Exodus 34:14-16; Leviticus 17:7, 20:4-6; Deuteronomy 31:16-18; Jeremiah 3:6-11 (6/20/11)
Possibly the most common image in the Bible for the sin of unfaithfulness to God is adultery or prostitution. The people of Israel (people in the sense of “nation,” not “persons”) was considered to be the wife of God, and any worship of other gods was adultery. It was also prostitution, because the nation “sold itself” to these other gods, presumably in exchange for some desired benefit, such as protection or good crops. Probably one thing that contributed to the image of worship as prostitution was that, in many of the Canaanite religions, temple prostitutes were an integral part of the religious system.
Another religious rite, especially in the worship of Molech, was burning children alive as offerings. (Whenever you read a passage that says someone “caused his son to pass through the fire,” this is what it’s talking about.) God had forbidden child sacrifice for his people starting with Abraham, and it seems to be a sin that God finds particularly worthy of condemnation.
Ezekiel 23:1-20 (6/21/11)
Today’s reading is rated X for sexual content, so don’t say you weren’t warned. It has full frontal nudity, gratuitous sexual activity, and hints of child and animal pornography. And it comes straight out of the Bible, which can be pretty graphic at times. I keep telling you – Bible study ain’t for sissies.
When we are unfaithful to God, especially when we turn our attention to the worship of things, this is what we look like to him.
Reader Response: Like Dr. William Hendricks said in a guest sermon at Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas about thirty years ago: I wish Hollywood would stick to sex and violence and leave the Bible alone.
Ezekiel 16:20-34; Hosea 4:11-14, 9:1 (6/22/11)
Another ritual connected with the worship of other gods was the construction and maintenance of “high places.” These high places were often literally high, in that they were on hilltops. There was often an alter dedicated to some god or goddess, often a tree or grove of trees, and often a sacred pole called an asherah. The specific gods worshipped in the high places appear to have been fertility gods of one sort or another. Various children, offerings, and sexual acts were offered to the god or goddess in these high places. It’s probably fair to say that high places were present in Israel and Judah from the time of the conquest of Joshua until the return from the Exile.
God hated these high places and everything to do with them. Speaking specifically to the men of Israel, he says that because they have prostituted themselves to other gods, they shouldn’t look to him for any support if their own wives and daughters become prostitutes. If you think about how you might feel if your spouse or child turned to adultery or prostitution, you might get an inkling of how God feels when we turn our devotion away from him and put something else in his place.
Judges 2:16-17, 8:27; 1 Chronicles 5:23-25; 2 Chronicles 21:5, 11-14; Psalms 106:34-39 (6/23/11)
Most of the other gods that the Israelites worshipped were those of the various Canaanite peoples surrounding them, “the people of the land.” The common idea at that time was that gods were most powerful in their own place, wherever that was. So even though an Israelite was worshipping God, he might hedge his bets by also sacrificing to whatever local god might be around. Sometimes it was the common Jew-in-the-street doing this, and sometimes it was the king (or queen). In the latter case, the ruler often forced his or her subjects to participate.
As near as I can tell (I haven’t studied world religions much), the Canaanite religions had some of the foulest practices of any time or place, for example,
(They also practiced female cult prostitution and idolatry, but these are less unusual in the non-Judeo-Christian traditions.) Apparently these religious practices were very seductive, because the Israelites got into them over and over again between the conquest and the Exile.
- Male cult prostitution (1 Kings 14:24; 15:12, 22:46; 2 Kings 23:7);
- Homosexuality and bestiality (Genesis 19:5; Leviticus 18:22-25; Judges 19:22);
- Mutilation (1 Kings 18:28); and
- The sacrifice of children by burning them alive (Leviticus 18:21, 20:2-5; 1 Kings 16:34; 2 Kings 17:31, 16:3, 21:6, 23:10; 2 Chronicles 28:3; Isaiah 57:5; Jeremiah 7:31, 32:35; Ezekiel 16:20-21, 20:26, 31, 23:37, 39).
Occasionally, however, they invented their own home-grown gods, as we see from Gideon’s example.
John 8:37-41; Revelation 2:18-22 (6/24/11)
By the time they got home from the Exile, the Jews had stopped worshipping other gods; however, the idea of apostasy as adultery was still fresh in their minds. The two New Testament passages we read today have this in common.
When Jesus accuses the Jews he is debating of “doing the works of their father” by seeking to kill him, they indignantly reply that they “are not born out of prostitution.” If we weren’t familiar with the Old Testament representation of abandoning God for other gods as whoring, we would probably think, “What? What does a murderous father have to do with prostitution?” But now we know that the “murderous father” is some devil or god, and being associated with it instead of with God is prostitution.
The Revelation passage is a little less certain. On the one hand, worshipping idols by eating their sacrifices is whoring after other gods, and that would be sufficient to account for the reference to fornication. On the other hand, the verse could be referring to actual, physical fornication with temple prostitutes, which is – literally – whoring after other gods.
John 8:37-41. Jesus is debating with some Jewish religious leaders.
“I know that you are descendants of Abraham; but you seek me in order to kill me, because my message has no place in you. I talk about what I have seen with my father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”
They answered him, “Our father is Abraham.”
Jesus says to them, “If you were children of Abraham, you would do the works of Abraham. Now you seek me in order to kill me – a person who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham would not do this. You do the works of your father.”
They said to him, “We were not born out of prostitution! We have one father: God.”
Write this to the angel of Thyatira. The Son of God says these things – the one who has eyes like fiery flames and feet like polished brass:
“I know your works and your love, faith, service, and patience – and your later works exceed your first works.
“But I hold it against you that you put up with the woman Jezebel, who says she is a prophetess and teaches and deceives my servants to commit fornication and eat food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent, but she does not wish to repent from her fornication.
“Look! I will throw her into a bed of terrible trouble, and her adulterers with her, unless they repent from what they are doing.”
More on The Law and Sin
The Law: Given by God
The Law: Civil and Criminal
The Law: Ethics, Morality, and Love
The Law: Written in Our Hearts
Sin: Breaking of the Law
Sin: Separation and Estrangement
Sin: Unfaithfulness to God is Adultery
The Doctrine of Original Sin
Dead in Sin
Copyright 2011, 2013 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved.
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