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I6. Destroying Idolatry.    [Make a Comment]

We are to cease all idolatrous practices, and destroy associated objects and places that are within our domain and control.

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

Key Scriptures


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.

Leviticus 26:30
I will destroy your high places, cut down your pillars for sun-worship, and throw your carcasses on the carcasses of your idols; and I will detest you.

Numbers 33:50-53
ADONAI spoke to Moshe in the plains of Mo'av by the Yarden, across from Yericho. He said to tell the people of Isra'el, "When you cross the Yarden into the land of Kena'an, you are to expel all the people living in the land from in front of you. Destroy all their stone figures, destroy all their metal statues and demolish all their high places. Drive out the inhabitants of the land, and live in it, for I have given the land to you to possess."

Deuteronomy 7:5 (Maimonides RP185; Chinuch 436)
No, treat them this way: break down their altars, smash their standing-stones to pieces, cut down their sacred poles and burn up their carved images completely.

Deuteronomy 7:25-26
You are to burn up completely the carved statues of their gods. Don't be greedy for the silver or gold on them; don't take it with you, or you will be trapped by it; for it is abhorrent to ADONAI your God. Don't bring something abhorrent into your house, or you will share in the curse that is on it; instead, you are to detest it completely, loathe it utterly; for it is set apart for destruction.

Deuteronomy 12:1-3 (Maimonides RP185; Chinuch C436)
Here are the laws and rulings you are to observe and obey in the land ADONAI, the God of your ancestors, has given you to possess as long as you live on earth. You must destroy all the places where the nations you are dispossessing served their gods, whether on high mountains, on hills, or under some leafy tree. Break down their altars, smash their standing-stones to pieces, burn up their sacred poles completely and cut down the carved images of their gods. Exterminate their name from that place.

Deuteronomy 13:17-19(16-18) (Maimonides RP186; Chinuch C464)
Heap all its spoils in an open space, and burn the city with its spoils to the ground for ADONAI your God; it will remain a tel forever and not be built again - none of what has been set apart for destruction is to stay in your hands. Then ADONAI will turn from his fierce anger and show you mercy, have compassion on you and increase your numbers, as he swore to your ancestors - provided you listen to what ADONAI says and obey all his mitzvot that I am giving you today, thus doing what ADONAI your God sees as right.

DESTROYING PERSONS WHO ARE IDOLATERS (Not authorized in the New Covenant)

Exodus 22:19(20)
Anyone who sacrifices to any god other than ADONAI alone is to be completely destroyed.

Numbers 24:12-20 (Chinuch C603)
Bil'am answered Balak, "Didn't I tell the messengers you sent me that even if Balak would give me his palace full of silver and gold, I could not of my own accord go beyond the word of ADONAI to do either good or bad? that what ADONAI said is what I would say? But now that I am going back to my own people, come, I will warn you what this people will do to your people in the acharit-hayamim. So he made his pronouncement: "This is the speech of Bil'am, son of B'or; the speech of the man whose eyes have been opened; the speech of him who hears God's words; who knows what 'Elyon knows, who sees what Shaddai sees, who has fallen, yet has open eyes: "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not soon - a star will step forth from Ya'akov, a scepter will arise from Isra'el, to crush the corners of Mo'av and destroy all descendants of Shet. His enemies will be his possessions - Edom and Se'ir, possessions. Isra'el will do valiantly, From Ya'akov will come someone who will rule, and he will destroy what is left of the city." He saw 'Amalek and made this pronouncement: "First among nations was 'Amalek, but destruction will be its end."

Deuteronomy 3:21-22 (Maimonides RN58; Chinuch C525)
Also at that time I gave this order to Y'hoshua: 'Your eyes have seen everything that ADONAI your God has done to these two kings. ADONAI will do the same to all the kingdoms you encounter when you cross over. Don't be afraid of them, because ADONAI your God will fight on your behalf.'

Deuteronomy 7:1-4 (Chinuch C425)
ADONAI your God is going to bring you into the land you will enter in order to take possession of it, and he will expel many nations ahead of you - the Hitti, Girgashi, Emori, Kena'ani, P'rizi, Hivi and Y'vusi, seven nations bigger and stronger than you. When he does this, when ADONAI your God hands them over ahead of you, and you defeat them, you are to destroy them completely! Do not make any covenant with them. Show them no mercy. Don't intermarry with them - don't give your daughter to his son, and don't take his daughter for your son. For he will turn your children away from following me in order to serve other gods. If this happens, the anger of ADONAI will flare up against you, and he will quickly destroy you.

