Archaeology supports the Bible’s history about the human race being polytheistic from the 3rd millennium B.C. Following the lineage of Noah in Genesis 10 and 11, we see that the human race spread out after the confusion of language at Babel and moved to many parts of the earth. There the families of man worshipped many gods.
As far as we can tell from the Bible, archaeology and history, the entire human race had become polytheistic. We have no record of anyone worshipping the God of the Bible, the God who created the heavens and the earth and the first human beings. The human race served other gods, but not the true God.
What happened when the human race became practical atheists? God intervened? What happened when the human race built a city and tower toward heaven? God intervened. What happened when the human race became polytheists and worshipped anything except God? God intervened.
“Now the Lord had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:1-3
Just as God chose Noah to carry on the human race, God chose a man named Abram (Abraham) to carry on the worship of the one, true God. Monotheism on earth was about to begin again.
There is no question that Abram was a polytheist before God spoke to him. Abram’s native land was Ur of the Chaldeans (Genesis 11:27-28), which was known for polytheism. Ur was the principal center of worship for the Sumerian moon god Nanna (same as Babylonian god Sin – read more here). British consul J.E. Taylor discovered the ancient ziggurat of Nanna in the middle of the 19th century A.D. British archaeologists excavated the ruins of Ur during the early part of the 20th century. They unearthed the entire temple area, including the royal cemetery, dating from about 2,600 B.C.
Joshua, who followed Moses as leader of Israel, gathered all the tribes of Israel together toward the end of his life. What he told them gives us more information about Abram’s polytheistic roots.
“Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and called for the elders of Israel, for their heads, for their judges, and for their officers; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, ‘Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘Your fathers, including Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side of the River in old times; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from the other side of the River, led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his descendants and gave him Isaac. To Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. To Esau I gave the mountains of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt. Also I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt, according to what I did among them. Afterward I brought you out.” Joshua 24:1-5
Abraham “served other gods.” That’s important to note. God did not look for a monotheist to rebuild monotheism. He found an older man who had served other gods all of his life. God found a man who was born into a family of polytheists and called him to become the human father of monotheism.
“Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:1-3
The covenant God made with Abraham and his descendants was promised to be “everlasting.”
“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless. And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.’ Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying: ‘As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” Genesis 17:1-8
That is important for every monotheist to understand. God’s promise concerning His working through the descendants will not be defeated. It is everlasting. However, being everlasting and undefeatable does not mean being ‘unchallenged.’ Remember the enemy? We’ve already seen how Satan attacked Eve, Job and Jesus. That’s what committed enemies do – they attack again and again and again. They will not give up until they win or are utterly defeated.
“The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” Revelation 20:10
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before Satan is utterly defeated he is going to challenge God’s people at every turn. That means monotheism will be challenged by Satan throughout the history of mankind.
Understanding this battle helps us understand why God repeated His command to His people to serve Him and only Him. God knows the danger that lies within every human being – Satan’s lie: “you will be like God” (Genesis 3:5).
This is an excellent reminder for Christians today because we are under a similar attack from Satan – to worship other gods. Look carefully at God’s commandments to Israel and see if anything stands out to you that might have modern implications.
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. ‘You shall have no other gods before Me. ‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” Exodus 20:1-6
“For My Angel will go before you and bring you in to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites and the Hivites and the Jebusites; and I will cut them off. You shall not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do according to their works; but you shall utterly overthrow them and completely break down their sacred pillars.” Exodus 23:24
“You shall make no covenant with them, nor with their gods. They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against Me. For if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.” Exodus 23:32-33
“Take careful heed to yourselves, for you saw no form when the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, lest you act corruptly and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of any figure: the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth or the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground or the likeness of any fish that is in the water beneath the earth. And take heed, lest you lift your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, you feel driven to worship them and serve them, which the Lord your God has given to all the peoples under the whole heaven as a heritage. But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be His people, an inheritance, as you are this day. Furthermore the Lord was angry with me for your sakes, and swore that I would not cross over the Jordan, and that I would not enter the good land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance. But I must die in this land, I must not cross over the Jordan; but you shall cross over and possess that good land. Take heed to yourselves, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God which He made with you, and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of anything which the Lord your God has forbidden you. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. When you beget children and grandchildren and have grown old in the land, and act corruptly and make a carved image in the form of anything, and do evil in the sight of the Lord your God to provoke Him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that you will soon utterly perish from the land which you cross over the Jordan to possess; you will not prolong your days in it, but will be utterly destroyed. And the Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the Lord will drive you. And there you will serve gods, the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell. But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in distress, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, when you turn to the Lord your God and obey His voice (for the Lord your God is a merciful God), He will not forsake you nor destroy you, nor forget the covenant of your fathers which He swore to them.” Deuteronomy 4:15-31
You might be thinking that Christians can’t fall into this ‘polytheistic’ trap of worshipping idols because we are by the very nature of our faith ‘monotheists.’ Think again because you might be wrong. We’ll look at that in the next part of our study about The Church Under Attack.
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”