Israel has a long history of idolatry. While idolatry has taken on many forms, its basic definition is to worship or serve anything other than the one and true God.
An idol can be something tangible made with hands, or it can be an ideology or concept. In all cases it is an imaginary false deity (god).
To serve an idol of any kind is to commit spiritual adultery against God. These definitions basically apply to the Hebrew meanings of idolatry as well as to the Greek definitions found in the New Testament.
Just prior to Moses’ death God told him that Israel would be involved in idolatry to the extent that He would forsake them, and hide His face from them, all because they would turn to other gods.
“And the LORD said to Moses: ‘Behold, you will rest with your fathers; and this people will rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners of the land, where they go to be among them…’” Deuteronomy 31:16a NKJV
It is so amazing that Israel’s Sovereign God would reveal the future thoughts and actions of His people.
The KJ version uses the phrasing ‘go a whoring after the gods of the strangers of the land.’ God had previously warned the Israelites on numerous occasions of the consequences of not completely ridding the land of its occupants.
In the present context the wording ‘play the harlot’ means to have illegal contact between Israel and other nations and their gods.
God was very specific relative to Israel’s future actions and the required consequences. He instructed Moses to write down beforehand what they would do and use the writing, called a song, as a witness confirming His warning.
“…write down this song…and teach it to the children of Israel…When I have brought them to the land… and they have eaten and filled themselves and grown fat, then they will turn to other gods and serve them; and they will provoke Me…” Deuteronomy 31:19-20
God told Moses in advance that the Israelites would be given everything they could possibly need or want, but instead of praising God for His goodness, they would give the credit for their success to false gods.
Perhaps they would credit their own ingenuity and effort for their success, or perhaps they would tout their trading treaties with other nations for their economic prowess. Whatever their reasoning, they would forget their true provider and ‘worship’ their self accomplishment. Such would become ‘other gods.’
But just as God explained their behavior in advance, such apostasy would have disastrous results.
“Then it shall be, when many evils and troubles have come upon them, that this song will testify against them as a witness…for I know the inclination of their behavior today, even before I have brought them to the land of which I swore to give them.” Deuteronomy 31:21
After recording the words of the song in the book of the law and placing it in the Ark of the Covenant, Moses called the elders and officers together and told them what God had told him.
“For I know that after my death you will become utterly corrupt, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you. And evil will befall you in the latter days, because you will do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke Him to anger through the work of your hands.” Deuteronomy 31:29
The Hebrew word for work in this context means ‘labor, or something made,’ while ‘hands’ means ‘power or strength.’ Thus, the Israelites would attribute all their success to their own efforts instead of God’s grace.
The term in the ‘latter days’ has eschatological implications; God’s justice has not as yet been fully levied on His chosen nation. Such will be accomplished during the ‘time of Jacob’s trouble,’ i.e. the great tribulation.
It must always be kept in mind Paul’s application of Israel’s history, particularly during their forty years between the Exodus and entering the Promised Land.
“Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” 1 Corinthians 10:11
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