I have never been able to understand why anyone would worship a wooden statue. Or a tree or an Asherah pole, a cow or an elephant, or a god who looks like a frog. I think I get it at an intellectual level—they represent fertility or whatever—but I cannot get my head around people being spiritually drawn to adore them, rejoice before them, or sacrifice to them. If I had been born an ancient pagan, I wouldn’t have been the idol-fashioning, maypole-dancing type. (At least, I struggle to imagine myself that way.)
But I can see why people used to worship the sun. I’m not saying they should have, obviously, but I can relate to the instinct. So far as anyone knew until quite recently, the sun was by far the largest thing in the sky and the source of all light, heat, power, and life. Especially in Northern Europe, where I come from, the difference between sunshine and darkness, summer and winter, is so great that it must have been tempting to rush outside in the springtime and prostrate yourself before the giant yellow ball of fire. Were it not for Christianity, I suspect many of us still would.
Unsurprisingly, this presented a challenge to ancient Israel. Moses had to urge the people not to worship the sun, with fairly drastic legal consequences for anyone who did (Deut. 4:19; 17:2–5), and the prophets revealed that it was still a problem many centuries later (Jer. 8:2; Ezek. 8:16). The risk of idolatry is partly why Scripture keeps pointing out all the things the sun is not. It is not eternal: The Bible’s opening chapter makes clear that the sun was not created until day four, and its last chapter tells us that the sun is no longer needed, “for the Lord God will be their light” (Rev. …
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