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 you…do 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 Deuteronomy 16:21You shall not plant you a grove of any trees near to the altar of the LORD your God, which you shall make you.
American King James Version×
). Setting them up and decorating them as part of a religious observance is clearly condemned in Jeremiah 10:1-4 Jeremiah 10:1-4 [1] Hear you the word which the LORD speaks to you, O house of Israel: [2] Thus said the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. [3] For the customs of the people are vain: for one cuts a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. [4] They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.
American King James Version×
—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 7:18The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings to other gods, that they may provoke me to anger.
American King James Version×
; Jeremiah 44:17-27 Jeremiah 44:17-27 [17] But we will certainly do whatever thing goes forth out of our own mouth, to burn incense to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings to her, as we have done, we, and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem: for then had we plenty of victuals, and were well, and saw no evil. [18] But since we left off to burn incense to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings to her, we have wanted all things, and have been consumed by the sword and by the famine. [19] And when we burned incense to the queen of heaven, and poured out drink offerings to her, did we make her cakes to worship her, and pour out drink offerings to her, without our men? [20] Then Jeremiah said to all the people, to the men, and to the women, and to all the people which had given him that answer, saying, [21] The incense that you burned in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem, you, and your fathers, your kings, and your princes, and the people of the land, did not the LORD remember them, and came it not into his mind? [22] So that the LORD could no longer bear, because of the evil of your doings, and because of the abominations which you have committed; therefore is your land a desolation, and an astonishment, and a curse, without an inhabitant, as at this day. [23] Because you have burned incense, and because you have sinned against the LORD, and have not obeyed the voice of the LORD, nor walked in his law, nor in his statutes, nor in his testimonies; therefore this evil is happened to you, as at this day. [24] Moreover Jeremiah said to all the people, and to all the women, Hear the word of the LORD, all Judah that are in the land of Egypt: [25] Thus said the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, saying; You and your wives have both spoken with your mouths, and fulfilled with your hand, saying, We will surely perform our vows that we have vowed, to burn incense to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings to her: you will surely accomplish your vows, and surely perform your vows. [26] Therefore hear you the word of the LORD, all Judah that dwell in the land of Egypt; Behold, I have sworn by my great name, said the LORD, that my name shall no more be named in the mouth of any man of Judah in all the land of Egypt, saying, The Lord GOD lives. [27] Behold, I will watch over them for evil, and not for good: and all the men of Judah that are in the land of Egypt shall be consumed by the sword and by the famine, until there be an end of them.
American King James Version×
; Ezekiel 8:13-17 Ezekiel 8:13-17 [13] He said also to me, Turn you yet again, and you shall see greater abominations that they do. [14] Then he brought me to the door of the gate of the LORD’s house which was toward the north; and, behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz. [15] Then said he to me, Have you seen this, O son of man? turn you yet again, and you shall see greater abominations than these. [16] And he brought me into the inner court of the LORD’s house, and, behold, at the door of the temple of the LORD, between the porch and the altar, were about five and twenty men, with their backs toward the temple of the LORD, and their faces toward the east; and they worshipped the sun toward the east. [17] Then he said to me, Have you seen this, O son of man? Is it a light thing to the house of Judah that they commit the abominations which they commit here? for they have filled the land with violence, and have returned to provoke me to anger: and, see, they put the branch to their nose.
American King James Version×
). 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 Kings 21:1-9 [1] Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and reigned fifty and five years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Hephzibah. [2] And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, after the abominations of the heathen, whom the LORD cast out before the children of Israel. [3] For he built up again the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; and he reared up altars for Baal, and made a grove, as did Ahab king of Israel; and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them. [4] And he built altars in the house of the LORD, of which the LORD said, In Jerusalem will I put my name. [5] And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD. [6] And he made his son pass through the fire, and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards: he worked much wickedness in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger. [7] And he set a graven image of the grove that he had made in the house, of which the LORD said to David, and to Solomon his son, In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all tribes of Israel, will I put my name for ever: [8] Neither will I make the feet of Israel move any more out of the land which I gave their fathers; only if they will observe to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all the law that my servant Moses commanded them. [9] But they listened not: and Manasseh seduced them to do more evil than did the nations whom the LORD destroyed before the children of Israel.
American King James Version×
; 2 Chronicles 28:1-4 2 Chronicles 28:1-4 [1] Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem: but he did not that which was right in the sight of the LORD, like David his father: [2] For he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, and made also molten images for Baalim. [3] Moreover he burnt incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and burnt his children in the fire, after the abominations of the heathen whom the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel. [4] He sacrificed also and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree.
American King James Version×
).

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