Futile Restoration

Until those gates of Jerusalem were eventually crashed open by the invading army of Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C., we need to go back a few years to witness one of God’s last efforts to preserve a remnant of His people. Solomon began to build the temple 480 years after the children of Israel came out of Egyptian captivity (1 Kg 6:1). He built the temple in Jerusalem in the first part of his forty-year reign. Since he died in 930 B.C., we can assume that the temple was completed around 910 B.C.

One can read all the construction matters concerning both the house of Solomon and the temple in 1 Kings 6 & 7. But one thing that is not said in all the description of the construction is what some dedicated priest, or priests, did in reference to written copies of the law of God. We might assume that the deed of these priests was not made known to others. It could have been made known to others, but after all those who had built the temple eventually died, the deed of these dedicated priests was long forgotten.

The priests of Solomon’s era knew the Israelites. They knew how stubborn and stiffnecked they were in reference to their beliefs. What inspired these priests was that they believed all that Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 27 over six centuries before. Moses had written concerning the curses that God would bring on Israel if the people forgot His word. In the construction of the temple, therefore, these priests buried a “time capsule” somewhere in the structure of the temple.

A time capsule is made up of documents and artifacts that are placed in a container. The container is then buried for future generations to discover. In this case, the unknown priest, or priests, put a copy of the law of Moses in a time capsule for future generations. They then buried the capsule somewhere in the structure of the temple where it could possibly be discovered by someone far in the future. In this case, it was discovered over 300 years later during the reign of King Josiah (See 2 Kg 22).

It occurred in the eighteenth year of the reign of Josiah that the king commissioned that repairs should be made to the house of the Lord (2 Kg 22:3-7). But during the repairs, Hilkiah, the high priest at the time, said, “I have found the book [scroll] of the law in the house of the Lord” (2 Kg 22:8). The discovered book was subsequently delivered to King Josiah. Shaphan the scribe then read the curses of the book that would come upon Israel if they turned from the law of the Lord—he surely read the text of Deuteronomy 27. What happened next reveals the sincerity of a young king who sought to be obedient to the word of the Lord: “Now it came to pass when the king had heard the words of the book of the law that he tore his clothes” (2 Kg 22:11). And from that time, Josiah initiated a great restoration throughout all Judah. Josiah immediately commanded,

“Go. Inquire of the Lord for Me and for the people and for all Judah concerning the words of this book that is found, for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us because our fathers have not hearkened to the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us” (2 Kg 22:13).

When people who truly fear God discover that which is the revealed truth of God, they will respond with fear and repentance. Those religionists who are satisfied with their man-made religiosity will offer excuses, or simply dismiss what they learn through Bible study by exalting their religious heritage above the word of God. Some will even do as Jehudi who cut the Bible in pieces once it was read to him (Jr 36:23).

For the sincere heart of Josiah, however, what the book said was a terrifying message. Though Josiah was a good king, and tried to do the best he could with what he knew, it was not good enough when he read the book. Though he was doing the best he could with what he believed, he still realized that he had fallen far short of what God intended for him and all Israel to be. What they were doing religiously was not authorized by “the words of this book.” They were religiously performing and living outside the authority of the word of God.

The problem with their faith was that they had first lost the “Bible,” and then their fathers had not “hearkened to the words of this book.” And since the fathers lived outside the authority of the word of God, they passed on to their children a religious heritage that found no validation in the law of God. The same is true of millions today. Many have a form of “Christianity,” but if they are functioning outside the authority of the written word of God, then they are doomed.

One may feel good about his or her religion. One may come away from inspiring assemblies with a feeling of contentment because one has meritoriously fulfilled his or her desires and poured out one’s heart. But we must be honest with ourselves. If in our worship our hearts do not bow down to God according to His word, then our worship is vain. We are reminded of what Jesus said in John 4:24: “But the hour is coming and now is when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such to worship Him.”

We are also reminded of the vanity of ceremonial worship acts that are performed in order to manifest a presumed true worship. In reference to these meritorious acts of worship, Paul warned, “Beware lest anyone take you captive through philosophy and vain deceit according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, but not according to Christ” (Cl 2:8). “All these concern things that perish with the using,” Paul continued, “after the commandments an doctrines of men” (Cl 2:22). What is so common today is that people worship God according their own worship performances, but not according to what God desires from a repentant and thankful heart.

The problem with the generation in which Josiah lived was that the people were worshiping Baal according to their own self-righteous inventions of worship. Paul explained precisely what their problem was: “For they [Israel] being ignorant of God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God” (Rm 10:3). This is about as clear as it can be stated.

When religious people become ignorant of the word of God, they will continue to worship, but they will worship according to their own inventions. They will consider themselves righteous because they have meritoriously obeyed their own religious rites, rituals and ceremonies. Some will consider themselves righteous because they have faithfully performed certain acts of worship on Sunday morning.

Self-righteous people never worship God according to His righteousness. Those who are ignorant of the word of God never know if their worship is acceptable to God. Most religious people can be found in the following statement that Jesus made to some very religious people: “In vain they worship Me, teaching as [religious] doctrines the commandments of men” (Mk 7:7).

So we would link Hosea 4:6 with Romans 10:2, and thus define where Josiah was religiously before the discovery of the “book,” as well as our generation of many religionists today. Paul wrote, “For I testify to them that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Rm 10:2). When a religious person discards his or her study of the Scriptures, it is then that they are in trouble. They may display a zeal for the Lord on Sunday morning, or doing many wonderful works (Mt 7:22), but in their ignorance of the word of God, their worship service is not according to knowledge. Their worship is not a service in worship that God seeks because it is a self-righteous worship that often focuses more on the needs of the worshiper than what God desires.

