Return to main index

I1. Practicing Idolatry.    [Make a Comment]

We are not to practice idolatry.

This precept is derived from His Word (blessed be He):

Key Scriptures

Exodus 20:3 (Maimonides RN1; Meir MN8; Chinuch C26)
You are to have no other gods before me.

Exodus 20:4 (Maimonides RN2; Meir MN9; Chinuch C27)
You are not to make for yourselves a carved image or any kind of representation of anything in heaven above, on the earth beneath or in the water below the shoreline.

Exodus 20:5 (Maimonides RN5, RN6; Meir MN11, MN12; Chinuch C28, C29)
You are not to bow down to them or serve them; for I, ADONAI your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me

Exodus 23:13 (Maimonides RN14, RN26; Meir MN13, MN27; Chinuch C86, C518)
Pay attention to everything I have said to you; do not invoke the names of other gods or even let them be heard crossing your lips.

Exodus 23:23-24
When my angel goes ahead of you and brings you to the Emori, Hitti, P'rizi, Kena'ani, Hivi and Y'vusi, I will make an end of them. You are not to worship their gods, serve them or follow their practices; rather, you are to demolish them completely and smash their standing-stones to pieces.

Exodus 34:14 (Chinuch C28)
... because you are not to bow down to any other god; since ADONAI - whose very name is Jealous - is a jealous God.

Leviticus 17:7 (Maimonides RN5)
No longer will they offer sacrifices to the goat-demons, before whom they prostitute themselves! This is a permanent regulation for them through all their generations.

Leviticus 18:21 (Maimonides RN7; Chinuch C208)
You are not to let any of your children be sacrificed to Molekh, thereby profaning the name of your God; I am ADONAI.

Leviticus 19:4 (Maimonides RN10; Meir MN16; Chinuch C213)
Do not turn to idols, and do not cast metal gods for yourselves; I am ADONAI your God.

Leviticus 26:1 (Maimonides RN12; Meir MN161; Chinuch C349)
You are not to make yourselves any idols, erect a carved statue or a standing-stone, or place any carved stone anywhere in your land in order to bow down to it. I am ADONAI your God.

Deuteronomy 14:15-19 (Maimonides RN10; Chinuch C213)
Therefore, watch out for yourselves! Since you did not see a shape of any kind on the day ADONAI spoke to you in Horev from the fire, do not become corrupt and make yourselves a carved image having the shape of any figure - not a representation of a human being, male or female, or a representation of any animal on earth, or a representation of any bird that flies in the air, or a representation of anything that creeps along on the ground, or a representation of any fish in the water below the shoreline. For the same reason, do not look up at the sky, at the sun, moon, stars and everything in the sky, and be drawn away to worship and serve them; ADONAI your God has allotted these to all the peoples under the entire sky.

Deuteronomy 4:23-28
Watch out for yourselves, so that you won't forget the covenant of ADONAI your God, which he made with you, and make yourself a carved image, a representation of anything forbidden to you by ADONAI your God. For ADONAI your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. When you have had children and grandchildren, lived a long time in the land, become corrupt and made a carved image, a representation of something, and thus done what is evil in the sight of ADONAI your God and provoked him; I call on the sky and the earth to witness against you today that you will quickly disappear from the land that you are crossing the Yarden to possess. You will not prolong your days there but will be completely destroyed. ADONAI will scatter you among the peoples; and among the nations to which ADONAI will lead you away, you will be left few in number. There you will serve gods which are the product of human hands, made of wood and stone, which can't see, hear, eat or smell.

Deuteronomy 8:19
If you forget ADONAI your God, follow other gods and serve and worship them, I am warning you in advance today that you will certainly perish.

Deuteronomy 11:16 (Maimonides RN10; Chinuch 213)
But be careful not to let yourselves be seduced, so that you turn aside, serving other gods and worshipping them.

Deuteronomy 12:29-31 (Maimonides RN10; Chinuch C213)
When ADONAI your God has cut off ahead of you the nations you are entering in order to dispossess, and when you have dispossessed them and are living in their land; be careful, after they have been destroyed ahead of you, not to be trapped into following them; so that you inquire after their gods and ask, 'How did these nations serve their gods? I want to do the same.' You must not do this to ADONAI your God! For they have done to their gods all the abominations that ADONAI hates! They even burn up their sons and daughters in the fire for their gods!