Deuteronomy 7:16-21 (Maimonides RN58; Chinuch C525)
You are to devour all the peoples that ADONAI your God hands over to you - show them no pity, and do not serve their gods, because that will become a trap for you. If you think to yourselves, 'These nations outnumber us; how can we dispossess them?' nevertheless, you are not to be afraid of them; you are to remember well what ADONAI your God did to Pharaoh and all of Egypt - the great ordeals which you yourself saw, and the signs, wonders, strong hand and outstretched arm by which ADONAI your God brought you out. ADONAI will do the same to all the peoples of whom you are afraid. Moreover, ADONAI your God will send the hornet among them until those who are left and those who hide themselves perish ahead of you. You are not to be frightened of them, because ADONAI your God is there with you, a God great and fearsome.

Deuteronomy 13:7-16(6-15)
If your brother the son of your mother, or your son, or your daughter, or your wife whom you love, or your friend who means as much to you as yourself, secretly tries to entice you to go and serve other gods, which you haven't known, neither you nor your ancestors - gods of the peoples surrounding you, whether near or far away from you, anywhere in the world - you are not to consent, and you are not to listen to him; and you must not pity him or spare him; and you may not conceal him. Rather, you must kill him! Your own hand must be the first one on him in putting him to death, and afterwards the hands of all the people. You are to stone him to death; because he has tried to draw you away from ADONAI your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of a life of slavery. Then all Isra'el will hear about it and be afraid, so that they will stop doing such wickedness as this among themselves. If you hear it told that in one of your cities which ADONAI your God is giving you to live in, certain scoundrels have sprung up among you and have drawn away the inhabitants of their city by saying, 'Let's go and serve other gods, which you haven't known,' then you are to investigate the matter, inquiring and searching diligently. If the rumor is true, if it is confirmed that such detestable things are being done among you, you must put the inhabitants of that city to death with the sword, destroying it completely with the sword, everything in it, including its livestock.

Deuteronomy 17:2-5
If there is found among you, within any of your gates [in any city] that ADONAI your God gives you, a man or woman who does what ADONAI your God sees as wicked, transgressing his covenant by going and serving other gods and worshipping them, the sun, the moon, or anything in the sky - something I have forbidden - and it is told to you, or you hear about it; then you are to investigate the matter diligently. If it is true, if it is confirmed that such detestable things are being done in Isra'el; then you are to bring the man or woman who has done this wicked thing to your city gates, and stone that man or woman to death.

Deuteronomy 18:20
But if a prophet presumptuously speaks a word in my name which I didn't order him to say, or if he speaks in the name of other gods, then that prophet must die.

Deuteronomy 20:16-18 (Maimonides RP187; Chinuch C425)
As for the towns of these peoples, which ADONAI your God is giving you as your inheritance, you are not to allow anything that breathes to live. Rather you must destroy them completely - the Hitti, the Emori, the Kena'ani, the P'rizi, the Hivi and the Y'vusi - as ADONAI your God has ordered you; so that they won't teach you to follow their abominable practices, which they do for their gods, thus causing you to sin against ADONAI your God.

Deuteronomy 25:17-19 (Maimonides RP188-189; Meir MP76-77; Chinuch C603-604)
Remember what &039;Amalek did to you on the road as you were coming out of Egypt, how he met you by the road, attacked those in the rear, those who were exhausted and straggling behind when you were tired and weary. He did not fear God. Therefore, when ADONAI your God has given you rest from all your surrounding enemies in the land ADONAI your God is giving you as your inheritance to possess, you are to blot out all memory of &039;Amalek from under heaven. Don&039;t forget!

Jeremiah 48:10 (Chinuch C525)
A curse on him who does the work of ADONAI carelessly! A curse on him who withholds his sword from blood!

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)


Acts 17:22-24
Sha'ul stood up in the Council meeting and said, "Men of Athens: I see how very religious you are in every way! For as I was walking around, looking at your shrines, I even found an altar which had been inscribed, 'To An Unknown God.' So, the one whom you are already worshipping in ignorance - this is the one I proclaim to you. The God who made the universe and everything in it, and who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in man-made temples"

1 Corinthians 10:19-21
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! You can't drink both a cup of the Lord and a cup of demons, you can't partake in both a meal of the Lord and a meal of demons.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5
For although we do live in the world, we do not wage war in a worldly way; because the weapons we use to wage war are not worldly. On the contrary, they have God's power for demolishing strongholds. We demolish arguments and every arrogance that raises itself up against the knowledge of God; we take every thought captive and make it obey the Messiah.