We might add what Paul said to some religious people in the city of Athens: “The times of this ignorance God has overlooked, but now He commands all men everywhere to repent” (At 17:30). Those who were mandated to repent in this statement were religious people. They were idolaters, but they were religious, just as the idolatrous Israelites whom God sent into captivity. Simply because one is religious does not assume that that person is in a covenant relationship with God. When Paul made the preceding statement to the religionists in Athens, there were other religious people throughout the world. But because they had not obeyed the gospel, they were not in a covenant relationship with God.

There is something inspiring about the religious nature of Josiah that should encourage us. Josiah was only eight years old when he was anointed king of Judah (2 Kg 22:1). It is recorded of him, “And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kg 22:2). Keep in mind that by the time of Josiah’s reign, there was no copy of the law throughout Judah for him to study and obey. But the text of this account continues to explain, “And he walked in all the ways of David his father and did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left” (2 Kg 22:2). That which he did was considered right in the sight of God because he walked according to “all the ways of David,” not according to a written law that he had in his hands. He assumed that David followed the commandments of God, and thus he walked according to the religious heritage of David. The striking lesson that we learn from this is the fact that if the fathers leave no religious heritage for their descendants to follow, then civilization in the long term is doomed (See Gn 6:5).

What is interesting to note is that King “David his father” lived over 300 years before Josiah was born. When David was alive, the nation of Israel still had a copy of the law of God, which law David obediently followed. A copy of this law was made and hidden in a time capsule in the construction of the temple that was built by Solomon, David’s son. Those righteous kings who lived three centuries before Josiah had enough respect for the word of God that they took measures during the reign of Solomon to preserve a copy of the law for future generations. According to what God revealed in Deuteronomy, they knew that the kings of Israel would become evil in the years to come.

And then one day some men in the reconstruction of the temple reaped the reward of those who had enough foresight to make sure that the “Bible” was preserved for their descendants. Respect for the law was the legacy of David, and this was the reason why the 2 Kings report speaks of the young King Josiah doing that which was right. Without a copy of the law, Josiah at least followed in the obedient relationship that David had with God. If religious leaders want to do that which is right today, they too need to find a copy of the Bible, tear their clothes in repentance as did Josiah, and then get to work preaching the word of God to those who would hear them and respond as Josiah.

Nevertheless, the story of Josiah and his restoration did not have a happy ending. Fortunately, because Josiah torn his clothes in repentance and cried out before God because of the sins of the people, God promised that he would personally have a happy ending: “I will gather you to your fathers and you will be gathered into your grave in peace. And your eyes will not see all the calamity that I will bring on this place” (2 Kg 22:20; see vss 26,27).

Unfortunately, Josiah was killed in a battle with Pharaoh Neco of Egypt. The people then took, Jehoahaz, a son of Josiah, who was not God-anointed, and made him the king of Judah. But Jehoahaz “did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done” (2 Kg 23:32). Jehoahaz was subsequently taken captive by Pharaoh Neco into Egypt. The Pharaoh then anointed Jehoiakim, another son of Josiah, as king of Judah. But Jehoiakim “did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done” (2 Kg 23:37). And then came Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, to take the remaining Israelites in Palestine into captivity (2 Kg 24). This was the end of Israel’s existence as an independent people in Palestine. From this time on, Palestine would always be controlled by a foreign power.

Unfortunately, the zealous efforts to restore Israel to the authority of the word of God by Josiah did not last. His efforts were futile because the sins of the fathers had already been embedded in the social behavior of the people. Once the influence of Josiah was gone, the people reverted back to the religious heritage that was handed down to them by their wayward fathers who did not know the law of God.

It is incumbent on those who love the word of God to make a judgment concerning the people among whom they minister the word. They must determine if the people have gone too far away from a fear of God that they are unable to tear their clothes in repentance, and return to the authority of the word of God. God does not bind on His people futile efforts to preach to those who have hardened their hearts against Him.

Nowhere in the New Testament is it bound on the people of God to keep preaching the gospel to those who have no inclination to be responsive to the gospel. Jesus forewarned His disciples of this matter before He sent them forth with the message of the gospel: “Do not give what is holy to the dogs, nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet and turn and tear you in pieces” (Mt 7:6).

It seems that this method of missions is exactly what Paul practiced on different occasions on his way to preach the gospel to the world. For example, when Paul and Barnabas came to the synagogue of the Jews in Antioch of Pisidia, there were Jews in the city who “were filled with envy. And contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed those things that were spoken by Paul” (At 13:25). But then Paul and Barnabas perceived those who were hardened against the message of the gospel, they said to the hardened, “It was necessary that the word of God should first be spoken to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles” (At 13:46). On another occasion when some Jews in Corinth “resisted and blasphemed,” Paul also said to them, “Your blood be upon your own heads. I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles” (At 18:6).

The preceding reveals the efforts of God to at least give Israel one last chance to save themselves from death and captivity. In the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah, Jeremiah was called to preach repentance to the last two remaining tribes in Judah (Jr 1:1,2). The end of national Israel was only a few years away. When the time of termination eventually came in 586 B.C., and while the Babylonians surrounded the city of Jerusalem, Jeremiah was called to preach repentance to the enclosed Israelites in order to give them one last chance to repent. He encouraged the remaining Israelites to turn themselves over to the Babylonians because God had destined the termination of independent national Israel. If they turned themselves over to captivity, many of them would escape death. They would continue to exist as a culture of people in order that the promises to Abraham be fulfilled concerning the blessing (Branch) that would come out of Israel for the salvation of the world (Jr 23).

