The Empires of the Bible from the Confusion of Tongues to the Babylonian Captivity



IN the course of this history there will be unavoidably much mention of the gods of the different nations. It will therefore be well to say at the beginning all that needs to be said as to what they really were and what the worship of them was. EB 40.1

2. Every idol, every false god, is of itself simply nothing. The only way in which it can possibly seem to be anything, is from the imagination of its devotees. What the worshiper imagines the god to be, that is all that it is; that is all that it can be. And whatever his fears or his desires dictate, that is what he will imagine the god to be. Therefore it is perfectly plain that every idol, every false god, is but the reflection of its devotee. It is also perfectly plain that in this reflexive way each idolater is himself his own god. Each idolater being his own god, it is also plain that all idolatry, all false worship, is but self-worship. EB 40.2

3. Again: No false god has, neither can it have, of itself, any character. Yet it is always character that is the object, conformity to character is the essence, of all worship, whether it be true or false. It is what the god is, rather than who it is, that is chiefly considered by the worshiper. The idol, then, having no character of its own, the only possible character that can ever attach to it, is such as its worshiper gives to it. But the only character that he can possibly give to it is such an one as he himself imagines, and which, therefore, must come altogether from himself, and be altogether human and natural. Consequently his god is in every sense only the reflection of himself, and in this reflex way is only himself. Therefore it is certain that all idolatry, all false worship, is only the worship of men’s selves, of their own powers and traits. And all these powers and traits, separated from God, being bent only to evil courses, such worship only confirms the false worshiper more and more in the evil of his own nature, and tends ever downward to greater and yet greater degradation. EB 40.3

4. Such is the source of all idolatry; for “when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.” 1 And as, in point of character, all that these gods were, was only what sprung from the imaginations of those who made them; and as “from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness;” 2 such has been the character of all the idols of all the nations of the earth. And “they make them are like unto them.” And “so is every one that trusteth in them.” 3 EB 41.1

5. No better illustration of this could be needed than is given in that nation in which undoubtedly idolatry attained to the most “intellectual,” “refined,” and esthetic height that it has ever reached in the world,—that is, the nation of Greece. To such a point did idolatry there attain, that even to-day the forms of the highest degree of their idolatry are admired as the perfection of “art.” Yet it would be difficult to conceive how the wildest follies of the most confirmed fool could produce a more confused and senseless mass than is comprehended in the Greek system of idolatry. It is astonishing to see how a people who had so much sense and real ability in so many things, as had the Greeks, should manifest such an absolute want of sense or reason as is displayed in disgusting detail in their system of idolatry—their Olympian heaven. As for its influence on mankind, “the pagan worship of beauty ... ennobled art and corrupted nature; extracted wonders from the quarries of Pentelicus, and horrors from the populace of Rome and Corinth; perfected the marbles of the temple, and degraded the humanity of the worshiper. Heathenism had wrought into monstrous combination physical beauty and moral deformity.”—Martineau. 4 EB 41.2

6. For its outward form and expression, the idolatry of the nations, this nature-worship, has always and everywhere centered in the sun. It is almost impossible to find in the history of the world a form of idolatry that is not connected with sun-worship. And in almost every nation sun-worship has been the principal worship; so that it may fairly be described as the universal worship. In Babylonia and Assyria the sun was worshiped under the names of Bel and Shamas; in Egypt under the names of Ra, Osiris, Horus, Harmachis, Aten, and several others; in Phenicia and the land of Canaan, under the names of Baal, Melcarth, Shemesh, Adonai, and Moloch; in Syria the names were Tammuz and Elagabalus; among the Moabites, Baal-peor and Chemosh; among the Medes and Persians and other kindred nations, Ormuzd and Mithra; in India, both ancient and modern, Mitra, Mithra, or Mithras; in Phrygia it was Atys; in Greece the names were Adonis, Apollo, Bacchus, and Hercules; and in Rome the same as in Greece. In sculpture, Apollo was, and is considered the highest type of manly beauty. EB 42.1

