An Idol is Not El or Elohim
It is interesting that the word eliyl is close to the name for God “El” or “Elohim.” Some Hebrew scholars believe eliyl is a contemptuous diminutive word, and combined with al “not” literally mean “Not EL,” or “Not ELOHIM.” It is a heavenly designed contrast showing that the idol is worthless as a person’s El and Elohim.
God is given a number of sacred names in the Bible that beautifully describe His nature and heart in action. The Hebrew word El is a name for God meaning the strong one and expresses the strength and power of God. It is often combined with another Hebrew word in the Bible giving us 37 deeper names for God with each title distinguishing Him in a unique and special way from false gods. Each one of these beautiful titles has a distinctive characteristic of God that illustrates what He is and what the idol is not. Put a “NOT!” in front of each of these glorious titles, and we will have a good description of the worthless value of an idol epitomized by the word eliyl.
For example, God is El Hanne’eman, the Faithful God, who keeps His promises and steadfast love to a thousand generations (Deuteronomy 7:9). An idol is the unfaithful god that never delivers what it promises.
God is El Echad, the One God, who is the first and only true God, like no other (Malachi 2:10). An idol is the false one that deceives people into thinking they have found the one thing they need to give their lives value.
God is El-Shaddai, the ever-present, all-sufficient, bountiful God who supplies every need of His children and pours out His provision, protection and blessings on them. (Genesis 17:1). An idol is the shadow god who disappears when you need it, and the empty god who can never provide, protect or bless those who worship it.
God is El Olam, the everlasting, unchangeable God, eternal, without beginning or end, the God of all ages and time (Genesis 21:33). An idol is the vapor god that vanishes quickly, here today and gone tomorrow, with no lasting purpose, and doomed for destruction.
God is El Roi, the God who sees, who looks upon our distresses, our tears, and our sufferings and is always there to tenderly care for us (Genesis 16:13). El Roi sees us in our place of quiet desperation, and pursues us with unfailing love, reaching out to help us, drying every tear and mending every wound of our tattered souls. An idol is the blind god that cannot see our sorrows, difficulties, and problems and is blind to the true needs of the heart. It can never find us in our hour of need for it cannot see.
God is El Emet, the God of truth, who revives, frees, instructs and guides the heart. (Psalm 31:5). An idol is the god of lies, the token of propaganda that deceives the heart to believe and worship a lie.
God is El Gibbor, the mighty and heroic God, who powerfully bears His arm for His people, performing miraculous deeds of deliverance; the supreme champion of the heavens and earth for whom nothing is impossible (Jeremiah 32:17-18). An idol is the weak and cowardly god, powerless to accomplish one good thing in our lives, and is like the spineless soldier who runs away from the fight, and deserts us in time of battle.
God is El Rachum, the God of compassion and tender mercies, who will never fail, forsake, or forget you, and has compassion for you like a mother with her newborn child. An idol is the cruel and indifferent god, hard-hearted, brutal and ruthless with the destruction it brings to your life, imprisoning the heart with a heavy load of oppressions and burdens. An idol always fails, forsakes, and leaves you naked and alone, forgetting you in the day of suffering (Deuteronomy 4:31).
God is El Yeshuati, the God of our salvation, our Deliverer, Redeemer, Liberator, and Savior, who rescued us from the power of darkness and gives us citizenship as sons or daughters of God in His kingdom. He blessed us with every conceivable spiritual blessing in Him and washes us clean from our sin with the blood of His Son, who has broken every yoke at Calvary and set us free to worship and love Him for all eternity (Psalm 68:19-20). An idol is the god of corruption and slavery, that brings death to all those who devote their lives to it, burying you in sin, and suffocating you in the stale air of this world. An idol cannot deliver, save, liberate, rescue and redeem. An idol’s promised salvation is of no value to the soul.
God is El Hannora, the awesome, magnificent and awe-inspiring God, the God of wonders, breathtaking in His glorious works. Nothing in the heavens and earth compares to Him (Nehemiah 9:32). An idol is the god of disappointment, dissatisfaction, disillusionment and discontent; there is nothing of value, nothing magnificent, and nothing awe-inspiring that ever comes from idols.
God is El Chaiyim, the living God of our lives, who has breathed into us the breath of life and is intimately involved in every detail of our lives. God is alive and in Him is abundant, flowing life that awakens, transforms, changes, and blossoms, giving life to every living thing upon the earth. An idol is the dead god, who cannot speak, hear, see or bring life to anything. An idol is the carrier of death as it slaughters our relationship with God, murders the plans God has for our lives, and slays our spiritual growth in Christ. An idol is a deadly virus that destroys the life and health of the heart.