In his call, God said to Jeremiah, “They [the resistant Jews] will fight against you. But they will not prevail against you, for I am with you” (Jr 1:19). Because of his message to the people, the people eventually threw Jeremiah in a pit (Jr 18:19,20,22,23). The hardened Jews had Paul cast into prison because they resisted his message of the gospel. They cast him out of a city and stoned him (At 14:19). Because the Jews of Paul’s day reject the gospel, God rejected them (See Rm 10:19-21). They too were consigned to being shut up in Jerusalem in A.D. 70 by the Romans. The ensuing war of Rome against the insurrectionist Jews led to about one million being killed in the fall of Jerusalem. A similar fate awaits those today who reject the gospel (See 2 Th 1:6-9).

When swine reject the pearl of the gospel, it is time to move on. If the religious heritage of self-righteous religionists are set in stone to the point that even a “Josiah restoration” cannot turn them from their destiny of doom, then it is time for the disciples of Jesus to remain faithful, but they too must move on. We must always remember that only eight people made it out alive in Noah’s ark. Only a small remnant of the people of Israel eventually return to Palestine after being scattered throughout the world in the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. Only a few Jews escaped death in Jerusalem during the A.D. 70 judgment of Israel. Only a few faithful disciples will likewise escape the destruction of the world when Jesus comes again (Mt 25:41; 2 Th 1:6-9). What will determine our destiny is our reaction to the reading of the law of God. If there is no repentant “tearing of clothes,” then we know that we will not have a happy ending when our Lord Jesus Christ is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire.

[The next in the series will eventually follow.]

National Apostasy (2)

• Apostasy and end of the southern kingdom of Israel: Rehoboam was the first king of the southern two tribes of Israel after the death of Solomon. But in reference to faith, these two tribes likewise did not do well in remaining faithful to the authority of the word of God. The fall of the southern kingdom likewise teaches a very significant lesson. It is a lesson that is relevant to the present curse of religion that has come upon the world in these days.

The well-known statement of Hosea 4:6 is quoted by many, and often not fully understood. In the context of God’s final judgment of Israel, it is worth repeating the reason why Israel was terminated as an independent nation. God’s reason for the termination of the nationhood of was Israel was based on one principle: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hb 4:6).

We have found it easy for people today to make judgments concerning this problem among the Israelites. However, we have also discovered that these judgments are sometimes quite hypocritical. They are hypocritical judgments because the same people who judge Israel for becoming ignorant of the law of God are the same people who are ignorant of their Bibles today. We must confess that the normal “person in the pew” today has little knowledge of the word of God. Members of churches are often “nurtured” by preachers who also have a limited knowledge of the Bible. Because some charismatic preachers have a gift to speak, they have used this gift to “start a church,” but they have little knowledge of the Bible in order to continue nurturing the people in the word.

Our situation today among many religious groups helps us understand the problem that eventually prevailed in Israel in her final days. It seems that in those final days of Israel in the land the Israelites had “forgotten the law of your God” (Hs 4:6). As previously stated, this could just as well be an indictment against the religious world today.

So the question is, Can a people forget the law of God and still remain religious? The answer is obvious. To fill in their lack of knowledge of the word of God, the Israelites simply went looking around for some other god. They thus created “a baal religion,” which religion satisfied their religious yearnings in view of the fact that they had given up a “Bible-based faith.”

And so it is today. It is not that the world has become totally atheistic in reference to belief in higher powers. It is simply the fact that religion throughout the world today, including those religions that claim some adherence to Christ, have forgotten the law of God and followed after their own religious inventions. For many of the leaders of these religions, they have simply turned on their radios or televisions in order to find something to preach next Sunday morning. Ignorance of the word of God, therefore, is perpetuated from one generation to another. This highlights the initial warning that God gave to the Israelites before they entered the promised land:

“You will not add to the word that I command you, nor will you diminish from it, so that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you” (Dt 4:2).

We must notice carefully in this text what it means for religious people to add to the word of God. In view of Hosea 4:6, the problem was not that they added to the existing commandments of God that they knew. The problem was that they forgot the commandments of God. It was in this manner that they diminished (minimized) the commandments of God. The further they moved from the existing commandments, the more they forgot those commandments. In ignorance of their “Bible,” they simply invented religious rites, rituals and ceremonies that would conform to their own religiosity. The Israelites were a religious people, and thus, they kept adding the commandments of their Baal gods in order to fill in the void that was left by their ignorance of the word of God.

When we compare the indictment of Hosea 4:6 that was made at the end of the northern kingdom of Israel, with the Deuteronomy 4:2 warning that was made at the beginning of their nationhood in Palestine, something tragic is revealed. The people forgot the commandments of God, and then added their own religious commandments in order to continue their religiosity. This same problem is happening in this century in reference to religion. There are those who still claim to be “Christian,” but they have forgotten the commandments of God. And in forgetting to study their Bibles, they have invented commandments of their own in order to have some authority that would validate their religiosity. This is exactly what Jesus prophesied would come: “Not every one who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Mt 7:21).

So in 586 B.C., with the Babylonians standing at the gates of the last two remaining tribes of Israel who were held up in Jerusalem, the Jews were crying out to their Baal gods for deliverance. But there was no answer. They had long forgotten the only God who could deliver them. If they did as many religious people do today, we can imagine that they were throwing themselves down on the ground inside Jerusalem in fits of uncontrollable emotional hysteria, speaking gibberish (“tongues”) to their false gods in order to be delivered from the Babylonians who stood outside the city gates. But all their emotional hysteria was in vain. They met their destiny in fulfillment of the curses of Deuteronomy that were pronounced over eight centuries before.

[Next in series: August 29]

National Apostasy (1)

We assume that most people have read the curses of Deuteronomy 27 when God forewarned Israel that if the people turned away from the authority of His word, He would terminate them as an independent nation in the land of Palestine. When reading the entire book of Deuteronomy, it is important to keep in mind that the independent nationhood of Israel initially began around 1,450 B.C., but was terminated in 586 B.C.

