The Price Of Apostasy

In the third month of their flight from Egypt, the Hebrew nation had an encounter with God Himself. (Exodus 19) The Lord talked with Moses and, later, appeared to the entire Hebrew nation as a cloud of smoke. God spoke His commandments to Moses and Moses relayed them to the massed tribes. The people saw the smoke and lightning and heard the thunder and they were frightened.

9 And the LORD said unto Moses, Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and believe thee for ever. And Moses told the words of the people unto the LORD.
10 And the LORD said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them to day and to morrow, and let them wash their clothes,
11 And be ready against the third day: for the third day the LORD will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai.
--Exodux 19:9-11

When Almighty God came down on Mount Sinai to visit with Moses and speak to the Hebrews, it was no small thing. There was no need for imagination or special interpretation of events. God's visit was, quite literally, earth shaking.

16 And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled.
17 And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount.
18 And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.
19 And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice.
--Exodus 19:16-19

That must have been something to experience. It was a bit too much for the people and they pulled 'way back from the site of God's appearing. They told Moses to go find out what God wanted and then let them know.

18 And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off.
19 And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.
--Exodus 20:18-19

And what was it that God had to say on that momentous occasion? He had plenty to say, and His words were condensed into what Jews refer to as the Ten Utterances, what most who read this board likely refer to as the Ten Commandments. Rabbis tell us that every one of the 613 laws of the Tanakh can be placed under one or another of the Ten Utterances. In this article, I am going to look at just one of the Commandments:

4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:
5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
--Exodus 20:4-6

Wow! The Lord God descending upon a mountain in fire and accompanied by billowing clouds of smoke, rolling thunder and quaking ground! That certainly would have gotten my attention, I have to tell you. And the Hebrew people were impressed. For a while.

It wasn't too long before they decided to make a graven image (golden calf) before which they might pray, sing, dance and offer thanks (Exodus 32). This did not please the Lord. Moses called those who were faithful to God to get their swords and slay the others who were offending God. Some 3,000 revelers died that day. (v. 28). That was not the end of it, for God then visited a plague on the people because they had made the calf (v. 35)

One would think that such terrible punishment would have been remembered by the Hebrews and that they would have done their very best to keep God's Law. They were a cantankerous bunch, it seems, and soon felt the consequences of God's wrath again. They were so disobedient, in fact, that not one of those Moses led out of Egypt, nor even Moses himself, was able to enter the land God promised to the Hebrew nation.

Even after they had claimed the Promised Land and established their nation, the Hebrew people kept getting into trouble with God. They strived against themselves, against their neighbors and against God. And they paid for their disobedience.

It is easy to fantasize that the people of Israel learned their lessons and lived in obedience to God's Law. After all, they lived in a theocracy. Their very lives were ordered around their faith and worship. Those who lived in or near Jerusalem had the sights, sounds and smells of temple worship to remind them to be obedient to their God. But, of course, they were not fully obedient to the demands of the Law. No one can be.

Romans 3:10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:

The Jews were drifting away from the Law. They stopped doing some of the things they were called to do and they began doing those things that God forbade them to do. Evidence of their disregard for the the Law may be seen on the left.

The image is of a seal discovered at Meggido. The writing above and below the image of a roaring lion informs us that Shema was a servant of Jeroboam. The design of the characters used to convey this information strongly suggests that Shema worked for Jeroboam II, who was ruler of Israel between 786 and 746 BC.

Jeroboam II was the tenth king of Israel. Under his leadership, the ten northern tribes flourished. He took advantage of his more powerful neighbors' troubles to expand Israeli territory to encompass all that Jonah had prophesied (2 Kings 14:25; Amos 6:13-14). He took back from Damascus and Hamath the territories that had been Judah's under King David (2 Kings 14:28)

Israel was not able to handle the good times under Jeroboam's rule. A cancer was eating at her heart. Injustice and immorality abounded. The theocratic state of Israel became ecumenical and reconciled to foreign religious innovation. The Jewish people became hedonistic and self-indulgent. It was not long after Jeroboam II's death that the ten tribes were dispersed.

The object on the right is a seal that bears the graven images of a man, a bird and a papyrus stalk. The inscription, in Hebrew, identifies the seal as belonging to "Abdi, the servant of Hoshea." The characters used in the inscription date the seal to the late 8th century B.C. It is very possible that Abdi was an official of King Hoshea, who ruled Israel's northern kingdom from 732-722 B.C.

