Theme: No Other Gods
In this week’s lessons, we learn how to worship God, who is the one true God who rules over all, both now and forever.
Scripture: Psalm 96:1-13
Derek Kidner calls the first six verses of the psalm “The King’s Glory.” The first point the psalmist makes about God’s glory, that is, why he is “most worthy of praise,” is that “he is to be feared above all gods” (v. 4). Some commentators spend significant time discussing whether the writer thought of the heathen gods as actual (demon) gods or not. But it is hard to imagine why there should be any question about this since the next sentence goes on to state: “for all the gods of the nations are idols.” In Hebrew the word “idol” means “a no-thing,” that is, a non-entity or nothing. So verse 4 can only mean that God is to be praised and feared above those who are only thought to be gods by the heathen nations. Actually, there is a play on words in this stanza. The word for “gods” is elohim, and the word for “idol” is elilim. So what the writer is saying is that the elohim of the Gentiles are elilim. This word occurs only two places in the psalms, here and in Psalm 97:7.
It also occurs in two classic passages in Isaiah, which is one of several reasons why some of the commentators think of the psalm as being from Isaiah’s time or later. In one of these passages Isaiah mocks the “no gods” of the heathen by describing how an artisan makes an idol with one part of a piece of wood, while he uses the other to make a fire and cook his dinner. Then he falls down and worships the manufactured idol (Isa. 44:9-20). In the other passage Isaiah challenges the handmade heathen “gods” to do something, something either good or evil, that one might fear them: “‘Present your case,’ says the LORD. ‘Set forth your arguments,’ says Jacob’s King. ‘Bring in your idols to tell us what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know the final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so that we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear. But you are less than nothing and your words are utterly worthless; he who chooses you is detestable’” (Isa. 41:21-24).
Paul expressed the same thought when he declared, “We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one” (1 Cor. 8:4).
This is a very important point, of course. For it is a repudiation of the other world religions; it means that Christianity is an exclusive faith. This is an unpopular, even a so-called “hateful” idea in an age of political correctness. But it follows directly from who God is and what the Bible says about him. If, as the psalm says, Jehovah “made the heavens” and if “splendor and majesty” and “strength and glory” belong to him alone, then it is not only wrong but also a sin to worship any other. To put it in other words, if you are not worshiping the God of the Bible exclusively, as God says you must do, you are not worshiping God. You are not a Christian.
What aspect of God’s glory does the psalmist describe?
Explain what “idolatry” means in Hebrew.
What point is Paul making in 1 Cor. 8:4? What response do you receive from others when your witnessing about God hits on Paul’s point?
Reflection: What kinds of gods do people in our day worship? What does that say about their priorities, their idea of reality and what is true and good, and also about how they see themselves?
Key Point: If you are not worshiping the God of the Bible exclusively, as God says you must do, you are not worshiping God. You are not a Christian.
For Further Study: To learn more about God’s holiness, download for free and listen to Richard Phillips’ message, “The Holiness of God.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)