Because of the promised curses that would come upon Israel as stated in Deuteronomy 27, the pronouncement of the curses was actually a prophecy. The curses were a prophecy because God knew the future. He knew their future. He knew that they would have a difficult time over the next fourteen centuries to keep their focus on the commandments of the law that He had given to them on Mount Sinai about forty years before Deuteronomy was written.

The Israelites’ inevitable termination as an independent nation in the land of Palestine occurred when the Babylonian Empire accomplished the final scattering of the people in 586 B.C. (Dt 28:64). The Jews’ residence as an independent nation in the land extended over a period of approximately eight centuries, but was eventually terminated because they turned from the authority of the word of God. Throughout their eight centuries as an independent nation, the Israelites went from one apostasy to another, particularly during the days of the Judges. But when they were in their final days in Palestine prior to 586 B.C., there was one last effort to bring the nation back to the authority of the word of God. However, it was too late.

• Apostasy and end of the northern kingdom of Israel: After the death of Solomon, during whose reign Israel reached her zenith in power and wealth, the twelve-tribe nation divided into the northern and southern kingdoms. Rehoboam retained control of the two southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin. However, Jeroboam carried off in his insurrection the ten northern tribes (1 Kg 11:26). When Jeroboam took into apostasy the northern ten tribes, that was essentially the end of those tribes as a representative of the God of Israel in the northern part of Palestine. Through the prophet Ahijah the Lord denounced the wicked insurrection of Jeroboam:

“For the Lord will smite [northern] Israel as a reed is shaken in the water. And He will root up Israel out of this good land that He gave to their fathers. And He will scatter them beyond the [Euphrates] River because they have made their Asherim [gods], provoking the Lord to anger” (1 Kg 14:15).

Jeroboam became both the first king of the northern kingdom of Israel, and their religious leader. By taking ten tribal groups away from the southern two tribes of Judah and Benjamin, he led the people away from the authority of the word of God. Therefore, the prophet Ahijah pronounced that God “will give up [northern] Israel because of the sins of Jeroboam, who sinned and who made Israel to sin” (1 Kg 14:16; see 15:30,34; 16:31; 2 Kg 3:3; 11:29). Jeroboam made Israel sin by setting up competitive altars in Dan and Bethel to which the people were to take their sacrifices instead of going to Jerusalem (See 1 Kg 12:29,30). In doing this, the people sinned annually after the sins of Jeroboam.

Jeroboam establish a competitive system of religion. He copied the original, but made changes that would conform to his political move to keep the northern tribes separated from the two southern tribes. He thus instituted his own religious laws in reference to sacrifices. He also consecrated his own priests for the people (1 Kg 13:33). He established different altars and places for sacrifices (1 Kg 12:29,30). He started his own “church” according to his own desires. He based his changes on his own presumptuous authority.

Jeroboam made himself the king of the people, and in doing so, he obligated the people to submit to his mandates. The consequences of his sinful leadership were tragic. We must understand that God gave him permission to do what he wanted to do. God will allow one to believe a lie, thinking he is believing truth. We remember what Paul said concerning those who do not love the truth. “And for this reason God will send them strong delusion so that they should believe a lie” (2 Th 2:11).

Because Jeroboam started his own religion according to his own desires, his own house paid the price. 1 Kings 13:34 reads, “This thing became sin to the house of Jeroboam, even to cut it off and to destroy it from off the face of the earth.” The house of Jeroboam was cut off from existence as a lineage of people. And because of the wayward direction in which Jeroboam led the northern kingdom, it too would eventually be taken into captivity, which thing happen when the Assyrians came in 722/21 B.C. and took them into Assyrian captivity. This was the end of the northern kingdom of Israel.

The northern tribes of Israel were independent in the land a little over six hundred years before they suffered the curse that God pronounced even before Israel came into the land in 1400 B.C. (Dt 28:64). After the apostasy of Jeroboam, the northern kingdom only lasted a little over two hundred more years before the people lost their independence and were scattered throughout the Assyrian Empire.

[Next in series: August 26]

Confess Religiosity

When the people of Israel eventually came into the land of promise, and once they changed the focus of their religious behavior to that which would conform to their own desires, it was then that they created in their minds gods who would condone their wayward behavior. This is indeed the most frightening aspect of the warning of Deuteronomy 13 against the Israelites. They eventually turned from God and His moral authority to gods they imagined after their own misguided moral desires, just as millions today have done throughout the world.

The sad thing about this present-day apostasy is that religious people around the world who call themselves after Christ have so little knowledge of the Bible that they do not realized where they are. In fact, they vex those who are trying to lead their lives according to the authority of the word of God. If the definition of “evil” in Deuteronomy 13 is taken into the context of Genesis 6:5, then we can assume that the world today is indeed in perilous times. In those days of Noah, “Every imagination of the thoughts of his [man’s] heart was only evil continually.” Because of a worldwide lack of knowledge of the moral authority of God, we are in the same predicament as Noah.

We must understand the “evil” of Genesis 6:5 in the context of the time when Noah was preparing the ark for the deliverance of his family from the total destruction of the population of the world at that time. Peter revealed that the condition of the world at that time was “evil.” He revealed that Jesus in the spirit went and preached to those of that generation through Noah, “who once were disobedient when the longsuffering of God waited patiently in the days of Noah” (1 Pt 3:20). God “did not spare the old world, but saved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others” (2 Pt 2:5).

The early Christians were warned by Jesus that the same moral and religious conditions that existed during the days of Noah would prevail when God would again bring judgment into the world, specifically in reference to the destruction of national Israel: “But as the days of Noah were, so also will be the coming of the Son of man” (Mt 24:37). One might concluded that Jesus was here speaking of His final coming, but the “coming” in the context is better understood in the historical context of those of Jesus’ generation who would not pass away until all those things about which He spoke came to pass (Mk 9:1).

