Selected Teachings on
The Immoral Nature of
Idolatry in the Old Testament


Dictionary of the Bible

Many have wondered why the Israelites were so easily led away from the true God, into the worship of idols. (1) Visible, outward signs, with shows, pageants, parades, have an attraction to the natural heart, which often fails to perceive the unseen spiritual realities. (2) But the greatest attraction seems to have been in licentious revelries and obscene orgies with which the worship of the Oriental idols was observed. This worship, appealing to every sensual passion, joined with the attractions of wealth and fashion and luxury, naturally was a great temptation to a simple, restrained, agricultural people, whose worship and laws demanded the greatest purity of heart and of life. (Smith, Dictionary of the Bible, s.v. “idolatry,” p. 264; quoted in Old Testament Institute Manual, Genesis-2 Samuel, p. 247)

Bible Encyclopedia

The general rites of idolatrous worship consist in burning incense; in offering bloodless sacrifices, as the dough-cakes and libations in [Jeremiah 7:18], and the raisin-cake in [Hosea 3:1]: in sacrificing victims [1 Kings 18:26]; and especially in human sacrifices. . . . These offerings were made on high places, hills, and roofs of houses, or in shady groves and valleys.

Some forms of idolatrous worship had libidinous orgies. . . . Divinations, oracles [2 Kings 1:2], and rabdomancy [Hosea 4:12] form a part of many of these false religions. The priesthood was generally a numerous body; and where persons of both sexes were attached to the service of any god (like that of Ashtoreth), that service was infamously immoral.” (Fallows, Bible Encyclopedia, s.v. “idolatry,” 2:850; quoted in Old Testament Institute Manual, Genesis-2 Samuel, p. 246)

Bible Encyclopedia

The most prominent part of [Ashtoreth] worship, consisted of those libidinous orgies which Augustine, who was an eye witness of their horrors in Carthage, describes with such indignation. . . . Her priests were eunuchs in women’s attire and women . . . prostitutes [Hosea 4:14], . . . who, like the Bayaderes of India, prostituted themselves to enrich the temple of this goddess. (Fallows, Bible Encyclopedia, s.v. “Ashtoreth,” 1:168; quoted in Old Testament Institute Manual, Genesis-2 Samuel, p. 246)

Dictionary of the Bible

The attractiveness of [Baal] worship to the Jews undoubtedly grew out of its licentious character. We find this worship also in Phoenician colonies. The religion of the ancient British islands much resembled this ancient worship of Baal, and may have been derived from it. (Smith, Dictionary of the Bible, s.v. “Baal,” p. 70; quoted in Old Testament Institute Manual, Genesis-2 Samuel, p. 246)

The World of the Bible

The Canaanite cults included male and female priest-prostitutes. Intercourse with them was considered an act of worship designed to ensure the fertility of the fields, beasts, and humankind.... It is understandable ... that [the Israelites] sometimes succumbed to the temptations of the gods of Canaan. (Roberta L. Harris, The World of the Bible, p. 53)