A Brief Theology of Tearing Down Idols

Through our summer Lifelink study of the book of Judges, we saw the pervasiveness of idolatry in Israel. The lessons from Israel’s disobedience of the Lord’s commands are greatly instructive for us today. When we become comfortable with idols, something is remarkably wrong!
The Command to Tear Down Idols
Israel was given clear commands from the Lord: When they entered into the land, they were to destroy the idols that were there. Deut. 7:5 says, “But thus you shall do to them: you shall tear down their altars, and smash their pillars, and hew down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire.” In other words, they were to vigorously destroy them. They were not to become comfortable with the idols in the land - to do so would mean that they themselves would be led into idolatry (Deut. 7:25). In fact, this is exactly what happened in Israel’s history when they did not obey this command of the Lord (Psalm 106:34-39, Judges 8:27, etc.)!
Models of Tearing Down Idols
During biblical history, there are notable examples of idols being torn down in obedience to God. We think of Moses, who saw the golden calf of Israel and “burned it with fire, and ground it to powder, and scattered it over the surface of the water and made the sons of Israel drink”! We observe Gideon’s example in the book of Judges, tearing down his father’s altar to Baal. We see King Josiah commended for burning the Asherah, demolishing the altars, and removing the abominations from the land (2 Kings 23:25).
God’s Acts of Tearing Down Idols
Additionally, God not only commands His people to tear down idols, He Himself is seen tearing down idols. For instance, when the Ark of the Covenant was brought into the Philistine temple to their false god Dagon, they came in the next morning and found that “Dagon had fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of Yahweh.” In the Exodus as God delivers His people, each plague seems to be targeted at one or more of the false Egyptian gods (see Ex. 12:12). As God works out His plan for Israel and the nations, the idolatrous harlot Babylon the Great will be “burned up with fire” (Rev. 18:8) - the same Greek word used in translating the Hebrew command to burn the graven images (Deut. 7:25). God does not look favorably on idolatry (Is. 42:8).
Christ Saves Idolaters
Praise God, though, that we can be saved from our idolatry. As Paul says in 1 Cor. 6:9-11 - “idolaters… will not inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” The description given of the Thessalonians’ salvation is that they “turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God” (1 Thess. 1:9). For those who will repent, Christ has borne their punishment on the cross.
Tearing Down Idols in the Christian Life
Having been forgiven of our idolatry through Christ, we are given marching orders from the Lord. As we fight in this warfare, we are given certain spiritual weapons from God, which are divinely powerful for “tearing down” (the Greek word used to translate the Hebrew command in Ex. 34:13 to tear down idolatrous altars) “strongholds,” “reasonings,” and “every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor. 10:4-5). Likewise, in our own walk, we are told to “guard yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21, see also Col. 3:5). Do not become comfortable with idols! Learn from Israel’s history. Be provoked like Paul observing the city full of idols. Tear them down out of obedience to the Lord.
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