Idolatry a Capital Crime
Deuteronomy 17:1-7
You shall not sacrifice to the LORD your God any bullock, or sheep, wherein is blemish, or any bad reputation…

The closing verses of last chapter prohibiting groves near God's altar may be taken in connection with the verses now before us as constituting the solemn prohibition of idolatry. God will not have any rival, either sun, moon, or any of the host of heaven, not to speak of the more miserable idolatries of things on earth; he makes idolatry a capital crime, and decrees death as its penalty. This brings out the enormity of the sin in the eyes of God; and it does not follow, because idolatry is not still visited with death, that it has become a lighter matter in the eyes of "the Judge of all the earth."

I. THE TEMPTATION TO NATURE WORSHIP. When men are not watchful, they live by sight and forget the life of faith. Others make the senses the only organs of knowledge, and base their so-called philosophy upon sensation. It is not to be wondered at, in such circumstances, that nature-worship prevailed in olden times and prevails still. A great deal of the antitheistic science of the present time is, when analyzed, just nature-worship. When men in their headstrong self-confidence attribute independent powers to nature; when they maintain-on what grounds they do not tell us, for it is a matter of faith, not of sight - that the "reign of law" is workable without God, then they are really idolizing nature. It seems a light thing to men to eliminate God from his works, but the sin will have to be answered for before the Judge. Besides, it was more excusable in the old Israelite than in the modern philosopher. The heavenly bodies in these Eastern countries are so magnificent that the impression produced upon the gazer is akin to worship. It was little wonder if in an unwatchful moment he "beheld the sun when it shined, or the moon walking in brightness; and the heart was secretly enticed, or his mouth kissed his hand" (Job 31:26, 27). The temptation to worship the heavenly bodies was strong and natural.

II. IS GOD'S SIGHT THE WORSHIP OF NATURE IS A CAPITAL CRIME, It is worthy of a violent death. Directions are given for the solemn execution. The witnesses, of whom there must be a plurality at least, are first to lay their hands upon the head of the idolater, then the whole people, doubtless through their representative elders, showing their acquiescence in the severe sentence; and then he is to be stoned to death. The idea is manifestly that he is unworthy of living longer when he has so far forgotten and ignored the claims of God. And assuredly our scientific nature-worshippers are equally guilty, nay, more guilty, in God's sight. If they are not put to death by public law, it is not because their sin is changed in its heinousness, but because God has made their case a reserved one for himself. "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord."

III. IN THESE CIRCUMSTANCES WE ARE LEFT ONE WAY OF GETTING RID OF THE EVIL, AND THAT IS BY GOOD. God having withdrawn the prerogative of vengeance from men for sins against himself, and reserved the case for his own dealing with it, he has given us our direction in the words, "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21). The Israelites in their rude time were directed to remove the idolater by force; we are to get rid of him by loving persuasion. The former was the easier remedy. To heap coals of fire on the head of our opponent and enemy is not so easy an operation. But it can be done. God shows us the example himself. While reserving the prerogative of vengeance, he meanwhile manifests himself in Jesus Christ as the God of love. Though provoked by man's idolatries, he subjects him to the treatment of his love, and goes forth in converting power to meet his enemies. Of course the love is sometimes lost upon them, as we are accustomed to say. The appeal is rejected, but they have got the opportunity, and must account at last for despising it. In his loving footsteps let us follow. The nature-worship and manifold idolatries are amenable to the treatment of enlightened love. Let us study candidly and carefully the case, and administer with all tenderness the remedy. It may be that in some cases the old picture may be reversed. Instead of the imposition of hands in order to destruction, it may be an imposition of hands in ordaining to Divine work those who formerly ignored God altogether. However this may be, our duty is clear to try to overcome this particular evil by good. - R.M.E.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Thou shalt not sacrifice unto the LORD thy God any bullock, or sheep, wherein is blemish, or any evilfavouredness: for that is an abomination unto the LORD thy God.

WEB: You shall not sacrifice to Yahweh your God an ox, or a sheep, in which is a blemish, [or] anything evil; for that is an abomination to Yahweh your God.

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