Bible Commentary: Deuteronomy 12

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Deuteronomy 12

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No Pagan Customs in the Worship of God 

Moses announces to the Israelites that when they have entered the Promised Land, there will have to be one specific place to bring their sacrifices, lest they be tempted to adopt the worship customs of the pagans, who sacrifice to their gods in every place they choose (verses 2-8, 13-14, 18). God is very concerned that Israel's worship practices not incorporate pagan elements in any way. He specifically warns them to "take heed to yourself that not inquire after their gods, saying, 'How did these nations serve their gods? I will also do likewise.' You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way; for every abomination to the Lord which He hates they have done to their gods.... Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it" (verses 30-32).

Today, the nominal Christian world celebrates religious holidays whose origin and customs are steeped in paganism, while refusing to keep God's weekly seventh-day Sabbath or His annual Holy Days. For example, Sunday, the first day of the week, was the day on which pagans worshiped the sun god since ancient times. "Easter" was a feast of the fertility goddess Astarte or Ashtoreth, also called Ishtar, Ostara or Eostre—which helps explain why the holiday bears that unusual name and is celebrated with such fertility symbols as bunny rabbits and eggs. And "Christmas" was originally the holy day of Mithras, Attis and other pagan gods. It is also remarkable that many such pagan "saviors" were supposedly born on December 25, killed on a Friday and "resurrected" on a Sunday during the "Easter" season—while the Scriptures show that the true Christ was neither born in December nor killed on a Friday nor resurrected on a Sunday.

Evergreen trees were employed as idols of Ashtoreth—such trees being referred to as asherah in the Hebrew Bible. God forbade them from being placed near His altar, as if to honor Him, as He did not want His worship system corrupted by them (Deuteronomy 16:21). Setting them up and decorating them as part of a religious observance is clearly condemned in Jeremiah 10:1-4—showing what God thinks of Christmas trees, which are in part derived from this ancient custom. Easter cakes (cakes to the "queen of heaven") and sunrise services (in honor of Tammuz) are clearly condemned in the Bible (compare Jeremiah 7:18; Jeremiah 44:17-27; Ezekiel 8:13-17). According to the Ryrie Study Bible, the "queen of heaven" is a reference to “the Assyro-Babylonian goddess Ishtar"—i.e., Easter. And in regard to "Tammuz," the same source identifies him as "a Babylonian deity, husband of Ishtar, who after his death supposedly became god of the underworld. Some have understood him as a vegetation-deity, dying in the heat of the summer and rising in the spring."

It is no secret that the early Roman church absorbed pagan elements into its worship to accommodate new converts and make the new faith attractive to the pagan world, attaching "Christian" significance to these elements. Thus, many customs of traditional Christianity, following ancient Israel's bad example, clearly violate God's commands to avoid heathen practices in worshiping the true God. And not only have they added pagan elements to the worship of God—they have deleted godly elements that should be observed today. (To learn more, request or download our free booklet Holidays or Holy Days: Does It Matter Which Days We Keep?)

In verse 31, Moses warned Israel to avoid one of the most hideous worship rites practiced by the Canaanites, that of infant sacrifice. Archeologists have discovered in a number of locations the grisly remains of burned infant skeletons buried in large jars. Sadly, however, Israel did descend to this despicable practice too (2 Kings 21:1-9; 2 Chronicles 28:1-4).