hol·i·day /ˈhäləˌdā/Origin: Old English hāligdæg ‘holy day’
Removing the High Places
While we are talking about pride, we should address another parable in the Old Testament. There were pagan worship sites called “high places,” where the Israelites worshipped gods such as Asherah (aka Ashtoreth) and Baal. These high places are not only sites of idolatry and harlotry but symbols of pride. Read the follow statement from Joseph Herrin’s writing titled, Removing the High Places.
We are given a pattern and a parable of the attempts of Yahweh’s chosen people to establish the reign of God in the earth as we look to the history of Israel and Judah under her kings. Most of those who were chosen to serve as spiritual parables to the saints today were outright idolaters. Although they would oftentimes mention Yahweh and pay Him lip-service, their hearts were far from Him. They loved the world and the things in it.
There were only a few, three to be exact, who received the commendation of having followed Yahweh with a whole heart. A much larger number fell into a middle ground where they had some devotion to God, but they did not fully commit themselves to following Him with passion and jealousy. As we read of some of these kings who are revered to this day, we find that Yahweh did not find them perfect and He assigned a statement to follow the record of their devotion, and this statement holds much meaning for the saints today.
II Kings 12:2-3
Jehoash did right in the sight of Yahweh... Only the high places were not taken away; the people still sacrificed and burned incense on the high places.
II Kings 14:3-4
[Amaziah] did right in the sight of Yahweh, yet not like David his father... the high places were not taken away; the people still sacrificed and burned incense on the high places.
II Kings 15:3-4
[Azariah] did right in the sight of Yahweh, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. Only the high places were not taken away; the people still sacrificed and burned incense on the high places.
II Kings 15:34-35
[Jotham] did what was right in the sight of Yahweh; he did according to all that his father Uzziah had done. Only the high places were not taken away; the people still sacrificed and burned incense on the high places.
Over and over we read that there were kings who sought to serve God, and who followed Him to a great degree, but who fell short of that standard of holiness that Yahweh desired. After all was said and done, and the Holy Spirit inspired men to write about their works, a caveat was added at the end of their testimony that revealed a deficiency in their obedience. They did not remove the high places.
No Christian should think that these things were recorded without purpose. These things were written for the instruction of the church. These things were written as examples of us (I Corinthians 10). As we read about the lives of these kings of Israel and Judah we are to discern things about the condition of the lives of the saints of God who are called to be a nation of kings and priests unto their God.
In the same way that there were many who were called from among God’s chosen people to be kings unto Him, yet whose lives were marked with idolatry, so too are there many among the saints who live lies of great idolatry. Though they be known as the called of God, and though they associate themselves with the name of Christ, they follow after all the gods of the people in whose midst they find themselves.
There is a lesser number who seek to separate themselves from the idolatry of the world. These ones remove from their midst all the idols of the world that appear detestable in their sight. They are devoted to Yahweh to a greater degree than some, but they still fall short of the desire of God. Perhaps no king of the Old Testament came closer to Yahweh’s perfect will, while still falling short, than King Asa. We read of him the following:
II Chronicles 15:8, 16-17
Now when Asa heard these words and the prophecy which Azariah the son of Oded the prophet spoke, he took courage and removed the abominable idols from all the land of Judah and Benjamin and from the cities which he had captured in the hill country of Ephraim. He then restored the altar of Yahweh which was in front of the porch of Yahweh... He also removed Maacah, the mother of King Asa, from the position of queen mother, because she had made a horrid image as an Asherah, and Asa cut down her horrid image, crushed it and burned it at the brook Kidron. But the high places were not removed from Israel...
Asa came so close to doing the perfect will of God, yet he too fell short in removing the high places of idolatrous worship. What does this signify for the Christian today? We can gain understanding as we examine the words of this Scripture. We are told that Asa removed “the abominable idols” from the land. We also read that he cut down the “horrid image” that his mother had set up, and consequently removed her from all position of honor due to her sin. These were tremendous steps of obedience that surely cost him personally, and were a trial to accomplish. To his credit he obeyed Yahweh to this extent and his deeds were forever recorded.
Why then did the high places remain untouched? These too were places of idolatry, and an offense to a holy God. Yahweh desired that they be removed as much as all the other symbols of idolatrous worship. The reason was that to Asa and the people these high places did not have the appearance of being “abominable” and “horrid.” The people were not offended by the blatant nature of the high places. The high places had stood for a long time, and they were constructed by one of the most revered kings of Israel, King Solomon. Even when other kings had instituted reforms and a return to devotion to Yahweh, the high places had been left untouched, and it therefore seemed acceptable to purge all that was idolatrous from the land while leaving these high places intact.
