Do Not Copy the World

In Deuteronomy 12, the Lord uses Moses to speak to his people about how they are to worship him when they enter into the promised land. Notice, both at the beginning and the end of this chapter, how clear the Lord is about the fact that the people of Israel are not to learn their practices of worship from the land’s inhabitants and their practices.

Deuteronomy 12:1-4 – 1 “These are the statutes and rules that you shall be careful to do in the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess, all the days that you live on the earth. 2 You shall surely destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. 3 You shall tear down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and burn their Asherim with fire. You shall chop down the carved images of their gods and destroy their name out of that place. 4 You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way.

Deuteronomy 12:29-31 – 29 “When the Lord your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, 30 take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ 31 You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.

When you read through the Old Testament, especially the books of the Kings and Chronicles, you will often find references to a king as good or bad. Part of the reference includes whether or not the king kept or destroyed the high places. That might sound a little odd to you, but a look at this section makes it clearer. The high places were places where Canaanites would worship their false gods. And for some reason, the people of Israel were tempted to mimic the acts of the Canaanites, either to worship the evil and false gods of Canaan or to try to incorporate those practices into the worship of the Lord.

The verses between these two sections tell the people of Israel what God requires of them in worship. He instructs them about things like sacrifice, offerings, tithes, and the place of worship. It is a simple look at important principles for Old Testament worship. And, as I mentioned, bookended around those instructions is that the worship of the Lord is not to be influenced by the practices of the world.

God then closes this section with a thought we need to keep.

Deuteronomy 12:32 – “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.

This chapter is about worship. God says to do what he commands. He says to do so carefully. And he says not to add to it or take from it.

Now, we are a people in the 21st century. We are New Testament Christians. Does any of this apply? For sure, we can find some principles. God’s word is to govern how God’s people worship. We are foolish if we add to his word, bringing into our worship things God did not command. We are especially foolish if our practices mimic the world. Israel was not to look at the high places and try to incorporate their elements into the worship of the Lord. WE too need to be very careful not to try to learn our practice of worship from the lost world. The lost world knows a great deal about manipulating human emotion and working us into a frenzy. The lost world knows nothing about the true worship of the living God.

Does this mean I am opposing the use of modern instruments or equipment? No. But I would suggest that we be careful to do, in our services of worship, the things God’s word has actually commanded. I also would suggest that we be careful to avoid adding to the biblical formula for worship, as we have no ability or right to improve upon what the Lord has commanded his people to do.

Not That Way

Here is a simple yet significant warning. Be careful attempting to worship the Lord in the way that seems most natural to you. Why? As a sinful human being, your choices, your natural instincts, your most comfortable ideas are apt to be wrong. It is very possible that a person might come up with a sincere plan to please God. The plan may seem logical and even meaningful. But, if it is not in accord with the will of God, that plan will be nothing but offensive to God.\

I thought of this while reading through Deuteronomy. Take note of the warning God gives Israel early on in his reiteration of his law regarding worship.

Deuteronomy 12:1-4 1 “These are the statutes and rules that you shall be careful to do in the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess, all the days that you live on the earth. 2 You shall surely destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. 3 You shall tear down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and burn their Asherim with fire. You shall chop down the carved images of their gods and destroy their name out of that place. 4 You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way.

God told the people that, when they enter the land to possess it, they are to physically destroy Canaanite temples. Why? Look to the final verse. God tells the people, “You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way.” Why would God have to make this statement? It is because the people would have naturally chosen to worship in that way. God was warning them, not against something that was no temptation, but against something that is the most common of human temptations. God was warning them not to worship in a way of their own devising.

Friends, the truth is that we will very naturally come up with all sorts of things we think must be great ideas for worshipping the Lord. But God had to warn people early on not to come up with new plans, new strategies, new methods of worshipping him. God had a very clear will as to how he should be worshipped.

Does that bother you? He is God after all. God has every right to say what pleases him and what does not. God is in no way obligated to accept human worship at all. God is certainly not obligated to accept human worship which he finds offensive. And God is not obligated to be pleased with our ideas for worship. This truth is doubled when we realize that God has told us how to please him in his word. God gave Israel instructions in the desert. God has given his church instructions in the first century. How dare we determine to go our own way?

But, beware. The reason the command had to be given is that it is in our sinful nature to attempt to worship in ways that do not please the Lord. Remember, the thing that made Cain most angry early on was the fact that Abel’s sacrifice was accepted and his was not. Remember that Aaron’s two sons died for offering a fire to the Lord that the Lord did not authorize. Remember, from right here in Deuteronomy, that God had to warn the people not to worship like the Canaanites. Understand that, if you leave things to your own best ideas, if your worship is not governed by the word of God, you will displease the Lord in the very act of what you think is worship.