God is also Elohim, God the Creator, who created the heavens and earth, who created us for His glory, who created every star and galaxy in the universe, and every living organism and animal, every mountain, river and ocean, and who holds together every atom in the universe by His powerful word. An idol is the god of chaos that cannot create one grain of sand or one solitary thing in the entire heavens and earth, but simply brings chaotic disorder, confusion and disarray to those who reach out to give it their heart.
Can we see the picture of the Hebrew word eliyl describing an idol as completely worthless and having no value as anyone’s El or Elohim? It brings to life the truth spoken by the prophet Isaiah:
With whom, then, will you compare God? To what image will you liken him? “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. (Isaiah 40:18, 25, NIV)
Is there truly any comparison between God and an idol? What idol could ever be God’s equal? What idol could ever be likened to El or Elohim? God wanted to make it absolutely clear to His rebellious people that no idol can ever come close to taking the place of El or Elohim in their lives.
We need to open our eyes and examine our hearts to see if we have an eliyl, an imposter El or Elohim that is stealing our devotion, time and allegiance. We must ask ourselves in all humility—who is our El and Elohim? Has a foolish and dangerous substitution taken place in our hearts? When God opens the eyes of our understanding, and we see the magnificent nature of our God revealed in His names El with all its compounds and Elohim, we will gladly face all the idols (eliyl) in our hearts and boldly declare “You are not my El! You are not my Elohim!” We will allow God His rightful place as the only El and Elohim of our hearts.
Tragically this did not happen for these elders in Ezekiel’s day, as they refused to listen to the prophet and made these idols the El and Elohim of their hearts. Ezekiel says these elders put these idols, which he calls “wicked stumbling blocks,” right before their faces. An idol is always a stumbling block in our lives, and causes us to fall into sin and rebellion against God. These were stumbling blocks of iniquity that brought ruin, destruction, and devastation to their relationship with God. Yet the elders literally put these idols in front of their faces to be their spiritual advisors. They never wanted to forget them, so they placed them right in front of their faces so they could always see and adore their counterfeit gods. They did not want to miss a moment with their idols.
They rejected God’s authority over their lives and arrogantly declared that they would live life THEIR way with the gods of THEIR choice. These elders had a complete indifference toward God, an unwillingness to obey Him, and did not think God was important when it came to matters of the heart. How they had strayed from the heritage of King David who was a man after God’s own heart! Even with their hearts sold out to idolatry, they tried to give God token honor by inquiring of His prophet. But God had searched their hearts and found no love for Him there. Their hearts were dead toward God as they tried to wind God up for a few minutes of attention like He was some fortuneteller. Their hearts had no room for God for they were full of idols.
The Old Testament word “put” in the phrase “put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces” is used in the Bible to describe planting, constructing a nest or habitation, setting up a king or prince with authority, and begetting children. The word is also used in Deuteronomy 12:5 where God says He would put His name in the temple and make it His dwelling place. By putting idols in front of their faces, the elders were planting them in the soil of their hearts to grow and flourish. They were constructing a nest or habitation for them in their hearts. They were setting up these idols as the rulers of their hearts with full authority to control their thoughts and actions. They were engraving the names of these idols in the chambers of their hearts, and the idols made it their sacred temple and dwelling place. God’s name was thrust from their hearts and this abominable substitution took place. These idols were comfortably at home in their hearts, and set their roots deep. These idols exercised such control over them that their hearts bore their names and begat their children in word, deed and action. These elders became replicas in character of the idols they worshiped. Oh what a stumbling block they had become!
Idolatry Begins with the Gaze of the Eye
To set up an idol in your heart, you must first turn your eyes away from the Lord and face the object of your adoration. Your eyes guide your heart as all idolatry begins with the gaze of the eye. Our eyes reveal what we are facing, and in the Hebrew to be face-to-face implied intimacy, friendship, affection and closeness.
God commanded the elders in Ezekiel, “Get rid of the vile images and idols you have set your eyes upon!” Where you lift up your eyes to look reflects the heart’s affections and disposition. There is anticipation, hope, and expectation toward the object that has captured our gaze. We desire what we fix our eyes upon. We want intimacy with the object we lift our eyes toward. The gaze of the eye determines where we go in life both physically and spiritually. Whether our heart is full of darkness or light is determined by what we are looking at.
Wisdom demands our eyes do not depart from the words of God, or our way will be like the wicked which is full of darkness. Wasn’t it the eyes that first got Eve in trouble as she gazed in admiration at the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil instead of the Lord God? Wasn’t one of the Devil’s first lies that her eyes would be opened and she would be like god? The Devil deceived Eve into lifting up her eyes to something other than God and His Word and she fell into idolatry.
