Divine Guidance Book Chapter 1

Divine Guidance Chapter 1  - Part III - Avoidance of Idolatry

1.Exodus 20:3     You must have no other gods before me.

1. What does it mean to believe in a deity other than God? Who or what could be such gods in our times? What would the presence of another deity do to damage our faith and our lives?

A. When the mitzvah warns against believing in or ascribing to any deity but God, what does it mean?

(On the surface level, and certainly in ancient times, it might have been other named gods, such as Greek/Roman gods or other gods of the region.  It could have been several on an equal plane, or several in a hierarchy (even including God), or several but with none as the First Cause and Sovereign. Today we tend not to have gods named and worshipped as then. But we do have finite things or forces or created things or forces which we worship or treat, as Paul Tillich says, as though they involve our  “ultimate concern.”

B. Who or what would be such gods in our own minds, in our own day? Also, do we create notions of God that are not true to God and then worship those notions?

Discussion.

C. Why would the presence of another deity do damage to our faith and our lives, and in what ways?

Discussion.

2. Exodus 20:4, 5     Do not make an idol for yourself - no form whatsoever of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. Do not bow down to them or worship them, because I, the Lord your God, am a passionate God. I punish children for their parents’ sins even to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me.

2. What does it mean to bow down to or worship an idol? What in our world and in our time are such idols? What’s wrong with being devoted to these things, people, and/or ways of living/behaving?

A. We’re neither to make, bow down to, nor worship/serve a graven image, an idol.      1. What do all three of these ideas mean?

(This hones to a narrower idea from the mitzvah we just discussed as to believing in other gods than God. Here the gods can take the form, in effect, of objects that we make. How could that happen? How does it happen?

We create all the time. Indeed God created. We’re made in God’s image. So, as we discussed in Genesis, we are duty-bound, as God’s partner, to create in the world. Perhaps because we’re called to do it and/or because it’s in our nature to enjoy and prize what we create, especially the more cherished or valuable it is, we come upon a line that we are tempted to cross, where the creation becomes, or comes close, to being our “ultimate concern.” Was this attitude close to what motivated the builders of the Tower of Babel perhaps?)

2. Do we create such things out of our jobs, our projects, our manufacture, our purchase?

Making things is essential to who we are. The problem is when those things become idols to us or others. Have you felt gripped enough by certain objects that you had the feeling get close to being of ultimate concern? Do we make sacrifices to such objects, as if they were God, in terms of time, obeisance, will, resources, and commitment? Do we, in effect, worship them?

(Discussion)

3. What’s separately wrong with bowing to an idol? Indeed what does it mean to bow to an idol?

(It’s possible one could argue that bowing is not worshipping, though it certainly involves an attribute of worship. It certainly appears as if it’s worship. It inclines one who does it to worship, as one might detect in the inclinations in one’s heart. There’s certainly a significant deference by one who bows to the object to which he/she bows. Is this mitzvah a hedge? Don’t even get this close to worship.

Are there objects to which we bow like this, when we think we can control it, keep it from becoming an object of worship? That extra hour on Facebook? The bonus we might “need” that takes us away from family or time that could be devoted to service of God? More time to be used for the TV or other means of so-called R&R than we, even on a liberal scale, don’t really need for rest but could rather study, worship, or take action that serves God’s purposes. Are we here bowing down to creations, even though we don’t actually worship them, or at least not quite yet?)

4. What’s wrong with all of these ways of living and behaving?

(First, and foremost, they take us away from God and our duties to God. Second, they do not comport with the unique and demanding love and service of God that are expected of us. Indeed, as we learned, loving and serving God are expected to be as much of a full-time commitment as we can make it. Making, bowing down to, and worshipping idols not only eat into that time and indeed demand quite a lot themselves; they also create competitors for our love and service of God. For people in a unique relationship with God, all this crosses an unacceptable line.)

3. Exodus 20:23     23 Don’t make alongside me gods of silver or gold for yourselves.

3. What does it mean to benefit from these forbidden things, even if we don’t worship them, and why/how would benefiting in such ways be bad?

1. This is generally read as forbidding the making of an image of a human being out of silver, gold, etc., whether its used for ornament or worship. Whats the problem you think this language addresses?