Deuteronomy 16:21-22 (Maimonides RN13; Chinuch C492)
You are not to plant any sort of tree as a sacred pole beside the altar of ADONAI your God that you will make for yourselves. Likewise, do not set up a standing-stone; ADONAI your God hates such things.

Deuteronomy 18:10-11 (Maimonides RN7; Chinuch C208)
There must not be found among you anyone who makes his son or daughter pass through fire, a diviner, a soothsayer, an enchanter, a sorcerer, a spell-caster, a consulter of ghosts or spirits, or a necromancer.

Deuteronomy 30:15-18
Look! I am presenting you today with, on the one hand, life and good; and on the other, death and evil - in that I am ordering you today to love ADONAI your God, to follow his ways, and to obey his mitzvot, regulations and rulings; for if you do, you will live and increase your numbers; and ADONAI your God will bless you in the land you are entering in order to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, if you refuse to listen, if you are drawn away to prostrate yourselves before other gods and serve them; I am announcing to you today that you will certainly perish; you will not live long in the land you are crossing the Yarden to enter and possess.

Joshua 23:6-8
Therefore be very firm about keeping and doing everything written in the book of the Torah of Moshe and not turning aside from it either to the right or to the left. Then you won't become like those nations remaining among you. Don't even mention the name of their gods, let alone have people swear by them, serve them or worship them; but cling to ADONAI your God, as you have done to this day.

Jeremiah 16:10-11
When you tell this people all that I have said, and they ask you, 'Why has ADONAI decreed all this terrible disaster against us? What is our iniquity, what is our sin, that we have committed against ADONAI our God?' then you are to say to them, 'It is because your ancestors abandoned me, says ADONAI, and went after other gods, serving and worshipping them, but abandoned me and did not keep my Torah.'

Ezekiel 20:7
I told them, "Each of you is to throw away the detestable things that draw your eyes. Do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt. I am ADONAI your God."

Jonah 2:9(8)
Those who worship vain idols give up their source of mercy

Psalm 16:4
Those who run after another god multiply their sorrows; to such gods I will not offer drink offerings of blood or take their names on my lips.

Psalm 97:7
All who worship images will be put to shame, those who make their boast in worthless idols. Bow down to him, all you gods!

Romans 1:22-25
Claiming to be wise, they have become fools! In fact, they have exchanged the glory of the immortal God for mere images, like a mortal human being, or like birds, animals or reptiles! This is why God has given them up to the vileness of their hearts' lusts, to the shameful misuse of each other's bodies. They have exchanged the truth of God for falsehood, by worshipping and serving created things, rather than the Creator - praised be he forever. Amen.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10
Don't you know that unrighteous people will have no share in the Kingdom of God? Don't delude yourselves - people who engage in sex before marriage, who worship idols, who engage in sex after marriage with someone other than their spouse, who engage in active or passive homosexuality, who steal, who are greedy, who get drunk, who assail people with contemptuous language, who rob - none of them will share in the Kingdom of God.

1 Corinthians 10:14
Therefore, my dear friends, run from idolatry!

1 Corinthians 10:19-20
So, what am I saying? That food sacrificed to idols has any significance in itself? Or that an idol has significance in itself? No, what I am saying is that the things which pagans sacrifice, they sacrifice not to God but to demons; and I don't want you to become sharers of the demons!

2 Corinthians 6:16-17
What agreement can there be between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God - as God said, "I will house myself in them ... and I will walk among you. I will be their God, and they will be my people." Therefore ADONAI says, "'Go out from their midst; separate yourselves; don't even touch what is unclean. Then I myself will receive you.'"

1 John 5:21
Children, guard yourselves against false gods!

Supportive Scriptures

Matthew 6:19-21
Do not store up for yourselves wealth here on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and burglars break in and steal. Instead, store up for yourselves wealth in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and burglars do not break in or steal. For where your wealth is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:24
No one can be slave to two masters; for he will either hate the first and love the second, or scorn the second and be loyal to the first. You can't be a slave to both God and money.

