Idolatry is a sharp word. We tend to think of idolatry in terms of the cruel and immoral child-sacrifices that the ancients offered to their crude statues. Dr. Brown views Christianity as the heroic champion that opposes idolatry and advocates a monotheistic faith. And much of western civilization would concur with Dr. Brown’s assessment. Most people cannot see a connection between the high philosophy of Trinitarian Christianity and the boorish beliefs of the ancient pagans.
The Jewish people beg to differ. For centuries upon dark centuries, Jewish people have chosen to die rather than direct devotion to Jesus. It is not because Jews love death. There is no culture that respects human life as does the culture of the Jew. But the Jew stands in a covenantal relationship with the Creator of heaven and earth. And the obeisance that the Church was demanding for Jesus is seen by the Jew as the deepest violation of that covenant. Not because we hate Jesus, but because we love God. The devotion of our hearts belongs to God and to no one else.
The rejection of idolatry is not a peripheral aspect of Judaism. The condemnation of idolatry is not a marginal matter according to the authors of the Jewish Scriptures. The central task of the Jew is to testify to the world that there is but One God (Isaiah 43:10) and the Jewish prophets taught that the climax of history will be reached when all idolatry is eradicated from the minds of men and God alone is exalted (Isaiah 2:17,18).
But why are the Jewish people so convinced that the Christian devotion to Jesus is idolatry?
We need to define idolatry before we can answer that question, but before we define idolatry we need to define something else. Just as we cannot understand the sin of adultery before we understand the concept of marriage so it is with idolatry. We need to understand the covenant relationship that we share with God before we can define the violation of that relationship.
The Jewish people have a certain perception of God. This perception defines God as the Creator of every facet of existence and who is above and beyond all finite existence. Not only does the Jewish perception identify God, but it also identifies every other aspect of existence. The Jewish perception of God has the Jew see God as the Creator of all and it has the Jew see all existence as beholden to God.
The miracles of the exodus gave the Jewish people the understanding that all of finite existence belongs exclusively to God. And at Sinai, the Jewish people experienced a collective prophetic encounter with God. At that time they pledged their hearts to Him. They committed themselves to worship the God who owns their worship to begin with and Him alone.
The impact of the Sinai encounter is preserved through the living testimony of the Jewish people (Deuteronomy 4:9). Every Jew is born into a nation that already stands in a covenant relationship with the One Creator of heaven and earth. Every individual Jew is enjoined to recognize that relationship and to build his or her life on the basis of that relationship. The covenantal responsibility of each Jew is that every breath of life be suffused with awe and with love toward the One who provided that breath. And the covenantal responsibility of our nation would have us pass on to our children the same covenant that we received from our parents.
The devotion that the Jew carries in his heart toward God is intimately bound up with the sense of justice that dictates that we do not give to one that which belongs to another. The Jewish devotion to God consists of the acknowledgement and the acceptance that our devotion is not ours to give away; it belongs to the One who is holding our existence in His loving hand.
Now that we’ve spoken a bit about the relationship between God and His firstborn son let us talk about the violation of that relationship.
The idolater is overawed by the qualities that his object of worship seems to possess. Be it the awesome power of thunder, the sublime majesty of a mountain, the exquisite beauty of a river or the life giving warmth of the sun. The idolater sees these qualities and he recognizes his own smallness in that he possesses none of them. The idolater concludes that the entity that possesses these qualities must be of a higher plane of existence than his own and he submits himself in worship to this “higher existence.”
The Jew would tell the idolater that he is making a fundamental error. Does your thunder, mountain, river or sun possess the quality of being the Author of all existence? Did the mountain give itself its majesty? Or was the mountain granted its majesty by the same One who granted me the ability to discern and to appreciate majesty? You are confusing the subject with its Master.
When the idolater would attempt to persuade the Jew to join him in his worship of the sun, the Jew would respond: my heart is already tied up in a relationship with the One who created me and who created the sun. All of the qualities that you believe that the sun possesses cannot justify my devotion to it simply because the devotion of my heart does not belong to sun, but to the One who created and sustains my heart.