One extremely dangerous practice – dangerous because it’s so sneaky – is the mixing of idolatry with the true worship of YHVH.
For instance, Moses warned the people:
“You shall not plant for yourself any tree, as a wooden image, near the altar which you build for yourself to YHVH your God. You shall not set up a sacred pillar, which YHVH your God hates” (Deuteronomy 16:21-22).
Many times, when we learn that something is idolatrous, we respond with, “But that’s not what it means to me!”
For instance, the celebration of Halloween has very pagan and idolatrous roots. However, we have been told for years that we can pass out candy on Halloween as an evangelistic outreach to the families and children in our neighborhoods. We can redeem something that Satan used and consecrate it to the use of God instead.
Christmas and Easter have idolatrous roots in the ancient worship of Babylon, but Catholicism and Protestantism have changed the meanings of many holiday symbols, so that they can be reminders of the birth and death of Yeshua.
It is okay to redeem pagan symbols and images and to use them to worship YHVH instead?
Case Study #1
The Torah contains laws and commands, but it also contains stories that instruct us. Let’s think about what happened after Mount Sinai, after YHVH had called Moses up on the mountain and had written the Ten Commandments on two tablets of stone. Moses had been with God, away from the people, for 40 days, and the people were starting to worry that he would never return.
“Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, ‘Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’
“And Aaron said to them, ‘Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.’ So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf.
“Then they said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!’
“So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow is a feast to YHVH.’ Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play’ (Exodus 32:1-6).
I never used to understand how Aaron could so quickly abandon YHVH and build an Egyptian-style golden calf for the people to worship. But in his mind, did he abandon YHVH? No! It says that he made an altar before the golden calf and said, “Tomorrow is a feast – to YHVH!”
In his mind, he was completely justified in doing what he did. The people couldn’t see Moses. Maybe Moses was never coming back! The people felt comfortable with the gods of Egypt. He would just explain to them that the God who had brought them out of Egypt with a mighty and powerful hand could be worshiped with an image of something they were familiar with. He would redeem those pagan idols and devote them to the one true God instead.
Of course, God didn’t quite see it like that.
“And YHVH said to Moses, ‘Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molded calf, and worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!”‘
“And YHVH said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people! Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them'” (Exodus 32:7-10).
Case Study #2
Another example of mixing the worship of YHVH with the worship of the pagan nations can be found in the history of the kings of Israel.
David was the mightiest king of Israel, and he was a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:24; Acts 13:22). However, his son Solomon was enticed into idolatry.
But King Solomon loved many foreign women, as well as the daughter of Pharaoh: women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites— from the nations of whom YHVH had said to the children of Israel, ‘You shall not intermarry with them, nor they with you. Surely they will turn away your hearts after their gods.’
Solomon clung to these in love. And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to YHVH his God, as was the heart of his father David. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. Solomon did evil in the sight of YHVH, and did not fully follow YHVH, as did his father David. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, on the hill that is east of Jerusalem, and for Molech the abomination of the people of Ammon. And he did likewise for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods.
So YHVH became angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned from YHVH God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not keep what YHVH had commanded. Therefore YHVH said to Solomon, ‘Because you have done this, and have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to your servant. Nevertheless I will not do it in your days, for the sake of your father David; I will tear it out of the hand of your son. However I will not tear away the whole kingdom; I will give one tribe to your son for the sake of My servant David, and for the sake of Jerusalem which I have chosen'” (1 Kings 11:1-13).
This is why we read that the nation of Israel was later split into two parts. The tribes of Judah and Benjamin in the south, with Jerusalem as their capital, became known simply as “the House of Judah.” Solomon’s son Rehoboam became their king.
The other ten tribes in the north carried on the name of “Israel” or “the House of Israel.” They chose Jeroboam, from the tribe of Ephraim, to be their king. Because Ephraim was the most powerful tribe, the northern kingdom of Israel is sometimes referred to simply as “Ephraim.”
Jeroboam wanted to keep his kingdom and the loyalty of the ten tribes who had followed him, so he needed a plan to win their affection.
The Torah required all Israelite men to go “up” to the Temple in Jerusalem three times each year, at the main harvest times, to give offerings to YHVH (Exodus 23:14-17). Jeroboam got the idea to transfer the worship of YHVH to the capital city of Bethel (“House of God”) and to another city in northern Israel, in the territory of the tribe of Dan. This way, his people would never have to travel into Judah’s territory again!
“Then Jeroboam built Shechem in the mountains of Ephraim, and dwelt there. Also he went out from there and built Penuel. And Jeroboam said in his heart, ‘Now the kingdom may return to the house of David: If these people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of YHVH at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn back to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and go back to Rehoboam king of Judah.’
“Therefore the king asked advice, made two calves of gold, and said to the people, ‘It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!’ And he set up one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. Now this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one as far as Dan. He made shrines on the high places, and made priests from every class of people, who were not of the sons of Levi (1 Kings 12:25-21).
