Worship Him, all you gods!
The gods of the nations are addressed affirmatively in
scripture, even commanded to worship the living God: "Let all those be ashamed who serve graven
images, who boast themselves of idols; worship Him, all you gods." (Psalm 97:7).
Some say that this proves the 'other gods' are rational, sentient
beings; how otherwise could they be capable of worship? One must
concede they are equally sentient as other entities to whom praise
is ascribed in the Bible, like the hills: "They drop upon the
pastures of the wilderness: and the little hills rejoice on every
side. The pastures are clothed with flocks; the valleys also are
covered over with corn; they shout for joy, they also sing." (Psalm
65:12-13). The gods of the nations will undoubtedly bow down before the living God. How do they do so?
Many of the things blindly worshipped by the nations are
real beings, but not one is a real god. Idols are
nothing in the world: "Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that
there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one." (1 Corinthians 8:4).
"For all the gods of the people are idols, but the LORD made the heavens."
At their lowest, the nations worship craft projects of wood
and stone: "What you have in your mind shall never be, when you say, 'We will be like the Gentiles,
like the families in other countries, serving wood and stone.'" (Ezekiel 20:32). In spite of
their numbing behavioral disabilities, even the idols of wood and stone worship Him, simply because
it is God's good pleasure to make these deaf and dumb stocks and stones bow down to Him: "When the
Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon. And
when they of Ashdod arose early on the morrow, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the earth
before the ark of the LORD. And they took Dagon, and set him in his place again." (1 Samuel 5:2-3).
These inert worshippers bow before the living God when they are carried helplessly off into
captivity, unable to save the deluded souls who trusted in them: "Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth,
their idols were upon the beasts, and upon the cattle: your carriages were heavy loaden; they are
a burden to the weary beast." (Isaiah 46:1).
Some of the gods worshipped by the nations are, not sticks
and stones, but created beings of great magnitude and beauty, like the sun, moon, stars, planets.
These real beings are not real gods, no more than is
a lifeless idol. The sun is a creature of God, loyally attending to his post: "And the sun stopped
in the middle of the sky, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day. And there was no day
like that before or after it, when the LORD listened to the voice of a man; for the LORD fought
for Israel." (Joshua 10:14-15).
Apostates from the faith of Israel imported sun-worship into the very Temple itself:
"And behold, at the entrance to 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; and they were prostrating themselves eastward toward the
sun." (Ezekiel 8:16);
"And he did away with the horses which the kings of Judah had given
to the sun, at the entrance of the house of the LORD..." (2 Kings 23:11).
Does the sun worship God? The Bible answer is, Yes! The sun
itself worships God, along with every other created thing: "Praise Him, all His angels; Praise Him, all
His hosts! Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him, all stars of light!" (Psalm 148:2-3). If the
sun's worshipful stance toward the living God is to be taken as proof of his deity, the Jehovah's
Witnesses will be left with an odd lot of things in their pantheon, a mooing and lowing "Divine
Council," because "cattle" also praise the LORD: "Beasts and all cattle; Creeping things and winged
fowl..." (Psalm 148:10). Even little fishes in the deep blue sea worship God and the Lamb: "And every
created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things
in them, I heard saying, 'To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and
glory and dominion forever and ever.'" (Revelation 5:13). Hmmm...our pantheon is getting alarmingly
crowded, and perhaps some kitty litter needs to be set out before it becomes fouled and the Health
Department steps in. And wait a minute — since when is worshipping God a proof of one's own deity? Men
worship God alongside the sun so futilely deified!
As to how the sun gives his testimony, it is by shining.
"Things not endowed the comprehension, as e.g., minerals, may also
be considered as glorifying the Lord, for by their natural
properties they testify to the omnipotence and wisdom of their
Creator, and cause him who examines them to praise God, by means of
speech or without the use of words, if the power of speech be
wanting." (Moses Maimonides, A Guide for the Perplexed, p. 115). All of creation,
except for man and the fallen angels and demons, loyally serve God at the posts to which He has
assigned them. They have fallen into futility through man's fall, inasmuch as their ordained
purposes cannot be met, through no fault of their own: "For the creation was subjected to futility,
not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also
will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of
God." (Romans 8:20-21). They haven't minds to formulate praises, nor
tongues to express them, but neither did Paul pray with
his conscious mind when He spoke in tongues: "For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other
man is not edified." (1 Corinthians 14:17). God accepts their testimony as they offer it.
Those who bowed to the sun, moon and stars were serving real
things, but not real gods. "Fire, wind, swift air, the
circle of the starry signs, rushing water, or the great lights in heaven that rule the world—
these they accounted gods." (Wisdom of Solomon 13:2). Hear this
pagan call out to his gods: "With a heart on fire Claudius sprang up
in disorder from his slumber. Then he raised both hands to heaven
and prayed devoutly to Earth and Night, to the Stars that strewed
the sky, and the Moon whose silent light was to lead them on their
way." (Silius Italicus, Punica, Book XV, Kindle location 4673).