Luke 12:16-21
And he [Yeshua] gave them this illustration: "There was a man whose land was very productive. He debated with himself, 'What should I do? I haven't enough room for all my crops.' Then he said, 'This is what I will do: I'll tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and I'll store all my wheat and other goods there. Then I'll say to myself, "You're a lucky man! You have a big supply of goods laid up that will last many years. Start taking it easy! Eat! Drink! Enjoy yourself!"' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night you will die! And the things you prepared - whose will they be?' That's how it is with anyone who stores up wealth for himself without being rich toward God.

1 Corinthians 12:2
You know that when you were pagans, no matter how you felt you were being led, you were being led astray to idols, which cant speak at all.'


Most of the mitzvot promulgated in the Mosaic era appear to command against worshiping foreign gods of the supernatural kind - sometimes attributed to animals and natural objects (e.g. the Nile river god and the frog god of the Egyptians), and sometimes man-made objects (e.g. heathen carved statues and the golden calf). While not spoken of directly in the Mosaic Law, Satan and satanic influence is at the core of all idolatry and of all gods other than the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It was the archangel Lucifer (later named Satan) who first rebelled against God, and who was cast out of heaven and allowed to become the god of the earth to the extent that man would allow him. Satan's first attempt at seducing man away from God was successful (i.e. Adam and Eve), and the rest of the earth's history has been his war against God for the heart of mankind.

There were (and still are) pagans who were/are susceptible to worshiping foreign gods, such as the Canaanites and Egyptians of old, and the Hindus and Satanists of today. The religions of the Canaanites and Egyptians severely impacted the Israelites in years gone by but, today, Satan's attack on God's people is more subtle. We get a hint of the kinds of idols that impact us most today from the following Scriptures:

1 Samuel 15:23: For rebellion is like the sin of sorcery, stubbornness like the crime of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of ADONAI, he too has rejected you as king.

Ephesians 5:5: For of this you can be sure: every sexually immoral, impure or greedy person - that is, every idol-worshipper - has no share in the Kingdom of the Messiah and of God.

Colossians 3:5: Therefore, put to death the earthly parts of your nature - sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed (which is a form of idolatry)

1 Timothy 6:10: For the love of money is a root of all the evils; because of this craving, some people have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves to the heart with many pains.

These Scriptures indicate that stubbornness, sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed for money and property are all idols. Other common idols are money, property, power, and security. An idol is therefore anything (or anyone) that we desire more strongly than we desire God, and idolatry is any giving-in to such a desire, such that we put that thing or person ahead of God. This Mitzvah commands us to put away all idolatry, both the worship of foreign gods, as well as those other idols that draw us away from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Anyone who allows such things to dominate his or her life is guilty of idolatry.

Classical Commentators

Maimonides, Meir, and HaChinuch each wrote nine mitzvot that collectively express the principle of this one Mitzvah. Most of the commentators' mitzvot are self-explanatory, but there is one that bears special mention. In his mitzvah C27, HaChinuch criticizes Maimonides for making no distinction of culpability between making an idol with one's own hands, and commissioning one's agent to make an idol for him. HaChinuch writes that there should be such a distinction because of an established Talmudic rule (TB Kidushin 42b) that a person who commissions another to commit a wrong is not himself guilty of the wrong. In saying this, HaChinuch may be referring to Maimonides' RN3 and not RN2 which is described in this Mitzvah.

Maimonides, Meir, and HaChinuch wrote separate mitzvot for bowing down to an idol (Maimonides RN5; Meir MN11; HaChinuch C28), and for worshiping an idol (Maimonides RN6; Meir MN 12; HaChinuch C29), which seems to me to be splitting hairs.

In their mitzvot RN14, MN13, and C86 respectively, Maimonides, Meir, and HaChinuch interpret Exodus 23:13 narrowly to mean that we are not to swear in the name of idols, and in their mitzvot RN26, MN27, and C518 respectively, they interpret it to mean that we are not to prophesy in the name of an idol.

In his mitzvah RN10, Maimonides admonishes the reader to not study or pay attention to idolatry, whereas Meir and HaChinuch (MN16 and C213 respectively) command the reader to not turn toward idolatry. While there is, indeed, the possibility that a spiritually weak person could become attracted to idolatry through learning about it, I do not believe that the Scriptures cited support such a broad restriction. Deuteronomy 12:30 is clear that the prohibition is against inquiring about foreign gods for the purpose of following them.


Return to main index