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]