By Nelly Favis Villafuerte
It was about 1446 BC when Moses led the Jewish people to the Promised Land from Egypt. (See Part II of the 40-year exodus from Egypt to Canaan, the Promised Land) The rebellious behavior of the grumbling, complaining Jewish people against God and Moses while en route to the Promised Land angered God. He said that the generation of the Jewish people that departed from Egypt would have to die in the wilderness and it would be their descendants who will be allowed to enter the Promised Land. Remember the idolatrous calf worship incident?
As earlier mentioned in Part I, God imposed a so-called “land use covenant” for the possession and enjoyment by the Jewish people of the Promised Land bequeathed by God to Abraham and to his descendants – the Jewish people. One may ask what the “land use covenant” was. In the Book of Deuteronomy, we see the list of laws that the Jewish people had to obey (known as the Mosaic Covenant). We see God appearing to Moses on Mount Sinai and giving to Moses the Ten Commandments and God’s warning as to the consequences for disobedience by the Jewish people – including drought, famine, diseases, foreign domination, and the ultimate judgment of scattering the Jewish people among the nations.
When the Jewish people arrived in the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua (Moses’ successor), they continued to disobey God. What were some of the sins of the rebellious Jewish people against God? For one, the conquering Israelites had been instructed earlier by God through Moses to annihilate the Canaanite people living in the Promised Land when the Jewish people entered the place. Instead, they intermarried with the Canaanites who were heavily involved in idolatry, the greatest abomination against the Lord – and eventually led the Jewish people to idolatry. The Canaanites worshipped Baal and Ashtoreth, Baal’s wife. Ashtoreth is Ishtar to the Babylonians, Astarte to the Greeks and Romans, and Asherah to the Phoenicians and Syria. The worship centers (temples) in honor of Baal and Ashtoreth were often centers of vice. Aside from the principal god and goddesses of the Canaanites, there were minor gods too. Images of these gods were likewise worshipped in extravagant religious rites. In ancient times, idolatry was the greatest abomination against the Lord. Today, idolatry is still the greatest abomination against the Lord. In its broadest sense, idolatry is the giving of divine honor or worship or excessive devotion or reverence to any person or to anything – like idols made by human hands — other than God.
Let me share with you two Biblical verses on idolatry that condemn the repeated sin of the Jewish people to worship idols:
“I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.” (Isaiah 42:8, New International Version)
“Not to us, LORD, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness. Why do the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’ Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him. But their idols are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak; eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear; noses, but cannot smell. They have hands, but cannot feel; feet, but cannot walk; nor can they utter a sound with their throats. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.” (Psalm 115:1-8, New International Version)
In Judges 2:11-14 in the Old Testament, we see how “the anger of the Lord burned against the Jews.” To discipline them, our Lord raised up leaders called judges who called on the Jewish people to repent. There were 16 judges whom God installed to discipline the rebellious Jews. Since the rebellious behavior of the Jews against God were repeated and repeated over and over again, God allowed enemies of various races to defeat the Jewish people – the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Medes-Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans. All of these peoples defeated the Jewish people one after the other. After King Solomon died, Israel was divided by a civil war into the Northern Kingdom called Israel and Ephraim (capital: Samaria) and the Southern Kingdom called Judah (capital: Jerusalem). The Northern Kingdom lasted 210 years (931-721 B.C.) and the Southern Kingdom lasted 326 years (931-606 B.C.).
Again, it was the idolatry of the Jews that angered the Lord and led to the division of United Israel, the Promised Land. King Solomon was attracted to women other than his wife who were idolaters, being daughters of heathen princes, and Solomon married them only for political alliances. The pagan wives of King Solomon burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods (1 Kings 11:8). Solomon had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines.
It was the Assyrians in 722 B.C. that destroyed the Northern Kingdom, leading to the beginning of the dispersion/scattering of the Jewish people. God must have really been angry with the ancient Jewish people because of their idolatrous practices, considering that the Assyrians were no ordinary conquerors. They were more savage and merciless than the Babylonians and the other Biblical people. They were the worst looters in Biblical history. In one archeological account, it was mentioned that the “Assyrians buried their dead with knees drawn up to their chins.” Dr. Henry H. Halley, one of the foremost Bible scholars, has this to say of the cruelty of the Assyrians: “They skinned their prisoners alive; or cut off their hands, feet, noses, ears; or put out their eyes; or pulled out their tongues, and made mounds of human skulls, all to inspire terror.” Wilmington, another Bible scholar, said that “the cruelty of the Assyrian armies was unparalleled in ancient history.”
The problems of the Jewish people were just beginning.
(To be continued)
This column continues to give out copies of the Holy Bible for free to those who cannot afford to buy their own copies. If interested, please send your letter-request to Ms. Nelly Favis Villafuerte, 5233 LRV Building, Fahrenheit St., Palanan, Makati City. Kindly mention if it is the Tagalog, English, Cebuano, or Ilocano Bible that is preferred.
Be joyful and forgiving! (Comments may be sent to Ms. Villafuerte’s email: [email protected])