Does the church in any way commit a similar error today? Are there symbols of idolatry that are an offense to a holy God that the people of God are not offended by? Are there high places among Christianity that have withstood numerous revivals and reformations while being left intact? Surely there are, and uncloaking their identity will reveal the reason that Christians have so much trouble separating themselves from them.
Let’s answer the question “Does the church in any way commit a similar error today?” with a classical Roman account of the Roman Catholic Church giving instruction to do exactly what Asa did.
Gregory I, Letter to Abbot Mellitus, c. 597-601 AD
To his most beloved son, the Abbot Mellitus; Gregory, the servant of the servants of God. We have been much concerned, since the departure of our people that are with you, because we have received no account of the success of your journey. Howbeit, when Almighty God has led, you to the most reverend Bishop Augustine, our brother, tell him what I have long been considering in my own mind concerning the matter of the English people; to wit, that the temples of the idols in that nation ought not to be destroyed; but let the idols that are in them be destroyed; let water be consecrated and sprinkled in the said temples, let altars be erected, and relics placed there. For if those temples are well built, it is requisite that they be converted from the worship of devils to the service of the true God; that the nation, seeing that their temples are not destroyed, may remove error from their hearts, and knowing and adoring the true God, may the more freely resort to the places to which they have been accustomed. And because they are used to slaughter many oxen in sacrifice to devils, some solemnity must be given them in exchange for this, as that on the day of the dedication, or the nativities of the holy martyrs, whose relics are there deposited, they should build themselves huts of the boughs of trees about those churches which have been turned to that use from being temples, and celebrate the solemnity with religious feasting, and no more offer animals to the Devil, but kill cattle and glorify God in their feast, and return thanks to the Giver of all things for their abundance; to the end that, whilst some outward gratifications are retained, they may the more easily consent to the inward joys. For there is no doubt that it is impossible to cut off every thing at once from their rude natures; because he who endeavours to ascend to the highest place rises by degrees or steps, and not by leaps. Thus the Lord made Himself known to the people of Israel in Egypt; and yet He allowed them the use, in His own worship, of the sacrifices which they were wont to offer to the Devil, commanding them in His sacrifice to kill animals, to the end that, with changed hearts, they might lay aside one part of the sacrifice, whilst they retained another; and although the animals were the same as those which they were wont to offer, they should offer them to the true God, and not to idols; and thus they would no longer be the same sacrifices. This then, dearly beloved, it behooves you to communicate to our aforesaid brother, that he, being placed where he is at present, may consider how he is to order all things. God preserve you in safety, most beloved son.
Source: Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, written in 731 (book 1, chapter 30) (see online)
To the undiscerning, who don’t know the God of the Bible, this might sound perfectly reasonable. Asa likely used a similar justification for his reasons to not remove the high places. Throughout history the Catholic Church made it a point to not remove pagan temples but to convert them to churches. Many cathedrals to this day were converted from or erected over top of pagan temples. Even some of the statues in some cathedrals are sculptures of Roman gods which have been relabeled as Catholic saints. More recently, you may have heard of the Pachamama controversy, where a figurine of an Andean goddess was allowed to be displayed in a Catholic Church with the approval of Pope John Paul II. Just last year, Pope Francis also repeated this act of idolatry. He said that it wasn’t intended to be worshiped but was merely a symbol of fertility. Pope John Paul II justified it by saying that the goddess has been reinterpreted as a mediator between man and God, like Mary. Do you think this pleases God? We can’t allow idols into our churches and we can’t allow idols into our homes and hearts. Not if we desire purity and faithfulness towards God.