7. The myth of Hercules alone will illustrate the wide-spread practise of this worship: “The mythology of Hercules is of a very mixed character, in the form in which it has come down to us. There is in it the identification of one or more Grecian heroes with Melcarth, the sun-god of the Phenicians. Hence we find Hercules so frequently represented as the sun-god, and his twelve labors regarded as the passage of the sun through the twelve signs of the zodiac. He is the powerful planet which animates and imparts fecundity to the universe, whose divinity has been honored in every quarter by temples and altars, and consecrated in the religious strains of all nations. From Meroe in Ethiopia, and Thebes in Upper Egypt, even to Britain, and the icy regions of Scythia; from the ancient Taprobana and Palibothra in India, to Cadiz and the shores of the Atlantic; from the forests of Germany to the burning sands of Africa;—everywhere, in short, where the benefits of the luminary of day are experienced, there we find established the name and worship of a Hercules. EB 42.2

8. “Many ages before the period when Alcmena is said to have lived, and the pretended Tyrinthian hero to have performed his wonderful exploits, Egypt and Phenicia, which certainly did not borrow their divinities from Greece, had raised temples to the sun, under a name analogous to that of Hercules, and had carried his worship to the isle of Thasus and to Gades. Here was consecrated a temple to the year, and to the months which divided it into twelve parts, that is, to the twelve labors, or victories, which conducted Hercules to immortality. It is under the name of Hercules Astrochyton, or the god clothed with a mantle of stars, that the poet Nonnus designates the sun, adored by the Tyrians. ‘He is the same god,’ observes the poet, ‘whom different nations adore under a multitude of different names: Belus on the bank of the Euphrates, Ammon in Libya, Apis at Memphis, Saturn in Arabia, 5 Jupiter in Assyria, Serapis in Egypt, Helios among the Babylonians, Apollo at Delphi, AEsculapius throughout Greece,’ etc.”—Anthon. 6 EB 43.1

9. By whatever name or under whatever form the sun was worshiped, there was always a female divinity associated with it. Sometimes this female was the moon, sometimes the earth, sometimes the atmosphere, and at other times simply the female principle in nature. In other forms it was the idea of a male and female blended in one, as in the case of Baalim. The female sometimes appeared as the wife of the one with whom she was worshiped; sometimes as both the sister and the wife, as in the case of Osiris; yet again as the wife of some other god; and often not exactly as a wife at all, but simply as a female associate. With Osiris was associated Isis; with Baal, Ashtaroth or Astarte; with Bel, Mylitta; with Shamas, Anunit; with Adonis, Venus; with Hercules, Omphale; with Apollo, Diana; with Atys, Cybele. Sometimes they were worshiped in the images of the male and female human figure; sometimes in the form of a bull and a heifer, as in Osiris and Isis; sometimes in a form in which the human and the beast were blended; sometimes in a simple carved disk for the male, and a piece of carved wood for the female, as in some forms of Baal and Astarte; sometimes in the form of stones which had fallen from heaven, but mostly in the form of cones or obelisks 7 which they themselves had shaped to represent the male, and of other shapes to represent the female. And yet in unison with all these the sun itself was worshiped, especially at its rising, by a bow, a prostration, or throwing a kiss of the hand. EB 43.2

10. In none of these forms, however, not even in the naked shining sun, was it the literal object that was worshiped, but certain functions or powers of which these were but the representations. It was observed that the sun in co-operation with the earth and the atmosphere which gave rain, caused all manner of verdure to spring forth and bear its proper fruit. It was held, therefore, that the sun was the supreme formative power, the mighty author of fruitfulness, and that its greatest and most glorious powers were displayed in reproduction. Sun-worship was therefore nothing more nor less than the worship of the principle of reproduction in man and nature. And as the influence of the real sun was extended over and through all nature, so this principle was extended through all sun-worship. EB 44.1

