from the beginning.
When God created man and woman, He created them without fault or blemish and they had begun life with a clean record. The Lord placed them in a garden called Eden, and they were tasked with caring for it. In this garden, God gave them everything they needed to live. Food and water were readily available. Before even creating the woman, God instructed Adam: “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17 ESV) These instructions seem pretty clear and straightforward.
Then came along the “serpent.” Whether this was an actual animal or just an image the enemy assumed, I do not know. However, it is crucial to pay attention to what the serpent said. This crafty entity first spoke to Eve, posing this question to her: “...Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1 ESV) Upon hearing this, Eve probably felt it necessary to set the facts straight. “And the woman said to the serpent, 'We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.”’” (Genesis 3:2-3 ESV) After she had corrected the serpent, he proceeded to plant the seed which would grow the insidious roots of idolatry. “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5 KJV)
Did the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil really possess some sort of supernatural power within the fruit? Maybe so. If we back up and take a look at the whole picture, though, we might come to the conclusion that perhaps God set that boundary because He wanted to see who they would choose to have rulership and leadership over their lives, regardless of whether that tree was supernatural or not. Would they choose His guidance in what was good and evil, or would they choose to be their own rulers and judges of what was good and evil? What did they choose? “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.” (Genesis 3:6-7 KJV) The moment they had decided in their hearts to eat that fruit, they strayed from the will of God—they had stepped outside of His will.
Being in His will meant that they would rely on Him to decide what was good and what was evil; stepping outside of His will (or His desire for their lives), they would be the judges of what is good and what is evil. Taking that fruit, they might as well have said aloud, “I am now my own ruler. I decide what is right and what is wrong. I decide what is good and what is evil. I can set my own boundaries, and I can destroy them, because I am a god!” (Remember that a "god" is a "ruler," or "judge.") Now we look around at our societies, and what message do we receive? Do what you feel like doing, gratify yourself, and put yourself first and foremost! This happens to be the same reasons why Eve decided to take that step. She saw that the tree was “good for food,” “pleasant to the eyes,” and “to be desired to make one wise.” Self-satisfaction, self-gratification, and self-elevation were the drivers of her action. Now, the earth is a world full of gods and idols meant to offer self-satisfaction, gratification, and elevation.
Where did idolatry originate? Idolatry originated within the heart of Adam and Eve. How was it introduced? It was introduced with an appeal to certain aspects of their existence, and the growth of idolatry in their hearts was initiated by their decision to take judgment and rulership of their lives into their own hands. Their attention and admiration was averted (by the enemy) from God to themselves. Adam and Eve were the first idols to exist on the face of the earth! I do not mean to say that people worshiped them as gods, but that they had situated themselves in the place of God.
Adam and Eve had unwittingly introduced idolatry into existence, and from their action forthwith came the onslaught of human disarray and dysfunction. "Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." And also: "The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence." (Genesis 6: 5,11 NKJV) Idolatry had corrupted the earth entirely. I link idolatry with the complete corruption of life using the Scriptures we had just reviewed, and also a passage from the Book of Wisdom: “For the source of wantonness is the devising of idols; and their invention was a corruption of life." (Wisdom 14:12 NAB) The Knox Translation says it this way: “When idols were first devised, then began unfaithfulness; there was death in the invention of them.” Here in the Book of Wisdom we see a direct link of “corruption” and “idolatry”. For certain actions man makes, there seems to be systematic consequences. I've learned this thus far: idolatry is the result of a corrupt or corrupted mind, and violence is a result of idolatry. Adam and Eve allowed their minds to be corrupted by the enemy, and humanity had to deal with the consequences. Of course, God already had a plan of salvation for the human race through Jesus Christ.
Reading these Scriptures in the Book of Genesis and the Book of Wisdom, we certainly can see a connection between idolatry and man's wickedness before the flood. As we read further, we learn that they went too far in their deviation from God's original plan, and had to be stopped: “All in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, all that was on the dry land, died." (Genesis 7:22 NKJV)
Amongst all those “in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life” was Noah, who was righteous in the midst of all the people on earth (Genesis 6:8-9). All the people on earth, except for him, were wicked, and as a result, Noah and his immediate family survived the great flood; he and his wife, his three sons and their wives survived (Genesis 6 and 7). And so the question arises: how did idolatry get its way back into the lives of men and women?
The Bible doesn't specify in detail as to how this happened, but lets look at it from a logical viewpoint. The Word says that Noah found “grace,” or “favor,” in the eyes of the LORD (Genesis 6:8). Why? The answer: "...Noah was a just man, perfect (meaning 'blameless' or 'having integrity') in his generations. Noah walked with God." (Genesis 6:9 NKJV Notes in parenthesis added) Based on this Scripture, I can assume that idolatry didn't worm its way back because of Noah's doing. This may be so, and most likely is, but if not because of him, then who? At the mention of Noah, one could almost forget about his sons and daughters. Its written that Noah had integrity, but did his sons have integrity? Let's see. "And Noah began to be a farmer, and he planted a vineyard. Then he drank of the wine and was drunk, and became uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and went backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father's nakedness. So Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done to him. Then he said: 'Cursed be Canaan...'" (Genesis 9: 20-25 NKJV)
Two of his sons did have integrity, holding to their father's principles and moral values that he had retained from walking with God, but one apparently did not. We must remember that Ham did live in the pre-flood world. Did he walk with God like Noah had? Judging by the scenario written in this place of Scripture, Ham did not retain all of his father's principles or moral values like his two older brothers had. What had possessed him to look at his father's nakedness and mock him? Could it be that his mind was already corrupted from living in the pre-flood world?
If he allowed himself to look upon his father's naked body (and to top that, mock him for it), what would he have done later in life, having that corrupted mind? Noah did not only rebuke him after that, but cursed him and his lineage. If we think realistically, Ham was probably very upset, and having that corruption within him (whether it was a seed or a strong root), he could very well have resorted to other practices previously committed by the pre-flood world that had immoral aspects to them as well. Could Ham have been the one that started the practice of idolatry after the great flood? We won't know for sure until we meet our Lord in Heaven, but we can see that there's a peculiarly unpleasant thing unfolding here.
Later on, Canaan ended up to be one of those places that was filled with idolatry, and was marked by the Lord for destruction, as we read in Exodus: "For My Angel will go before you and bring you in to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites and Hivites and the Jebusites; and I will cut them off. You shall not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do according to their works; but you shall utterly overthrow them and completely break down their sacred pillars." (Exodus 23: 23,24 NKJV)
We know that idolatry was a key reason for the first world's doom, and we also have an account of Ham's immoral action which might have been the prelude to idolatry's reinforcement in the human race after the Flood. Ham's corruption, whether it was small or great, has led me to suspect that he played a major role in the reintroduction and reinforcement of idolatry to the post-flood world.