The NIV (the version of the Bible we use) gives an interesting translation in Deuteronomy 32:17. It reads, “They sacrificed to false gods, which are not God.” Those two words, “false gods,” are translated from the Hebrew word shedim. This word appears only twice in the Old Testament, and it is certain that this word is best translated “demons”, not “false gods”. Though the surrounding context is about idolatry, Moses’ song reveals that behind idolatry is a loyalty to evil spirits.
As we reflect, it is important to keep in mind two facts. First, scripture unveils a story, and part of telling that story means some revelations occur progressively, not at once, but in bits and pieces. Until this point the scriptures have been relatively quiet about these spirits, for even Genesis 3 does not identify the serpent with Satan as the New Testament will. As scripture unfolds, more truth is laid bare. Second, idolatry is not some innocent mistake. Here, Moses makes it clear that Israel’s evil in succumbing to idolatry requires allegiances that please spiritual forces of evil. Idolatry isn’t simply cultural or a different way of relating to God; it is a plain manifestation of living in the throes of evil.