11. Therefore “all paganism is at bottom a worship of nature in some form or other, and in all pagan religions the deepest and most awe-inspiring attribute of nature was its power of reproduction. The mystery of birth and becoming was the deepest mystery of nature; it lay at the root of all thoughtful paganism, and appeared in various forms, some of a more innocent, others of a most debasing type. To ancient pagan thinkers, as well as to modern men of science, the key to the hidden secret of the origin and preservation of the universe, lay in the mystery of sex. Two energies or agents, one an active and generative, the other a feminine, passive, or susceptible one, were everywhere thought to combine for creative purposes; and heaven and earth, sun and moon, day and night, were believed to co-operate to the production of being. Upon some such basis as this rested almost all the polytheistic worship of the old civilization; and to it may be traced back, stage by stage, the separation of divinity into male and female gods; the deification of distinct powers of nature, and the idealization of man’s own faculties, desires, and lusts, where every power of his understanding was embodied as an object of adoration, and every impulse of his will became an incarnation of deity.” 8 EB 44.2

12. As the sun was the great god, the supreme lord, and as he exerted his most glorious powers in reproduction, it was held to be the most acceptable worship for his devotees so to employ themselves and their powers. Consequently prostitution was the one chief characteristic of sun-worship wherever found. As the association of a female without reference to relationship was the only requirement necessary to worship, the result was the perfect confusion of all relationships among the worshipers, even to the mutual interchange of garments between the sexes. In the eighteenth chapter of Leviticus there is a faithful record of such a result among the sun-worshipers of the land of Canaan whom the Lord caused to be blotted from the earth. The prohibition in Deuteronomy 22:5—“The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment”—was aimed directly at this practise in sun-worship. EB 45.1

13. As before stated, the almost numberless forms of sun-worship were practised in Canaan. In the practise of these fearful abominations they had so corrupted themselves that in the expressive figure of the Scripture, the very earth had grown so sick that it was compelled to vomit out the filthy inhabitants. “The land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants.” 9 All of this the God of heaven taught His people to renounce. “Ye shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations; neither any of your own nation, nor any stranger that sojourneth among you: (for all these abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled;) that the land spue not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spued out the nations that were before you. For whosoever shall commit any of these abominations, even the souls that commit them shall be cut off from among their people. Therefore shall ye keep Mine ordinance, that ye commit not any one of these abominable customs, which were committed before you, and that ye defile not yourselves therein: I am the Lord your God.” 10 EB 45.2

14. In all these prohibitions the people were taught to shun as the terrible plague that it was, every suggestion of the evil influences of the worship of the sun. They were to break down all the sun images and carved stocks (Asherim) that might be found anywhere in all the land which the Lord had given them. EB 46.1

15. In yet another and most comprehensive way the Lord taught His people to shun every indication of the worship of the sun. As has been shown, the devotees of the sun worshiped with their faces toward the east. When God established His worship with the children of Israel in the very midst of the sun-worshiping nations round about, at first a sanctuary was built and afterward a temple, where He dwelt by the glory of His presence. To the door of this sanctuary every form of sacrifice and offering was to be brought, and there they were to worship. And the door of that sanctuary (the temple also) was always toward the east, in order that all who would sacrifice to Jehovah and worship Him, would in so doing turn their backs upon the sun and its worship; and that whoever joined in the worship of the sun had first to turn his back upon Jehovah. EB 46.2

16. In point of character, also, Jehovah taught the people to turn entirely away from all other gods and their worship, that is, to turn entirely away from themselves. He taught them to have no god but Him, and to have Him in an altogether spiritual conception. And as the object of their highest good, their only worship, and their constant contemplation, He set Himself before them in the following character which is His glory: “The Lord, The Lord God, Merciful and Gracious, Longsuffering, and Abundant in Goodness and Truth, Keeping Mercy for thousands, Forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin!” 11 EB 46.3

17. That character is the opposite of every human or natural trait. No human mind could ever have originated the conception of such a character. And sufficient proof that no one ever could, is the fact that, in all the efforts of all the minds of all the nations to conceive the right God, no one ever did. Therefore of all the gods that the human race has ever known, Jehovah the God of Israel, is the one God whom men did not make to themselves. He is the one only God who revealed Himself to mankind. He is therefore the One Only True God, the only rightful object of worship. EB 47.1

18. All idolatry, all false worship, is self-worship; all the worship of God, all true worship, is the worship of Jehovah, the God of Israel, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. EB 47.2