Which of Claudius' gods is unreal? These are big, honking huge
inanimate objects. And that presents a problem, as they may be
somewhat lacking in empathy. Moreover, what Claudius wants from
them, success in battle, may fall somewhat outside of their sphere
of competence. The way the pagans visualized these objects: Apollo
with his shining steeds yoked to a glittering chariot, — was
fanciful and pointed to nothing real in the world. Still, at bottom,
these are real constituents of the world system; there is a sun
radiating up there in the sky.
Philo explains their error,
"There is an error of no small importance which has taken possession of the greater portion of mankind concerning a subject which was likely by itself, or, at least, above all other subjects, to have been fixed with the greatest correctness and truth in the mind of every one; for some nations have made divinities of the four elements, earth and water, and air and fire. Others, of the sun and moon, and of the other planets and fixed stars. Others, again, of the whole world. And they have all invented different appellations, all of them false, for these false gods put out of sight that most supreme and most ancient of all, the Creator, the ruler of the great city, the general of the invincible army, the pilot who always guides everything to its preservation; for they call the earth Proserpine, and Ceres, and Pluto. And the sea they call Neptune, inventing besides a number of marine deities as subservient to him, and vast companies of attendants, both male and female. The air they call Juno; fire, Vulcan; and the sun, Apollo; the moon, Diana; and the evening star, Venus; Lucifer, they call Mercury; and to every one of the stars they have affixed names and given them to the inventors of fables, who have woven together cleverly-contrived imaginations to deceive the ear, and have appeared to have been themselves the ingenious inventors of these names thus given."
(Philo Judaeus, The Decalogue, 52-55, Chapter XII).
People are not in error to believe that the sun and moon exist,
because they do exist. But it is an error to count them as gods, in
spite of their great beauty, because they are created beings just
as are we: "Accordingly, to one who understands how to apply himself to philosophy in a genuine, honest spirit, and who lays claim to a guiltless and pure piety, God gives that most beautiful and holy commandment, that he shall not believe that any one of the parts of the world is its own master, for it has been created; and the fact of having been created implies a liability to destruction, even though the thing created may be made immortal by the providence of the Creator; and there was a time once when it had no existence, but it is impiety to say that there was a previous time when God did not exist, and that he was born at some time, and that he does not endure for ever."
(Philo Judaeus, The Decalogue, 58, Chapter XII). The true and
living God has always been, while the sun, moon, and earthly sphere
have all come into existence at some time; thus, they are not gods.
As the Talmud points out, while these
'gods' are no phantasms or non-entities, neither are they any real gods:
"GEMARA. Our Rabbis taught: Philosophers asked the elders in Rome, 'If your God has no desire for idolatry, why does He not abolish it?' They replied, 'If it was something of which the world has no need that was worshipped, He would abolish it; but people worship the sun, moon, stars and planets; should He destroy the Universe on account of fools!"
(Babylonian Talmud, Tractate ‘Abodah Zarah 54b).
It's the same with the Persians, who worshipped fire in particular.
According to Herodotus, they venerated fire along with earth and sky,
and the heavenly bodies, all real entities beyond question:
"These are the customs, so far as I know, which the
Persians practice:— Images and temples and altars they do not
account it lawful to erect, nay they even charge with folly
those who do these things; and this, as it seems to me, because
they do not account the gods to be in the likeness of men, as
do the Hellenes. But it is their wont to perform sacrifices to
Zeus going up to the most lofty of the mountains, and the whole
circle of the heavens they call Zeus: and they sacrifice to the
Sun and the Moon and the Earth, to Fire and to Water and to the
Winds: these are the only gods to whom they have sacrificed
ever from the first; but they have learnt also to sacrifice to
Aphrodite Urania, having learnt it both from the Assyrians and
the Arabians. . ." (Herodotus, Histories, Volume I, Book I,
The votaries of this imageless worship were not serving idols,
but neither were they serving real gods when they thus served the creature in place of the creator.
But fire is for real, it will burn down your house! This natural force
would seem to have held center place in their pantheon: "Hence the
Persians adopt fire, a diurnal statue, insatiable and voracious; and to
this they sacrifice, supplying it with the aliment of fire, and at the
same time exclaiming, O sovereign ruler fire, eat." (Maximus of
Tyre, Dissertations, Volume II, Dissertation XXXVIII, p. 191).
