Purging Idolatry

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In reading the Old Testament, one is struck by God’s strong prohibitions of idolatry and His commands to purge all idolatry from the Promised Land. Consider the following passages:

  • Exodus 23:31-33. And I will set your border from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates, for I will give the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you. You shall make no covenant with them and their gods. They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you” (emp. added).
  • Deuteronomy 12:1-3. “These are the statutes and rules that you shall be careful to do in the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess, all the days that you live on the earth. You shall surely destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. You shall tear down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and burn their Asherim with fire. You shall chop down the carved images of their gods and destroy their name out of that place.”

Notice that God expected a complete purge of idolatry and idolatrous people from the land of Canaan. But Israel allowed idolatrous culture to remain in the promised land, and ultimately it was their destruction (Joshua 17:13; Judges 1:27-36). When each Israelite tribe in the loose confederation went to its inheritance of allotted land, the tribe was largely “on its own” until the time of the kings, and the tribes failed to support one another in completely driving out the the idolaters (see Reginald Stuart Poole, “Idolatry,” Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature, 3rd ed., 2:366).

Draw a lesson from this: Each of us is personally responsible before God, but we also draw great encouragement from the example and support of our brethren. Surely this is why God adds Christians to the church, a collective in which each member serves one another (see Acts 2:47; Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12). Our brethren may need our help in driving idols out of their lives—covetousness, worldliness, or doubt. We must help them. “[A]dmonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

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