10 Commandments Series – 2: “You shall have no other Gods before me.”

“You shall have no other gods before me.  You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or 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 or serve them, for I Yehovah (the LORD) your God am a jealous God…” Exodus 20: 3-5 (ESV)

Without knowing who is speaking (see part 1) the above statement would be fairly useless.  But we know who is speaking because He just told us.  And it is followed by this:

“…visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” Exodus 20:5-6 (ESV)

Well, there is a quite a bit in these verses.  This post will deal with the ‘have no other gods before me’ part.  The rest of the verse, in my opinion, deals with a culture and how it raises its children.  Back to ‘not having any other gods before me.’

If you have been in Christian circles for any length of time then you have most likely heard this verse quoted and then everyday activities listed that can become as ‘other gods’ in our lives.  That is not how I am going to approach the subject, though there is validity to much of what is said in those discussions.  Rather,

Tradition!  Tradition.  (pause)  Tradition!!! Tradition.  (think “Fiddler on the Roof” and the song “Tradition”.  If you haven’t seen the film, you are missing an excellent film.)

There is nothing wrong with traditions as long as they are honoring to God, either directly or indirectly by not going against His word.  God left us a huge amount of room to make our own traditions around His word.  If you study God’s “Appointed Times” (the “Feasts” – see Leviticus 23)), you will see only a few things that are required.  The rest we get to make up!  And boy have we!  (Unfortunately, much of what was ‘made up’ is ‘get rid of it all together – but that is for another post.)

When the Israelites were entering the promised land, God made it very clear that they were not to copy anything the peoples were doing.  They weren’t even to look into their practices (see Deuteronomy 12:29-32).  God repeatedly stated that He did not want the Israelites to copy anything the peoples of the land were doing, nor worship Him in that way.

“And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you… ” Leviticus 20:23 (ESV)

“Learn not the way of the nations…” Jeremiah 10:2 (ESV)

“… and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? – that I also may do the same.’  You shall not worship Yehovah (the LORD) your God in that way…” Deuteronomy 12:30-31 (ESV)

To put that in today’s language, the verse says,

Don’t bring any part of pagan practices into your worship or traditions, and then think that I’m okay with that simply because you put the phrase, “In Jesus’ name” on the practice; or think that I’m okay with it because I have been silent about it for generations.  It’s not okay. Time and phrases do not change the Word of God!

We need to check our own traditions and practices and, whenever it stems from pagan practices, get rid of it!  God gave us already a bunch of ‘holidays’ around which we can form all sorts of traditions, and when we do so, the nations will see that we are ‘set apart’ (holy).

Honoring God is also a form of worshiping Him.  Obeying is a form of worshiping Him.  Be like Yeshua (Jesus) and only follow those traditions that truly honor God the Father!

So, can you think of any traditions that are common in Christianity (or Judaism) that violate this command of God?  I can think of quite a few…

  • Yosef

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What do the Sacrifices from the “Old Testament” have to do with Today? (Numbers 28-29)

Most Christians, when asked what they know about the sacrificial system will respond in one of these ways:

“They were done away with by Jesus’ death.”

“They were a burden.”

“They only atoned (covered over) sin.”

And this is almost always done so with a dismissive tone as if the sacrificial system was something bad and God did good to get rid of it.  Would you be surprised to hear that none of the above statements (with a partial exception for the first) are true, and that such statements hide some wonderful truths that Christians would be well to pay attention to.

Let’s start with a fundamental difference between Christianities point of view about the “Law of God” and the Jewish point of view.  Christians look at a law such as “don’t eat blood” and say, “I have to obey that?!”  It is a burden that has to be followed.  The Jewish point of view (including Yeshua’s point of view) would say, after having an opportunity to eat meat with the blood still in it, but not doing so, “I got to worship God by not eating blood just now.”  I hope you can get a glimpse of how fundamental this difference is as it affects you entire view point of the “old Testament.”

