Too Much Talking

“He made all the stars– the Bear and Orion…” Job 9:9

Astrology is the most ancient, universal, and historically persistent form of occultism.

There are two standard reasons to chart the sky— navigation and divination.

Ancient Mesopotamians were “sea-faring”— actually they fished and did trade on two rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates. They contributed sail-boats to nautical history. However by all accounts they did not use sophisticated navigation— mostly just down-the-river and up-the-river.

There is a gap in the historical record of just how much they may have developed navigation systems. The gap, to me, could of course mean that they didn’t use it at all. It is solidly believed that whether or not they had any form of navigation, they did not chart the stars for maritime purposes.

Job 9:9 names two constellations and a star cluster. We will have to rule out his familiarity with constellations as practical and equate this reference to a familiarity with divination.

So, Job, righteous Job, was familiar— and apparently not weirded out by horoscopes. Was he familiar with the occult in general?

Well, of course. He had to have been. There was no Abrahamic religion to divide for him the sacred from the profane. There was no law by which to create parameters around Yahwist worshippers to help them separate what pleases God from what doesn’t. 

The Lord had been forgotten. Yes, at one time knowledge of Him would have permeated out from Eden, but over a quick span of time He was forgotten and idolatry prevailed.

From Genesis 5 on, we see a pattern of forgetfulness and remembrance of the Lord. 

It starts with one or two or three scattered people with a spark of awareness of the Lord making their best guesses toward obedience with varying degrees of personal revelation.

You notice the early accounts of the righteous– Noah for instance–  they were alone. There was no corporate worship, common prayers, or accepted cannon. They were each lone reeds of true religion sticking up from the sea of the contemporary idolatry of their time.

Acts 17:22-31 tells us that the Athenians worshipped every known god, including a shrine to the “Unknown God.” Paul told them that YHWH was their Unknown God and that He sent Jesus because He wanted to reveal Himself again— like in Eden— to the whole world rather than to continue the old system of people just “feeling their way to Him.” 

I have been very uncomfortably exploring this concept of syncretism in Judeo-Christianity— even when obvious in biblical accounts it feels weird to acknowledge that Christianity, and Judaism before it, while being sanctified from the world has not ever really been sanitized from it.

It’s strange to navigate this idea that Christianity is constantly being fished out from paganism. 

From the Genesis account, we know that God is the First, and Revelation tells us, the Last. He is the only living and eternal God. Jesus was the Lamb slain from the foundations of the world. Before the world, there was salvation through Christ alone.

So, it is instinctual to read the Bible seeing only the primacy, preeminence, and preexistence of Christianity. We read the inherent preeminence of Christian faith as meaning: before there was any false religion there was true religion. 

But that does not appear to be so.

Really knowledge of the one true God, as well as individual and sparse worship of the one true God, predates false religion, yes. 

But post-Eden human forgetfulness caused rapid and definitive decline into idolatry that predates any communal, organized worship of YHWH. 

This is what makes Israel so special: God entrusted His law to them. He entrusted to them a systematic, cyclical, sacramental, liturgical, structure of life with every intention of scooping them out of idolatry, cleaning them off from profanity, and wedging open the steel trap of human stubbornness to a slowly dawning recollection of our Master.

And the point of gifting to the Israelites the “knowledge of God” was so that everyone that came into contact with them would have a momentary, life-altering encounter with God’s presence that would either: 1) offend them to the point of escalated idol worship or 2) would move them to rush into the arms of the God of the Israelites evidenced in how they would beg to be allowed to live in the camp of God’s people (ie, Rahab, Ruth, and “a mixed multitude” from Egypt during the Exodus.)

I think what we all struggle to assimilate is the depth of spiritual darkness that prevailed between Adam and Abraham. And we read the Bible as if the earth’s population between Abraham and Moses had the Bible!

They didn’t. They had no law, no scripture, no priests, no fellow believers. They didn’t have apostles or teachers or fishers of men. Maybe every once in awhile an oral tradition about Enoch or Noah floated through the co-mingled accounts of Gilgmesh and Endiku. They had to sift and wade through folktales and cling to scraps of memory.

They had scattered encounters with angels, occasional direct revelation from God, one or two miracles to stoke a lifetime of lone faithfulness. Not to downplay those things– but would even those few miracles be enough for you go alone unwavering in belief, obedience, righteousness, and separatism for decades of your life? Abraham bumped into a fellow-worshipper— Melchizedek— once in his lifetime! Other than that he had no fellowship and a life-time of living in an exclusively pagan world. 

Job lived before Moses, before Mt.Sinai. He had none of the benefits of the Caananites, Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, or Romans. Each of those fortunate empires came into contact— not with the Hebrews, Israelites, or the Jews— but rather the religion, revelation, and Redeemer of the Hebrews, Israelites and the Jews. 

