Exodus 20:3 (KJV)
Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
The first of the Ten Commandments is the basis of all the commandments of God. Yet in spite of its simplicity human beings have an incredibly difficult time keeping it. While we are too "sophisticated" in this day and age to bow down to a hunk of rock or metal, most would readily agree that we have competing interests in our hearts that tower in importance and threaten our love and worship of our God. We can all probably point to the many sermons that we have heard that delineate the danger of the love of money, self-centeredness, and any other worship of toys, property, or people that comes before God.
But there is a more subtle danger out there that is often overlooked by the devout Christian. That danger is called "syncretism", the blending of pure and holy worship of God with the impure and false worship of anything else. Syncretism is dangerous because we often don't realize that we are engaging in it. Human beings have been guilty of syncretism from day one.
Here are some examples:
Genesis 4:3,5,7 (KJV)
And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD.
But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.
If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.
Right away in Genesis God had apparently set out the requirements for an acceptable offering. When Cain decided to go his own way and offered something of his own choosing, God did not accept it. God told Cain that he had not done well and that sin lay at his door.
Exodus 32:1-6 (KJV)
And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.
And Aaron said unto them, Break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them unto me.
And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron.
And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.
And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To morrow is a feast to the LORD.
And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.
In Exodus, while God was giving the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai, the people became restless and weren't sure that they were going to see Moses again. So what did they do? They complained to Aaron, Moses' brother and high priest, and as a result, Aaron fashioned a golden calf which the people then worshiped and offered to it burnt offerings and peace offerings. Although this looks like the people were worshiping false gods this was not completely the case. Verses 4 and 5 point to the golden calf as being the representation of the "gods" that brought the people out of Egypt (which is actually the true God). Aaron also stated that the next day would be a feast to the Lord! The most insulting aspect of this is how Aaron used LORD, which in the Hebrew is God's four letter name as the God to whom the feast was directed.
When Moses returned to find the people participating in this idolatry, he threw down the tablets of the Law and broke them. He ended up by having the golden calf melted down, mixed with water, and drunk by the people.
Then in the later history of Israel we find many references to "groves" and "high places". These were places where the idolatrous people around Israel would worship their gods. Israel often joined in, but a few of the good kings of Judah (the southern kingdom of the Jewish people) would remove these high places and receive commendation from the Lord.
2 Chronicles 14:3 (KJV)
For he took away the altars of the strange gods, and the high places, and brake down the images, and cut down the groves:
These are just some of the many examples that can be found throughout the Bible. In fact, it seems more the norm for the Jewish people to have mixed their pure worship of God with the unholy than for the pure to exist alone as God wanted it.
We even find syncretism in the days leading up to the time of Yeshua.
During the time of the Greek Empire begun by Alexander the Great and continued through the Seleucid Kingdom the influence of Hellenism (Greek culture, etc.) was felt keenly by the Jews. The country was very divided. Many had fallen in love with Hellenism and wanted to be as Greek as possible. Greek gymnasiums sprang up in Jewish towns, boys were left uncircumcised or altered to appear uncircumcised (!), and even the Hebrew language fell into disuse. All the while the nation continued to observe Judaism, at least nominally. However, the rest of the nation was very alarmed at the influence of Hellenism and wanted to shun it. During the days of Antiochus Epiphanes the Maccabees revolted and ended up by wresting control of the country from the Seleucids.
But syncretism was not banished for good. It continues to this day. However, before we cast too many stones in the direction of the Jews we need to look at our own Christian history and practices. In the next post we'll examine where we have also fallen into syncretism and are maybe not even aware of it. Stay tuned.