Wandering the savage garden…

It’s always someone else, isn’t it?

I’m still catching up with my daily Bible reading, and I’m in Deuteronomy 13. This section talks about someone suggesting worship of other gods, and it uses a form of “if someone suggests that you do this, then you shall not do it, and they shall be executed.”

This is all pretty ordinary, I think; nothing really spectacular about vigorously defending monotheism in the midst of Israel. I’d prefer a little more leniency than is indicated here – note that witnesses would still be required, so it’s not a witch hunt situation, where accusation is the same as conviction. But still! There’s little room for wriggling, if one advocates idolatry.

A good example of the verses in question can be found in D’varim 13:6-11:

[6] “If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter or the wife you embrace or your friend who is as your own soul entices you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which neither you nor your fathers have known, [7] some of the gods of the peoples who are around you, whether near you or far off from you, from the one end of the earth to the other, [8] you shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him, nor shall you conceal him. [9] But you shall kill him. Your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. [10] You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. [11] And all Israel shall hear and fear and never again do any such wickedness as this among you.” (Deuteronomy 13:6-11 ESV)

Here’s what stands out to me, in two main points – with the second being derived from the first, but far more important.

Idolatry, or ‘serving other gods?’

It says that the phrase is “let us serve other gods.” Here’s the text from the Decalogue concerning other gods:

[7] “‘You shall have no other gods before me.
[8] “‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. [9] You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, [10] but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Deuteronomy 5:7-10 ESV)

So we have a command that establishes the primacy of The Holy One, and then a further specification that no graven images of any ‘holy being’ — including the Holy One — shall be used, especially as objects of worship or that lead to worship.

This might even lead to the Cross, in some churches; worship at the Cross, fine, but worship the Cross itself, or being called by the Cross somehow, is (ahem) crossing the line, possibly.

But that’s neither here nor there, really; if you’re talking about a sort of representation of the Holy One, you’re still generally talking about acknowledging Him. But if you worship using a calf – for example – as the avatar for God, well, that’s clearly out of bounds… and if that calf represents a god that’s not the Holy One at all (Hathor, for example), then you’re not only out of bounds, you’re not even playing the right game.

So my question is: where is the request to “serve other gods” — as in, “let us serve other gods” — the same as idolatry? Are they identical? Is there some hair-splitting difference that I don’t see somehow?

I don’t know.

But we’re still not focusing on the main thought.

It’s someone else?

The form you see in D’varim 13 is always someone else. It’s never “If you say ‘let us serve other gods,'” but your friend, or wife, or child, or someone – anyone else.

If they do this, this is the punishment… not “If you do this, this is the punishment.”

I suppose that the injunction against you yourself advocating service to some other god is in the Decalogue itself, but the Decalogue assumes that you accept it, as a participant in the Covenant that the Decalogue comprises. Therefore, the punishment would be included as part of the Covenant itself.. which makes the external injunction here a little odd, because if the statement (“let us serve other gods”) is issued by another who is under the Covenant, their sin would be covered by the Covenant itself, and wouldn’t need clarification here.

It’s a confusing piece of text for me; simple on the surface, because it’s pretty clear that it’s saying “Avoid the service of other gods, like the plague, because of the plague!,” but the permutations of what the terms mean and to whom the statement is addressed are fascinating, scintillating.


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