Syncretism and Sexual Sin

October 7, 2015 at 12:43 pm | Posted in Exodus | 6 Comments
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And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To morrow is a feast to the Lord.

Exodus 32:5

Aaron, pressured by the people and doubtful concerning the return of Moses, tried to straddle the fence. He built an altar before the golden bull, but he proclaimed that the next day’s worship activity would be a feast “to the Lord.” This is called “syncretism:” attempting to combine the worship of Yahweh with false gods. It is nothing less than idolatry. In God’s eyes it is exactly the same in terms of its sinfulness. It is the spiritual equivalent of adultery. Aaron’s attempt to lessen its offensiveness to God is analagous to a husband defending his adultery by saying, “At least I didn’t dump my wife; I just two-timed her.”

The next verse explains the reason for the altar.

And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.

Exodus 32:6

Sacrifices were necessary to make the false worship seem legitimate. False worship will often have an element of truth in it. But the second half of the verse – “to eat and to drink, and rose up to play” – reveals the real selfishness at work in this show of “sacrifice.” When people make idols or construct false ideas of God, they are not trying to be accurate, and just falling accidentally into error. No, they are fashioning a god to please themselves. What would a young bull care if they wanted to get drunk, gorge themselves at a party, and have an orgy?

“To drink” denotes alcohol and “rose up to play” is probably (although not definitely) a euphemism for sex. Most commentators think the phrase has a sexual connotation not because the Hebrew word always means that. Hebrew language in the Bible tends to be modest, preferring euphemisms when possible (like saying that Adam “knew” Eve), but usually the context clarifies it. Here it doesn’t make it crystal clear. The word translated as “play” could be dancing, fighting, roughhousing, lesser forms of debauchery, or general partying. One of the reasons for the traditional belief that it here connotes sexual partying is that, in other instances when people engaged in this type of pagan worship it did involve drunken sex parties. In fact, that was one of the most prominent features of pagan worship, and, tragically, the people who worshiped the golden bull were almost surely imitating that.

The worship of Yahweh (conveniently just described for us in the details of the Tabernacle in the chapters preceding Chapter 32) was more somber, serious, holy, modest, and chaste. It was focused not on the flesh – although it did involve having an enjoyable meal – but rather on serving the Lord. Christian worship should likewise be spiritual, not carnal. This is one of the early instances in Scripture where this is highlighted for us. Worship of the real God is distinct from the worship of pagan idols, and the distinction should be obvious to a lost world, because our God is real, not an invented excuse to party like it’s 1999 (or in this case 1499 BC).

Why We Can, and Cannot, Have Nice Things

September 21, 2015 at 3:52 pm | Posted in Exodus | 9 Comments
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And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, See, I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, To devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, And in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship.

Exodus 31:1-5

One of the key differences between the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament and the New Testament is that, under the Old Testament, certain people were periodically “anointed” or “filled” with the Holy Spirit. In the New Testament the Holy Spirit permanently indwells born-again believers from the moment of salvation.

Bezalel, who seems to have been in charge of the construction of the Tabernacle, had certain talents – which are gifts from God – but not necessarily the same as the New Testament “gifts of the Spirit,” such as administration or evangelism or preaching and teaching or mercy or giving. Basically, Bezalel got an “upgrade” to his talents for working with gold and silver and bronze and metals and stone and wood, so that the work of the Tabernacle and its furnishings would be excellent, and would have a supernatural level of beauty, durability, and function.

Exodus Chapter 32 features one of the climactic moments of the Book of Exodus, and possibly even the climax of the narrative that runs through the entire “Hexateuch” (Genesis – Joshua). The events recorded here constitute a key moment in redemptive history. The Old Covenant (which was then still a very new covenant) had just been given, confirmed, ratified, accepted, and sealed with blood. Moses had gone back up Mount Sinai to get the specifications for the Tabernacle and for Tabernacle worship. We know he was up there for 40 days, but, during that time, the people did not know how long he would be gone, and they were worried. They still lacked faith, despite everything they had experienced, seen, and heard.

And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.

Exodus 32:1

What if, while Moses was away, they came under attack like they had from the Amalekites? Had Moses abandoned them or died? Had Yahweh left them here? (His presence could not be seen in the pillars of fire and cloud anymore at this point, because He was with Moses on the mountain.) They still had manna and water, but who was going to lead them now?

Exodus 32:1 says that “the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron.” Aaron was supposed to be in charge while Moses was away, and it is possible they did this in order to oppose him or coerce him. It is also possible they simply plead or demanded, but, either way, Aaron still felt the pressure of the crowd. He was older than Moses, but had been with Moses, and was known as a priest, so it was natural that they would seek his leadership or his endorsement upon their desires. Besides, who doesn’t like a “leader” that can be controlled by his people, rather than one who answers only to God?

The people said to Aaron, “Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.” What kind of “gods” have to be “made?” And it wasn’t, strictly speaking, “this Moses” who had brought them out of Egypt. It was really Moses’s God Who had done it. Maybe they wanted some help from the Egyptian gods, or maybe just something that they could see and touch to represent Yahweh for them. This was a definite violation of the 2nd Word, and probably the 1st, too.

And Aaron said unto them, Break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them unto me. And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron. And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.

Exodus 32:2-4

They asked for a “graving” tool, despite the specific language which warned them and forbade them from making “graven” images! The “calf” was supposed to be the image of a young bull, which was a cultic god in Egypt, but which also would have been representative of their idea of what a powerful god should be like – a god that could drive out their enemies in the promised land. When the people said, “These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt,” this was an instance of either outright lying, self-deceit, or a syncretisitc attempt to remake Yahweh into the images of another religion. What tragic, rebellious, disobedient, shameful, and sinful thinking!

Beware the Flammable Frauds

September 24, 2014 at 12:33 pm | Posted in Amos, The Fives | 1 Comment
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The people of the “House of Israel” thought they had worked out a viable system. Historically, they had been called the people of Yahweh, the One True God, the God of holiness Who hated sin. But they also really liked to indulge in the practices of their pagan neighbors and their many “gods.” So, they took sort of a “best of both worlds” approach, and attempted to worship idols and the true God at the same time.

God’s prophet, Amos, tried to warn them that the real God was coming to deal with them concerning their abominable syncretism.

For thus saith the Lord unto the house of Israel, Seek ye me, and ye shall live: But seek not Bethel, nor enter into Gilgal, and pass not to Beersheba: for Gilgal shall surely go into captivity, and Bethel shall come to nought.

Amos 5:4-5

Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba were places where the people could find altars set up to golden bulls and other false idols representing little fake gods. The Lord was giving them one last chance. They could turn to Him and repent… or they could behave irrationally. What does an irrational person do when he’s confronted with the threat of judgment from a powerful God? He seeks refuge in other, kinder, gentler gods. In those days, the fake gods were images or statues that were built, graven, carried around, and spoken to (although the images themselves were silent and couldn’t talk back). This still goes on today. A person mired in sin gets confronted with the Truth, and, instead of repenting and trusting the mercy of the Savior, he looks for relief in the form of alcohol, drugs, sinful sexual behavior, hobbies, entertainment, luxury purchases, or fine dining. These are just a few of the Gilgals, Bethels, and Beershebas of our day.

Amos was very clear about the consequences of this:

Seek the Lord, and ye shall live; lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and devour it, and there be none to quench it in Bethel.

Amos 5:6

Trying to escape the consuming wrath of the Creator by hiding in or among His creation is like trying to dodge a forest fire by crawling into a papier-mâché tent.

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If you have fallen into the sin of idolatry, seek refuge from the wrath of the Savior in the Savior Himself. He is merciful to the repentant.


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