When we understand the work of God in judgment of those of this world, the same principle of judgment is true in reference to the “evil” that would prevail at the time when He would come in His final judgment. So Jesus reminded His generation, “For as in the days that were before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark” (Mt 24:38). Noah’s generation was carrying on with a normal life, being totally unaware and unbelieving concerning the impending destruction that was coming upon them. “And they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away. So also will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Mt 24:39).

According to Genesis 6:5, the generation that suffered the judgment of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 was an “evil” generation. Those Jews were fervently religious, but they were evil. They had rejected and crucified the Son of God. It was a religious generation, but it was “religiously evil” So we must not assume that an evil generation is a generation of thieves and reprobates. Normal life is carried on by evil generations. They find comfort in their “evil” religion because their religion conforms to their narcissistic desires.

Noah’s generation was not as that which was portrayed by the movie Noah, staring Russel Crowe. This movie that was released in 1914 portrayed Noah’s generation to be composed of a vile and murderous people. But Jesus’ description of that generation in Matthew 24 does not conform to what was portrayed in the movie. And we will believe Jesus over the producers of the movie.

Those of Noah’s generation were as those of the generation of Israel to whom Deuteronomy 13 was addressed. They were ordinary people who had given up on the God of heaven and created gods that would agree with their own religious and moral behavior. Their faith became subjective to their own desires, and thus, their religion was defined as “evil.” That was an “evil” generation.

In contrast to those of his generation who had no respect for the authority of God’s moral standards of faith and behavior, “Noah, being warned of God of things not yet seen, moved with fear” (Hb 11:7). Noah respected the mandates of the word of God. When people stop fearing the word of God, they are defined in the Bible as “evil.” These are those who will vex (mock) those who are preachers of the word of God (2 Pt 2:7,8). Subjective religionists will always mock those who have an objective faith this is based on the word of God.

[Next in series: August 12]

Difficult Paradigm Shifts

Regardless of all the changes the the newly freed children of Israel had to endure in their lives in order to move into a new paradigm of freedom and independence, there was one change that seemed almost impossible to make. In fact, it was so impossible that God had to take out an entire generation of Israelites in order to bring into the land of promise a new generation. The first generation of Israelites, who had been infected with the virus of Egyptian religiosity, had to be buried in the desert before the new nation of believers could be allowed into the land of promise.

The children of Israel would have to change from a spoken oral tradition of moral authority of many gods to a revealed word-based authority of commandments and statutes from only one God. They would even have to move from the word that came through their fathers and prophets, to the word of God that was revealed and finalized by being written on stone tablets or parchment.

Since the beginning of time, God’s moral standards of belief and behavior had been delivered orally to mankind. “God, who at various times and in different ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets” (Hb 1:1). But at the foot of Mount Sinai, the gods of Egypt, as well as the inspired spoken word of the fathers and prophets, would give way to the final authority of the written word of a God who spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai. After Sinai, He would later direct Moses under the influence of the Holy Spirit to inscribe the entire Law (Gn, Ex, Lv, Nm, Dt).

While the children of Israel were in Egypt, God had previously and orally spoken through Abraham, and then Isaac, and then Jacob. The people lived by the spoken word of these fathers, who were also prophets. We do not know if there were prophets among them while they were in Egyptian captivity. All their beliefs and behavior throughout their history had come to them orally through the fathers and prophets, but not in the form of written documents. Because of this, the people were prone to create some of their own beliefs and codes of behavior. Most of the civilizations at the time inscribed in stone or on monuments their legal codes of behavior. But not the Israelites. All their instructions came to them orally, as was the giving of all of God’s instructions from the beginning of time. But this was to change in the giving of the written Law that would come through Moses.

Before the Israelites arrived in Egypt, they had already been following some of the behavioral codes of the nations. For example, in the Code of Hammurabi, that dates back to the time of Abraham around 2,000 B.C., this Babylonian stone inscription listed some of the laws that were eventually included in the law that God wrote for the people through Moses. We would assume, therefore, that these social and civil laws originally came from God through the fathers, but we cannot confirm this. The Code of Hammurabi was a secular inscription of civil and moral laws that were inscribed by a Babylonian king.

The Israelites were undoubtedly living by some of the civil laws of the Code of Hammurabi while they were in Egypt. However, this does not assume that their obedience to such laws proves that the civil laws of the Code of Hammurabi were inspired by God. For example, the “eye for an eye” law of Hammurabi later became one of the laws of the Sinai Law (Ex 21:23-25; Dt 19:21). We would not assume, however, that the Code of Hammurabi was inspired by God because some of its laws were incorporated into the Sinai Law. The origin of the “eye for an eye” law may have orally been spoken through the ancient fathers and prophets, and subsequently included in the Code of Hammurabi. But it was definitely considered an inspired written law when it became a part of the Sinai Law.

Abraham had no written codes to hand down to his descendants. However, the Egyptians among whom the Israelites lived had written commandments of belief and conduct. The temples and tombs of Egypt were covered with the Egyptian hieroglyphics of codes and commandments. But the Israelites had no written documents that they used as authority for their beliefs and behavior. For this reason, they were prone to harvest beliefs and moral behavior from the people among whom they dwelt. This was particularly true in reference to their four centuries in Egypt.

But this paradigm would shift. They too would be given written instructions, first on stone, and then as inscribed documents from the hand of Moses. When God shifted from the fathers and prophets among them who had given instructions for millennia, to written commandments, this would mean that the Israelites could no longer adopt beliefs and moral standards from the people among whom they would reside. For example, the very first commandment of the written ten commandments clearly reveals the problem that the Israelites faced while in Egypt. This problem would plague them throughout their stay in the land of promise. This major problem was inferred when God inscribed on stone, “You will have no other gods before Me” (Ex 20:3).