(There is a discrete problem of our making an idol of our selves. The use of gold and silver is a powerful way of describing the underlying problem. It is our material self that we usually glorify, and it is the excessive or too-rich side of that self that is often most at issue. We want wealth or power or riches or status to an inordinate degree, to the degree it gets close to becoming our ultimate concern. What an apt and beautiful way of describing this idolatry as created human images made of gold or silver!)

2. Why else would we create an image in the form of a human being in gold or silver?

(The calf was, in a way, such an object.  Is the idol what we create out of anxiety, loneliness, or a fear of abandonment and a deep need for some in-lieu attachment or satisfaction?)

3. How else do we violate this mitzvah?

(Do we deify leaders or heroes or celebrities as if they were to be worshipped or serve us in some exaggerated way?

What about when we make or use pornography? By relying on pictures that one could say figuratively are of bodies of silver or gold, doesnt one attempt to satisfy inappropriately an urge that can only legitimately be met through divinely blessed love?)

These uses of images of human beings do not ultimately satisfy, though there seems to be a human urge to act as if they do.)

4. Deuteronomy 13:16-17     16 Gather all the plunder into the middle of the town’s square. Then burn the city and all of its plunder as an entirely burned offering to the Lord your God. It must remain a heap of rubble forever. It must not be rebuilt. 17 Don’t hold on to any of the banned items—this will ensure that the Lord turns from his great anger and is compassionate to you, showing you mercy and multiplying you just like he swore to your ancestors.

Question 4. What could it possibly mean in our time to avoid benefiting from property from an apostate city?

What does it mean to hold and benefit from property that is condemned here, that is, as property of an apostate city? How could we (or should we) follow the direction of this mitzvah?

(Arent there apostate features of all cities where we live or might live? Should we be hermits or recluses? There are certainly sects that seem to feel this way. Most of us are not prepared to go that far. Is that because we see our home communities as mixed enough, with enough redeeming features to believe that theyre not really apostate? Or are we wedded or acquiescent to their apostate ways?

Yet, doesnt this mitzvah still speak to us, encouraging us to bring more of Gods direction to the city, to refrain from living by or supporting its heathen ways, and to reduce or eliminate its apostate character? In what ways could or do we do that, if indeed this is where this mitzvah takes us?

(Discussion)

5. ( 5 Readings)

Exodus 23:13     13 Be careful to obey everything that I have said to you. Don’t call on the names of other gods. Don’t even mention them.

Leviticus 24:15,16     15 Tell the Israelites: Anyone who curses God will be liable to punishment. 16 And anyone who blasphemes the Lord’s name must be executed. The whole community will stone that person. Immigrant and citizen alike: whenever someone blasphemes the Lord’s name, that person will be executed.

Leviticus 22:32     32 You must not make my holy name impure so that I will be treated as holy by the Israelites. I am the Lord—the one who makes you holy.

Leviticus 19:12     12 You must not swear falsely by my name, desecrating your God’s name in doing so; I am the Lord.

Exodus 20:7     You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Question 5. What does it mean to swear by an idol, and what is damaging about doing it? How does one profane God or cause others to desecrate God’s Name?

1. We are not to swear by an idol, or even use its name as if we do. As we discussed, when we need to swear, it must be by God, and truthfully, and not as a purposeless oath, as if to say that what we say is given importance, and grounded in truth as is our reliance upon God. So, swearing by an idol puts the idol on an equal path with God in our minds and ways, denying God’s sole position. What idols are we tempted to swear by?

(Power, wealth, associations, ideology, “our side”? When we focus too much on impermanent centers of value and power, we, in a way, come close to naming and swearing by them. The slope from there to worship is slippery.

When we swear falsely by God’s name we put our own interests on a pedestal, undermining God with untruth and disloyalty.)

2. How could we act in a way that profanes or blasphemes God or causes people to desecrate God’s name?

(Being directly disrespectful of God or God’s teaching. Acting in ways that make us bring a bad name to ourselves and dishonor to God whom we purport to follow. Openly defying God’s ways. Asserting that idolatry is true. Failing to show devotion to God when challenged or tempted to stray. Not conducting business and other affairs faithfully, fairly, and in accord with the mitzvoth. Rather, in all we do, as much as we can, we are to sanctify God’s name.)

