The Bible has quite a bit to say about sun worship, because ancient cultures commonly worshiped the sun, and God had a different plan for His people. In pre-scientific, pagan understanding, it was the sun that was responsible for bringing about each new day. It also warmed the earth and finally brought about the end of each winter, providing the necessary conditions for planting and cultivation. It was the largest object in the sky. Its brilliance was overpowering, and its heat could destroy. In the ancient world, the sun was the most powerful object known to man. As a result, it was common for ancient peoples to worship the sun or perhaps, more accurately, the sun-deity. The ancients would not have viewed the sun as an inanimate object, but rather as a deity or as part of a deity. The distinction between the physical and spiritual or the natural and supernatural was far less distinct than in modern thinking.
All of the nations surrounding Israel were involved in sun worship. In Egypt the sun god was called Amun-Ra; in Mesopotamia, Shamash; and in Canaan, Shemesh. One of the Canaanite cities conquered by the Israelites was Beth-Shemesh, “house of the sun,” which may have been a center of sun worship (Joshua 19:22). The Babylonians and Assyrians were also involved in sun worship.
As pervasive as it was in the surrounding nations, sun worship was forbidden to Israel. The first chapter of Genesis sets the sun in proper context as a creation of God that He made to serve the needs of mankind (Genesis 1:14–19). Neither the sun nor the moon nor the starry hosts are deities. Deuteronomy 4:19 and 17:2–5 specifically forbid the worship of the sun. This prohibition notwithstanding, Israel did get involved in sun worship. Josiah in his reforms did away with the priests who had sacrificed to the sun (2 Kings 23:11). Ezekiel revealed that sun worship was taking place at the very entrance to the temple, “between the portico and the altar,” as men were literally turning their backs on the temple of the Lord (Ezekiel 8:16). Jeremiah condemned the kings, officials, prophets, priests, and people of Jerusalem who had worshiped the sun. In fitting irony, Jeremiah predicts a coming judgment on the idolaters: “At that time, declares the Lord, the bones of the kings and officials of Judah, the bones of the priests and prophets, and the bones of the people of Jerusalem will be removed from their graves. They will be exposed to the sun and the moon and all the stars of the heavens, which they have loved and served and which they have followed and consulted and worshiped. They will not be gathered up or buried” (Jeremiah 8:1–2).
Romans 1 highlights mankind’s descent into idolatry. When people look at the incredible power and brilliance of the sun, their first response should be to worship the One who made the sun, not to worship the sun itself. “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:18–21). “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen” (verse 25). The sun was created as a good gift to benefit mankind. Our response should be to thank God for the sun, but, true to fallen human nature, people instead worship the sun itself, neglecting its Creator.