The Origin of Sin and Idolatry
It is important to keep the whole Bible in perspective as a Christian. If we know that sin began with Satan, we know that idolatry also began in his heart. So then, all pagan practices can be traced back to him. His sin spread when he convinced a third of the angels in heaven to rebel against God. God cast him down to the earth. Likewise, if we look at the Fall in the garden of Eden, we can see that sin began in Eve first when she desired to be like God through rebelling against His command, to rise above her station to gain the knowledge of good and evil. Then Adam ate and God confronted them about it. When they were expelled from the garden their sin spread with them, manifesting itself in many ways. They walked with God but now they were walking in their own power. There was a truth that was understood by Adam from the beginning, that he was made in the image of God. There was a doctrine that existed in the original spoken Word which resonated with all of creation until sin was found in the heart of man. This original truth that Adam and Eve knew from the time of their creation before the Fall became more and more distorted and varied as man multiplied on the earth. The truth of God was mixed with man-made ideas giving rise to many pagan belief systems and traditions that imitated yet modified the original truth. Eventually God got tired of it and sent a flood to destroy all but 8 people on earth and the animals on Noah’s ark. Many of these pagan traditions died with the flood of Noah’s time, but it didn’t take long for man to continue with these same kinds of devices again. After all, sin was already in the heart of man. It was only a matter of time before it would manifest in diverse ways once more.
As an argument to discredit Christianity as the one true religion, many non-Christians say that it is just another syncretized religion that arose out of the Jewish and Grecco-Roman cultures. What I have seen is that Christianity existed even from the beginning, because Christ existed from the beginning. That truth has always been present and understood by many prophets and saints in the Old Testament. For one, Abraham rejoiced to see Christ’s day:
“Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Yahshua said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” John 8:56–58
So did Moses:
By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called
the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the
people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches
than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Yahshua of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know—Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it. For David says concerning Him [Yahshua]:
‘I foresaw the LORD (Kyrion) always before my face, for He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken. Therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad; Moreover my flesh also will rest in hope. For You will not leave my soul in Hades, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life; You will make me full of joy in Your presence.’
“Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. This Yahshua God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.
“For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says
himself: ‘The LORD (Kyrios) said to my Lord
(Kyrio), “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your
footstool.” ’ “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that
God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
God was not talking to Himself in that last paragraph. The Father was speaking to the Son, the Word. All these men foresaw Christ. They knew God’s plan of salvation before it arrived, and they rested in it even before the New Covenant came. This shows us that God has declared the end from the beginning, just as Scripture records:
Remember the former things of old, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure,’ Isaiah 46:9–10
The beginning began with God speaking His Word. His Word is truth. Therefore, all the things we see in pagan religions which resemble and preceded the rise of Christianity in the first century AD are distortions of this truth that existed from the beginning. Satan ever tries to imitate God, but the Spirit of Christ gives us discernment to know the difference. When someone tells you Christianity came from paganism, or that it evolved out of polytheism into monotheism, tell them that monotheism existed from the start. The many came from the One. Now we are returning to the One.
History’s Many Fallacies
Often times scholars and researchers make the effort trace modern religious and cultural traditions back to Babylon. While this is a noble cause the truth is that even Babylon’s beliefs came from a time long before its existence. The further back you go the more muddied history gets. Do not cling to scholarly work done to expose these traditions through historical analysis alone. Archaeology, or any of the sciences for that matter, cannot provide us with a competent view of the development and proliferation of paganism. Even ancient historians will tell you that their knowledge of history might be wrong. Take the following for example:
I warn and advise everyone from the start, that no-one should ever pretend that he can be completely certain about matters of chronology. It will help if first we remember the advice of our true master, [p3] who told his companions [Acts, 1'7]: "It is not for you to know the hours and seasons which the Father has set under his own authority." He, as our Lord and God, uttered this saying not only about the end of the world, but also, in my opinion, about all dates, to dissuade men from such pointless investigations.
Indeed, my own words here will confirm this saying of our master, [by showing] that it is not possible to gain an accurate knowledge of the whole chronology of the world from the Greeks, or from any others, not even from the Hebrews themselves. But it is possible to hope for this only: that what is said by us in this present treatise will help us to recognize two things. Firstly, no-one, like some have done, should believe that he is calculating dates with full accuracy, and be deceived in that way. But he should realize that this has been brought up for discussion, only so that he can know the means and manner of the proposed investigation, and so that he should not remain in doubt.
There is no reason to be surprised that the Greeks do not appear in the most ancient times. They have fallen into various fatal errors, and for a long time before the generation of Cadmus they were completely ignorant of writing. They say that Cadmus was the first to bring them the alphabet, from the land of the Phoenicians. And so the Egyptian in Plato's book [ Timaeus, 22'B ] rightly despises Solon; "O Solon," he says, "you Greeks are always children. An old Greek man is never to be found, and no-one can learn from you about ancient times." But many improbable stories have been told by the Egyptians and Chaldaeans. For instance, the Chaldaeans calculate that their recorded history has lasted for more than 400,000 years. [p5] The Egyptians make up myths about gods and demi-gods, and also about some shades; and they tell many crazy myths about other mortal kings.
