Looking for Idols in Ezekiel 14

idolSon of man, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces.   (Ezekiel 14:3, ESV)

Ezekiel 14 has (wrongly) been used to support the “idols of the heart” doctrine.

However, the passage says nothing about looking for idols in counseling or for any other purpose.  What, then, was going on?

Here was a people just about to be exiled for idolatry (physical idolatry—worshiping man-made objects of wood and metal). Ezekiel speaks throughout his book of such, and condemns the people for it.

Here, he describes how bad the problem had become: these same people, going out to Babylon, were about to carry images of the idols they were supposed to leave behind in their hearts!

They were “setting up” these idols upon their hearts so that, even when not physically present, they would be able to put them “before their faces.” What a tragedy! What an attachment to the idolatry they had become so accustomed to!

That’s what the passage is referring to. The idols (now in imagery) would accompany them was they went off in exile. There is nothing about their hearts manufacturing idols; nothing about seeking such imaginary idols in order to deal with counseling problems (biblical counseling was the farthest thing from Ezekiel’s mind).

It is important not to confuse things that differ. Never are these idols (now, literally, ON their hearts) said to be the products of their hearts.  Rather, they have been placed on them (in their minds[1]) in order to carry them (in mind) with them.

[1] The Hebrews had no word for mind—when thinking of it, they used the word “heart.””

Heart Idols?

Contrary to what you will hear in many counseling circles today purporting to be Christian, the way to help people solve their problems does not lie in discovering some idol(s) in their hearts. Listen to what Scripture says about hearts:

You alone know the human heart  (2 Chronicles 6:30)

Since that is true, it is foolishness—not to say presumption—to claim to be able by some technique or other to be able to know what Scripture teaches that only God can know!

Why, then, is this idea so prevalent among Christians who counsel? A good selling job has been done it seems.

I warn you against adopting this approach in which such silly things as calling “over-sleeping” an idol are “discovered.” True, a person may (along with other matters) have a sleeping problem, but that it is an idol which he has manufactured in his heart—sounds strange to me,  How about you?

Counseling and the Heart

It would be interesting—perhaps even very helpful—IF we were told in the Bible that we could look for, and discover, distinct, so-called “idols of the heart,” but what Solomon, speaking to God, said is

You know the heart, for You alone know every human heart. (1 Kings 8:39 HCSB).

It would make counseling easier, I agree, but, then, there’s that clear statement that “God alone knows the heart.”

It’s time, therefore, for those who do so, to stop devising systems for doing what He “alone” can do. Besides, the Bible doesn’t speak of “idols of the heart” anyway. It does speak in Ezekiel—once—of the idols that the Israelites were carrying on/in (both prepositions are used) their hearts as they were being deported to Babylon to remove idolatry from their midst.  They took them along in their minds since they could not carry the physical idols themselves. But there is nothing about producing idols in the heart. By the way that you continually hear about idols of the heart, you’d think that the Bible required counselors to look for them.  It doesn’t. Yet, once again, we get new and better classifications of these. When an unbiblical idea gets going it is amazing how people ride with it, improvising, changing, and requiring new and better ways of dealing with counseling by means of it.

How sad it is to think that those who do so develop, and attempt to foist upon unsuspecting believers, “new and better” descriptions of idols of the heart, get a hearing rather than are questioned about the biblical basis for what they teach!

When are we going to begin to discover new and better understanding of what the Bible really says?

The problem is—it seems that there are those who want to introduce something “new” and  “better,” as I said.  Why they want to beats me, unless they want to get a hearing! To do so, they are unwilling to abide by what Scripture teaches. They must, instead, introduce something NEW.  Otherwise they’d have little to write about!

If you wonder what has me all stirred up about this—take a look at some of the counseling sites out there at present. I’d like to know the Scriptural warrant for what they teach!


For Now . . .

This week we are away at the annual NANC conference. We will be rerunning some of the most important blogs from this past summer.

Often, I’ve been charged with being critical of others. But I have hardly been charged with being critical of those in the basic Nouthetic counseling camp. Yet, interestingly enough, I find that, as of late, some of these very persons have had little hesitation out attacking my writings—and even me personally. This is perfectly all right so long as what they say is accurate and the system that they propose (indeed, there seems to be such a system growing) is, indeed, genuinely an improvement over what I have set forth. But to “advance” is not always an advantage. The question is—what direction is this new way of counseling taking?