6. Deuteronomy 7:26  & 7:25     26 Do not bring an abhorrent thing into your house, or you will be set apart for destruction like it. You must utterly detest and abhor it, for it is set apart for destruction.     25 Burn the images of their gods. Don’t desire the silver or the gold that is on them and take it for yourself, or you will be trapped by it. That is detestable to the Lord your God.

Question 6. What does the Bible mean to us when it warns against bringing abominations into our house?

1.      What meaning do you think is traditionally given to the prohibition that we not bring abominations (generally, but not exclusively, thought to be idols) into our home? Its something a bit new to our growing list of concerns today. And what would be wrong with it?

(It could be any ill-gotten thing by which we might benefit, generally idols, to benefit from them, to increase our wealth by having such material things of value in our possessions. Or we could think we could sell them, make money off them, and put them in the way of others to worship. Plus, whether we worship them or not (and, if we do, it would obviously now have the advantage of being in private), they could be seen by others and are definitely seen in the eyes of God as something were proud enough to own and put in our house.

What objects could these include for us?

(Any object we acquire and hold inappropriately, money we should have given as charity, objects that get close to being our ultimate concern. When we do these things, we act as if we are not yoked to God, but rather to our own greed, self-sufficiency, willingness to benefit from ill-gotten things, etc.)

2. Whats the problem with gold and silver plating of idols (whether human-made or natural); what do they represent?

(This is interpreted to be the coverings, ornaments, accessories of the idol and assumes that were not interested in the underlying object or worshipping it, but rather benefitting from the covering.

What could this be?

We love the glitz, the sizzle, the rich covering and want it for ourselves so much it becomes its own sort of idol. Could an object - jewelry or clothing or car be ok in and of itself - but be worrisome by virtue of what it clothes, an addiction to fashion or excessive material concern that it itself becomes a matter of concern in the spirit of this mitzvah?)

Conclusion

7. Leviticus 19:4     Do not turn to idols or make gods of cast metal for yourselves; I am the Lord your God.

Question 7. Why would we be prohibited from making idols for others to worship? What might this mean for us today?

This is understood to go beyond the mitzvah we discussed earlier that simply prohibits the making of idols. This, Maimonides says, prohibits us from making an idol for others to worship. Why?

(We are not to turn to an idol or to lead others to idolatry, even if we do not follow idols ourselves. Doing either is equally serious - especially within a people who have the principal mission of spreading God’s sovereignty. This behavior takes us away from that mission and puts us in the position indeed of spreading the sovereignty of idols.

How could we do such things in our modern lives?

Could we first think about and discuss idols? Then might we publish books, make pictures or movies, write or produce songs, create policies or ideas that work against or encourage others to live outside of God’s expectations? Isn’t this serious? And doesn’t this indeed happen in many and serious ways? And doesn’t it happen with explanations by the maker saying, “I don’t believe it myself;” “It’s for them to decide;” or “It’s a free marketplace of ideas.” This mitzvah says powerfully that those explanations are unsatisfactory to God, don’t you think?

8. (6 Readings)

Exodus 23:13     13 Be careful to obey everything that I have said to you. Don’t call on the names of other gods. Don’t even mention them.

Deuteronomy 13:11     11 All Israel will hear about this and be afraid. They won’t do that sort of evil thing among you again.

Deuteronomy 13:9     Don’t give in to them! Don’t obey them! Don’t have any mercy on them! Don’t have compassion on them and don’t protect them!

Deuteronomy 7:2     and when the Lord your God gives them over to you and you defeat them, then you must utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy.

Exodus 23:33     33 They shall not live in your land, or they will make you sin against me; for if you worship their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.

Deuteronomy 12:2     You must completely destroy every place where the nations that you are displacing worshipped their gods—whether on high mountains or hills or under leafy green trees.

Question 8. Who is a misleader, and what is a misleader’s offense that is so worrisome?