Yet what forces me to examine such matters in detail now, when I value the truth above all else? Even amongst my beloved Hebrews one can find inconsistencies, which I will mention at the appropriate time. But I have said this much in reproach of those chroniclers who are eager for such hollow glory.
In accordance with these objectives, I will scrutinize the
books of the ancient writers.
(Eusebius of Caesarea, Chronicon, Book 1)
Eusebius is telling us that his interest in history is not so much to prove the truth but to scrutinize historical writers, because he knows most of them are wrong on many points. It is not only Eusebius who makes this assertion. There are plenty of historians who have held precisely the same sentiment. In Eusebius’ Chronicon, you will find accounts from different sources that agree on some parts and differ on others.
This is the nature of historical writing, period. It is no different even in modern times. Writers are influenced heavily by their culture’s perceptions, as well as their own perceptions and biases. Often times these perceptions and biases are influenced by popular consensus or forced on writers by the patrons of their works. Remember, historians are usually paid for their work. In ancient times being a scribe was a very prestigious trade. Because of these and many other reasons, history is very murky and messy. Finding multiple sources that largely agree on any particular subject is rare, especially when it comes to the ancient near east, a place where an immense amount of syncretization and cultural exchange was happening in a relatively small region of the world.
For this reason, the Bible is possibly the most trustworthy book ever written. There aren’t many works out there that have thousands of semi-early reproductions of the original manuscripts available for analysis, versions which agree with about 95% accuracy. That level of agreement is almost unheard of in ancient studies. Even so, there is still enough wiggle room for a 5% difference to devolve into hundreds of denominations. Even the earliest so-called “church fathers” disagreed on many points regarding theology, and they lived so shortly after the apostles. It doesn’t take much, and it doesn’t take long for the truth to get buried under a flood of reinterpretation. You can see why it is not so far-fetched to say that even Christianity has become corrupted in its 2000-year lifespan. So, it would be no shock to discover that Christmas, for example, is not Christian at all.
Looking back at the definition of evangelion in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, take note of the statement, “To the many messages, however, the NT opposes the one Gospel, to the many accessions the one proclamation of the [Kingdom of God].” The true Gospel corrects the incipient fractures in the human heart with all the doctrines it supposes by the singular, anointed truth that is contained in Yahshua, the One who was declared from the beginning. He gives us a new heart. His heart. When this happens, we see the truth. When we see the truth, we also see what masquerades as light and truth. These things are revealed as darkness and death. If we carry that light of truth with us at all times no darkness can fool us into thinking it is light. As Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-11:
The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
With that said, even the best of us fall prey to error. We must be on guard at all times but also be ready to be challenged. When we think we know the truth we tend to become stubborn and obstinate in it. Stubborn is never good because it is an attitude that comes from pride. Caution is always good when being presented with something new, but don’t just turn your nose up at it. Conversely, don’t just accept it, unless you know the voice of God well and know for certain the Spirit is confirming it. This takes much training, though. Test all things to see if they are true. This is how you exercise your senses and become trained in righteousness.
For everyone who lives on milk is still an infant, inexperienced in the message of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained their senses to distinguish good from evil. Hebrews 5:13-14
Some will tell you, in their complacency and laziness, that it is God’s place to change your heart and to open your eyes to new things. While this is mostly true there is clearly effort required on your part. Further, if it is purely God’s work to change you or to keep you on track, then why do we have all these exhortations in Scripture? Because we have a choice to go against the Spirit and the better judgment He has trained us in.
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected;
but I press on, that I may lay hold of
that for which Christ Yahshua has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not
count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things
which are behind and reaching forward to those
things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the
upward call of God in Christ Yahshua.
Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. Hebrews 6:1–3
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Romans 12:2
Do you see the effort required on your part in these passages? The language is such that we are exhorted and commanded to do and be certain things by our own effort. Yes, it is God who permits us, even enables us to move forward in our walk of faith, but it is our responsibility to walk out that faith which was given to us. Let us not be lazy or complacent. Let us test all things.
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good.
1 Thessalonians 5:19–21
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1
I challenge you to test the Christmas spirit to see what the Spirit of God says, what Scripture says and what the evidence of its history and existence says about it.
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