Ephesians 6:11-13
Use all the armor and weaponry that God provides, so that you will be able to stand against the deceptive tactics of the Adversary. For we are not struggling against human beings, but against the rulers, authorities and cosmic powers governing this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm. So take up every piece of war equipment God provides; so that when the evil day comes, you will be able to resist; and when the battle is won, you will still be standing.

Supportive Scriptures - The High Places Were Initially Not Destroyed

1 Kings 22:42-45
Y'hoshafat was thirty-five years old when he began to rule, and he ruled twenty-five years in Yerushalayim. His mother's name was 'Azuvah the daughter of Shilchi. He lived in the manner of Asa his father and did not turn away from it, doing what was right from ADONAI's perspective; although the high places were not taken away - the people still sacrificed and presented offerings on the high places. Y'hoshafat made peace with the king of Isra'el.

2 Kings 14:1-4
Y'hudah began his reign. He was twenty-five years old when he began to rule, and he ruled for twenty-nine years in Yerushalayim. His mother's name was Y'ho'adan, from Yerushalayim. He did what was right from ADONAI's perspective, although not like David his ancestor; he lived the same way as his father Yo'ash. However, the high places were not removed; the people still sacrificed and offered on the high places.

2 Kings 15:1-5
It was in the twenty-seventh year of Yarov'am king of Isra'el that 'Azaryah the son of Amatzyah, king of Y'hudah, began his reign. He was sixteen years old when he began to rule, and he ruled for fifty-two years in Yerushalayim. His mother's name was Y'kholyahu, from Yerushalayim. He did what was right from ADONAI's perspective, following the example of everything his father Amatzyah had done. However, the high places were not taken away; the people still sacrificed and offered on the high places. ADONAI struck the king, so that he had tzara'at until his dying day, so that he lived in a separate house, while Yotam the king's son ran the king's household and was regent over the people of the land.

2 Kings 15:32-35
It was in the second year of Pekach the son of Remalyah, king of Isra'el, that Yotam the son of 'Uziyah king of Y'hudah began his reign. He was twenty-five years old when he began his reign, and he ruled for sixteen years in Yerushalayim. His mother's name was Yerusha the daughter of Tzadok. He did what was right from ADONAI's perspective, following the example of everything his father 'Uziyah had done. However, the high places were not taken away; and the people still sacrificed and offered on the high places. He built the Upper Gate of the house of ADONAI.

2 Chronicles 33:15-17
He removed the foreign gods and the idol from the house of ADONAI and all the altars he had built on the hill of the house of ADONAI and in Yerushalayim, and threw them out of the city. He repaired the altar of ADONAI and offered on it sacrifices as peace offerings and for thanksgiving; and he ordered Y'hudah to serve ADONAI the God of Isra'el. However, the people continued sacrificing on the high places, although only to ADONAI their God.

Supportive Scriptures - The High Places Were Finally Destroyed

2 Kings 18:1-5
It was in the third year of Hoshea the son of Elah, king of Isra'el, that Hizkiyahu the son of Achaz, king of Y'hudah, began his reign. He was twenty-five years old when he began his reign, and he ruled for twenty-nine years in Yerushalayim. His mother's name was Avi the daughter of Z'kharyah. He did what was right from ADONAI's perspective, following the example of everything David his ancestor had done. He removed the high places, smashed the standing-stones, cut down the asherah and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moshe had made; because in those days the people of Isra'el were making offerings to it, calling it N'chushtan. He put his trust in ADONAI the God of Isra'el; after him there was no one like him among all the kings of Y'hudah, nor had there been among those before him.

