Why did people keep family idols in the Bible?Question: "Why did people keep family idols in the Bible?"
Answer: The Bible mentions several people who possessed teraphim, or household idols. These images were used as talismans to bring a blessing upon the household. Two women married to men of God kept family idols—Rachel and Michal.
Rachel was the wife of Jacob and the daughter of Laban. When Jacob tried to quietly move his family away from Laban to his own homeland, Laban pursued him with a band of men. Having caught up with Jacob, Laban accused him of stealing his household idols. Jacob, unaware that Rachel had stolen the idols, declared, “Anyone with whom you find your gods shall not live. In the presence of our kinsmen point out what I have that is yours, and take it” (Genesis 31:32).
Genesis does not explain why Rachel stole the household idols. Perhaps she had a nostalgic desire to have some items from her old home, and the teraphim were the most prominent. Another possibility is that the idols were made of valuable materials. If so, Rachel may have taken them for financial gain. Or it could be that Rachel believed in the power of the images. She may have stolen the idols out of a superstitious fear of moving from home. She had lived with or near her father her entire life, and she likely felt some anxiety about moving to a new place. The household idols could have been like a good-luck charm for her.
Basically, it appears that Rachel continued to hold to superstitions and pagan spiritual practices embraced by her father’s family. Still today, many Christians have difficulty letting go of non-Christian practices that exist as part of family tradition.
Michal, the wife of King David, also had teraphim in her possession. At one point her father, Saul, sent men to kill David. Michal helped David escape through a window and then took a large household idol and placed it in his bed. She disguised the image under a blanket to look like David. In this way, she bought some time to aid her husband’s escape (1 Samuel 19). It appears this large idol was already in her house. No explanation for its presence is given in the text, although some commentators conjecture that Saul had already forsaken the Lord and had turned to idols by this time. Michal could have smuggled the idol from her father’s house into David’s when she came to live there.
Interestingly, in both cases, the wife of a godly man continued to be influenced by pagan spiritual practices that carried over from her father’s family. This goes to show that parents exhibit a powerful spiritual influence over their children that often extends into later life. In Rachel’s case, this influence led to a dangerous situation.
Idols are not to be part of a Christian’s life in any form. Scripture is clear that there is only one God, and He alone is to be served. Any image or statue that is used today as a good-luck charm is an example of modern-day teraphim. An image of St. Joseph used to sell a house, an image of St. Christopher used to protect travelers in a car, an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe used to impart grace—these are all modern household idols. They are a throwback to paganism and should not be a part of a Christian household.
Recommended Resource: Genesis - NIV Application Commentary by John Walton
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Questions about Genesis
Why did people keep family idols in the Bible?