The undeniable distinction of God’s people

As believers, we should check how much we blend into the background of this world.

As believers, we should check how much we blend into the background of this world.

Leviticus 20:26: “You shall be holy to me; for I, Yahweh, am holy, and have set you apart from the peoples, that you should be mine.”

This act of God setting his people apart from all other nations was decisive and clear cut. There was not any ambiguity about the requirements that he was establishing for his people. He provided them clarity on many of the main cultural characteristics which were prevalent in that day, as well as today. There was to be an avoidance of idolatry, which was an avoidance of essentially all of the mainstream religions of the day. They were to maintain distinctions based on the food they were to eat, their sexuality, and the types of clothing they would wear, and the calendar they would keep. All of these things played into how God was setting a standard that was in no uncertain terms to distinguish his people from all others.

To illustrate this, the word that is used to describe how they have been set apart is the same Hebrew word that was used in the act of Creation itself, and how God separated and distinguished some things from other things.

  • Genesis 1:4 – God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.
  • Genesis 1:6-7 – Then God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” God made the expanse, and separated the waters that were below the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse; and it was so.
  • Genesis 1:14-15 – Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and they shall serve as signs and for seasons, and for days and years; and they shall serve as lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so.
  • Genesis 1:16-18 – God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; [He made] the stars also. God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good.

I don’t think anyone would have a problem telling the differences between the night and the day, or darkness and light. This is the level of distinction (i.e., holiness) that should be evident in God’s people of any generation, even unto this day.

God still calls us to be holy and set apart, not to walk in the compromised ways of the nations where we find ourselves. We should be attentive to the commands and rules that God has set in place since, as our Creator, he knows what’s best for us and what is also in his best interest and purpose.

1 Peter 1:14-16 – “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written: ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.'”


If you enjoy these daily articles, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com

Yeshua and the Kingdom of the ten commandments

Did Yeshua teach the ongoing validity of all ten of the commandments?

Did Yeshua teach the ongoing validity of all ten of the commandments?

There are some passages where he enumerates five or six of the ten commandments all at once.

Matthew 19:16-19 – Just then someone came up and asked him, “Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life? ” “Why do you ask me about what is good? ” he said to him. “There is only one who is good. If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” “Which ones? ” he asked him. Yeshua answered:

  • Do not murder;
  • do not commit adultery;
  • do not steal;
  • do not bear false witness;
  • honor your father and your mother;
    and love your neighbor as yourself.

So this passage covers commandments 5-9. Yeshua clearly taught these. What is a little more subtle in this passage is that Yeshua essentially affirmed all ten commandments by listing even just these five. This is a literary practice which we have come to call synechdode, in which a part stands for the whole. By telling the inquirer it was necessary to keep “the commandments,” and then listing five of them, it can be ascertained that all ten were implied.

Also, Yeshua had mentioned how he did not come to abolish the commandments, but to fulfill them by demonstrating their true meaning.

Matthew 5:17, 19 – “Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. … “Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever does and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

He here cautions that breaking any of the commands would result in a diminished status, while doing and teaching them would be a sign of greatness within the kingdom.

Ok, but what about being a bit more specific on the remaining five commandments? We still need to see if he enumerates commandments 1-4 and 10.

The first commandment is “Do not have other gods besides me.”

Matthew 4:10 – Then Yeshua told him, “Go away, Satan! For it is written: Worship Yahweh your God, and serve only him.”

This identifies the upholding of the first commandment.

Now, as to the second commandment about graven images, there is no direct instance of Yeshua condemning idolatry in the generally accepted sense. The only time the term for an idol, eikon, is mentioned by him, it is in reference to one of the coins of Caesar which had Caesar’s “image and inscription” on it. This was a tacit reference to idolatry, because many Jews would not carry coin for the fact that coin images were considered idolatry. The fact that the Jewish leaders could produce a coin when Yeshua requested it was also a condemnation of their own covetousness.

Luke 12:15 – He then told them, “Watch out and be on guard against all greed, because one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions.”

The tenth commandment against covetousness which is covered here, is also a recognition of idolatry, as Yeshua’s disciple Paul would teach. Paul taught that covetousness is equivalent to idolatry, and Yeshua definitely taught against covetousness.

Colossians 3:5 – Therefore, put to death what belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry.

His disciples also taught against idolatry, which would convey that Yeshua did so also. Everything the apostles teach would have to be in accordance with Yeshua’s teaching.

As for the Sabbath, Yeshua made an outright declaration about it:

Mark 2:27 – Then he told them, “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.

Yeshua not only practiced Sabbath worship and taught in the synagogues on a regular basis, but he blatantly referenced it in this passage. By this statement, he clarified that the Sabbath was not to be a ceremonial list of do’s and don’ts (which it had become in Jewish practice). Instead, his declaration focuses on the fact that the Sabbath was made for man, and not just for Jews, but for the specific purpose of benefitting any person who would partake of it.

Now the only remaining commandment is the third commandment about not taking the Lord’s name in vain. The answer to this representation in Yeshua’s teaching can be identified by defining what this commandment means in the first place. Many people think it means that one should not use God’s literal name as a swear word. But the commandment actually has a deeper meaning than that.

To not take the name of the Lord in vain really means to not become associated with him and everything that Yahweh’s character exemplifies (i.e., his name) to no purpose. If one is only joining with Yahweh because of upbringing or social pressure and not really living by his standards, then that person has taken Yahweh’s name “in vain,” that is, to no purpose. His torah, or instruction, has no value in that person’s life because they don’t really take it seriously.

If this is the definition we are using for the third commandment, then the whole Sermon on the Mount, a summary of Yeshua’s teaching, is all about not taking Yahweh’s name in vain or to no purpose. Yeshua was constantly teaching about sincerity in practice, not to be hypocritical in anything. He emphasized the heart motive behind every action, which points to a faith in Yahweh that is vibrant, not just something that is participated in only for religious reasons.