God knew that the Israelites would always want to created in their minds “gods” who would dictate their moral and civil standards. Because they were a stubborn and stiffnecked people, God knew that throughout their history they would want to adopt the religious beliefs and behavior of the people around them, and then create gods who would confirm to their religious desires. The people were prone to creating gods after the culture in which they lived in Egypt. His curse would follow them for the next one thousand years. When they came into Palestine, and disobeyed God by not dispersing from the land all the idolatrous people within the land, they would eventually start believing the Baal prophets of the Canaanites who lived among them. This apostasy would reach its zenith during the great times of King Solomon, who would marry the women of the nations around Israel, which women would lead him and Israel astray after Baal gods.

Because the Israelites were a stubborn and stiffnecked people, they eventually, throughout their history, found it impossible to make the paradigm shift from a faith that was based on moral tradition and the voice of the fathers and prophets, to a written document that would be the only foundation of their faith. Because they had always accepted some of the moral standards of the nations in which they lived, or that surrounded them while they resided in Palestine, their faith would digress into a religiosity that was foreign to the written law of God.

While in Egyptian captivity for four centuries, the authority of their faith was influenced by the gods of the Egyptians. When they came into the land of promise, their faith eventually found its authority again in the gods of the nations around them. The same happens today when people allow the religious beliefs of those among whom they must dwell to influence their faith. We often find it too easy to shift from the written moral beliefs and standards of the word of God to accepting the moral beliefs and standards of the majority among whom we live. We find it difficult to stand alone on the authority of the written word of God, while refusing to conform to the religious authority of the majority.

[Next in series: August 9]

Cultural Paradigm Shift

In order to understand where the recipients of the Deuteronomy 13 directives were socially, culturally and religiously, we must go back in their history almost four centuries. We must go back to a land in which they were “taken care of” by a very polytheistic society that initially invited Jacob and his family into the land of Goshen (Gn 45:10). Until that time in Egypt there had been a succession of pharaohs that extended back several centuries before the arrival of Jacob and his sons. In fact, when Jacob arrived in Egypt, there were monuments throughout Egypt, many of which were at least one thousand years old. There were pyramids and temples that were intimidating to this small clan of shepherds from Palestine. We can only imagine how awesome the structures of Egypt appeared to these shepherds who had come from a land where they experienced no such massive monuments or temples.

Nevertheless, at the time when Jacob’s clan arrived in Egypt, the Nile Delta of Egypt was the ideal environment in which shepherds could graze their sheep and goats in the fertile region of Goshen, a place of rivers and grasslands. What could be more peaceful than to reside in such a social and political environment under the protection of such an awe-inspiring nation. We are convinced that Jacob and his sons were truly grateful for the kind gesture that was shown them by the pharaoh of Egypt.

But from the very beginning of their arrival, there were challenges for these monotheistic shepherds from the pastures of Palestine. As guests in the land of Egypt, the Israelites had to accommodate the polytheistic religiosity of their host. Egypt was a society that believed in many gods whom they assumed had allowed them to become such a great and powerful society at the time. The Egyptians had history, and a culture that dated back centuries.

The Egyptians had invested heavily in their military, having some of the greatest war chariots of the ancient world. Archaeological evidence reveals that they had compound bows that would send arrows further in distance than any contemporary bows of the neighboring nations. The Egyptian military was unmatched by other nations at the time Israel resided in Egypt. It was the perfect environment, therefore, for God to grow a nation in order to preserve the promises that He had made to Abraham (Gn 12:1-3).

But then problems came for the innocent shepherd culture. After being in the Egyptian social and cultural environment for almost four centuries, something began to happen to the foundational beliefs of the people. Not only did the descendants of the shepherds begin to accommodate the polytheism of their host nation, they also started to adopt—at least condone—the polytheism of their host. Israel’s gratitude for their protection led them to be very tolerant of the fact that the Egyptians were atheists in reference to believing in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But since they were economically at the mercy of the economically powerful Egyptians, they thought they had to compromise their faith in reference to their being only one God. They were cautious about speaking against the gods of the Egyptians. So God determined that it was time for them to leave the comforts of their host.

The monotheism of Israel was contrary to Egypt’s polytheism. Nevertheless, Israel remained tolerant, so tolerant that in some ways they learned to bear with all those who believed in other gods. They led themselves to believe that if one were simply a good person, believed in the human rights of the individual, then they as monotheistic believers could cohabit with such good polytheists. But in the eyes of God, His people were starting to conform too much to the religiosity of their host.

Faith, or religion, should never be an obstacle to one’s association with other people, even with those who believed in other gods. Regardless of how many gods in which their host nation believed, and as long as they were tolerant of their beliefs, then the Israelites could reside peacefully in the land. But the Israelites’ toleration went too far. They began to accept some of the Egyptian gods, or at least believe that there were other gods to whom they should reverence out of respect for the Egyptians. This compromise in belief did not reveal itself until they were in a time of desperation at the foot of Mount Sinai. It was then that they cried out to Aaron,Make us gods that will go before us (Ex 32:1). This plea to Aaron after they had been set free from Egypt reveals that at least this generation of freed Israelites had been infected with the virus of Egyptian polytheism.

But then politics also entered into the picture while the people were still in Egypt. Because the Israelites were pacifists, and Egypt protected them with their military strength, they became comfortable in their state of security. They did not need their own military to guard their security. They subsequently began to multiply to the point that their host nation of Egypt became worried that they would eventually outnumber them in the land. Israelite “votes” began to grow to the extent that the host nation believed that the Israelites would take over their land. In fact, the chronicler of the times wrote of the Israelites, “The children of Israel were fruitful and increased abundantly and multiplied, and became exceedingly mighty. And the land was filled with them” (Ex 1:7). In fact, according to archaeological records, the Israelites became so great in numbers that historically they possibly seceded from Egypt as a whole, having gained self-controlled of the northeastern region of Goshen. At least this is what seems to appear in some Egyptian historical records of the time.