It is completely reasonable to believe that Job was very familiar with how occultism worked and with His acknowledgement that God created the zodiac, it’s probably not unrealistic to think that divination— soothsaying, fortune-telling, witchcraft— might have even been an ignorantly incorporated part of his self-righteous practice.

After all, the entire conversation of the Book of Job is divination. 

Have you ever considered that in times of strife, when we go round and round the question, “why is this happening,” that we might be engaging in the act of trying to divine God’s heart? 

How is contemplating “why is” different from trying to soothsay “what will” God do in the future? 

Aren’t both a process of looking at God ritualistically as though He moves in discernible, patterns in response to specific, repeatable prompts? 

People practice divination to insulate themselves from things outside of their control. The stars are always the same, so we feel secure and in control when we interpret them.

It is possible that many of us in our anxious natures try to use our knowledge of God, as a way of tea-leafing our way through the angst of uncertainty. We try to navigate any possible land-mines in God’s character. 

You cannot know enough about God to predict what He “would or wouldn’t do.” He is not a constellation moving through a night sky favoring those born under certain stars.

God handedly smashes such charting of His divine nature as utter foolishness in Job chapters 38-41. In fact He uses Job’s own zodiac reference to help make His point:

Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades?

    Can you loosen Orion’s belt?

 Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons

    or lead out the Bear with its cubs?

 Do you know the laws of the heavens?

    Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth? 

Job 38:31

God’s whole rebuke of Job is basically this:

  1. Who do you think you are?
  2. What do you think you know?
  3. Do you think I need your council?
  4. Do you find fault in how I am doing my job as Master of the Universe?”

His rebuke is this: “Do you think you can deal with me the way you would with those puny idols man is so preoccupied with; is manipulating Me the end game of your religion?”

This is the process of human forgetfulness. It is being agitated by things we can’t understand to the point of inappropriate attempts at controlling our environment, our “god,” and our wellbeing through our piety. 

We set up structures and strictures so that everything and everyone is easy to understand and maneuver.

We decide that this is also how God sees and understands everything. We decide that if you abide by these constraints that God will keep all bad things— ranging from calamity to His own wrath— away from us. 

Hardship befalls a friend. Fallenness is revealed in the saved. A flood or a fire rains down. 

So we get out from the closet the old bag of feathers, sticks and tea leaves, gossip, and subpar theology and shake ‘em up, scatter them across the floor trying to figure out what these people did so wrong that God would send evil things their way. 

And immediately we are looking at God as though He operated the way those other “gods” operate. And in such, we have again forgotten the one true God. 

If you read Numbers and Leviticus, you’ll notice that every holiday on the sabbatical calendar was initiated by God with the admonition “do this to remember me.” And Jesus, likewise initiated the practice of communion, “in remembrance” of Him. 

Being fished out of a sea of idolatries requires remembrance. If we fail to remind ourselves of God’s incomprehensible heart that sees every man’s heart, we will flounder around in synchronistic Christianity that never fully gives up that witchy itch for control of our fate.

Without remembrance we won’t release ourselves into full-fledged dependence on God’s mercy. 

We will continue to have a preoccupation with the theoretical dynamics of sin rather than a practical abandonment to God’s assurance of salvation. 

“I know that my Redeemer lives!”

Liturgical Holidays

“Eat whatever is offered to you…” 1Corinthians 10:27

With Thanksgiving two days away, for the sake of family unity, I think we should contemplate deeply the Apostle Paul’s advice to the Corinthians: “Eat whatever is offered to you.”

In Paul’s context this was not a matter of passing on saccharine-sweet candied yams, or appropriating to your plate as few slices of overly dry turkey breast as possible, or debating whether the cranberries should have been stewed or if the ones from the can really are the best.

Paul wasn’t talking about that. Paul was talking about idolatry.

First Corinthians 10 finds Paul giving detailed and sometimes contradictory advice to early Christians on how to behave as dinner guests when the holiday feast was baked on the altar of a pagan god.

“Feasting” in the ancient world– Old Testament, New Testament, Hebrew, or Greek– was always about worship. It was part of the sacrificial worship of Yahweh as detailed in Leviticus 6:18; 29 and Numbers 18:8-11– the meat from the sacrifice was eaten by the priestly families.

The Old Testament Passover lamb, emblematic of Jesus, was roasted– as would happen on an altar– and then shared by native born Israelites as a feast; and left overs were forbidden to the dismay of college students everywhere! (Exodus 12:6-10.)

Sacrificial consumption explains why Jesus would instruct his followers to “feed on me” in John 6:22-63.

Well before He inaugurates the first Holy Communion at the Last Supper, He is preaching about eating his flesh and drinking His blood. Why? Because He is the sacrifice.

Consuming the sacrifice was for priests; it was for the common family at Passover; it was an act of participation in worship and a rite of membership.