We must concede to the Jehovah's Witnesses the reality of fire,
yet without conceding its deity; likewise with the Romans who set up an altar to the god 'Mildew' in their city. 'Mildew' is no doubt a real, and pesky,
natural phenomenon, but it is no god. The Lacedaemonian deities Fear,
Death and Laughter, are unarguably real: "The Lacedaemonians have
temples dedicated not only to Fear, but to Death, and Laughter, and
the like." (Plutarch's Lives, Life of Kleomenes, Chapter IX., Volume
IV., Kindle location 399); perhaps 'Laughter' was worshipped after
the Toronto Blessing. One must wonder why the Spartans omitted 'Taxes.'
These real entities worship the living God just as do all other created
things, by fulfilling the function for which they were made. No doubt, those
blinded worshippers who served empty idols like Baal and Astarte were
serving nothing in the world, and how a nothing can worship is
problematical; however, the god of the storm-cloud does inescapably have
something real, a meteorological phenomenon, behind him. The blinded
idolaters' turning away from the living God left them at risk of demonic
imposture; but 'Laughter' is no demon, and neither is 'Fire' nor 'Mildew.'
The idolaters left themselves open to demonic imposture, though there is not any one-to-one
correspondence between pagan gods and demons, as if there were a demon named 'Athena' who had the
characteristics her worshippers ascribed to her: "They sacrificed to demons who were not God, to
gods whom they have not known, new gods who came lately..." (Deuteronomy 32:17). Rather, those
who unwittingly served demons would have started back in horror had they realized what they were
worshipping. Demons are unclean spirits, no gods. The equation is clear:
if demons, then not gods: "If, on the other hand, they are demons or
angels, why, inconsistently with this, do they presume to set
themselves forth as acting the part of gods? For as beings who put
themselves out as gods would never willingly call themselves demons,
if they were gods indeed, that they might not thereby in fact
abdicate their dignity; so those whom you know to be no more than
demons, would not dare to act as gods, if those whose names they
take and use were really divine." (Tertullian, Apology, Chapter 23).
Demonic possession is very real, and is a feature
of pagan religion to this very day. Years ago I saw a scary video of a voodoo service
during which writhing worshippers certainly did seem to be possessed by. . .nothing you would ever want to know about.
But certainly no god. One of the ways in which polytheism wriggles back and
re-inserts itself into Christian theology is by taking comments
identifying pagan gods as "demons" as if they were definitional;
that, in other words, this condemnation tells us what a 'god' is,
rather than explodes the pretensions of pagan theology. The
Jehovah's Witnesses are offenders on this score. But the Renaissance was
equally guilty; they repopulated the skies with pagan gods, under
pretext that their condemnation as 'demons' vindicates their
reality and their power. But this is not the case. When you say that the gods of the
nations are demons, you are saying that they are no gods.
The Renaissance syncretism fails because these are not entities which have, not only real existence, but
also the suite of characteristics the pagans ascribed to their gods.
Demons do exist, but have nothing 'divine' about them. The reason there cannot be any demon named 'Baal' with
the suite of characteristics his worshippers ascribed to him, is because those characteristics
are already spoken for: the living God is the rider on the storm. Paul said that the Gentiles had an
intimation of deity: "...because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were
thankful, but became futile in their thoughts..." (Romans 1:21) — which they perverted with their own
vain imaginings, parcelling out God's own attributes to a host of fictions.
The majesty and terror of the storm gives a legitimate
intimation of God's presence and might: "The voice of the LORD is upon the waters: The God of glory
thunders. The LORD is over many waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful, the voice of the LORD is
majestic. The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; Yes, the LORD breaks in pieces the cedars of
Lebanon." (Psalm 29:3-5). The things of nature speak of Him, by their beauty and order.
Intelligibility implies intelligence — and as these things are not themselves intelligent, there must
be an intelligence behind them which brought them into being. The pagans did not miss that insight
absolutely, but rather they divided it up inappropriately, multiplying 'gods' in the process.
This is how you arrive at "many gods": "And there came a man of God, and spake unto the king of
Israel, and said, Thus saith the LORD, Because the Syrians have said, The LORD is God of the hills,
but he is not God of the valleys, therefore will I deliver all this great multitude into thine hand,
and ye shall know that I am the LORD." (1 Kings 20:28). One 'god' for the hills, another for the
plains, one-potato-two-potato, etc...next thing you now you have a pantheon, complete with storm-god Baal.
The polytheists who worshipped Baal saw in the storm
with its majesty and terror one god, in the sun in its brightness another, in the earth with its
bounty another god, etc. The point isn't that there is a real plurality of demons or fallen angels, as
if there really were a storm-demon and a sun-demon, but that the One God brings all these wonders
about: "The mighty God, even the LORD, hath spoken, and called the earth from the rising of the sun
unto the going down thereof. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined. Our God
shall come, and shall not keep silence: a fire shall devour before him, and it shall be very
tempestuous round about him. He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth, that he may
judge his people...For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know
all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine." (Psalm 50:1-11). It's all
His. The pagans began with a true intimation of deity, but lost it as their wandering imaginations
pluralized it into a pantheon.