So, back to the sacrificial system.  Looking at Numbers 28 to 29, there is a long list of sacrifices to be given and instructions on how (this is just one place in the “Law” where sacrifices are discussed).  Note a few things.

First, the vast majority of the sacrifices have nothing to do with sin.  Nothing. 

This is true for all sacrifices.  There are sacrifices of thanksgiving, praise, finishing vows, and ritual purity (which is not about sin).  There are some sacrifices for sin.  Most are for the community (such as all those in the Numbers 28-29 passage).  There are some for individuals (such as in Leviticus 6:4-6).  Many of the sacrifices for sin are for ‘unintentional’ sin.

There are no sacrifices (with very few exceptions) for deliberate sin!  Consider King David and his sin with Bathsheba.  There was no sacrifice for that!

God forgave sin when people repented (actively turned from the sin).  This is the same in the “Old Testament” as in the “New.”  Consider 1 John 1:9,

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (ESV)

“But what about Jesus’ sacrifice?” you may ask.

Yeshua’s (Jesus’) sacrifice “takes away the sin of the world,” just as it is written of him.  That includes the sin that we don’t even know about, or we don’t even realize is sin (such as following age old traditions that are completely accepted within Christianity but not accepted by God).  But even with Yeshua’s (Jesus’) sacrifice, we need to repent when we sin.

Lastly there are a couple important lessons to learn from the sacrificial system.  Note that God required that the animals sacrificed be “without blemish.”  In other words, it was to be one of the best animals.  And He was very specific about how it was to be done.  No pagan practices were involved.

When we worship God, do we give our best?  How often do we buy something new for those in need instead of giving old stuff (which is good, but not worship as God sets forth).

If we can learn anything from the sacrificial system, it is this: Give our Best in all our worship of God, and worship Him as He wants.

[Note: ‘Worship’ here is not limited to singing, but in every facet of life where we can be obedient to Him, including in our helping others.]

  • Yosef

Balaam, Balak, and the talking Donkey: Numbers 22 and 23

Before I start I have to say that this study isn’t about the donkey.  There are tons of teachings, preachings, and even songs about the donkey out there.  No, this study is about Balaam.  Specifically Balaam’s first encounter with the messengers from Balak, and his first message from the LORD.

Numbers 22:12-13, “God said to Balaam, “You shall not go with them.  You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.”  So Balaam rose in the morning and said to the princes of Balaak, “Go to your own land, for the LORD has refused to let me go with you.” (ESV)

Notice something interesting in what Balaam told the messengers?  He didn’t tell them all of what God had said.  It reminds me of how a child may act when he asks his parents if he can do something.  They say no and explain why.  The child then goes to his friends, pouting, and says, “my parents won’t let me.”  Balaam is acting the same way, and in doing so, two things are set in motion.

First, Balaak is encouraged to ask again, but with more reward promised.  I wonder if Balaam didn’t hope this would happen…

Second, an opportunity to honor God was lost.  God’s words were changed in that Balaam only reported some of what God said.  Balaam never reported the explanation God gave.  Balaam dropped the bit about a blessing.  Balaam was looking for immediate rewards (from Balaak for cursing Israel) and thus chose to ignore God’s promise.

So to do we today change God’s words.  One way is that people who give “a word from the Lord” may interpret those words into something different – something the speaker thinks the hearers want or need to hear.  This is a dangerous thing to do.  It puts one into the ‘false prophet’ camp.  However, much more rampant is the other way God’s word is changed.

The majority of us take some of God’s word, ignore or explain away other parts, and then run with it.  We forget that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  I see way to many examples of this behavior to even begin to list, but here are two examples:

God said (somewhat contracted for emphasis ), “Don’t eat pork … therefore you should be holy for I am holy.”  (Levitcus 11 and Deuteronomy 14).   As Balaam only reported the first part of what God said, so people only report the “Don’t eat pork.”

The blessing is deliberately left off to make it easier to disregard the command in favor of the immediate rewards of the world (eating anything we want), just as Balaam didn’t say that Israel was to be blessed as he was looking for rewards from Balak.

