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About The Author
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New Dissertation on the Worship of Idols and Gods in the OT
January 23, 2016
I do, in part because I think that was Paul’s problem with the Judaizers. Paul wasn’t critical of the law per se (see Rom 7) — he was critical of swapping it for faith in Jesus, thus dismissing or altering the gospel. Doing so mean salvation by the law, which meant spiritual death. In Unseen Realm I put the relationship this way:
THE LAW AND SALVATION
In simplest terms, the Sinai covenant conveyed Yahweh’s will for what he intended Israel to be—in relation both to him and to the disinherited nations. Israel was to be theologically and ethically distinct. These distinctions were obligations, not suggestions. Israel was to be holy (Lev 19:2) and fulfill God’s original Edenic purpose of spreading his influence (his kingdom rule) throughout all the nations.
Israel’s status as Yahweh’s own portion was not an end in itself, but the means by which Israel would draw all nations back to Yahweh (Deut 4:6–8; 28:9–10). This is the idea behind Israel being a “kingdom of priests” (Exod 19:6) and “a light to the nations” (Isa 42:6; 49:6; 51:4; 60:3). It’s no wonder that the book of Revelation uses the same language of believers in Revelation 5:10, a divine council scene, in connection with ruling over all the earth. The entire nation inherited the status and duty of Abraham, that through him—and now them—all nations would be blessed (Gen 12:3).
But did this salvation come by obeying rules? To ask the question is to miss the point. Salvation in the Old Testament meant love for Yahweh alone. One had to believe that Yahweh was the God of all gods, trusting that this Most High God had chosen covenant relationship with Israel to the detriment of all other nations. The law was how one demonstrated that love—that loyalty. Salvation was not merited. Yahweh alone had initiated the relationship. Yahweh’s choice and covenant promise had to be believed. An Israelite’s believing loyalty was shown by faithfulness to the law.
The core of the law was fidelity to Yahweh alone, above all gods. To worship other gods was to demonstrate the absence of belief, love, and loyalty. Doing the works of the law without having the heart aligned only to Yahweh was inadequate. This is why the promise of the possession of the promised land is repeatedly and inextricably linked in the Torah to the first two commandments (i.e., staying clear of idolatry and apostasy).
The history of Israel’s kings illustrates the point. King David was guilty of the worst of crimes against humanity in the incident with Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite (2 Sam 11). He was clearly in violation of the law and deserving of death. Nevertheless, his belief in who Yahweh was among all gods never wavered. God was merciful to him, sparing him from death, though his sin had consequences the rest of his life. But there was no doubt that David was ever a believer in Yahweh and never worshiped another. Yet other kings of Israel and Judah were tossed aside and both kingdoms sent into exile—because they worshiped other gods. Personal failure, even of the worst kind, did not send the nation into exile. Choosing other gods did.
The same is true in the New Testament. Believing the gospel means believing that Yahweh, the God of Israel, came to earth incarnated as a man, voluntarily died on the cross as a sacrifice for our sin, and rose again on the third day. That is the content of our faith this side of the cross. Our believing loyalty is demonstrated by our obedience to “the law of Christ” (1 Cor 9:21; Gal 6:2). We cannot worship another. Salvation means believing loyalty to Christ, who was and is the visible Yahweh. There is no salvation in any other name (Acts 4:12), and faith must remain intact (Rom 11:17–24; Heb 3:19; 10:22, 38–39). Personal failure is not the same as trading Jesus for another god—and God knows that.
Believing loyalty was therefore not just academic. By definition it must be conscious and active. Israel knew that her God had fought for her and loved her, but the relationship came with expectations. As she embarked for the promised land, Israel would have daily, visible reminders not only of Yahweh’s presence but of his total otherness. Having the divine presence with you could be both fantastic and frightening.
Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (First Edition.; Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015), 169–170.