So, we can see that throughout his ministry, Yeshua constantly emphasized the importance of the kingdom, and repentance necessary to enter that kingdom. This was because the religious leaders of Judaism had co-opted the true worship of Yahweh into their own brand of man-made rules and traditions. Yeshua urged people to repent of these false and essentially idolatrous practices and to return to the true spirit of the torah, not just the letter of it. The kingdom of God is therefore established on God’s very words, his ten commandments, not in spite of them. Since Yeshua preached the kingdom of God, he clearly taught all of the ten commandments as the base of that kingdom, as well.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

Two faithful kings with differing outcomes

Believers are called to be faithful, but how that faithfulness is recognized by God remains within his Providence.

Believers are called to be faithful, but how that faithfulness is recognized by God remains within his Providence.

2 Kings 18:5-7 – Hezekiah relied on Yahweh God of Israel; not one of the kings of Judah was like him, either before him or after him. He remained faithful to Yahweh and did not turn from following him but kept the commands Yahweh had commanded Moses. Yahweh was with him, and wherever he went he prospered…

Hezekiah is a great example of faithfulness rewarded. His reforms throughout Israel an the removal of idolatry throughout the land served to demonstrate his faithfulness to Yahweh. He is recorded as having maintained the commands of Moses and not having turned at all from Yahweh. His faithful pleading before Yahweh spared the city of Jerusalem from an Assyrian invasion.

Years later, we come to the reign of Hezekiah’s great-grandson Josiah, a king who also is known for his faithfulness to Yahweh and his sweeping reforms throughout the land, removing idolatry and pagan practices from all aspects of the life of Israel that had arisen during the time of his grandfather, Manasseh. Yet, we find a differing result of his faithfulness than was exhibited towards Hezekiah.

2 Kings 23:25-27 – Before [Josiah] there was no king like him who turned to Yahweh with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength according to all the law of Moses, and no one like him arose after him. In spite of all that, Yahweh did not turn from the fury of his intense burning anger, which burned against Judah because of all the affronts with which Manasseh had angered him. For Yahweh had said, “I will also remove Judah from my presence just as I have removed Israel. I will reject this city Jerusalem, that I have chosen, and the temple about which I said, ‘My name will be there.’ “

The wickedness of the previous king, his grandfather Manasseh, had been so great that God had determined that judgment was necessary upon the nation. Is this an indication that the faithfulness of Josiah was to no avail? Did Josiah conduct all of those great reforms only to have God ignore all of his faithful efforts? We may find an answer in the response of Yahweh to Josiah that he had received through the prophetess Huldah.

2 Kings 22:18-20 – “Say this to the king of Judah who sent you to inquire of Yahweh: ‘This is what Yahweh God of Israel says: As for the words that you heard, “because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before Yahweh when you heard what I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they would become a desolation and a curse, and because you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I myself have heard’ ​– ​this is Yahweh’s declaration. “‘Therefore, I will indeed gather you to your fathers, and you will be gathered to your grave in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster that I am bringing on this place.’ ” Then they reported to the king.

God knew that Josiah’s heart was right, so he himself was blessed with peace during his lifetime. However, God also knew that the people’s hearts were not right, because they kept falling back into the idolatry that they had been commanded to avoid at all costs, even by Moses himself. No matter how faithful the king was in abiding by the law of Moses, God knew the heart of the people had not been changed.

Deuteronomy 18:9-12 – “When you enter the land Yahweh your God is giving you, do not imitate the detestable customs of those nations. “No one among you is to sacrifice his son or daughter in the fire, practice divination, tell fortunes, interpret omens, practice sorcery, “cast spells, consult a medium or a spiritist, or inquire of the dead. “Everyone who does these acts is detestable to Yahweh, and Yahweh your God is driving out the nations before you because of these detestable acts.

The people were receiving the judgment they deserved because of their continued refusal to follow the torah or the instruction of God, and instead continued to abide by the wicked practices of the pagan nations that had been driven out before them. Josiah was spared because he had demonstrated himself faithful. He had done everything he could to ensure that, as much as possible, he had afforded the people an opportunity for repentance and faithfulness, as well. Had they whole-heartedly repented, there is the possibility that the destruction of the city could have been avoided, and they could have remained in the land.

From this, we may be able to take away an understanding that we, as believers in Messiah, are tasked with being faithful to God. The rest of society may not agree with our stance on issues that are based on pagan propositions, just like the idolatry that ancient Israel faced. But that does not mean we should lose hope, or fall from our faithful stance.

Hebrews 11:6 – Now without faith it is impossible to please God, since the one who draws near to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

God is a rewarder of the faithful, but it may not be in the form or ideas that we have about what that may look like. He may choose to save and deliver from the results of unfaithfulness, or he may choose to allow judgment to fall around us on those who remain resistant to the truth of God’s Word. However, we can be sure that, regardless if we receive any perceived benefit at all, our individual faithfulness will not go unnoticed by him.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

Facing certain death with the integrity of defiant obedience to God

An ancient story challenges our own commitment to the principles of integrity taught by Messiah.

An ancient story challenges our own commitment to the principles of integrity taught by Messiah.

In the third chapter of Daniel, the story is told of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who were three Hebrew captives during the Babylonian captivity. Recognition of their names has come down to us in this day and age because of their staunch refusal to worship an idolatrous statue that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Enraged at their disobedience to the the royal command, the king confronted these three rebellious subjects.

Daniel 3:14, 16-18 – Nebuchadnezzar asked them, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, is it true that you don’t serve my gods or worship the gold statue I have set up?” … Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied to the king, “Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question. If the God we serve exists, then he can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and he can rescue us from the power of you, the king. But even if he does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.”

The magnitude of their defiance to the idolatrous command of the king reverberates through the millennia to our day. Interestingly, the actions of these three young men were completely aligned with the principles of integrity that Yeshua was to teach hundreds of years later.