There are serious consequences associated with the gaze of the eye. We will never be able to keep idolatry from creeping into our hearts if we do not control our eyes. We live in a visually overstimulated age where everything is vying for the gaze of the eye. But the eyes of our hearts need to look upward and heed the cry of God to “look unto me and be saved, whole, and set free!” Our confession needs to be like Psalm 123:1-2: “To Thee I lift up my eyes, O Thou enthroned in the heavens … our eyes look to the Lord our God.” This was not the cry of the elders in Ezekiel. Their eyes looked elsewhere. Look at what these elders turned their faces toward in the very inner court of the house of the Lord.
And he brought me into the inner court of the house of the Lord. And behold, at the entrance of the temple of the Lord, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men, with their backs to the temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the east, worshiping the sun toward the east. (Ezekiel 8:16, ESV)
Can you imagine this act of supreme desecration was in the Temple of the Lord, the dwelling place of God, where He was to meet His people, and that was built for the name of the Lord. Solomon declared in 2 Chronicles 2:4-5: “Now I am about to build a temple for the Name of the Lord my God and to dedicate it to him … the temple I am going to build will be great, because our God is greater than all other gods.” In God’s very home and in the midst of His presence, these twenty-five men turned their back to God’s holy sanctuary and turned their eyes to the east to worship the sun. These men set their faces like flint to gaze in adoration to their sun god in the inner court of the Temple, right beside the large Altar of Burnt-Offering and within feet of the Holy of Holies. This expressed gross contempt for God in His own house, and publicly displayed that they had disowned the God of Abraham, Jacob and Moses. They desecrated the Temple of God, thumbed their noses at God, and blatantly disobeyed His commandment, “And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them” Deuteronomy 4:19a. They had forgotten that God created the sun not as an idol, but as a blessing to give light and life to the entire earth.
Blowing Kisses to Their Idols
The Hebrew word for “worship” means to bow down and prostrate oneself. In the Septuagint it literally means to throw a kiss as a token of respect and love, and to fall upon the knees, touching the ground with the forehead, as an expression of profound reverence and adoration. The verb is in the present tense expressing continual action, as this was the elders’ habitual practice in the Temple. These men were blowing kisses to the sun god and bowing down in adoration to their idol in the inner court of God’s temple. This demonstrates the power of idolatry in turning the heart against God. These men openly committed their idolatry in the holiest place in Jerusalem, and fell on their knees and kissed their god right under God’s nose.
When the heart is wholly given to idols, love for the true God waxes cold, and He does not matter anymore. Idolatry is a defiant declaration that God is not enough, and is not who He says He is, and cannot do what He says He can do. Idolatry expresses a supreme dissatisfaction with God and causes the eyes to wander and the heart to stray as it falls in love with another.
The idolatrous heart refuses to fix its eyes upon the Lord only and obey Him. These elders wanted the best of both worlds by worshiping both Yahweh and their idols. Jesus warned that we cannot love and serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). Often the master would signal the servant with a quick body movement of the head, hands or eyes, and if the servant did not have his eyes focused on the master, he could not see it. You cannot keep your eyes fixed on two gods. You cannot have your face turned to God and an idol at the same time. Where the gaze of our eyes is fixed, determines what we worship. The eyes are the windows of our hearts, and indicate what we love and desire because they bring us face to face with our god.
Let me ask a serious question for all Christians, What is going on in the inner court of your heart? In the temple of your heart, are you blowing kisses and bowing down to another god? Have we allowed our affections to burn like the rising sun for one of the thousands gods that our culture throws at us daily? Has our heart become impure, and our inner temple desecrated because the eyes of our heart have wandered away from Jesus, to lovingly gaze upon the parade of idols that the world embraces? Don’t we know as Christians that our precious heart is the temple of the Lord and the new Holy of Holies and no idol is worthy to enter into its inner chambers? Our heart is to be overflowing with the presence and glory of God, where His love, grace, mercy and peace abound. From our heart should sound out to the world a wonderful song of praise, worship and devotion to the Almighty God who holds our precious life in His hands. The spirit of the Holy God has been born within our heart, and it was never meant to have an idol as a roommate. No idol has any legal or moral right to occupy one square inch of our hearts.
We cannot mess around with idols if we ever expect to spiritually grow up as Christians. We cannot love God and love our idols at the same time. We cannot play it both ways. Our heart was never meant to be a chaotic yo-yo bouncing back and forth between Jesus and our beloved idols. Whom is our heart running to for comfort and satisfaction? Has our heart strayed away from God to follow a worthless idol? God is calling us to return to Him, and to come back from the cliff of idolatry to His loving embrace. No idol can love you like He does. No idol can provide for you like He does. No idol can deliver you from your fears like He does. No idol will treasure you like He does. No idol will wipe away all the tears from your eyes like He does. Oh why won’t your heart return to Him and forsake your idols?
This is an excerpt from The Heart: The Key to Everything in the Christian Life. Purchase at http://www.lulu.com/shop/tim-rowe/the-heart-the-key-to-everything-in-the-christian-life/paperback/product-22601300.html