“Do not make idols or set-up an image of a sacred stone for yourselves, and do not place a carved stone in your land to bow down before it. I am the Lord your God.” (Lev. 26:1)
We'll start our journey of this verse with some observations. Observations help the reader to notice certain things which may be overlooked if not closely scanned. After the observations we'll go step-by-step through interpreting this verse and see how significant OT verses like these are for us today.
There are some repeated words, “do not” and “stone”. There is a comparison between “set-up an image of a sacred stone for yourselves” and “place a carved stone in your land to bow down before it”. Both make emphasis on the insertion of a created thing and the personal implication of it. There are four active verbs used: “make”, “set-up”, “place”, and “bow”. God is giving the command of “do not make…or set-up” and “do not place…to bow down before it”, and then reveals why in the last sentence, “I am the LORD your God.” In the NKJV, NASB, ESV, and KJV they all place the conjunction “for” before the last sentence, indicating the previous command is a result of this final statement in this verse.
Step 1: What did the text mean (i.e. what was the author's intent) to the biblical audience?
During this time in the newly freed Israel, the Israelites—still encamped in the wilderness (4:12; 14:3; 16:10)—were receiving the more detailed portions of the Law. In the Book of Leviticus we see the Israelites receiving laws on sacrifice (chs. 1-7), the consecration of the priesthood (chs. 8-10), laws of clean and unclean (chs. 11-15), instructions for the “Day of Atonement” (ch. 16), and additional laws of holiness (chs. 17-27). This specific command of God is not a new one, but rather an already repeated one (cf. Ex. 20:1-6; 23:24; 34:14). Furthermore, this verse (26:1) comes directly after God giving the children of Israel instructions in regards to the land they will inherit (ch. 25); which sheds light on why in the very next verse (26:2) God mentions again observing His “Sabbaths” and reverencing His “sanctuary”—something He spoke on in previous chapters. Thus when God speaks this verse the Israelites took it just as He meant it the other times, “Do not worship (bow down to—hawa) anything else other than Me, no idols, images, sacred pillars, or carved stones; for I am the LORD your God.”
Step 2: What are the difference between the biblical audience and us?
There are obvious and numerous differences set in place here. Present believers are no longer under the Old Covenant as were our Hebrew brethren then. We do not live in tents in the Middle Eastern desert. We are not about to enter into a land promised to our ancestors by God. We have not been recently freed from slavery and bondage to Egypt with great signs and wonders. We are not civilians of a theocracy. We have never seen or been led by God personally in the form of a cloud or fire. Moses is not our mediator, Jesus is. And so on the list can go.
Step 3: What is the theological principle in this text?
God alone deserves and is worthy of our worship, nothing nor anyone else should be in His seat of honor and devotion in our lives.
Step 4: Does the New Testament teaching modify or qualify this principle, and if so, how?
Those under the New Covenant are far from exempt from this strongly conveyed principle in the Old Testament. Jesus says no one can serve two masters for he will hate the one and love the other—you cannot serve God and riches—(Matt. 6:24), the greatest commandment is to love the LORD our God with our whole being—mind, heart, soul—(Matt. 22:36-40), and He told Satan when tempted to worship him that worship is only for God and none other (Matt. 4:9-10). According to Jesus, God doesn’t get second place, only first! Furthermore, the Apostle Paul says that idolaters will not inherit the kingdom of God (1Cor. 6:9-10), do not become idolaters as were our Old Testament brethren (1Cor. 10:7), and as frank as one can say it, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (1Cor. 10:14). Also, the Apostle John says as his final word in his first letter, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen” (1Jn. 5:21). Idolatry—worship of something other than God—is just as strongly renounced in the New Testament as it is in the Old Testament.
Step 5: How should individual Christians today apply this modified theological principle in their lives?
Christians today can apply this principle by following the scriptures regarding idolatry and worship. Just looking at the ones mentioned above, if I pursue Jesus as my first priority this will help me stay free from giving His worship and devotion to something or someone else. Apostle John tells us to keep (phulassó) ourselves from idols, literally meaning guard ourselves from idols. This is great preventive medicine for our idolatrous tendencies. Stay on guard for areas, people, and things in our lives that we can put in the place of worship that’s supposed to be strictly designated for God. Also, Apostle Paul says to flee (pheugó) from idolatry, literally meaning run away from idolatry as in running away like escaping from someone or something that has us. This too is good for preventive measures and/or for when the Holy Spirit reveals to us an area of possible or active idolatry in our lives.
The One Volume Bible Commentary, 1936
NASB Life Application Study Bible, Updated Edition, 2000
NIV Archaeological Study Bible, 2005
The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance, 1999