  • Matthew 5:6 – “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
  • Matthew 5:10 – “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
  • Matthew 5:16 – “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
  • Matthew 5:19 – “Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever does and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

There is a Hebraic tradition that during their time in the fiery furnace, that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego worshiped and praised Yahweh for all of his acts of Creation. In the depths of their most severe trial they chose to honor and praise the God for whom they were being sentenced to the cruellest of deaths.

The qualities of integrity demonstrated by these three young men illustrate for us how consistent the Torah or Instruction of God is. The same principles of integrity that guided these three men have been the guiding light of God’s people throughout the biblical record and the history of believers. They defiantly stood for the principles of an eternal kingdom in the face of certain death, just as we should stand for the same principles and the same kingdom today.

The writer to the Hebrews captures the motivation that should guide our actions in our current age of cultural idolatry and blatant disobedience to the principles of God’s kingdom. After listing the deeds of the righteous ancestors of the faith, he concludes this remembrance of their faithfulness and integrity in the face of the bitterest persecution provides the promptings necessary for our own battles.

Hebrews 11:39-40; 12:1 – All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us. Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us…

Even though they were willing to give their lives, God protected Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego through the fiery furnace, a miraculous occurrence which caused the king himself to worship the God of Israel.

Daniel 3:28-29 – Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed, “Praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel and rescued his servants who trusted in him. They violated the king’s command and risked their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I issue a decree that anyone of any people, nation, or language who says anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego will be torn limb from limb and his house made a garbage dump. For there is no other god who is able to deliver like this.”

If this story stands for anything today, it should remind us that whether or not God delivers us from our own fiery trials, to honor and obey him above the dictates of our culture should be our guiding principle. Through his teaching and exemplary sacrifice, Yeshua corroborated the same principles of integrity that these Hebrew men demonstrated in the face of their greatest persecution. We can honor their commitment to the truth of God and the teaching of our Lord and Messiah by likewise being defiantly obedient to God.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

God’s will is the purity of his people

Believers must maintain their faithfulness to God in order to remain pure for his purpose.

Believers must maintain their faithfulness to God in order to remain pure for his purpose.

1 Thessalonians 4:3, 7 – For this is God’s will, your sanctification: … For God has not called us to impurity but to live in holiness.

As Paul is writing to the Thessalonian congregation, he is reminding them of their high calling to purity.

1 Thessalonians 4:1-2 – Additionally then, brothers, we ask and encourage you in the Master Yeshua, that as you have received instruction from us on how you should live and please God ​– ​as you are doing ​– ​do this even more. For you know what commands we gave you through the Master Yeshua.

Paul’s objective is that the Thessalonians would live and walk in a way that pleases God. Even though they had been doing so, he is encouraging them further to refrain from the impurity of the accepted culture around them and specifically the “lustful passions” of those who didn’t know God.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-7 – For this is God’s will, your sanctification: that you keep away from immorality of idolatry, that each of you knows how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not with lustful passions, like those of the nations, who don’t know God. This means one must not transgress against and take advantage of a brother in this manner, because Yahweh is an avenger of all these offenses, as we also previously told and warned you. For God has not called us to impurity but to live in holiness.

We can learn from this that some of the cultural permissiveness may have begun seeping into the congregation, as Paul warns them not to conduct these types of offenses between themselves as members of the assembly. Many Bible versions will relate this offense as some type of sexual promiscuity; however, the word can also mean whoredom, in the sense of immoral idolatrous practices, as related here. As stated many times before, God views idolatry as a type of spiritual harlotry, since when it is practiced the people are substituting the covenant bond of Yahweh for another god, and thereby committing adultery against him.

1 Thessalonians 4:8 – Consequently, anyone who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who gives you his holy Spirit.

Paul strengthens his warning by saying God is an avenger of these practices, and to participate in these worldly activities is to reject the very holy Spirit of God.

From this, we can learn that if we are sincere in following the commands of God as followers of the Master Yeshua, we likewise have an obligation to resist the permissiveness of the culture we live in, since it is God’s will (or his intention, determination, and desire) that we be holy, set apart as pure and clean for his purpose. If we take lightly this responsibility and we fall into the seductive lair of cultural acceptance, we are dishonoring the name of the One who has called us to be his own. Our distinctiveness and usefulness as salt and light is diminished because we neglected to put our light on the lampstand and instead have hid it under a bushel. We have lost our saltiness and are good for no purpose of God except to be thrown out into the street to be crushed under the foot traffic.

Succumbing to the permissiveness of our culture robs us of our power in representing God to a world who needs to know him. We must sacrifice our own desires for the desires of God, and his desire and will is that we remain holy and set apart. This is God’s ultimate will for anyone who places their faith in him through Messiah, and he empowers us through his holy Spirit to do so.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

Inspiring a passionate vigilance for the Word of God

When God’s Word is taken seriously, believers passionately stand up for what’s right.

When God’s Word is taken seriously, believers passionately stand up for what’s right.

2 Kings 23:25 – “Before [Josiah] there was no king like him who turned to Yahweh with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength according to all the law of Moses, and no one like him arose after him.”

This account of King Josiah demonstrates the extreme vigilance with which Josiah eradicated idolatrous practices within Israel. Prior to his reign, under the wicked King Manasseh, the nation had fallen into some of the deepest levels of idolatry over a period of over fifty years. The wickedness was so great that God sent prophets to warn of the impending destruction if they did not repent.

2 Kings 21:10-12 – “Yahweh said through his servants the prophets, ‘Since King Manasseh of Judah has committed all these detestable acts ​– ​worse evil than the Amorites who preceded him had done ​– ​and by means of his idols has also caused Judah to sin, ‘this is what Yahweh God of Israel says: ‘I am about to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that everyone who hears about it will shudder.'”