Who was Hoshea and how could his Jewish servant be so bold as to use a seal upon which were supposedly prohibited graven images? He was the last ruler of the northern kingdom. Hoshea reached the throne by killing the incumbant, King Pekah (2 Kings 15:30). The Assyrian ruler, Tiglath-pileser III, claimed to have had a hand in Hoshea's ascension to the throne (J.B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 3rd Ed., Princeton(1969), pp. 283-84)

Assyria had already annexed a great deal of the northern kingdom by the time Hoshea came to power and he was required to pay a heavy tribute. Tiglath-pileser III died in 727 BC and Hoshea seized the opportunity to revolt. Shalmaneser V, the new Assyrian king, was not pleased and invaded Israel. Hoshea gave up and was imprisoned while the Assyrians laid seige to Samaria. When Samaria fell, its populace was dispersed throughout Mesopotamia. Could this have been divine punishment administered to an apostate people who had so separated themselves from the Supreme Head of their theocracy that even their leaders flaunted their disobedience?

The next few hundred years were hard on the Jewish nation. They were conquered, exiled and some where hauled off to Babylon as captives. Even after the captives returned, things were not good and conflicts arose between the former exiles and those Jews, Samarians and others who had settled on their former lands.

After construction of the Temple in Jerusalem was completed (ca. 516 BC), things settled down for the next 70 years or so. The Persians controlled Judah, but there is no biblical record of their acting to settle religious disputes or civil unrest during this period. But things were not good in Judah. There was pestilence, drought, iniquity and many social problems.

Malachi lived in those times. He wrote that the hard times that had fallen on Judah were God's punishment for their failure to live and worship according to God's Law. It was a time of religious tolerance, of religious syncretism. Malachi urged the people to repent and reform, to prepare themselves for the coming Day of the Lord (Malachi 4:5,6).

Did the Jews listen to God's words as relayed through His prophet? No. Look at the coin on the right. It is a silver quarter-shekel of Judah. In the image, one can see a bearded deity (Yahweh?) holding a large bird. He sits on a winged chariot wheel. Some Greek or Persian god? One might suspect as much, were it not that the word Yehud (Judah) is inscribed on the coin in 4th Century BC aramaic lapidary script. The image of the winged wheel calls to mind Ezekiel's vision of Yahweh's glory (Ezekiel 1:4-28). The other side of the coin shows the helmeted head of a Greek warrior.

This coin is clear evidence that, by the 4th century BC, the Hebrew people apparently had lost some of their awe of the God Who had made them His chosen people. Certainly the images on the coin are in violation of God's command"

Exodus 20:4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:

Perhaps they had gone so far as to create a graven image of Yahweh Himself.

Did they also in their apostasy add insult to their disobedience? Every year, Jews over the age of 20 were to pay a ransom for their souls as an offering to the Lord. (Exodus 30:12-16) Could it be that silver quarter-shekels such as the one depicted above were tendered by some Jews as atonement money? Could it be that coins bearing images, possibly blasphemous images, prohibited by God were offered to God in religious ceremony?

Whatever the reason, the Jewish people were subjected to one trial after another until, in 64 BC, Pompey made the Seleucid (Syrian) empire a Roman province. Since Judea and Galilee were included in the territory, Jews felt the full weight of Roman occupation. Divine retribution for Jewish apostasy? Could be.

Some view modern Israel as a theonomy, a nation ruled by God. In many ways, I suppose that it is. I find it interesting that a number of her special issue coins bear images of animals and men. Old habits die hard, I guess, as this 1995 special issue 10 New Sheqalim coin bearing the image of Golda Meir manifests:

So what does all this history have to do with the purpose of this board? Perhaps nothing at all. Perhaps a lot. The Roman Catholic Church claims to be the true church, the church established by Jesus Christ before Pentecost. Yet the Roman Church seems to have fallen into the apostasy just as did the Jews of ancient times. The rituals and ceremonies of the Catholic church are empty and meaningless repetitions of so-called bloodless sacrifices of a blasphemous wheaten image of Christ. The Catholic Church fosters a syncretist religion, an amalgam of rabbinical Judaism, early Christianity and who knows how many pagan religions and practices. Her priests and faithful bow down to images and pray before them, even make sacrifices to them. Will God one day grow weary of Romish heresies and bring down His wrath on the Catholic Church? Will He one day raze their pagan temples to the ground? Surely He will, and it will be a time of great tribulation. Better to seek safety in the Christ of Scripture than in the earth goddess who heads the Roman pantheon.

Seek God in His Holy Scriptures.

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