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Vayikra/Leviticus 19:4 You shall not turn to the idols, and molten gods you shall not make for yourselves; I am the L-rd your G-d.
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Chapter 19 of Vayikra is widely known as the Holiness Code. Many scholars suggest that it contains the Torah's third rendition of the Ten Words - the two better known versions being found in Shemot chapter 20 and D'varim chapter 5. The ancient sages certainly thought so: "Rabbi Hiyya taught: This section was spoken in the presence of a gathering of the whole assembly, because most of the essential principles of the Torah are attached to it. Rabbi Levi said: Because the Ten Commandments are included therein" (Vayikra Rabbah 24:5).
Our text seems to fit entirely within the second commandment as traditionally defined by Judaism: "You shall have no other gods besides Me. You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, or any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I the L-RD your G-d am an impassioned G-d, visiting the guilt of the parents upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generations of those who reject Me, but showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments" (Shemot 20:3-6 and D'varim 5:7-10, NJPS). We seem, nevertheless, to have two distinct commands in our text: not turning to idols; and not making images.
What does the Torah mean when it says, "Do not turn to the idols"? is the most common way that biblical Hebrew forms the sense of a negative imperative. Frequently found in the injunction and its plural counterpart , "Do not fear" (for example, respectively, Joshua 8:1 and Shemot 20:20), this is a sharp and immediate prohibition: do not now do this. Here it is coupled with the verb , the Qal 2mp prefix form of the root , to turn, turn away - in order to go or look away - turn towards (Davidson). This verb has more the sense of rotation than , to turn aside or away, to depart, which seems to involve more movement. The commonly used noun , plural , is 'face', always used of men and G-d in the plural to show that, like Greek actors with their masks, we have complex characters and correspondingly many faces that we show in different states and contexts. We should not, then, turn our faces towards an idol. But does that go far enough?
Rashi says that "do not turn" means "do not turn to worship them; that is, do not even consider turning to face and worship them." Ibn Ezra is even stronger: "Literally, one must not even think of turning towards them to look." Baruch Levine comments that "the Hebrew idiom 'do not turn to' conveys the sense of reliance on a power, human or divine. It is frequently used with reference to idolatrous tendencies." John Hartley neatly sums up: "The expression means to change directions; in passages with worship it means to focus one's attention on serving another deity."1
The second command uses the verb , the Qal 2mp form of the root , to do or to make, here coupled with the negative particle , 'not'. This represents a longer lasting prohibition: do not ever make molten images (idols). "Do not make for yourselves; do not make them for others, nor have others make them for you," Rashi explains, adding, "It has already been said: 'You shall have no other gods besides Me' (Shemot 20:3), so you may not have yours or those of others." The making of idols for any purpose - even for selling to others - and their possession, whether in one's house or located elsewhere even as cultural artifacts, is prohibited. We should notice that both this verb and the previous one are plural. Ibn Ezra takes this to include the whole people and to place a burden of compliance on the entire community: "Anyone who sees someone turn to idols or make a molten god and does not report it becomes an accomplice."
Idols are to be considered worthless non-entities; the prophet asks, "Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing?" (Isaiah 44:10, ESV) and Rav Sha'ul tells the Corinthians that "we know that 'an idol has no real existence,' and that 'there is no God but one'" (1 Corinthians 8:4, ESV). Ibn Ezra tells us that the Hebrew word used for idols "carries an implication of falsehood" and points to its use in the phrase "worthless physicians" (Job 13:4, ESV) which the NLT charmingly renders as "worthless quacks"! TheRamban says that "one must not believe that they are of any use or that things prophesied in their name will in fact come to pass. They and everything connected with them should be considered utterly worthless," while Targum Onkelos switches the words in our text out completely, replacing them with derogatory terms. The Baal HaTurim notices that this command immediately follows the one to honour Shabbat and directs us to the Sages of the Talmud who say that "one who pours a wine libation to a false deity and one who desecrates Shabbat are regarded as equals" (b. Chullin 5a). "The meaning of the term 'worthless' would be intended," Mark Rooker suggests, "to be a commentary on those who would find themselves engaging in the worship of idols."2
But, it would seem, even after the Enlightenment and today's attempts to deconstruct and de-mythologise, we do have an ongoing problem. "Left to himself," RabbiHirsch tells us, "Man always feels himself at the limit of his powers, feels himself with his longings and desires even at war with higher powers, powers whose tolerance must be forced or flattered or cajoled out of them." That sounds exactly like idolatry: the worship or manipulation of false gods or imagined deities. Whether reading horoscopes, a neighbour with a little green jade Buddha on the mantelpiece "just for fun", or full-scale involvement with pagan rituals, these are all false, all idolatry and all forbidden. Yet, idolatry is all around us; even if derided as nothing more than rank superstition, society is completely addicted to it in ever so many ways. And, with so much of this being part of our every day culture, it is an ever present threat to believers in the One True G-d. As Walter Kaiser points out, "the nature of idolatry did not reside simply in erecting a physical icon and in offering worship to that icon; instead, it was to be found in making any goal, person, institution or allegiance equal to, or above, one's commitment to the living G-d. In that sense the danger of idolatry is still rampant today."3
Here, in the words of Brevard Childs, is what it is really all about: "The central issue is the nature of legitimate worship ... The contrast to YHVH's true witness, the substitution of an image is judged to be a false witness, hence a delusion."4 Yeshua rebuked the enemy, during His period of temptation in the wilderness, saying, "It is written: 'You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve'" (Luke 4:8, NASB). By substituting an image - a person, an ambition, whatever - in place of G-d, we turn the whole thing upside down. It is not we who make our gods, but G-d who has made us and commands our obedience. Hirsch again: "Man is not to imagine G-d out of himself but to conceive and mould himself out of G-d." We are called, not only to worship only the One True God, "the G-d and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah" (Romans 15:6, NASB), but to be "conformed to the image of His Son" (8:29, NASB). We too should refuse all forms of idolatry, of false worship, allegiance or desire, in the same way that Yeshua did: "Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on G-d's interests, but man's" (Matthew 16:23, NASB).
What and where are our idols today? Where might you have an idol that influences your thoughts and decisions and prevents you from serving G-d with a whole heart? Whether a physical object, an unhealthy relationship with another person or a habit that continually trips you over, it must be given up and purged if you are to see progress in your walk with G-d, "for G-d has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification" (1 Thessalonians 4:7, NASB). These things can only be revealed by the Ruach as we ask Him to conduct an inventory: "Examine me, O L-RD, and try me; test my mind and my heart" (Psalm 26:2, NASB). Only then can we be free.
1. - John E. Hartley, Leviticus, Word Biblical Commentary, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1992), page 313.
2. - Mark F. Rooker, Leviticus, The New American Commentary, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2000), page 254.
3. - Walter C. Kaiser, "Leviticus" in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 618.
4. - Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary, The Old Testament Library, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), page 409.
Further Study: Psalm 139:23-24; Matthew 4:8-11; 1 Corinthians 15:48-49
Application: Has the Spirit convicted you of having an idol in your life? You need to act today to remove it from your life, your possession and your thoughts. Ask Yeshua to help and claim His release from the power of the idol as you break its hold on your life and firmly close the door to the enemy's influence.
Comment - 07:48 18Apr21 JG: Yes, David and I recently listened to Derek Prince teaching on love of the truth.The steady, ongoing need for sanctification in our walk as Derek's teaching showed as well
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© Jonathan Allen, 2021
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