The text then goes on to list all of the judgment that was about to be brought against Israel for their unfaithfulness. After Manasseh’s death, his son Amon continued the reign of wickedness for another two years, until his own servants conspired against him and put him to death. It is then that his son Josiah took to the throne at the tender age of eight years old.

However, eighteen years after his reign began, a discovery was made in the temple that had been long lost through the generations of idolatry: a copy of the book of the law was found. When it was read in the presence of the king, the text says he tore his clothes, which was a common indication of utter despair and repentance before God.

2 Kings 22:11, 13 – “When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes. … ‘Go and inquire of Yahweh for me, the people, and all Judah about the words in this book that has been found. For great is Yahweh’s wrath that is kindled against us because our ancestors have not obeyed the words of this book in order to do everything written about us.'”

Josiah then carries out a monumental campaign to eradicate all forms of idolatry in the precincts of the temple and throughout the land. Almost the entire next chapter relates his purification efforts in detail:

  • Destruction of all idolatrous materials that had been brought into the temple
  • Removal of all idolatrous priests, slaughtering them and burning their bones on their own idolatrous altars
  • Destruction of the houses of cultic participants
  • Destruction of the high places of idolatrous worship including Molech, Ashtoreth, Chemosh, Milcom, and the worship of the sun
  • Destruction of all of the idolatrous altars wherever they were to be found
  • He eradicated all mediums, spiritists, household idols and images everywhere in Judah and Jerusalem.

He then commands that the Passover be held that year, since Passover had not been celebrated according to the book of the law for generations. It was the most well-attested Passover in the history of Israel.

2 Kings 23:22 – “No such Passover had ever been observed from the time of the judges who judged Israel through the entire time of the kings of Israel and Judah.”

Through all of this, it becomes apparent that all of this reform was sparked by a reading of the book of the law. When the God’s Word is read, internalized, and believed in the heart, it causes a burning desire to honor him in every way possible, and to remove every hindrance that detracts from his glory.

If only our passion, zeal, and vigilance were as committed as Josiah’s, we would have believers rising up, not to destroy and eradicate physical things or people, but to destroy the arguments and justifications that the world uses to reject God and his Word.

As the apostle Paul writes:

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 – For although we live in the flesh, we do not wage war according to the flesh, since the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. We demolish arguments and every proud thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Messiah.

This is the level of vigilance needed of believers to turn this world of rebellion to obedience within the kingdom of God through the power of his Spirit.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

Trusting that God knows

God reveals he is close to those who are close to him.

One of the many psychological dangers believers face is to get to a point where, whatever we may be going through, we begin to think we are the only one who is experiencing this challenge. Or, we may begin to think that God no longer hears us. We may lash out wondering why he has not responded to our supplication.

However, Yeshua offers a different perspective, one that reveals how God understands our trials and needs.

Matthew 6:7-8 – “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as those among the nations do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Matthew 6:31-32 – Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For those of the nations seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.

David, famous for continually pouring out his heart before God, corroborated this idea a millennium prior to Messiah:

Psalm 38:9 – O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you.

For those who are trusting him and seeking to follow his ways, the Bible teaches us that God is present and involved in our lives as we seek to accomplish his will.

However, when God appears to be silent, the Word reveals it is not without good reason. When Israel struggled to hear from him, it was because they had strayed so far from him that he had to pour out his judgment upon them.

Jeremiah 14:10-12 – Thus says Yahweh concerning this people: “They have loved to wander thus; they have not restrained their feet; therefore Yahweh does not accept them; now he will remember their iniquity and punish their sins.” Yahweh said to me: “Do not pray for the welfare of this people. Though they fast, I will not hear their cry, and though they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I will not accept them. But I will consume them by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence.”

Ezekiel also provides the reasoning that God would no longer hear them.

Ezekiel 8:17-18 – Then he said to me, “Have you seen this, O son of man? Is it too light a thing for the house of Judah to commit the abominations that they commit here, that they should fill the land with violence and provoke me still further to anger? Behold, they put the branch to their nose. Therefore I will act in wrath. My eye will not spare, nor will I have pity. And though they cry in my ears with a loud voice, I will not hear them.”

The blatant and shameless idolatry of Israel and Judah resulted in God pronouncing judgment upon them by having them overthrown by their adversaries: first the Assyrians and then the Babylonians. They were removed from their place of privilege and he refused to listen to them because of their persistent rejection of him by pursuing the gods of the other nations.

From these examples, in those seasons when God appears to be silent, we should do a self-check to ensure we have not strayed from his calling on our lives, from standing firm on what has been revealed to us up to this point in our walk with him. God has promised to be present among his people when we learn to continually trust in him for all things.

Ezekiel 37:27 – My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

The quality of God that exhibits his greatest strength

God’s power and might are overshadowed by the depth of his forgiveness.

Core of the Bible podcast #63 – The quality of God that exhibits his greatest strength

Today we will be looking at the topic of forgiveness, and how forgiveness is revealed in the Bible as being the strength of Yahweh that historically distinguished him from the pantheon of ancient gods and continues to do so today.

Psalm 130:3-4 – “If You, O Yahweh, kept track of iniquities, then who, O Lord, could stand? But with You there is forgiveness, so that You may be feared.”

The Psalmist here writes, “But with You there is forgiveness, so that You may be feared.” The quality of God that most causes people to revere him is the fact that he is willing to forgive those who sincerely admit their failings. By contrast, the deities of the ancient nations exhibited their power through their strength, ruthlessness, and promises of fulfillment of selfish ambition.

For example, out of the hundreds of ancient Egyptian gods listed by the World History Encyclopedia, there are numerous gods with unique attributes of power, healing, war, death, and success. However, not one of them is mentioned as a god or goddess representing or offering forgiveness. Forgiveness was not a concept known to the ancient Egyptians.

https://www.worldhistory.org/article/885/egyptian-gods—the-complete-list/

Likewise, the Greek deities were depicted with weaknesses and foibles rivalling those of the most degenerate of human behavior.  While the Greeks had very mature philosophies surrounding justice and equity, the concept of personal forgiveness was not widely known or accepted.

