Annelise on Idolatry – Deuteronomy 17:3

Idolatry is a very strong term, and because many  Christians are so sensitive not to give their worship to anyone or anything but  God Himself, it can seem like a jarring an unfair label. A lot of Christians  therefore believe that Jews are only seeing a caricature of Christianity, and  that if religious Jews could really understand their doctrine and experiences  they would have no more objections. But the reality is that it’s one thing to  say or feel that you’re not worshipping God in a way contrary to what He wants,  and it’s a different thing to be able to point to the actual commandments from  God that serve as a basis for what you are doing. For Jews, these commandments  come first; it is an expression of love to keep them, and all extra expressions  of love can only be offered to God within them.

In Deuteronomy 17:3 there is a commandment regarding  someone “who has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, either the sun  or moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded.” It’s clear in  the last few words here that God taught Israel how to worship Him, not through  an incarnation of anything in nature, but as the God who created all things. He  is personally known not by our senses but in our hearts as we relate to Him in  obedience, in thankfulness, in the knowledge of His actions, and in His  blessings. The prohibition of worshiping an other doesn’t only relate to rival  gods; it also relates to false incarnation claims of the one God of Israel, such  as the golden calf which was said to have led the Israelites out in the exodus  to be its people. Even though Jesus was a human being rather than an astral  object or constellation, Tanach shows us often that the normal identity of a  human, and anything with breath or that we can sense in the world around us, is  that they owe worship to God. According to Deuteronomy 17:3, anything that God  had not commanded to the Israelites is prohibited to worship. So no matter how  you cut it, or how you explain how the belief fits with Tanach when you already  believe in it, unless a Christian can show that God commanded Israel to accept  the specific incarnation claim about Jesus (and showed them how to test and  recognise it), the default response for any Jew guarding the Torah is to see the  idea as foreign and unable to be accepted.

That said, how can you experience a real relationship  with God when you’re also engaged in false worship? With Christianity, it’s not  as simple as saying that a person is worshipping Israel’s God but also  struggling with an ‘idolatry’ of money or self love, nor is it as simple as  thinking that a person can be Jewish but can lack understanding about the powers  of the stars and worship them as well. In those cases, when a person calls out  to God in a true way, He responds, and when they engage in false worship there  are negative effects; even though God is merciful to us in areas of our  ignorance. With Christianity, many people do not differentiate at all between  their worship of the Creator of heaven and earth and their worship of this man  from the first century. But the same principles would apply. In the positive  aspects of Christian worship, Israel’s God is truly known by Christians and His  love impacts their hearts and their communities. The same is obviously true for  Jews who love Him in Judaism, and also for people of other religions. But in all  those other religions, including Christianity, the false or negative aspects  truly are idolatrous and they are not acceptable for a Torah observant Jew (or  any knowing human) to do; nor are they the real cause of your experience of God.  But He protects us from what is done in ignorance, otherwise He would  effectively be cutting Himself off from everyone in the world who is given false  teaching. The key, though, is that how we feel about an experience is not the  Torah standard for how we should worship our Creator, according to His  commandments and the carefulness of worship that He taught to  Israel.

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5 Responses to Annelise on Idolatry – Deuteronomy 17:3

  1. Annelise says:

    For the record, all of this came from a conversation with Rabbi Eli Cohen… I was just repeating what he said in response to a question asked for a friend. I thought it was very clear, too.

  2. Annelise says:

    You’re right that to believe something is a creation and then worship it is idolatrous, and actually deliberately idolatrous.

    But what about someone who looks at an object in creation that isn’t God, but they are mistaken about it and genuinely believe it is God, and worship it? It’s not deliberate idolatry. But the truth about God, and about how He wants us to know Him, is not created in the hearts and minds of any human. The truth exists outside our imagination, and we need to conform our hearts and minds to it.

    I’m not going to go into your thoughts about whether a specific human can be in the role of the one who is worshipped (Creator) rather than the role of a worshipper (created). I would suggest reading Psalm 8 for an image from Tanach of what humanity is and the praise that we owe to God for that gift. But what I want to ask is how you know that this man is God? How do you know he’s not ‘just a man’?

    And then, you need to imagine what it would be like to have a relationship with God as a Jew before Jesus was born. Use the psalms as an inspiration for understanding how a person like that could come close to God through both faith and His law. And realise how carefully a person like that, who had never heard of the idea of Israel’s God one day incarnating as a man or as anything else, would guard themselves against accidentally believing something was God when it wasn’t. Do you think that your reasons for accepting Jesus as God would be good enough to make them even consider it?

    If not, why not? Is it because they’re stubborn against the God who revealed Himself and His ways to them on Sinai? Or stubborn in obedience to Him, to guard their worship of Him alone? What would be the appropriate way, according to the Torah, of checking such a claim? How should they know to take it seriously?

