Idols in High Places
Continuing from the last post, I would like to go through some scripture verses and find the true meaning of the word lust. To quickly recap, when Christ, in Matthew 5:27-28, talks about lusting after women meaning committing adultery with them, what exactly does he mean? Does he mean that we can look at as many women as we want as long as we are not envisioning ourselves having sex with them? Can we lawfully look at a beautiful woman (who is not our wife) and gain some satisfaction from their bodies? Or is any pleasure that we might gain from looking at a woman (again, to whom we are not married) considered sinful?
It might be helpful at the outset to look into both the Greek and Hebrew words that are translated into the English word “lust”.
There are two main Hebrew words used in the Old Testament that translates as lust.
First is the word Chamad (חָמַד), which translates literally to “desire” or “take pleasure in” or “covet”. The second word is Avah (אָוָה), which means “desire” or “incline”.
The connotation is not positive for either word, and is always used negatively in the Scriptures. These two words can be used in a few different ways based on the context, including:
The word “lust” itself is used in the English Old Testament multiple times as a translation from these two Hebrew words, to describe a desire for something that is forbidden. Interestingly, it is mostly used to describe Israel in rebellion from God in idolatry.
Isaiah 57:5 says “…you who burn with lust among the oaks, under every green tree, who slaughter your children in the valleys, under the clefts of the rocks.” The context of this verse is that Israel is following foreign gods, and God tells them that they burn with lust, practicing abominations in sacrifice to their idols.
Child sacrifice was a standard practice for the worship of the Ammonite god Molech. This worship was given to a false god in rebellion of the One true God. Isaiah continues in verses 7 and 8: “On a high and lofty mountain you have set your bed, and there you went up to offer sacrifice. Behind the door and the doorpost you have set up your memorial; for, deserting me, you have uncovered your bed, you have gone up to it, you have made it wide; and you have made a covenant for yourself with them, you have loved their bed, you have looked on nakedness.”
Here we see the idolatry and lust of Israel take a different turn. God compares the idolatry and its practices to a defiling of the marriage bed. It starts by talking about “high and lofty mountains” where they went to offer sacrifice. Shrines of idolatry were often set in high places, so the people gathered there to practice their idolatry. And in the middle of that statement, God mentions that they have set their beds there in those high places. What does this mean?
It means there is a profound connection between idolatry and lust. “…deserting me (God), you (Israel) have uncovered your bed…and made it wide”. Israel turned to false gods, breaking covenant with Him in favor of another. The image here is that of a whore who invites many into her bed (makes it wide), and uncovers it. The marriage bed is no longer “covered”; meant for only the husband and wife, it has now been set up in another man’s house.
The language further escalates. Not only have they set up their bed in another’s house, they have actually made covenant with them, loved another’s bed, and looked on nakedness. The marriage covenant between God and His chosen people had been defiled by their idolatry.
This is just one instance in the Old Testament where God punishes Israel for her idolatry and lust against Him. Some other places can be found in Jeremiah 13, Ezekiel 6, 16, 20, and Nahum 3. For the sake of length, I won’t go into each one, but similar themes can be found throughout God’s dealings with an idolatrous people.
Moving forward, there is much to say about these things. There are a few directions I would like to go next, before looking at the Greek word for lust in the New Testament.
- What does it mean to look on nakedness?
- The Scriptures put a large emphasis on the covenant of marriage, and how it relates to God’s covenant with His people (be it the Church of the Old Testament, or the Church of the New Testament).
In the next post I’ll look at what it means to look on nakedness.