David Leigh, writing on forgiveness in the ancient Greek culture for Seattle University comments:

“A study of the earliest Greek literature and philosophy indicates that the Greeks developed a strong sense of justice and law as related to both gods and humans, but did not develop a concept of forgiveness or mercy. The closest they came to the latter concept was the practice of legal leniency and the notion of ‘pity’. But pity was a later development, especially in Greek epics and drama, as a human response to the strict notions of justice and law that dominated their mythology and early philosophy…it is clear that forgiveness was not a primary virtue for these early Greeks. Neither the gods nor human beings in early Greece were seen as ‘forgiving’ people their injustices or offenses.”

Forgiveness, Pity, and Ultimacy in Ancient Greek Culture, David J. Leigh, S.J., Seattle University, Seattle, WA 98122 USA.

Additionally, out of the hundred or so Roman deities who were responsible for everything from childbirth, fertility, money, harvest, future, etc., there was only one goddess noted within the bounds of what could be considered forgiveness: Clementia. Yet, even this is not necessarily evidence of forgiveness as we know it today, but an ideal of legal clemency (which is where the word comes from) in matters of justice.

Quoting from William Mann, commenting on the book “Ancient Forgiveness” from the Cambridge press, he writes the following:

“In “The Anger of Tyrants and the Forgiveness of Kings,” Susanna Morton Braund concentrates on the role that Seneca may have played in commending clementia to rulers as a virtue of self-restraint, manifested in mildness of behavior. Conceived in this way clemency is an exclusive prerogative of the powerful. As Seneca defines it clementia is “the leniency of the more powerful party toward the weaker in the matter of setting penalties”, not to be confused with forgiveness. While forgiveness seeks reconciliation, clemency achieves subordination, frequently producing public humiliation in its recipients.”

Charles L. Griswold and David Konstan (eds.), Ancient Forgiveness: Classical, Judaic, and Christian, Cambridge University Press, Reviewed by William E. Mann, University of Vermont.

In our modern society and culture steeped in several millennia of forgiveness as a cultural ideal, we take for granted that forgiveness has always been a philosophical concept that was honored among all people, but history states otherwise. From our modern perspective, we have only a fleeting glimpse of the tyranny and injustice that was displayed throughout the ancient world. For millennia, with the rise and fall of many empires, that environment was a harsh place with cruel justice, both physically and spiritually.

If we are to place a biblical faith within the context of its origins, it was a shining beacon of light in the midst of a sea of darkness. The ideals of forgiveness offered through the God of the Bible were unheard of in the ancient world until they were exemplified by the ancient Israelites in their torah practices, which culminated in the gospel of the kingdom brought forth by their Messiah and his early believers.

In this light, Yahweh stands out among the ancient gods for his characteristic forgiveness.

Psalm 86:2-5 – “You are my God; save Your servant who trusts in You.  Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I call to You all day long. Bring joy to Your servant, for to You, O Lord, I lift up my soul. For You, O Lord, are kind and forgiving, rich in loving devotion to all who call on You.”

This is why Moses could stand before the Israelites as they were preparing to enter the land of Canaan and say:

Deuteronomy 4:5-8 – “Look, I have taught you statutes and ordinances as Yahweh my God has commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to possess. “Carefully follow them, for this will show your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the peoples. When they hear about all these statutes, they will say, ‘This great nation is indeed a wise and understanding people.’ “For what great nation is there that has a god near to it as Yahweh our God is to us whenever we call to him? “And what great nation has righteous statutes and ordinances like this entire law I set before you today?

These righteous statutes and ordinances resulted in the ability of the Hebrew prophets to extol the mercies and forgiveness available to the people when they would return to Yahweh from serving the harsh gods of the surrounding nations.

Isaiah 55:7 – “Let the wicked man forsake his own way and the unrighteous man his own thoughts; let him return to Yahweh, that he may have compassion, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.”

This is one of the main reasons idolatry has been forbidden by the true God; he wanted to protect his own from experiencing the unnecessary and cruel harshness of those cultural and societal demands. His way provided a nearness of relationship that those other religions could not provide.


At the dawning of the spiritual Kingdom of God being realized on the earth, a baby was born to Zechariah and Elizabeth, two righteous parents who were faithful to Yahweh, the God of Israel. After the child’s birth, Zechariah, filled with the Spirit of God, uttered a prophecy about John:

Luke 1:76-79 – “And you, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,  to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.  Because of our God’s merciful compassion, the dawn from on high will visit us  to shine on those who live in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

This was the continuation of a path of forgiveness for God’s people that would rise above the forgiveness offered through the substitutionary sacrifices of the torah of Moses. Those physical sacrifices pointed a way toward ultimate fulfillment, and a way of peace that would be laid out through the ministry of Yeshua.

Beyond exhibiting the forgiveness that God had been offering to the Israelites through their sacrificial offerings, Yeshua emphasized the responsibility and duty of people within this kingdom to forgive one another.

Matthew 6:14  – “For if you forgive others their offenses, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well.

Mark 11:25  – “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven will also forgive you your wrongdoing.”

Luke 11:4  – “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone in debt to us…”

This forgiveness was to extend not only to those with whom individuals were familiar, but to provide kindnesses to enemies and workers of harm, and to be generous to those in need, as well.

Luke 6:27-31  – “But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If anyone hits you on the cheek, offer the other also. And if anyone takes away your coat, don’t hold back your shirt either. Give to everyone who asks you, and from someone who takes your things, don’t ask for them back. Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them.”

This is where the gospel light shines the brightest. This is the root of how the world is changed through believers in each generation. Considered in view of this principle of mutual forgiveness and kindness to even adversaries, this explains how God’s kingdom can expand to the entirety of earth. This is not a kingdom that is to be established by force or by might, but by love and forgiveness. Force and might may hold sway for temporary times and in limited areas, but it always gives way to the next sweep of power and might.