I see several serious deviations taking this “new” system back to a number of the old unbiblical ways that we thought we had put to bed. Let me mention but a few.

First, exegesis is minimized, and in its place we discover an emphasis on feelings, a superficial use of the Scriptures, “getting to know people,” and the lot. One whole book, for instance, is based on a faulty, superficial, misinterpretation of Ezekiel 14. Here was a people, being carried away into Babylon, largely because of its worship of the images of false gods rather than Yahweh. Yet their devotion to these images was so strong that what they could not do physically, they were doing spiritually—they were carrying away images of them in their hearts (Ez. 14:3,4,6,7) .

Throughout Ezekiel, true images of genuine false gods of the time, (such as Moloch) are in view. The first half of His book is consumed with condemning such idolatry. As a result, God’s “four sore judgments” (v.21) were about to fall upon them. Yet, they persisted in spite of Ezekiel’s last minute warning to repent and turn their faces from such idols (v.6).

Now, the book in question, “uses” the Ezekiel passage to set forth the fallacious idea that these idols were being manufactured in the hearts of the rebellious Jews, and that, rather than idols representing false pagan gods, the passage supports the concept of the human heart being the source of sin-specific idols of those who produce them. So, totally failing to do the exegesis of the passage necessary to proclaim God’s truth, the passage is “made” to support an unbiblical view which (certainly) was the furtherest thing from Ezekiel’s mind when he wrote. And, a view that leads counselors in a wrong direction.

That view, largely being propagated by another brother, who does little, if any, true exegesis of passages, but largely intellectualizes (playing around with nuances of various sorts), has been spread all over the counseling world. Among other things, the concept makes Scripture (with little use of the same) teach that we are allowed to search out the idols specific to each person in order to counsel him (whether it be an idol of laziness, lust, or whatever). Of course, the Ezekiel passage has no such counseling construct within it (nor does any other passage). And it teaches absolutely nothing about human beings manufacturing heart idols. Indeed, the Bible teaches quite another concept that is contrary to this view: it denies the ability of others to know another person’s heart.

Let’s examine a few verses with reference to this concept. First, at the dedication of Solomon’s temple, in his prayer, he emphatically affirmed that God “alone” knows human hearts (1 Kings 8:39). Moreover, God tells us that man looks on the outward appearance [man’s territory], but that He looks on the heart [His territory] see 1 Samuel 16:7. Even Paul was cautious not only about judging others’ hearts, but even about judging his own (See 1 Corinthians 4:3-5). These are only a few of the consistent teachings of Scripture about the same thing. Man has the right to ask others what their desires are but, as in Paul’s case, even one’s own assessment is questionable. We can watch, and listen, but we cannot discover another’s heart problems. Moreover, as we have seen, to discover individual idols, within a complex person who isn’t sure of himself (as Paul said), again, seems quite presumptuous.

Much more could be said about other aspects of this developing system, which contains elements of redemptive-historical speculation replacing exegesis, and of Gospel sanctification—rather than sanctification of Spirit-enabled effort—must be reserved for another place. For now, let me simply warn you that the names of at least 4-5 rather prominent persons have become associated with the new system, so you ‘re likely to encounter its tenets soon, if not later. All I want to say now is beware. It’s adoption will destroy your counseling ability, and you are likely to discourage your counselees as well as yourself.


A website worthwhile visiting . . .

I don’t know whether or not you’ve seen it, but it’s worth looking at. On the website, Gairney Bridge, you can look at a video of a modern idol, the editor entitled “Dagon,” actually falling! There is little information about the incident, but one would assume that the incident occurred in a Roman Catholic Church. “Mary” lost her head and her halo! If there are those who think that there’s no idolatry going on in America today, then this is the site to visit. You’ll change your mind.

The futility of idol worship, as it is pictured in the Scriptures is plain. The foolishness of it is exhibited in places where the same man who carves an idol, then takes the wood left over and burns it in order to warm himself (Isaiah 44:15). Then, having finished his work, he bows down to it, as if it were a god. The “Dagon reference in the website presentation is to the Canaanite fish god that the Lord toppled in Old Testament times. It would be interesting to know something of the reason why, in His providence, God again toppled an image of this  particular church in our day.

Continue reading