29 “When the LORD your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land,
30 “take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’
31 “You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; for every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.
32 “Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it.”
When the apostle Paul was preaching on the Areopagus (a.k.a. Mars Hill) in Athens, he did something unexpected: he told them that the “Unknown God” they worshiped was in fact the one true God. Some look at this as a case of Christians appropriating a non-Christian deity or hero and turning it into a Christian thing. Such charges have been leveled at Christianity before, especially when churches have taken local heroes and seemingly recast them as Christian saints. But that moment in Athens, Paul was not taking a pagan god and “Christianizing” it. Paul was pointing out to the Athenians that the yearning they felt toward this Unknown God, this desire to worship something other than their usual pagan deities, was in fact a desire for Christ, whom they had not yet known. Paul’s argument was that the Greeks’ deification of Nature was a hidden desire to know the true Creator of all things, but men had been misled to think of gold and silver and stone as the object of their worship, and so they turned astray from the path to God.
30 “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent,
31 “because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”
God has been merciful in overlooking man’s idolatry and faithlessness. As He had done in the past, the Creator might have struck down the unbelievers and pagans at any time, and yet He chose instead to send His Son to bring men salvation from their sins. As Jesus told Nicodemus, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:17) Paul took the desire of the Athenians and pointed it in the right direction, so that their worship would no longer be for some unknown god but for the God who is now known to them in Christ Jesus.
But helping pagans to see the error of their ways and teaching them about Jesus is very different from what we see happening in the world today. In our own day and age, we see people who call themselves “Christians” claiming that all paths lead to God, saying that we should all just get along and that so long as people worship SOME god, then they are doing alright. They take what Paul said on Mars Hill and turn it backwards, saying that the one God is in all those other gods and that people can go ahead and keep worshiping whatever version of God they like. And, worse yet, many people refuse to evangelize people who worship other deities, who do not know Jesus as Lord and Savior, because they think that those people are already, unknowingly worshiping Christ. Nothing could be further from the truth! And such tolerance of paganism goes against both what Paul told the Athenians and what God told the Israelites through Moses.
As seen in today’s verses from Deuteronomy, God knew that men would be tempted to look into other religions and see how they might incorporate those practices into their worship. The Lord knew that men would take their liberty for granted and seek after gods who seemed to demand less of them than the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You would think that deliverance from slavery would be enough to keep the Israelites closer to the God of their fathers, but their later history shows that they did indeed abandon the one true God for petty idols of wood and metal and stone. They traveled the route of the Athenians in reverse, going from knowledge of the merciful and powerful God of Israel to casual worship of the useless idols of their pagan neighbors. And the Israelites did this again and again, despite the warnings of today’s verses and other times in later generations.
The Israelites did not diligently teach the laws and statutes and commandments of the Lord to their children. They didn’t pass them on to later generations as they ought, and they suffered for it. They were overtaken by their enemies, they saw famine and drought, and they were again enslaved.
Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD,
The people He has chosen as His own inheritance.
What becomes of a nation today that abandons the Lord? What happens when a people who once fled oppression to seek God in a new land now turn from Him to seek other gods? What blessing might people expect when they ignore the clear commandment of God not to worship Him as the pagans do but to worship Him as He directed? What is the fate of a land where people believe that all gods are paths to the one true and living God?
Do not be misled. Do not be bamboozled by people preaching tolerance and acceptance, who try to say that brotherly love includes loving the idols that others have in their lives. We are called to worship and love only One: the God whose Son is Jesus Christ. We are directed to worship Him in spirit and in truth. We are commanded specifically NOT to incorporate the worship practices of other gods into our own worship. We are told NOT to seek the truth in other religions but to show those other religions the lies they have believed and to direct them to “THE way, THE truth, and THE life” that is Christ Jesus our Lord. (John 14:6, my emphasis)
Today, we are seeing popular psychology being repackaged as Christian advice for success. We are seeing people stripping away the deity of Christ and saying they follow Jesus but do not consider Him Lord nor Savior. We are seeing pastors–who ought to know better–studying pagan religions and claiming to have found truths there that they did not find in the Bible. We are seeing a whole nation and people becoming more tolerant of sin than they are of faith and truth.
“All her carved images shall be beaten to pieces,
And all her pay as a harlot shall be burned with the fire;
All her idols I will lay desolate,
For she gathered it from the pay of a harlot,
And they shall return to the pay of a harlot.”
When people say that America is no longer a Christian nation, they are absolutely right. We are a nation of harlots who tolerate any lover, any idol, any god, any injustice, any denial of God–all in the name of satisfying our own need to be “tolerated” and “loved.” We refuse to heed the Word of God and instead inquire after other gods and other idols, seeking God in places and through practices where He will never be found. God is not found in the lust of men for men nor women for women. God is not found in the murder of unborn babies. God is not found in compromise with murderers and terrorists who slay in the name of other gods. God is not found in a melting-pot of religions. God is not found in “acceptance” and “tolerance” and “getting along.”
God is found in Jesus Christ. God is found in the Bible. God is found in the holy love of a man and a woman who seek God’s will for their lives. God is found in the peace and forgiveness that is made in the name of Christ. God is found in Creation that is tended and cared for with love and respect. God is found in the nation that shuns sin. God is found in hearts that seek mercy and justice and truth.
If you would inquire after God, then seek Him where He may be found, not in religions and idolatries that have never known Him. Inquire after God in His written Word, the Holy Bible. Inquire after God in Jesus Christ, who seeks to save those like you and me who have been lost. Inquire after God in the wonder of His Creation. Inquire after God in the stillness between the storms of our lives. Inquire after God in His laws and commandments and statutes.
6 Seek the LORD while He may be found,
Call upon Him while He is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake his way,
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
Let him return to the LORD,
And He will have mercy on him;
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.
This offer of the mercy of God is not forever, for when the Son of God returns, He will return as Judge and come with fire. (Matthew 25:31-46)
As Isaiah told Judah, seek the Lord while He may be found. Do not inquire after other gods but inquire after the one true God who alone can save our souls from eternal torment. Inquire after the God who alone seeks to raise us into new life and glory. Inquire after the one true and living and known God who alone is worthy of all worship and praise.
Holy Father God, I know You now–or I am coming to know You. Each day that I seek You in Your Word, I find You. Each time that I fall to my knees in prayer, I find You. In every song of worship and every hymn of praise, I find You enthroned and glorified. In quiet moments of prayer with fellow believers, I find You. In the wonder of Creation, I find You. Father, let me never seek You in any other philosophy or religion, never inquire after other practices than the worship and praise You have ordained. For You alone are the treasure that I seek, the object of my love, and the true center of my life. Amen.