He took the idea that Aaron had in the wilderness. He set up two golden calves, and he told Israel that these statues represented YHVH who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt. He built shrines and high places for them, in Canaanite style, and he appointed people from every tribe to serve in the priesthood.
He didn’t stop there. The Torah commanded an important moedim called the “Feast of Tabernacles” (Hebrew, Sukkot), which began on the fifteenth day of the seventh month of each year. He decided to keep the same style of celebration but simply move it to the fifteenth day of the eighth month.
“Jeroboam ordained a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, like the feast that was in Judah, and offered sacrifices on the altar. So he did at Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he had made. And at Bethel he installed the priests of the high places which he had made. So he made offerings on the altar which he had made at Bethel on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, in the month which he had devised in his own heart. And he ordained a feast for the children of Israel, and offered sacrifices on the altar and burned incense” (1 Kings 12:25-33).
Same celebration as the Torah, celebrated unto YHVH, but just moved to a different date on the calendar, with a few Canaanite elements redeemed from the pagans and given a Torah meaning.
No big deal, right?
“Because I exalted you from among the people, and made you ruler over My people Israel, and tore the kingdom away from the house of David, and gave it to you; and yet you have not been as My servant David, who kept My commandments and who followed Me with all his heart, to do only what was right in My eyes; but you have done more evil than all who were before you, for you have gone and made for yourself other gods and molded images to provoke Me to anger, and have cast Me behind your back— therefore behold! I will bring disaster on the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam every male in Israel, bond and free; I will take away the remnant of the house of Jeroboam, as one takes away refuse until it is all gone. The dogs shall eat whoever belongs to Jeroboam and dies in the city, and the birds of the air shall eat whoever dies in the field; for YHVH has spoken!” (1 Kings 14:7-11)
What do you think? Does God wink when we mix idolatry with the pure words of Torah?
“Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it” (Deuteronomy 12:32).
By the end of the history of the kings of Israel, we read of the demise of the entire nation, and we weep at the terrible things that came upon them.
“They feared YHVH, yet served their own gods—according to the rituals of the nations from among whom they were carried away” (2 Kings 17:33).
They claimed to be worshiping God. However, in reality they were serving their own gods, according to the rituals of the nations.
According to the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, and the pride of life with its pleasures and secret wisdom.
“Moreover they have done this to Me: They have defiled My sanctuary on the same day and profaned My Sabbaths. For after they had slain their children for their idols, on the same day they came into My sanctuary to profane it; and indeed thus they have done in the midst of My house” (Ezekiel 23:38-39).
The Case Studies Continue…
The same thing happened to the House of Judah as well.
“Hear the word of YHVH, all you of Judah who enter in at these gates to worship YHVH!
“Behold, you trust in lying words that cannot profit. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Ba’al, and walk after other gods whom you do not know, and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered to do all these abominations’? Has this house [of Judah], which is called by My name, become a den of thieves in your eyes? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,’ says YHVH.
“‘But go now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I set My name at the first, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel. And now, because you have done all these works,’ says YHVH, ‘and I spoke to you, rising up early and speaking, but you did not hear, and I called you, but you did not answer, therefore I will do to the house which is called by My name, in which you trust, and to this place which I gave to you and your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of My sight, as I have cast out all your brethren—the whole posterity of Ephraim.
“‘Therefore do not pray for this people, nor lift up a cry or prayer for them, nor make intercession to Me; for I will not hear you. Do you not see what they do in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods, that they may provoke Me to anger. Do they provoke Me to anger?’ says YHVH. ‘Do they not provoke themselves, to the shame of their own faces?’
“Therefore thus says YHVH God: ‘Behold, My anger and My fury will be poured out on this place—on man and on beast, on the trees of the field and on the fruit of the ground. And it will burn and not be quenched'” (Jeremiah 7:2, 8-18).
In fact, the very plot of Antichrist is to take the commands of YHVH and just slightly tweak them, change them just a bit, and make them “better.”
“He shall speak pompous words against the Most High, shall persecute the saints of the Most High, and shall intend to change times (the Arabic word means “set times,” such as the moedim of Leviticus 23) and law” (Daniel 7:25).
The First Two Commands
After warning the people of Israel about idolatry, Moses began to explain the commands of God, beginning with the familiar “Ten Commandments.”
“I am YHVH your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
“You shall have no other gods before Me.
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, YHVH your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Deuteronomy 5:6-10).
When we love YHVH with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our strengths, there can be no room left to share with any other gods!
“You shall love YHVH your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5).
In fact, our obedience in this area shows very clearly that we have become a citizen of the Kingdom of God. We have decided to follow Yeshua – no turning back!
“Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).
“Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them.
“But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him” (Colossians 3:5-11).
- The Long War Against God, by Henry M. Morris, http://www.amazon.com/Long-War-Against-God/dp/0890512914.
- Come Out of Her, My People, by C. J. Koster, http://isr-messianic.org.
- You can read our family’s story of why we stopped celebrating Christmas at The Day We Took the Christmas Tree Down.
All Scripture in this blog post taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.