Forgiveness, though, operates from a different base than forced subjection; it is a subtler but stronger might that captures the heart, and in so doing causes willing obedience and respect. It is not as visible and decisive as forced compliance, yet it spreads farther, reaches deeper, and lasts longer than any armed campaign could accomplish.

The God of the Bible is indeed all powerful. He represents himself as having created all that exists, and he has the ability to destroy kingdoms and lift up others for his own honor and glory. And yet, surveyed against the backdrop of historical beliefs and cruel demands of pagan gods, his greatest strength lies not in his unchallenged power to create or destroy, but in his demonstration of and willingness to provide forgiveness to those who turn to him.

If our God is a God of forgiveness, and if we consider ourselves to be his children through faith, then should we not mimic the characteristic that would most demonstrate his greatest strength?  In this way, our likeness with our Father is displayed, and honor is brought to his name. This is the path of forgiveness and peace that we are tasked with walking.

Luke 6:36 – “Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

The holiness of God’s people, then and now

God’s standards of holiness don’t change.

Leviticus 20:26 – You must be holy because I, Yahweh, am holy. I have set you apart from all other people to be my very own.

This admonition to holiness is set amidst the context of the practices of the nations of Canaan that Israel was displacing.

Leviticus 20:23 – “You must not follow the statutes of the nations I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and I abhorred them.

In the context of Leviticus 20, the “things” the nations were guilty of were the contaminations of idolatry (which included spiritism and child sacrifice), sexual immorality, and eating of unclean foods. Avoiding all of “these things” is what would set ancient Israel apart from the other nations; this is what would make them “holy.” This setting apart is the holiness that distinguished Israel as God’s people.

In consistent fashion, the holy Spirit of God led the first recorded council in Jerusalem to similar conclusions. As those among the nations were coming to faith in Messiah along with the scattered Jews and God-fearers in the synagogues, there were idolatrous practices being introduced into the community of believers, such as food offered to idols and cultural promiscuity. Paul and the other apostles deal with some of these issues in their epistles to various groups of believers. But the council, through the guidance of the holy Spirit, had issued a decisive template for the believing congregations to follow that was worded very similarly to the injunction of Moses to the ancient Israelites in remaining holy.

Acts 15:28-29 – “For it was the Holy Spirit’s decision ​– ​and ours ​– ​not to place further burdens on you beyond these requirements: “that you abstain from idolatrous offerings, from blood, from eating anything that has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. You will do well if you keep yourselves from these things. Farewell.”

As can be seen by these comparative texts, avoidance of practices associated with idolatry, sexual immorality and unclean foods have always been the earmarks of God’s people that set them apart from the other nations. Therefore, I believe these distinctions should in like fashion remain as the defining characteristics that demonstrate the holiness or set-apartness of God’s people even today.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

Humble service in a kingdom without icon

God simply desires our sincere honoring of him every day by the outworking of our practical faith among the rest of his Creation.

Core of the Bible podcast #58 – Humble service in a kingdom without icon

Today we will be looking at the topic of the Kingdom, and how the Kingdom of God should not have any type of iconography or attempt to represent God through any physical location or facility. All of these detract from the simple essence of who he is in Spirit and truth. Idolatry is the most represented affront to the majesty of God and his Kingdom throughout the entire Bible.

Right after God had brought the Israelites out of Egypt and told them he wanted them to be representatives of his kingdom as priests, he then gave them the Ten Commandments. One of the primary commandments was against idolatry.

Exodus 20:4-5 – “You shall not make for yourselves an idol, nor any image of anything that is in the heavens above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: you shall not bow yourself down to them, nor serve them…”

Yeshua confirmed that God abhors idolatry, and further revealed how God desires spiritual worship based on the truth, not some physical representation of him.

John 4:23-24 – “But the hour comes, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such to be his worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

If I were to paraphrase these two passages, it might sound something like this:

Have nothing to do with tangible representations of any god, including the one true God. Worship the Father (Yahweh) alone, and in spirit and in truth only.

For whatever reason, humans love icons and iconography. We seek to identify everything with a symbolic representation of some sort, whether it is a brand logo, an app, or a digital navigation menu. In honesty, I must admit there is a certain logic to this mode of communication: it acts as a type of shorthand for a larger idea or concept that can be communicated quickly and simply.

In a similar way, throughout history civilizations have represented their concepts of their gods with a plethora of iconic representation, from statues to intricate carvings of various symbols to grandiose temples. The idolatry of the Bible, however, is generally concerned with the statues and carvings of the various gods that continually led Israel away from the one true God, Yahweh. Baal and Ashtoreth were two of the most notable “local” gods in the land of Canaan which threatened to lure Israel away from Yahweh.

Judges 3:7 – “The Israelites did what was evil in Yahweh’s sight; they forgot Yahweh their God and worshiped the Baals and the Asherahs.”

Judges 10:6 – “Then the Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of Yahweh. They worshiped the Baals and the Ashtoreths, the gods of Aram, Sidon, and Moab, and the gods of the Ammonites and the Philistines. They abandoned Yahweh and did not worship him.”

The cultural power of these gods was so strong within the land of Canaan that the Israelites suffered with them throughout their history, in spite of dramatic showdowns with the likes of Elijah and the prophets of Baal.

1 Kings 18:17-19 – “When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is that you, the one ruining Israel? ” He replied, “I have not ruined Israel, but you and your father’s family have, because you have abandoned Yahweh’s commands and followed the Baals. “Now summon all Israel to meet me at Mount Carmel, along with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah who eat at Jezebel’s table.”

After watching the false prophets attempt to provoke their gods to manifest themselves at their offering altars, God reveals himself at the simple invocation of Elijah to make himself known.

