Chapter 4 explores “The Origin of Idolatry in the Old Testament.” And of course those origins go all the way back to The Beginning…Genesis 1-3. This chapter took me for a stroll down memory lane, during my Gordon-Conwell days with Gordon Hugenberger’s “Christ in the Old Testament” and “Theology of the Pentateuch.” Those were the days! Those were the days when I began to see the richness and beauty of biblical theology, the unity of Scripture, “tree theology”, Eden as the Garden Temple, Adam and Eve as the vice-regent kings of God. Those were the days when I cut my teeth on Kline’s Kingdom Prologue. A very enjoyable chapter!
Beale admits right up front that Genesis 3 doesn’t explicitly portray Adam and Eve’s sin as “idolatry”, but his investigation reinforces his thesis: what we revere we resemble either to restoration or ruin. He argues that the moment Adam “stopped being committed to God and reflecting his image, he revered something else in place of God and resembled his new object of worship. Thus at the heart of Adam’s sin was turning from God and replacing reverence for God with a new object of reverence to which Adam become conformed.”
So he portrays Adam in two contrasting images, from the glorious to the un-glorious.
- Adam as the image and likeness of the Creator.
- Adam in the distorted image and likeness of the creation.
It’s no surprise that Beale spends most of his time examining the un-glorious, distorted image of Adam. Adam’s sin was bound up in his failure to guard the Garden temple from anything unclean. Rather than ruling over the unclean serpent, Adam becomes ruled by it. Rather than acting like the Creator-Judge and casting the serpent out of Eden, Adam becomes like the Snake-Accuser and finds himself cast out of Eden.
Adam’s allegiance shifted from God to himself and probably also to Satan, since he comes to resemble the serpent’s character in some ways. The serpent was a liar (Gen 3:4) and a deceiver (Gen 3:1, 13), and Adam does not answer God forthrightly when he asks Adam, “Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Gen 3:11). Adam answers, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” (Gen 3:12)…..In addition, Adam, like the serpent does not trust the word of God….Adam’s shift from trusting God to trusting the serpent meant that he no longer reflected God’s image but must have begun to mirror the serpent’s image. (p. 133)
Eve was no less changed.
As did the serpent, Eve made fateful changes to God’s word of command from Genesis 2, which shows that her reverence for God had subtly shifted from God to Satan and that she had begun to resemble the devil’s character, and it led to her ruin. (p. 134)
Our first parents offered up their own self-worship, deciding with the serpent that they knew better than God. The result of their revering the serpent’s word over God’s word was ruinous. Their efforts to become more like God on their own terms was an empty imitation, even blasphemous.
Adam was reflecting another feature of the serpent, who had exalted his code of behavior over and against the dictates of God’s righteous standard. (p. 135)
Chapter 4 also includes an fruitful discussion on the portrait of Adam in Ezekiel 28 focusing especially on the warped, self-exaltation that is at the root of all sin, all idolatry.
Ezekiel 28 and its understanding of Genesis 3 conceives of sin to be the rearranging of existence around the self, with the result that it comes to be its own creator, healer and sustainer. Consequently, all sin includes idolatry. (138)
Beale concludes with this warning and promise.
Desiring to reflect the idol of ourselves and making ourselves larger can only lead to becoming small, because of judgment. But heaping glory on the true God and worshipfully acknowledging his greatness leads to sharing in God’s greatness and glory by reflecting his glory, which is reflected back on him. Thus God is seen as the unique and weighty great One of the cosmos. (p. 140)
One idol many of us serve instead of our worthy Creator and Redeemer is anger. Recently, my friend Jonathan Dodson showed how sinful anger causes us to resemble Satan, not Jesus. Check out his gospel-saturated article Anger: the Image of Satan.