Idolatry & Salvation

For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft,
and stubbornness is as idolatry and teraphim.
Because thou hast rejected the word of Jehovah,
he hath also rejected thee from being king.

1 Samuel 15.23

Idolatry is not something that the animal kingdom is capable of practicing. Only those made in God’s image are capable of idolatry, for it is worship. Yet idolatry must not be viewed only as worship to an inanimate being, for the Bible clearly identifies it as more. We see this from one of the well-known stories about King Saul of Israel (1 Samuel 15). It is clear after reading this account that idolatry is an act of sin for it is disobedience to the will of God.

The circumstances leading up to King Saul’s idolatry are seen from two accounts: Exodus 17.8-16 and Deuteronomy 25.17-19. God had given clear commands regarding the punishment of the Amalekites. Yet when the time came to obey this command, idolatry was committed. From 1 Samuel 15.22-23, we read: “Hath Jehovah as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of Jehovah? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as idolatry and teraphim. Because thou has rejected the word of Jehovah, he hath also rejected thee from being king.” 

All idolatry is like Samuel stated: a manifestation of rebellion and stubbornness to the will of God’s authority (as well as those delegated authorities) here on earth. For example, parents have authority delegated to them from God. A disobedient child is one who is stubborn. As such, it is idolatrous behavior. Stubbornness is disobedience. Moses, in describing a stubborn and rebellions son, called it evil and gave command for the evil to be removed from their midst (Deuteronomy 21.18,20). The idolatry of the Israelites was described as “their stubborn way” (Judges 2.19). When at Kadesh-barnea, Israel rebelled twice (Deuteronomy 1.26,43). In disobedience, they refused to go spy out Canaan initially, only to presume to do so afterwards. In both instances, they rebelled against God’s command.

Idolatry begins in the heart. Asaph wrote that the first generation of the nation of Israel was “a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation that did not prepare its heart, and whose spirit was not faithful to God” (Psalm 78.8). The harlot woman of Proverbs 7.11 is described as being “willful.” This term refers to her stubbornness and rebellion. “She is clamorous and willful; her feet abide not in her house…” Idolatry is a way of life for people who are self-willed. Whatever decisions they make in regard to how they live their lives are not affected or ruled by any authority higher than themselves. The will of God does not factor into their decisions. If God’s will coincidently agrees with their own wills, it is just that…coincidence. However, God’s will is not superior or in any way a governing factor.

People who are stubborn and rebellions knowingly sin. When Abraham sojourned in Egypt, Pharaoh thought to take Sarah as his own, but when he knew she was Abraham’s wife, he didn’t (Genesis 12.14-20). He yielded to the authority of God. Later, when Abimelech, although a Philistine king, almost committed adultery with Sarah, God confronted him and Abimelech stated, “In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this” (Genesis 20.5). Abimelech also yielded to the authority of God. Later Abimelech faced the same situation with Rebekah, wife of Isaac. Again, Abimelech recognized the superior authority of God and commanded his people to refrain from having relations with her (Genesis 26.10). However, such is not the case with an idolatrous person. Idolatrous people are bound and determined to do as they have purposed in their hearts without regard to God’s will. 

Seeking to establish our own authority is no different in principle from seeking to establish our own righteousness. In Romans 10.1-3, Paul stated that those who sought to establish their own righteousness were guilty of sin. This is what idolatry is. It is usurping God’s rightful power for yourself. It is to proclaim that you are able to chart your own course in life. Man’s salvation is entirely dependent upon God’s authority.