Therefore, our biblical account must be understood in view of this mass growth in the population of the Israelites in Egypt. The pharaoh at the time of the massive growth was greatly concerned that the Israelites would eventually take over all Egypt. If this happened, then God’s promise to Abraham, that He would give to his descendants the land of Palestine, would possibly never be fulfilled (Gn 12:7). Therefore, God had to raise up a pharaoh, who through slavery, would to generate a thirst for freedom on the part of the Israelites (See Rm 9:14-18).

Nevertheless, change for the Israelites came when the legacy of Joseph faded in the minds of the Egyptians. So after more than three centuries of the arrival of Jacob’s clan in Egypt, “there rose up a new king over Egypt who did not know Joseph” (Ex 1:8). Because the Israelites had increased so extensively in the land, this new pharaoh complained to his fellow Egyptians, “Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we” (Ex 1:9). Therefore, the southern part of Egypt rose up to retake control of the Goshen region, subjugating the Israelites to slavery. “They set taskmasters over them to afflict them with their burdens” (Ex 1:11).

Once God had toughened His people through slavery, it was time for Him to raise up Moses and send him to Sinai for forty years of training in wilderness living. He then brought Moses back to deliver a people who had been hardened by years of slavery, but influenced by the polytheism of the Egyptians. The influence of four hundreds years of polytheistic religionists had to come to an end. The people were thus made to cry out for freedom in order that they not make Egypt their permanent homeland. A promise had to be fulfilled that was made about five centuries before to Abraham (Gn 12:7).

In their slavery, the Israelites became hardened and stubborn. In order to retain their identity, they were changed into a stubborn people who resisted their taskmasters. In their stubbornness, however, they preserved themselves as a unique people who did not succumb completely to the culture of the Egyptians. They maintained their identity as the children of Israel (Jacob). As slaves, however, the children of Israel learned to be a people who were “taken care of” as slaves, but unique in their identity as the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Though they developed a bondage mentality in Egypt, at least they could eat, for their taskmasters gave them the right to grow their own food. During times of drought, they could receive grain from the southern lands of Egypt. Therefore, in reference to their food supply, they had no worries. Though they were in slavery, they had no worry about their next table of food.

But when God sent Moses to fetch His people out of Egyptian captivity, this all changed. It changed so rapidly in their lives that the Israelites went through a shock of acculturation in the wilderness, even though they had been delivered from the bondage of Egypt.

Deliverance entailed a tremendous social paradigm shift. They went from the security of a society wherein all decisions were made for them by their taskmasters whom they could see, to a society where decisions were mandated through written commandments from a God whom they could not see. In the wilderness they had to wake up every morning and make decisions as to what they should do for the day. They went from depending on food from the harvest of their own crops in a secure land, to food (manna) they would receive only when they awoke every morning. They went from the security of what happened every day, to the insecurity of a whole new world in a wilderness about which they knew nothing. They went from grasslands to desert; from rivers to water springs from the ground; from trusting in the power of a host country to being a people who had to depend only on themselves and one God who would protect them. They even went from a military that protected them to building their own military.

It was an almost impossible social paradigm shift that was very difficult for them to bear. In fact, in the months that followed their crossing of the Red Sea they struggled to accept the new wilderness paradigm into which they had been delivered. It was not easy. In fact, their attitudes could be summed up in the following statement that was made on several occasions in the wilderness: “Now when the people complained [or, murmured] …” (Nm 11:1; see Ex 15:24; 16:2; 17:3; Nm 14:2; 16:41).

[Next in series: August 6]

Sobering Examples

The Holy Spirit calls on all Christians to study their Old Testaments in order to remember the error of God’s people throughout the history of Israel: “For whatever things were written [in the Old Testament] before were written for our learning, so that we through patience and encouragement of the Scriptures might have hope” (Rm 15:4). “Now these things happened to them [Israel] as an example, and they were written [in the Old Testament] for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Co 10:11).

This brings us to one of the most sobering chapters of the entire Bible. It is sobering because the people of God at a particular time in history fell away to that about which God warned them in Deuteronomy 13. This chapter was a direct mandate from God that was issued before the children of Israel entered into the land of promise. Every time we read this chapter, our hearts are moved just this side of being terrified of what God forewarned His people in reference to their eventual turn away from Him to the charismatic leaders of the Baal prophets. So much of what God said in this chapter applies so well to the religious world today in which we live.

In order to understand the context of what God revealed to the Israelites through Moses in Deuteronomy 13, we must clearly understand that the apostasy about which the people were forewarned was not about them becoming a nonreligious people. On the contrary, the warning referred to an eventual paradigm shift in their religiosity. They would remain religious, but the focus of their religiosity would be shifted from God and His commandments to obedience of the religious rites, rituals and ceremonies they would create for themselves after their own desires.

Because they would eventually forget the word of God (Hs 4:6), they would create their own religiosity. Once they had established their own religious rites, ritual and ceremonies, especially their own immoral behavior in reference to the practice of their religion, they would then “hire” priests and prophets to promote their religion. The priests and prophets of their religiosity would then impose on them their religion in order to maintain their supported positions as priests and prophets.

In all this the people would forsake the word of God. Because the people would eventually become ignorant of what their “Bibles” said, they would shift from the authority of God’s word to their own religious authorities. They would move from God to the gods that they would create after their own imagination.

Moses and Aaron had been warned forty years before Deuteronomy was written of Israel’s lean toward creating idolatrous religiosity. The Israelites were a stubborn and stiffnecked people who wanted to do their own thing (See Ex 32:9; 33:3,5). A few months after being delivered from the polygamist religious culture of their Egyptian captors, and while at the foot of Mount Sinai, the people revealed that they were at that time prone to “evil.”