    Regardless of how Christians formulate their theology, and regardless of whether they believe they are not worshipping a creation, the truth is truth outside of what we imagine. For a Jew before Jesus’ time who followed Torah and the testimony of Israel, and a Jew today who follows Torah and the testimony of Israel, the question is not “Do Christians believe they’re worshipping something in creation?” The question is “How did God originally teach us to know who is a part of creation?”

    • Annelise says:

      And I think the simple answer to that last question is that the Tanach assumes that we know that all people and things around us are created by God. Sometimes it’s even more specific: “He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them.” (Psalm 146) “Young men and women, old men and children: let them praise the name of the Lord, for His name alone is exalted.” (Psalm 148) The commands about how to worship God in Torah are very clear. But there is no mention in those commandments that there will one day be an exception to the general concept of whether a human being is created. There’s no mention that God will want the Israelites to let a human (who turns out to be ‘Himself’) into their worship. So for people following that Law as a rule of life from God about knowing Him, there is no need to take seriously a claim like this, and there is no test that would allow a basis for doing so with certainty.

      If you would answer that question differently- “How did God originally teach Israel to know who is a part of creation”- then I’d be interested to hear it. I come from a background of believing in Christianity, thinking that the worship of Jesus made sense (or might make sense) in a Biblical Jewish context, and thinking that there were reasons to listen to the Christian faith system as a whole. But I think that points like this are important, and that there aren’t as many good reasons as I thought for believing Christians have something that righteous Jews don’t.

  3. Yedidiah says:

    Idolatry is rarely about worshipping the creature or the creation. There is no confusion about “MAN” being a creation, my Bible clearly says that God created male & female and that also accords with reality. There are other non-Biblical religions & philosophies out there that disagree & you are free to follow one of those non-Biblical paths. A creation is still a creation, even if you call it a “new creation the word “new” changes nothing about its creation. You may be confused by your own wordplays or your non-standard definition of words. You seem confused by what is meant by the term “respector of persons” in the NT. Literally, one who does not respect another one, can be called a “hater” of the other one. If you use the King James bible, you will see God (& Jesus), “respects” and “respects on” quite a few people. You might be referring to 1 Peter 1:17 “And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work…”, which is similar to Leviticus 19:5, refers to an unwarranted favoritism. You also seem to have difficulty with an idea of “likeness”, being unable to discern it from “equalness” or “exact nature”. Persons are like God & we can be “at one with God” and not be God.

    Again, idolators rarely worship the creature or creation, except for the most primitive people. Sun worshipers didn’t worship the sun, they worshipped the god who “was the force of nature” or “the god manifested in the object”. They worshipped not the totem pole or the statue or the man or woman, but the god “whose holy spirit filled the stick or the person”. The pagan god in heaven could visit earth – talk, walk, eat, hang on a cross, heal, feed the hungry, etc. – and this god was a visible man, but they were “one & the same” – one god (but there were many gods & goddesses – divine daughters & sons of god (the father god, like Zeus). The light of the messenger, i.e., the pagan god, was revealed only to those “lucky few”.

    Fish can live in a salty sea without being contaminated; when you fry that fish you add salt to it. Nebuchanezzar was a confused, pagan fool, so he thought (only believe) that he saw “one like the son of a god”. Nebuchanezzar confusion is often used as proof of Jesus being divine. His plan failed. Daniel & the “3 Jewish boys” seen no “man-god”, they did not even need an angel – they had a Godly, Biblical view of God & God saved them, not their enemy’s imaginary man. They remained uncontaminated & stubbornly preferred to die rather reject Torah & then follow Babylon’s idolatry & pagan “man-gods”. It’s “all about the ‘meaning’ of the words according to the writers of the Bible, and not the meanings according to people” (new-age mystics) “who are themselves not joined to the upper forces of God”. Follow Babylon or Egypt or Rome. The Roman Caesars were gods & men, one and the same. Augustus Caesar was born of a virgin mother & his father was a god. He was killed & he raised himself from the dead. Was Jesus a satire of Rome or a surrender to Rome so that Hellenistic Jews could have their own man-god, their own Epiphany?

    The Jewish prophet found that God was not the wind nor “in the wind”. And, God was not the earth or earthquake nor “manifested in the created earth & rock or mountain”. Nor was God “the fire” nor was God “IN the fire”. Earth, Wind, & Fire were pagan gods & manifestations of the pagan Gods. Israel said no, we will keep the God revealed to us in the Torah. “Jezebel” & Caesar & Pharaoh may laugh at them, call them “ignorant” & “stubborn” “stiff-necked” “hard-hearted” & “legalistic” or “blind” & chase them out, exiled them, persecuted them “even unto death”, but many preferred to die rather than worship a god sold to them by outsiders; a god their parents & grandparents did not know. They knew & know the God of Torah, the Creator God, & they can not easily forget that WE were created in the likeness of God. These are worthy Daughters & Sons of God.

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