1 Kings 18:37-40 – “Answer me, Yahweh! Answer me so that this people will know that you, Yahweh, are God and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then Yahweh’s fire fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell facedown and said, “Yahweh, he is God! Yahweh, he is God! ” Then Elijah ordered them, “Seize the prophets of Baal! Do not let even one of them escape.” So they seized them, and Elijah brought them down to the Wadi Kishon and slaughtered them there.”

The reason that God had even brought the Israelites into the land of Canaan in the first place was so that they would eradicate these false representations and the wicked practices, such as child sacrifice, that went along with them.

Deuteronomy 9:4-5 – “When Yahweh your God drives them out before you, do not say to yourself, ‘Yahweh brought me in to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.’ Instead, Yahweh will drive out these nations before you because of their wickedness. “You are not going to take possession of their land because of your righteousness or your integrity. Instead, Yahweh your God will drive out these nations before you because of their wickedness…”

This is how strongly God is opposed to false gods and the idolatrous worship that goes along with them.

Sometimes, during periods of reform and return to the worship of the one true God, the Israelite tribes were successful in removing the idols and false worship of the nations around them.

1 Samuel 7:4 – “So the Israelites removed the Baals and the Ashtoreths and only worshiped Yahweh.”

1 Samuel 12:10 – “Then they cried out to Yahweh and said, ‘We have sinned, for we abandoned Yahweh and worshiped the Baals and the Ashtoreths. Now rescue us from the power of our enemies, and we will serve you.’

However, there are indications that even when the Israelites were doing what they were supposed to do in removing the false gods and idols, in typical fashion, they were still missing the true meaning of having Yahweh as their God, since they continually desired him to simply save them from the power of the their enemies, but not from the power of their own sinfulness.

Ultimately, the Kingdom of God was not to be just about an idyllic kingdom to be protected from its enemies, but to be a kingdom made up of individuals who were to practice “righteousness, peace, and joy in the holy Spirit,” (Romans 14:17).

—–

Additionally, the idolatry of Israel was not always focused on other gods, but on the one true God, just through some form of statue or representation of their own making.

Consider the golden calf incident. Most people think that the golden calf was a foreign god that the Israelites were worshiping, however, they made the golden calf in honor of Yahweh God and instituted a festival to him! The Israelites created it as a representation of the God who had brought them out of Egypt (Ex. 32:4), and also as a representation of the God who would go before them and conquer. They bowed down to it and danced around it.

Exodus 32:4-5 – “He [Aaron] took the gold from them, fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made it into an image of a calf. Then they said, “Israel, this is your god, who brought you up from the land of Egypt! ” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of it and made an announcement: “There will be a festival to Yahweh tomorrow.”

This shamed the magnificence of the one true God and Moses rightly and immediately destroyed it.

Consider the bronze snake that Moses had made in obedience to Yahweh’s command for healing of the Israelites in the wilderness (Numbers 21).

Numbers 21:6-9 – Then Yahweh sent poisonous snakes among the people, and they bit them so that many Israelites died. The people then came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against Yahweh and against you. Intercede with the LORD so that he will take the snakes away from us.” And Moses interceded for the people. Then Yahweh said to Moses, “Make a snake image and mount it on a pole. When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will recover.” So Moses made a bronze snake and mounted it on a pole. Whenever someone was bitten, and he looked at the bronze snake, he recovered.”

When Hezekiah became king, he ended up having to destroy it because it had become an object of worship in and of itself (2 Kings 18:4)

Consider the ephod or breastplate that Gideon made to represent the victories of the Israelites over the Midianites (Judges 8:22-27).

Judges 8:22, 24-27 – Then the Israelites said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you as well as your sons and your grandsons, for you delivered us from the power of Midian.” … Then he said to them, “Let me make a request of you: Everyone give me an earring from his plunder.” Now the enemy had gold earrings because they were Ishmaelites. They said, “We agree to give them.” So they spread out a cloak, and everyone threw an earring from his plunder on it. The weight of the gold earrings he requested was forty-three pounds of gold, in addition to the crescent ornaments and ear pendants, the purple garments on the kings of Midian, and the chains on the necks of their camels. Gideon made an ephod from all this and put it in Ophrah, his hometown. Then all Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his household.”

While Gideon’s intent was to honor God, it became an object of worship itself and created corruption among the Israelites.

All of this is a form of syncretism, a blending of what is true about God with the falsehood of idolatry and foreign culture. This is the most dangerous type of idolatry because those who are engaged in it believe they are truly worshiping the one true God through it, yet they are demeaning everything he stands for.

To this day, iconic representation can be found throughout the world, some even becoming popular tourist destinations due to their magnificence.

As I have been reviewing current popular religious destinations, I have been a little shocked to find that many of the most well-attended religious sites are actually based on Christian lore, such as Fatima in Portugal where there were alleged visions of Mary, Lourdes in France, or any of the Roman Catholic sites within Rome. These locations are filled with idolatry of all sorts: images, statues, and various representations of Mary and other religious saints and figures.

There are also magnificent and extravagant temples throughout India and Asian countries with representations of various gods and goddesses and many well-meaning religious traditions.

However, in the Bible God warns us that although this may be typical and commonplace among our various cultures and religions, we are not to identify him in this sort of way. He is to be worshiped in spirit and truth only, not by some sort of symbolic representation. The wisdom in this instruction is that he knows that the thing that is created to represent him can then replace him in the minds of the worshipers.

Idols of other gods are an offense to him, because there are no other gods that have created all things, and ascribing power to something other than him is an insult to his sovereignty over his Creation.

Idols meant to represent him or aspects of his power are also offensive to him, because no one thing can represent his majesty and glory in all of Creation. Ultimately, as we have seen, he knows that the representative thing becomes the object of worship. Any created thing is not a thing to be worshiped, even if we believe it is representing the one true God. No one thing in all of Creation can represent him, and is therefore offensive to him.