1. What’s the theme in the mitzvoth that I’ve grouped here. And what’s the great concern they’re designed to address? Who is a misleader, and what’s a misleader’s offense?

(They reveal a Divine contempt and intolerance for those who influence others toward idolatry or mislead others from the Way, away from God’s expectations and toward idolatry. We started this discussion a moment ago, but these mitzvoth continue and expand it. While some believe some of these mitzvoth apply specifically to pagan practice the people confronted in the land, the broader idea basically is that those who use their life force in a way that leads others away from God and perhaps toward idolatry are engaged in the most corrosive and dangerous behavior of all. This is quite clearly the Bible’s view. As Chinuch says, the misleader has earned the title of “one who hates God.”

We find in the Mishneh Torah this idea: “To be cruel to those who lead people astray after foolishness is to be merciful towards mankind.”  This is crucial thinking here: punishing those who are hopelessly evil is an act of compassion to the rest of society.

Yet, this harsh approach runs counter to Torah instruction in most circumstances: generally, we’re to come to the assistance of even those who commit grave sins. There are also counter-views among sages of treating even idolaters in certain situations with kindness, based on God’s concern for all human beings. “The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works.” (Psalm 145).

But, with this more loving attitude in mind, I still want us to wrestle with this strand of more severe thinking and its rationale to try to get to the bottom of what might distinguish this problem from what we generally encounter. Perhaps it begins with the understanding that the vast majority of sinners are not enemies of God, but rather people who have erred and can and likely want to return.)

2. Multiple questions arise. Let me throw a few out on the table; let’s answer them; and then we can get to even harder questions, and then  perhaps some answers.

a)     While the language of these mitzvoth are harsh to our eyes, ears, and minds, why is there such a powerful concern with these behaviors? What does it really mean to be a misleader, why do the behaviors of the misleader so worry God and those who follow God?

b) Further, what do we take away from these mitzvoth, and what do we do, if anything, to follow their intent in our own lives?

In answering these questions, be mindful of these huge challenges: a) how do we define misleading behavior that is dangerous enough to be forbidden and/or punished?, b) how, in a time of live-and-let-live and maximum deference to people’s freedom “to do their own thing,” how could we even think of opposing these behaviors, much less punishing people for engaging in them and “demolishing their means of idol worship?”, c) how do we avoid wrongful excess in which we commit the opposite sin of engaging in witch hunts, and d) in today’s big and brawling commercial world, how would we ever succeed at avoiding mixing with or doing business with idolaters?

Do we live in times in which we can do nothing at all but be upset with this behavior? Or is there some basis for some action, perhaps in the middle? If so, what would that be?

(A few ideas come to mind: 1) we are to be perpetually vigilant at all times in looking in ourselves and in our world for those forces that lead us and others to idolatry, 2) we’re to be as careful and correct as possible in using true criteria in our judgment, 3) we should, with love and strength, bring our understanding to bear within ourselves and those in our company, and 4) we strive to remove, limit, weaken, change, and/or escape from the misleading force, with the approach depending upon the severity and danger of the misleading we face. Indeed the death of the idolator might at least mean the death of one’s idolatrous self, that we seek the death of the wickedness or the sinfulness of the wicked/sinner.)

Leviticus 18:21   21 You must not give any of your children to offer them over to Molech so that you do not defile your God’s name: I am the Lord.

Question 9.  Are there things we do in our own time that have the feel of what we understand to have been the ancient practice of turning children over to Molech?

Briefly, this refers to an idolatrous practice at the time of giving children over to priests who worshipped the god, Molech, who would pass the children through fire as part of a ritual in service to the idol. Why this particular cult practice was singled out has been the subject of discussion over the centuries. I don’t want to stop here to get into that debate. What interests me is the concern about parents bringing and giving up their children for such a ritual. What might this be about? Does this resonate in any way to you in our own time?

(Do we hand our children over to “priests” who “worship” other “gods” and practice rituals before those gods? Are the values, practices, and directions of all our children’s media idols, celebrities, friends, and even certain community and school leaders in service of God or in service of idols? Do we turn our children over to others out of ease or actually sharing wrong values and allow them figuratively to be passed through the fires of rituals held in service of an idol?)