2 Kings 23:4-16
Then the king ordered Hilkiyahu the cohen hagadol, the cohanim of the second rank and the doorkeepers to remove from the sanctuary of ADONAI all the articles that had been made for Ba'al, for the asherah and for the entire army of heaven; and he burned them up outside Yerushalayim in the fields of Kidron and carried their ashes to Beit-El. He deposed the idolatrous priests the kings of Y'hudah had ordained to offer on the high places by the cities of Y'hudah and in the places surrounding Yerushalayim; he also deposed those who offered to Ba'al, the sun, the moon, the constellations and the whole army of heaven. He took the asherah from the house of ADONAI to Vadi Kidron outside Yerushalayim and burned it in Vadi Kidron, stamped the ashes to powder and threw the powder onto the burial-ground for the common people. He smashed the houses of the cult prostitutes that were in the house of ADONAI, where the women also wove garments for the asherah. He removed the cohanim from the cities of Y'hudah; then, from Geva to Be'er-Sheva, he desecrated the high places where the cohanim had been making offerings. He also smashed the High Places of the Gates that were at the entrance of the Gate of Y'hoshua the governor of the city, on the left as one enters the city. But although the cohanim who had been at the high places did not come up to the altar of ADONAI in Yerushalayim, nevertheless they did share matzah with their kinsmen. He desecrated the Tofet fire pit in the Ben-Hinnom Valley, so that no one could cause his son or daughter to pass through fire [as a sacrifice] to Molekh. He confiscated the horses which the kings of Y'hudah had given to the sun, at the entrance to the house of ADONAI near the room of the officer N'tan-Melekh, in the side-courtyard; and he burned up the chariots of the sun. The king smashed the altars on the roof of the upper room of Achaz, which the kings of Y'hudah had made, and the altars which M'nasheh had made in the two courtyards of the house of ADONAI. He broke them into pieces and threw the rubble into Vadi Kidron. The king desecrated the high places facing Yerushalayim south of the Mount of Destruction, which Shlomo the king of Isra'el had built for 'Ashtoret the abomination of the Tzidonim, K'mosh the abomination of Mo'av and Milkom the abomination of the people of 'Amon. He smashed the standing-stones, chopped down the sacred poles and covered their remains with human bones. He smashed the altar that was at Beit-El and the high place made by Yarov'am the son of N'vat, who caused Isra'el to sin. Yes, he smashed that altar and the high place; he burned the high place, stamped the ashes to powder, and burned up the asherah. Then, as Yoshiyahu was turning around, he noticed the burial caves that were there on the mountain; so he sent and had the bones taken out of the burial caves and burned them on the altar, thus desecrating it, in keeping with the word of ADONAI which the man of God had proclaimed, foretelling that these things would happen.


The Mosaic Law calls for a complete destruction of idolatry including, in many cases, killing idolaters themselves. During the time of Moses, the Israelites lived under a theocracy that was governed directly by God that made these practices reasonable, but today we live under (and are subject to) governments that are secular. The laws under which we live today do not allow us to apply many of the Mosaic Laws literally, and they should not allow it, because the governments under which we now live are not ruled by God. That notwithstanding, God's extremely negative attitude toward idolatry should be adopted as our own, and we should seek the Holy Spirit for how to bring destruction to idolatry in every way that is permissible in our individual circumstances.

Idolatry, in its broadest terms, comprises not only the worship of false deities, but anything that we allow to displace God in ruling our lives. Colossians 3:5 lists some of them and, although slaying idolatrous people is not authorized in the New Covenant, we are called to put to death instead, things such as sexual immorality, impurity, evil desires, and greed (see also, Matthew 6:24).

Because today we live under secular laws and governments, we cannot do away with objects and places of idolatry that are owned by others. We cannot, for example, smash the statue of Buddha in our neighborhood Chinese restaurant, nor burn down the Hindu temple across town. We can, however, destroy and remove from our own houses and domains under our control, idolatry-connected art, jewelry, books, videos, and other such items that are owned by us, and we should. Similarly, we should not play games or view videos that depict idolatrous or occult practices, and should not show approval of those that do. As for the broader definition of idols, i.e. associations, things and practices that draw us toward unholy thoughts or deeds or that exercise power over us that is not from God - these we must renounce and do away with, and help others to do so as well.

Classical Commentators

The mitzvot of Maimonides and HaChinuch ascribe credibility to a literal contemporary interpretation of the Mosaic Scriptures, whereas Meir does not. For example, in his RN186 and RN187, Maimonides states1 that we must "slay all the people of an apostate city", and "exterminate the seven Nations that inhabited the Land of Canaan." Meir simply does not write corresponding mitzvot for these two.

1. Maimonides, Sefer Ha-Mitzvot of Maimonides, v. 1, pp. 199-202 (London: The Soncino Press Ltd, 1967).


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