Another example is this, “Don’t store up treasures for yourself… for where your treasure is, there your heart is also.”  (Matthew6:19-24).  All of us make excuses why we can’t give to charities or the poor.  We remember only the command “don’t store up treasures for yourself” and disregard it in favor of immediate “rewards”, forgetting the blessing that would come (in this case, our heart being in heaven).

So it comes down to this.  Yeshua (Jesus) never said that following God wouldn’t require hard choices.  Rather he said the opposite with such as the words, “take up your cross daily and follow me.”

It is making those hard choices that refine us into the holy people we are to be.  Choosing to follow His word, even when it goes against what we want to do, or what everyone around us is doing, refines us to be the set apart (holy) people God wants us to be.

  • Yosef

 

Migrant Crisis in the USA

The migrant crisis has been dominating news media for many days now.  Everyone is hollering that children should not be separated from their parents, or locked up with their parents.  This ‘crisis’ brings many hot issues together, and this posting is too short to address more then one issue.  So, does the Bible give any guidance at all about the issue of separating children of illegal migrants from their parents? 

In answering this question, two scriptures (among others) are considered.  They are:

You shall have one law for him who does anything unintentionally, for him who is native among the people of Israel and for the stranger who sojourns among them. Numbers 15:29 (ESV)

and

…But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by law as transgressors.  James 2:9 (ESV)

The discussion is in the forum (click here to see the discussion; click here to sign up).

Check out the discussion and give your opinion.  Mostly, think about how a follower of God and Yeshua (Jesus) should respond to this issue.

  • Yosef

The Bronze Serpent – Numbers 21

This weeks reading includes Numbers 21, where we find the Israelites again complaining about food, water, and even the manna God continuously gives them!  God says, ‘enough is enough’ and gave them something to really complain about: serpents whose bite was fatal.

After Moses prayed, the LORD had Moses make a bronze serpent and put it up on a pole where anyone could look at it.  And anyone who was bitten, and didn’t want to die, could look at the serpent on the pole and be healed.

One of the surprising things about this story comes much, much later.  In fact, several hundred years (give or take) later.   Long after this event, when Israel has been in the land for a long time, and there are kings over Israel, we find King Hezekiah reigning, and we are told that ‘he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD.’ (2 Kings 18:1-4).  One of the things King Hezekiah did was to destroy the serpent.  Yes, it was still there!  And over time, it had become an object of worship to the Israelites.  A blessing of God had been turned into a snare!  How could this have happened?  Yet we see the same sort of thing today in our churches and synagogues.

Over time, we take God’s silence about something as an indirect approval. 

God never told them not to keep the serpent after it had served its purpose, and no one, not a single leader prior, ever mentioned it.  After all, it was God ordained, wasn’t it?

In the same way, we take teachings and traditions that may or may not have made sense at the time of their authorship, and over time, incorporate them into our worship, even though God’s word may speak against such practices.  This practice is ripe throughout Christianity and Judaism.  Christianity takes away from God’s word as Judaism adds to it, yet we find God saying, “do not add to or take away from my Word”  (Deut. 4:2, echoed by Yeshua (Jesus) in Matt. 5:18-19).

In the same way, we can easily become insensitive to God’s blessing and even dislike it (the manna in the story).  This should not be!  That is why God tells us to remember His works.  Over and over He tells us (even in the “10 commandments” – Exo. 20:8-11 as one example).  That is why He gave us His calendar (see Lev. 23), which, unfortunately, Christianity has completely thrown out.  This led, among other things, to modern Christianity’s focus only on the here and now, and sometimes the future.

To sum up, we need to always be willing to judge our own actions, traditions, and teachings by the word of God, and to be willing to change when we see something that isn’t in line with His word, even if goes against a centuries old teaching or tradition!

That God hasn’t judged all that we do that is against His word, and often even done “in His name,” is a wonderful manifestation of His grace and forgiveness through Yeshua.  But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t follow His word.

  • Yosef