10. (9 Readings)

Leviticus 20: 23     23 You must not follow the practices of the nations that I am throwing out before you, because they did all these things and I was disgusted with them.

Leviticus 26: 1     26 You must not make any idols, and do not set up any divine image or sacred pillar. You must not place any carved stone in your land, bowing down to it, because I am the Lord your God.

Deuteronomy 16: 21-22     21 Don’t plant any tree to serve as a sacred pole next to the altar you make for the Lord your God. 22 Don’t set up any sacred stone either, because the Lord your God hates such things.

Deuteronomy 22: 5     Women must not wear men’s clothes, and men must not wear women’s clothes. Everyone who does such things is detestable to the Lord your God.

Leviticus 19:28     28 Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put marks on yourselves; I am the Lord.

Deuteronomy 14:1     You are the Lord’s children. Don’t cut yourselves and don’t shave your foreheads for the dead,

Leviticus 19:27     27 You must not cut off the hair on your forehead or clip the ends of your beard.

Deuteronomy 32:38     38. Who ate up the fat of their sacrifices, who drank their sacred wine? They should stand up and help you!

Numbers 15:39     39 This will be your fringe. You will see it and remember all the Lord’s commands and do them. Then you won’t go exploring the lusts of your own heart or your eyes.

Question 10. While we don’t engage exactly in these same ancient practices, do they teach us about modern ways that might habituate us to idolatry? How, and in what ways?

(If we’re to be on guard against falling into idolatrous practice, we must be careful about getting close to idolaters and their practices and taking on such practices, particularly as we allow our eyes and minds to wander to see and consider them. We plant hedges to keep our tender flowers safe from harm; so, we should keep far away from activity that would endanger our relationship with God.)

2. Let’s look at a few of these and see if they resonate in any way.

a)     We don’t literally make stones upon which we prostrate ourselves as idolaters did in the ancient past, but what might we do?

(One good example is perhaps when we prostrate ourselves all night before the great stone of our culture, the TV set, sitting frozen, passive, enslaved really before our electronic altar.)

b) When might we “plant trees” in our sacred space and erect pillars which people will come to honor?

(Are we sometimes too concerned about a dedication, an honor, a display in our name, the tribute upon giving, even and especially to support the building of our sacred space? Isn’t that a form of living as idolaters do?)

c) We are not to engage in such pagan practices of excessive mourning as evidenced in cutting of the skin. Rather we mourn, but do so without excess, understanding that God gives life, that our earthly time has limits, that we trust in God, that God wants us to continue to live on with a strong bond with and duty to God, and further that there is eternal life, at least with respect of the soul to its Source. (For all such reasons, cutting our skin is inappropriate).

d) I’ll avoid for now the mitzvoth of dressing in the clothes of the other gender, tattoos, markings on the skin, etc., except to note that these are customs of heathens in earlier times. Are they the signs of heathenism in our own time? Let’s just leave the possibility on the table.

d) I’ll avoid for now the mitzvoth of dressing in the clothes of the other gender, tattoos, markings on the skin, etc., except to note that these are customs of heathens in earlier times. Are they the signs of heathenism in our own time? Let’s just leave the possibility on the table.

11. (8 Readings)

Deuteronomy 17: 16     16 Even so, he must not acquire many horses for himself, or return the people to Egypt in order to acquire more horses, since the Lord has said to you, “You must never return that way again.”

Deuteronomy 23: 7     You shall not abhor any of the Edomites, for they are your kin. You shall not abhor any of the Egyptians, because you were an alien residing in their land.

Deuteronomy 7: 2-3     and when the Lord your God gives them over to you and you defeat them, then you must utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons,

Deuteronomy 20: 16-17     16 But as for the towns of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. 17 You shall annihilate them—the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites—just as the Lord your God has commanded.

Deuteronomy 22:3     No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation.

Deuteronomy 23:6     You shall never promote their welfare or their prosperity as long as you live.

Deuteronomy 7: 21     21 Have no dread of them, for the Lord your God, who is present with you, is a great and awesome God.

Deuteronomy 25: 17, 19     17 Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey out of Egypt  19 Therefore when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies on every hand, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; do not forget.

