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Bible Lexicons

Girdlestone's Synonyms of the Old Testament

Idol, Grove, High Place

Man is essentially an image-maker. his best works in art and mechanics are imitations of nature. his music is an attempt to present, not indeed to the eye, but to the ear, what may be called a picture of the varied feelings that occupy his heart. this tendency also shows itself in his religious worship, which he is inclined to make as symbolical as possible. way, he seeks to make a sensible representation even of God Himself, and gradually to transfer to the work of his own hands that reverence and dependence which properly belongs to the one living and true God. There is a strange fascination in exaggerated religious symbolism; it engrosses and excites the mind, but is by no means of a healthy character. It tends little by little to supplant the simplicity of spiritual worship, and to turn man into an idolater. Idolatry in its first stage is a sort of symbolism; some object is selected to represent the unseen Deity or to set forth one of his attributes; little by little the material image takes the place of the spiritual reality for which it stands, and idolatry ensues, bringing in its train that sensuality which is the sure attendant of every form of materialism; the highest functions of human nature are thus abnegated, and human life is debased. The first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans tells the story of idolatrous degradation with painful vividness, and fully accounts for the oft-repeated admonitions given by Moses on this special point, and for the severe penalties which God inflicted up on the people in order to break through the evil fascination and to deliver them from the snare of materialism.


Twelve different Hebrew words are represented by the English word 'idol.' Some of them point to the fact that an idol is a thing of nought; others are significant of the terr or with which the worshipper of false gods is inspired, or of the aversion with which the living and true God regards such objects; others, again, refer to the shape of the idol, to the material of which it is made, or to the position in which it is placed.

In Isaiah 66:3 the idol is Aven (און , Ass. annu), iniquity, or a thing of nought. Compare Beth-Aven, i.e. the house of idolatry, which is referred to in Hosea 4:15; Hosea 5:8; Hosea 10:5; Hosea 10:8 in Amos 5:5 we read, Beth-Elshall come to Aven (A. V. to nought). Here there is evidently a play on the word. See Joshua 7:2.

The word Alil (אליל ), which is supposed to have the same meaning, is used in several places, i.e. Leviticus 19:4; Leviticus 26:1; 1 Chronicles 16:26; Psalms 96:5; Psalms 97:7; Isaiah 2:8; Isaiah 2:18; Isaiah 2:20; Isaiah 10:10-11; Isaiah 19:1; Isaiah 19:3; Isaiah 31:7; Ezekiel 30:13; Habakkuk 2:18; Zechariah 11:17.

The nothingness of idolatry is brought out by St. Paul, who reminds the Corinthians that 'an idol is nothing in the world' (1 Corinthians 8:4), that the gods of the heathen are 'vanities' (Acts 14:15), and 'no gods' (Galatians 4:8).

In Jeremiah 50:38, where we read, 'They are mad up on their idols,' the word Imah (אימה ) is used, which implies that the idol was an object of terror. The same idea is probably represented by Miphletseth (מפלצת , the designation of the idol which Maachah made [David Miller considers that this was Pluto, the president of the infernal regions, whom he also identifies with Beelzebub the prince of flies, of nuisances, and of the power of the air. He thinks that Ashara or Astarte was Hecate or Luma, and that Chiun (Amos 5:26) was Saturn. But see Sayce, Hibbert Lectures,] (1 Kings 15:13, also in the corresponding passage, 2 Chronicles 15:16) in 2 Chronicles 15:8 idols are called 'abominations,' Shakuts (שׁקץ ), a word which is often used to testify to God's hatred of the whole system of idolatry, and which answers to the Greek βδέλυγμα.

The connection of abomination (βδέλυγμα) with idolatry is brought out in Romans 2:22, 'Thou who abominates idols, dost thou rob temples?' in Revelation 21:8, the 'abominable,' that is, those who worship idols, are coupled with the fearful [The word δειλός here rendered fearful probably signifies unstable, in which sense it is used in the O.T.] and the unbelieving in Titus 1:16, St. Paul speaks of some who profess to know God, but by their works deny Him, and are abominable, i.e. practically on a level with idolaters. The falsehood of idolatry is brought out in Revelation 21:2`, where to make an abomination and to make a lie are put side by side. Probably the cup containing abominations and whoredom, referred to in Revelation 17:4,represents the various forms of idolatry which 'the woman' shall promote. St. Paul tells us that covetousness is idolatry, and in accordance with this truth our Lord tells the covetous Pharisees that what is lifted up among men is regarded as an abomination in the sight of God (Luke 16:14-15).

Reference has now been made to all the passages in which the word βδέλυγμα occurs in the N.T., with the exception of our Lord's reference to 'the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet' (Matthew 24:15; Mark 13:14; Daniel 9:27), which signifies that the desolation of Jerusalem was to be caused by an idolatrous power.

There is a word which is found several times in the O.T. which is rather ambiguous, namely, Etsev (עצב ). It is supposed to mean that which causes labour; either in the making of the idol or in the worshipping it. The Greek rendering is sometimes λύπη, grief, but usually εἴδωλον. Scripture always conveys to us the idea that true worship is not wearisome to the child of God, where as the worship of idols is hard labour without profit.

This word is used with reference to the false gods of the Philistines in 1 Samuel 31:9; 1 Chronicles 10:9; 2 Samuel 5:21; in 2 Chronicles 24:18 and Psalms 106:36; Psalms 106:38, it refers to the objects of Canaanitish worship by which the Israelites were ensnared, see also Psalms 115:4; Psalms 135:15 in Isaiah 10:11, whilst alil is used of Samaria's idols, etsev is used of Jerusalem's idols; in Isaiah 46:1 it is applied to Bel and Nebo, which were 'a burden to the weary beast;' see also Jeremiah 50:2, where these same idols are described as broken in pieces; in Jeremiah 22:28, Coniah is described as 'a despised broken idol' (where some would translate the word 'vase,' but unnecessarily); it is also used of the idols of Israel or Canaan in Isaiah 48:5; Hosea 4:17; Hosea 8:4; Hosea 13:9; Hosea 14:8; Micah 1:7; Zechariah 13:2.

Another word for idol is derived from Galgal (גלגל ), to roll, and signifies a trunk of a tree or a log of wood, or perhaps in some places a round stone. The word only occurs in Leviticus, Deuteronomy, the Kings, and Ezekiel. The LXX usually renders it εἴδωλον, an idol, but sometimes ἐπιτήδευμα, a custom; twice βδέλυγμα, an abomination; and in other passages ἐνθύμημα, ἐπιθύμημαδιάνοια, and διανόημα, words which would point to the tendency of the heart to idolatry rather than to the object of worship itself It occurs in the following passages: - Leviticus 26:30 ('the carcasses of your idols'); Deuteronomy 29:17 (marg in 'dungy gods'); 1 Kings 15:12; 1 Kings 21:26; 2 Kings 17:12; 2 Kings 21:11; 2 Kings 21:21; 2 Kings 23:24; Ezekiel 6:4, al.

The word εἴδωλον is the only word used of idols in the N.T., whether these idols are outward and visible objects of worship, or whether they are more subtle influences which attract the heart.

Idolatry is joined with pharmacy or witchcraft in Galatians 5:20; it is identified with covetousness in Ephesians 5:5, and is classed with murder in Revelation 22:15.

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Girdlestone, Robert Baker. Entry for 'Idol, Grove, High Place'. Synonyms of the Old Testament.
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