What if I was to create an icon of my wife, and in order to honor her, I burnt incense to that statue every day, or got down on my knees and professed my love for her to the image? I don’t need an iconic representation of my wife to honor her; I just need to demonstrate my love to her every day in how I live my life by respecting her and caring for her.

In the same way, God doesn’t want to be worshiped through some shallow representation of a portion of his being; he wants to be recognized for the beneficent Creator that he is in all of his qualities and honored from the heart. Similar to the simplicity and sincerity that I would show my wife, God expects these plain and humble actions in my worship of him.

—–

Additionally, from a practical standpoint, I am extremely saddened by the idolatry present throughout the world for another significant reason: the sheer waste of resources that could be used to help people in real need.

If we were to total all of the money and resources that are sacrificed in the worship of these false idols and their traditions, I am convinced that hunger and poverty throughout the world could be eradicated many times over. I am convinced that resources spent on religious idolatrous enterprises in every culture, including Christianity, are consuming what is available for the ever-growing population of humanity.

Think of the largest religious festivals and the resources they consume: Hajj (Islam); Chinese New Year; Diwali (Hindu); Ramadan (Islam); Setsubun (Shinto); Krishna Janmashtami (Hindu); Navarati (Hindu). These all, while time-honored examples within each of these cultures, are from the biblical perspective considered idolatrous festivities to the gods of those religions.

Lest anyone think that we in American Christian culture are any less guilty of idolatry, simply consider the resources allotted to Easter, Halloween and most significantly, Christmas. According to statista.com, the financial value spent at Christmas is 843 BILLION dollars, and that is in the US alone! Easter has been in the 18 billion-dollar range, and Halloween has gone from 3 billion to 10 billion over the last 15 years. That totals 871 billion dollars spent annually on these idolatrous festivals in the US alone.

Now, a quick search of world-wide poverty initiatives brought me to borenproject.org, where they quote a Columbia University professor’s estimate of ending world poverty:

“In his book End of Poverty, Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, provides one answer to the question “how much does it cost to end poverty?” He argues that poverty could be eliminated by the year 2025 thanks to “well-placed development aids”. Investment in local farms to boost capital and productivity, education for both children and adults, enhancing access to health services and leveraging renewable energy resources are the best ways to end poverty.

“So, how much does it cost to end poverty? Sachs, as one of the world’s leading experts on economic development and the fight against poverty, stated that the cost to end poverty is $175 billion per year for 20 years.”

Looking at only one year’s spend on religious idolatry, and in only the United States, this equals less than one-fourth of the combined financial impact of Easter, Halloween and Christmas. Now, if we were to estimate the costs of these other global religious festivities and their idolatrous practices, it is clear that the ability to raise up the quality of living and eradicate poverty around the entire world currently exists, if only we could have our eyes opened to the offerings still being made to idolatrous practices around the world.

This is why it is so important for people everywhere to understand the true nature of the Kingdom of God, and to recognize the simple and humble service he expects of his people, not extravagant displays like the pagans!

I believe it is clear we should also re-think some of our own practices in our believing congregations in light of this focus on idolatry. Beyond the seasonal holidays, there are plenty of idolatrous offerings occurring right here in American congregations, as well. How many times have people been admonished to “give sacrificially” to a building fund or to reach some financial goal for the congregation’s sound system or some other facility related function? We spend literally billions on parking lots, building improvements and maintenance, media systems and staffing to manage all of these facilities which remain mostly unused for most of any given week. These are real funds that could be better spent helping those in need while the congregation finds humbler means of gathering once or twice a week.

If this kind of commentary sounds jaded, then so be it. When I served as an intern pastor and also an elder over a number of years in small, local congregations, the amount of ministry time and resources wasted on building campaigns and maintenance was staggering to me. These tax-exempt corporations we have set up as ministry centers suffer from the same myopic budgeting that many secular businesses do. In essence, the facilities themselves have become idols for these congregations, idols that need constant attention and exorbitant resources. Instead, our facilities can be humble places of week-long ministry rather than just fancy audience arenas for a single isolated time each week.

I have heard time and time again that the description of an idol is simply “anything that comes between you and God.” However, from a biblical perspective, that is not really accurate at all. According to the Bible, an idol is an image or practice of some sort to which the powers of God or a god are ascribed, and therefore honor and sacrifice should be paid to it. It may be a figure, an institution or an ancient tradition. Idolatry of this sort in today’s day and age looks like this:

Candles, financial gifts, or food that is offered to statues of gods or supposed saints.

Costs to travel to religious sites for idolatrous religious festivals.

Thinking that by giving to the church building program or giving sacrificially to rescue the church budget is giving to God.

The financial debt and ruin incurred at Saturnalia in an effort to “decorate for the holidays” and to ensure no family’s “Christmas” gifts were overlooked.

These are examples of what modern idolatry looks like. Idols are real things created by people to somehow substitute or represent the one true God and their service to him, not just emotions or feelings that come between us and God. Emotional distractions are all legitimate ways we can be swayed away from God as well, don’t get me wrong. However, true idolatry is the participation in a physical event or honoring of traditional, physical icons in lieu of worshiping the one true God in spirit and in truth.

Yahweh, the God of the Bible, sets himself apart from all other gods by demanding we stop trying to represent him or his kingdom symbolically, whether through some type of iconography, grand facility, or through wasted resources on idolatrous traditions and practices. We can’t represent him fairly in those instances and, even if it is attempted, whatever we make becomes an object of corruption.

There are quite literally thousands of faith traditions throughout the world, even in regards to the God of the Bible. Whatever our personal faith tradition, we must find ways to combat the idolatry that is present through iconography, statues, and symbolic representation.

God simply desires our sincere honoring of him every day by the outworking of our practical faith among the rest of his Creation. This is what living in and for his kingdom should be.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive on our Podcast Page, at Core of the Bible on Simplecast, or your favorite podcast streaming service.

Now also on YouTube, find us at: Core of the Bible on YouTube.

Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.