Question 11. Are there ways of heathens that we risk assuming for ourselves through associating with them? If so, how do we make our way in the modern world where heathenism may be more prevalent than we might wish?

1.      A. What’s the theme here, and what’s the great concern?

(It is that direct and close contact, indeed living closely, with heathens is dangerous to our spiritual health and our relationship with God. Before we get into the difficulties, complexities, and controversiality of that thought, let’s first try to establish the basis for understanding the problem.

Isn’t it so that we tend to take on the characteristics and act in the way of our own crowd? Our religious, political, moral, ethical views as well as those parts of the culture to which we expose ourselves (music, movies, material values, etc.) - aren’t all these affected by decisions we make in our associations?

It was certainly thought in our parent group that one could get the best sense of own child’s well-being by simply knowing “who they were hanging with.” Is this true, or not, and in what ways?

B. So, we understand the crucial importance of the matter of “who we associate with.” But, if folks aren’t good, it’s quite a step to…destroy them? Or have no covenant with, or favor for, them? Is that even possible? Feasible? Desirable? We have ethical pulls going both ways, no? How do we resolve them? What do we do with all this in the world in which we live?

((Now, let me say first that some of these mitzvoth appear to be, and some sages argue they are, aimed only at some peoples who no longer exist. Yet, there is among them also the view that they have a continuing application as to idolaters and idolatry.)

In any event, what could they mean to us in our own time?

(First, let’s bring back to mind all the activities/ways of being that we’ve come to think in our study as amounting to idolatry. Then we can come to understand these mitzvoth as teaching us to shun such things and to refrain from associating with, or showing favor to, those who practice them. This forces us to consider how we use our time, energy, resources with or in the midst of idolaters. If we admire, fraternize with, consider as charming, flatter, or do favors for or receive favors from idolaters, aren’t we associating with or endorsing or embracing their ways? Further, isn’t it God’s wish and our duty to work toward the goal of more life lived in service to God and less idolatry?

One exception that is common in the tradition: to support all poor, including idolaters. This supports peace, not fraternization.)

2. What do we make of the mitzvoth that prohibit us from settling in the land of Egypt but not automatically excluding descendants of the Egyptians (or Esau) from our community?

(It could be understood literally, though sages have had a hard time with the fact that Maimonides lived in Egypt for a good while. It could also mean, more deeply, that we’re not to return to the ways of Egypt, either our ways or, more especially, their ways, which we could emulate. We don’t go back to the enslavement, the enslaving, the ease, or to eschew our responsibilities.

We not only take others into our community because we love the stranger, but we do so if and when they choose and become committed to the way with God. It seems that if we open the door to the descendants of Esau and Egypt, we are open to reconciliation with all, so long as it is true and consistent with God’s way of life, on our part and the others’.)

3. In the last batch of mitzvoth, we read again and again of the warnings about all sorts of associations with heretics, remembering what heretics do and have done to us, and to oppose this heresy. What do you make of this?  The people had specific experiences with many of these heretics, including Amalek.

(The issue again arises, asking us to consider it further: if there are people in our midst or nearby who are heretics and pose a danger to us physically and spiritually, do we take a laissez-faire approach to them and the problem, or do we take a strict a view, such as we’ve read here, or is there some in-between position? How would we identify such people, and how would we remain apart from them and/or protect ourselves from them?

12.  (6 Readings)

Deuteronomy 18: 20, 22     20 However, any prophet who arrogantly speaks a word in my name that I haven’t commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods - that prophet must die.    22 Here’s the answer: The prophet who speaks in the Lord’s name and the thing doesn’t happen or come about—that’s the word the Lord hasn’t spoken. That prophet spoke arrogantly. Don’t be afraid of him.

Deuteronomy 13:3     you must not listen to that prophet’s or dream interpreter’s words, because the Lord your God is testing you to see if you love the Lord your God with all your mind and all your being.

Deuteronomy 6:16     16 Don’t test the Lord your God the way you frustrated him at Massah.

Deuteronomy 18:15     15 The Lord your God will raise up a prophet like me from your community, from your fellow Israelites. He’s the one you must listen to.

