“You shall surely destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. You shall tear down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars…chop down the carved images of their gods and destroy their name out of that place.” (Deuteronomy 12:2,3) These verses instruct Israel to destroy all idols as they conquer the promised land of Canaan.
In the very first of the Ten Commandments, God said, “You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol…you shall not worship them or serve them…”(Deuteronomy 5:7-9). God was very specific. Likewise, Moses was careful to instruct Israel to carry out these statutes. By destroying the idols of the land, God’s people would prosper in Israel and secure the LORD’s blessing. This honored God’s name, but there was a very practical reason as well. In ancient times, the worship of these idols was accompanied by open sexual liberties during the worship (Numbers 25:1-3). That practice was recounted by the Greek historian Herodotus (~450 BC). He recorded with disdain that every adolescent girl in Babylon was expected to lose her virginity as a temple prostitute serving Astarte (Venus) the goddess of sex.
Sadly, Israel did not destroy idol worship in the land. The Old Testament shows the young men of Israel were stumbled by the practices and even participated in idol worship. All of this turned the heart of the people from serving God.
God directed Israel to tear down idols throughout the Bible. He told Gideon to destroy the altar and the grove to Baal. Gideon was to replace it with an altar to Him. (Judges 6) As God through Samuel told King Saul, “…Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams…” (1 Samuel 15:22, 23)
The New Testament teaches that “these things happened to them as examples and were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come.” (1Corinthians 10:11). We, as Christians, must obey the laws God has set forth for His people. Those stories teach us important lessons.
We also know and believe that God has had a plan since before the world’s foundations were set, (John 17:24; Ephesians 1:4; 1Peter 1:20; Revelation 13:8). He knows that eventually ALL human beings from Adam on will be resurrected and have an opportunity for life eternal. So in these lessons, shown in the Old Testament where persons were destroyed, God always had in mind that they would live again, and the lessons taught by these experiences would be invaluable to those at that time as well as during their resurrection. (John 5:28, 29; 1Corinthians 15:12-22; 1Timothy 2:4-6)