This “evil” was defined by what Aaron said to Moses after Moses came down from Mount Sinai with two stone tablets of God’s commandments in his arms. Aaron justified himself for building the golden calf by saying that the people demanded of him, “Make us gods that will go before us” (Ex 32:23). In other words, the people wanted gods who would do what they wanted them to do, that is, they wanted to be the authority of their own faith. And so, Aaron made the golden calf that was a symbol of self-imposed religiosity. This was “evil,” and this is a description of most of the religious world today. We seek a faith that is based on the validation of the word of God, therefore, when we struggle with our faith, we study our Bibles. We do not seek a “miracle.” We do not need a faith that must be constantly and empirically validated by touching the nail holes in the hands of Jesus or the wound in His side (See Jn 20:24-29).

“Evil” religion is narcissistic, which explains the religiosity of the people who were at the foot of Mount Sinai. They wanted gods who would be subject to their desires instead of them being subjected to the authority of a God they could not see. In this way, evil religion is always subjective since it is the product of those who seek to be their own authority. Religion is always empirical because the adherents always, if not weekly, validate their faith by some “miracle” or speaking in tongues. Contrary to narcissistic and empirical religion that is subjective, faith in the authority of the word of God is always objective. Objective faith is always expressed in the words that Eli instructed young Samuel, “Speak Lord, Your servant hears” (1 Sm 3:9). The objective believer seeks to hear from the word of God. The subjective religionists seeks to see and experience.

When one seeks to be religious according to his own subjective feelings, or some “miracle” he subjectively perceives, then he is simply following after evil religion. His faith is based on his own humanity. But if one objectively seeks out the word of God and reads, then he or she has a faith that is based on the word of God (Is 34:16). The word of God becomes the objective foundation of his or her faith (Rm 10:17). Subsequently, this person is seeking to worship and serve God according to God’s word. These are the folks for whom God is seeking throughout the world today to worship Him (Jn 4:23).

So in the Sinai Peninsula God asked Moses, “How long will I bear with this evil assembly who murmur against Me?” (Nm 14:27). Those who came out of Egyptian captivity were still infected with the virus of Egyptian religiosity. And for this reason, they had to be quarantined in the wilderness for forty years until they were disinfected. They had to be quarantined in the wilderness until the first freed generation of people, who was idolatry-infested, had died in the wilderness. God did not want the initial idolatry-contaminated generation to enter into the purity of the land of promise. So God said, “In this wilderness they will be consumed and there they will die” (Nm 14:35).

The people did evil by seeking to make idol gods who would go before them. Forty years after the Sinai incident, when they were about to enter into the land of promise as a new generation that had been born in the wilderness, Moses wrote the book of Deuteronomy. In the book God forewarned the Israelites that they would likewise be doing evil if they decided in the land to infect themselves again with their own religions they would create after their own desires (Dt 4:25). And thus in the context of Deuteronomy 13, we understand how God used the word “evil.” “Evil” would be turning away from the moral standards of the God who brought them out of Egyptian captivity. “Evil” would be creating a religious faith after their own desires, and gods whom they supposed would go before them.

Since their eventual shift away from the moral authority of the word of God would lead to them establishing their own moral standards, then only evil behavior would result. In other words, if one wants to live in adultery, then he or she must change must either change or discard the dictionary that defines adultery. If one wants to live as a homosexual, then one must discard the dictionary (the Bible) that states what homosexuality is and that homosexuality is evil. The same would also apply to “evils” as thief, murder, drunkenness, fornication and such works of the flesh that the Holy Spirit noted in Galatians 5:19,20. Therefore, any apostasy from the authority of the word of God results in that which the word of God defines as evil.

The apostasy to evil in Israel would be led by those who would no longer be teachers of the authority of the law of God, but teachers of their own religious rites, rituals and ceremonies that would permit evil behavior to exist among the people. It is this “evil” in the context of Deuteronomy 13 that God commanded through Moses, “Put away the evil from you” (Dt 17:12).

This is the same mandate that the Holy Spirit gave to some Corinthians who were making friends with the evil idolatrous religiosity of unbelievers in Corinth, which unbelievers were promoting fornication as worship to their gods: “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers, for what fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness. And what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Co 6:14). If this were true with Israel, and with the early Christians in Corinth, then certainly it is true with us today.

Christians must be cautious about fellowshipping the “evil” that is represented by the religions of the world in which we live. Since religion is a denial of the moral authority of the word of God, then the beliefs and behavior of all religion must be questioned and compared with the word God. The Word of God must be our standard of judgment of the faith of all men because many religionists deny, or at least have twisted, that which the word of God defines as evil. This is exactly what happen in the apostasy of Israel. They had morally digressed to the point of reversing evil and good: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness” (Is 5:20). If one does not think this is true today, then think of all those religionists who are members of churches that condone abortion (murder). Think about all those prophets who stand up before the people and are afraid to preach against homosexuality.

And now today, the present pandemic has presented us with the opportunity to put “evil religiosity” away from ourselves and reconnect again with God through His word. It is a time of restoration wherein we can step outside the cathedrals and temples wherein religious rites, rituals, ceremonies and supposed miracles were meritoriously performed that defined our religiosity. This is an opportunity to read again the Holy Spirit-inspired dictionary in the quietness of our own homes in order to check our moral behavior and beliefs.

We have also discovered that our rituals of worship do not define our worship, nor do they make our worship meritoriously acceptable before a God. The people of God now have the opportunity to step inside their closets, and worship in prayer on their knees. This is indeed a time to feel the refreshing winds of a word-based relationship with the Father, which relationship we have often cluttered with the performance of our own religiosity. We are now laid bear before our Creator, being stripped naked of all our presumptuous and meritorious performances that we assumed would sanctify us before God.

[Next in series: August 4]