Leviticus 19:4     Do not turn to idols or make gods of cast metal for yourselves; I am the Lord your God.

Deuteronomy 12:4     You shall not worship the Lord your God in such ways.

Question 12. What is meant by “false prophets,” and what might the warning here mean to us in our own time?

1. What’s the difference between true prophets and false prophets who typically are those who preach in some way in the name of an idol? Is this an issue in our own times, and what does this guidance mean to us?

(Prophecy is a capacity fueled by direction from God to see and to speak of the consequences of our living or failing to live in God’s way. While we might not have prophets as in the days of old, we certainly do have people in our own day who engage in such speech. And, on the opposite side, we have people, like false prophets of the past, however sly and slick they may be, who speak and act in ways that are subversive of God’s expectations of us.)

2. How can we tell the difference?

(It may be in their true motives, the record of their deeds and their effects, the ways in which they live in sync with, or opposed to, God’s expectations, the ethics in their encounters with others, their degree of lived devotion to wisdom and spirituality. It certainly is not in the hype or the ideology or the pleasing ways or the “public relations” images.

These mitzvoth are hugely important in that they teach us the importance of being vigilant about whom we follow, the importance of having true God-centered (as opposed to feel good or surface appeal) criteria for judging, and making us aware of the dangers to us and our society if we make superficial and incorrect judgments in this matter. After all, how often have people fallen for false prophets, and to what devastating effects?)

3. What might the importance to us be of the idea of not excessively testing prophets?

(In the Bible, we see the dispiriting effect of such behavior on Moses and subsequent prophets, the pain it causes them, and the damage it inflicts on the people and the hopes God has for them. It’s a bit of an extension, but shouldn’t we be constrained from acting in such ways with decent leaders in our own time who are doing their best to serve God’s interests and ours?)

13.   6 Readings)

Deuteronomy 18:10     10 No one shall be found among you who makes a son or daughter pass through fire, or who practices divination, or is a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer

Leviticus 19:31     31 Do not resort to dead spirits or inquire of spirits of divination—you will be made unclean by them; I am the Lord your God

Deuteronomy 18:11   11 or one who casts spells, or who consults ghosts or spirits, or who seeks oracles from the dead.

Exodus 22:18     18 “Do not let a woman who does evil magic stay alive. Put her to death.

Leviticus 19:26    26 You must not eat anything with its blood. You must not participate in divination or fortune-telling. 

Question 13. What’s the serious flaw with mistaking the created for the Creator? What's wrong with divination and similar practices? Don’t we do this ourselves, often innocently? Is there a problem here? What is it?

1. I realize some of these names are unfamiliar to us; they come from ancient times. But I think you get the picture. What’s the concern of these mitzvoth?  And what concerns do we face in our own time that they address?

(First, these idolatrous behaviors tend to mistake the created with the Creator.  Nature may very well affect our lives, but there’s nothing in nature that rules our lives or deserves our devotion. Our direction comes from God, not from spirits, omens, gods, the stars, or, as we’ve discussed, any created thing. The shots are not called by ghosts, the planets, or any ancient or present forces or beings. To act as if we are regulated by such forces is idolatrous behavior.

Second, as with all other idolatrous behavior, we waste our precious time, energy, spirit, and resources when we go off in these directions instead of following God and living as fully as we can in the constructive and positive ways to which we’re called.

Third, as slaves to the stars, we diminish the unique role that God has created for us. While it is not for us to tell fortune and defer in our choices to such activity, it is for us to decide our beliefs and actions, to act, to use our time in living our lives in service to God as God has shown and instructed us.

The mitzvoth don’t in any way discourage our study of science, which distinctly is the study of God’s creation and how it works. Nor are we taught to ignore or fail to learn from lessons in such study. But our spiritual/ethical direction comes from God, to Whom we shall be wholehearted, wholly inclined. Only properly situated and oriented in this way can we exercise our free will to live the sort of right and good life God expects of us.)

2. Do we believe this? If so, why do many still look to astrology (some ancient believers did, too), cards, fortune telling, spirits, etc.? Even if “just for fun,” shouldn’t we avoid this?

Relationship with God - Part III   (Avoidance of Idolatry)

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