Why do people worship false gods?
Published: 7 October 2017 (GMT+10)
Today we look at two questions—one asking about idol worship depicted in Scripture, and the second from a person interacting with people who worship a false god today. B.C. from the US writes:
I want to say thank you for many wonderful faith-building articles, especially those addressing the ancient people. You took the position that the ancients were intelligent and how we’ve simply lost the knowledge they had (and in some cases, regained it after we learned how to retain and pass on the knowledge).
However it still bothers me regarding the ancient religions; if they were so intelligent, how could they possibly fall down before silent idols? Nowadays, it is rare to see someone fall down and worship the nature or things; even though they might commit idolatry but the worship in same form don’t happen nowadays.
Consider Moloch - they demanded child sacrifices. I want to understand how could they have agreed to go with this perversion. In Judges, we have the story of Micah worshipping a silver idol he made himself and hiring a priest. Wouldn’t they have known better? I would like to understand how their worldview permitted them to worship what they worshipped.
Lita Cosner responds:
Even today, we see ‘intelligent’ people who worship false gods, or who deny God’s existence entirely. In fact, the ‘intelligent’ seem even more likely to do this!
Usually, the idolater believed that the idol was a sort of vessel for the invisible spirit of the god they worshipped. For instance, the people who bought idols of Artemis (Acts 19) didn’t all believe their idol actually was Artemis, rather, it served as a focus for worship and devotion. That doesn’t make it any less false or foolish, but it does explain how people could worship what are obviously dead, unresponsive objects. In fact, prophets like Isaiah (Isaiah 40) and Elijah (I Kings 18) mocked idolatry based on the nonexistence and powerlessness of false gods. But this polemic goes back to the time of Moses (Deuteronomy 32:21).
Regarding Micah and the silver idol, of course he was supposed to know better, and the priest he hired certainly would have. But even though Israel was commanded to worship Yahweh alone and they were told that idols were not gods, Israelites were continually prone to ‘hedge their bets’ by adding devotion to Baal, Asherah, and even Moloch while still performing sacrifices to Yahweh. This faithlessness ultimately culminated in their exile to Babylon, which seemed to cure them of the temptation to such overt idolatry.
You ask why people would go along with sacrificing children to Moloch—we might equally ask why children are killed on a much larger scale for the false god of Convenience through abortion.
But it is easy to talk about idolatry that happened way ‘back then’ and which we don’t see commonly today. It is harder to examine our own tendency to idolize money and the things which it can buy, celebrity, youth, and health, just to name a few. Just because our idols aren’t statues doesn’t mean it’s less dishonoring to God when they receive the devotion we should be giving to Him.
Philip T. from Australia writes:
Hi. I am witnessing to a JW.
Does the tetragrammaton appear in existing copies of the Septuagint. I could find claims online that it does, but I don’t know the trustworthiness of the site.
Lita Cosner responds:
The tetragrammaton is the four Hebrew letters which correspond to the English YHWH. As such, the tetragrammaton only exists in Hebrew properly, and is translated in other languages. Because of later Jewish superstition regarding pronouncing the name of God, readers of the Scriptures would substitute the Hebrew word Adonai in place of Yahweh, and to remind them to make the substitution, the vowel points for Adonai were placed on the tetragrammaton. Pairing the consonants with the tetragrammaton with the vowels for Adonai is what created the pronunciation ‘Jehovah’.
Now, the word Adonai means ‘master’ or ‘lord’, so the Septuagint (translated by Alexandrian Jews starting in perhaps 300 BC) used kyrios most frequently to translate the tetragrammaton, but they also used theos (God) sometimes. The LXX usage of kyrios is also why the NT quotes of the OT have kyrios (Lord) where the Hebrew originals have the tetragrammaton, and it’s why English translations have Lord where the Hebrew has the tetragrammaton.
A few unusual Septuagint manuscripts seem to have the tetragrammaton written in paleo-Hebrew, but they are very unusual and I wouldn’t make any major theological points from their mere existence.
When dealing with JWs, it’s important to get off the subject of the name of God to the Person of God, namely, that Jesus Christ is not a created being, but is God the Son who took on human flesh to live a sinless life and then to give His life willingly as a sacrifice for sin so that all who call on Him might be saved then rise.
One useful instance I point to in witnessing to JWs is where Hebrews 1:10–12 applies Psalm 102 to Jesus. Hebrews 1:10–12 is clearly talking about Jesus, and Psalm 102 is clearly talking about Yahweh. So Jesus is identified as Yahweh. Another passage very important for salvation is Romans 10:9–13—if we confess Jesus is Lord and believe He is risen from the dead, we will be saved—because it then makes it clear that this “Lord” means “Yahweh” by quoting Joel 2:32—“And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
I hope these few thoughts have been helpful. If you have further questions I would recommend asking your pastor, as I personally rely on my church and pastors for encouragement and support when doing this sort of witnessing.