So, eating “whatever you’re served” has major implications to the Corinthian Christians. If they go to a pagan holiday dinner, and they are served meat that had been sacrificed to idols, are people going to think that they are still pagans– that they belong in the Pantheon not the Upper Room?

The interweaving of holidays and identity is a concern that pops up periodically throughout church history. Only a handful of Christians today are deeply concerned about pagan pageantry in major Christian holidays.

However, pagan intrusion into Christianity was of concern to the Pilgrims.

We owe our “Thanksgiving” to the Puritans who obviously really liked the idea of a feast commemorating the fall with a spirit of generosity and neighborliness, but couldn’t abide celebrating Martinmas, or St. Martin’s Day.

Puritans derided Catholics, above all, for the kind of idolatry that gives Martin of Tours not only a “sainthood” but a feast day. So, Martin had to go, even if the turkey dinner stayed.

The themes of St. Martin’s Day are generosity to others and gratitude for the harvest. It takes place every year on the 11th of November. And it is celebrated with a feast of roast goose, duck, or hen…or perhaps wild turkey.

If you’ve ever wondered why only Americans celebrate a Thanksgiving in November; it’s because literally all of Europe is celebrating St. Martin’s Day this time of year. Which also happens to be essentially the same exact holiday.*

The Puritans might have tried to bury the worship component of St. Martin’s Day by taking the idol’s name out of it, renaming it Thanksgiving, and de-spiritualizing it to mere “generosity,” “gratitude,” and “neighborliness,” but the spirituality of feasting is not something any person has the authority to undo– even if their intention is to ferret out idolatrous heresies in the church. In fact, de-spiritualizing feasting has a historical track record of fomenting heresy as we are introduced to in the book of Acts.

In Acts 6:5, we meet a man named Nicolas. He is appointed as a deacon to the church in Jerusalem.

Nicolas appears to have been a lover of ideas. A bit of a spiritual sojourner, he was a pagan Greek who converted to Judaism first and then to Christianity.

He is strongly believed to be the namesake, if not the leader, of the Nicolaitans of Revelation 2.

The Nicolaitans were a group of Christians that held to the heresy that the body mattered so little that what you ate, drank, or engaged in physically had no bearing on your holiness– only what you believed with your mind mattered.

This heresy happens to be the heresy that Paul is addressing in 1 Corinthians chapters 5 through 9 before he directly addresses the question: “Can Christians eat at a holiday party where the meal was sacrificed to idols” in chapter 10.

Before Paul can broach the lawfulness of eating food sacrificed to idols, he has to dismantle this heresy of de-spiritualization. You cannot de-spiritualize physical actions to the point of living out a disembodied faith. 

If you think that “only what you believe” matters, and your physical actions don’t, you become easy prey for a special satanic trap known as “the Doctrine of Balaam,” which the Nicolaitans employed as we are told in Revelation 2:14-16.

The Doctrine of Balaam is a New Testament phrase named for an Old Testament character. The Apostle Peter and the Apostle Jude equate Balaam to the false teachers that plagued the early church by polluting the gospel in various ways.

Balaam was a prophet that was asked to place a curse on the Israelites before they entered into the Promised Land. Balak, the Moabite king who asked for the curse to be placed, was very frustrated by Balaam’s inability to curse Israel. Because God was determined to bless them, (Numbers 22-24) Balaam was entirely unable to curse them.

But Balaam was a crafty man. Though he couldn’t curse Israel while they were under God’s blessing, he instructed Balak to entice the Israelites into sexual immorality and idolatry says Numbers 31:16.

Revelation 2:14 condemns Balaam of “[showing] Balak how to trip up the people of Israel. He taught them to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by commiting sexual sin.”

Balaam knew about a covenant  loophole– once the Israelites had engaged in sexual immorality and idolatry, God’s chosen and protected people would be punished by Him for ungodliness.

And they were. They were punished by a plague and the offending Israelites were killed.

What we do in the physical is spiritual. The Israelites partook with their bodies and worshipped with their inner being. And both body and spirit were punished…Jesus has a lot to say about this (see Matthew 10:28; Matthew 5:29).

The Nicolaitans were accused of the same folly as Balaam. They tripped Christians up by teaching them to eat and act in their bodies however they wanted; because after all, only the mind mattered.

Old Testament and New, our faith has never been simply cerebral.

By changing its name, the Puritans must have believed they had elevated St. Martin’s Day from an idolatrous feast day to a cerebral holiday that glorifies, not a man, but, ideas– the ideas of gratitude and community.

But you can’t just change a name, or the verbiage and think that that sanitizes the worship out of a holiday or food or drink or sex or feasting.

In talking about liturgical holidays, and which ones have pagan accoutrements, and which and what the kids can participate in, and where and when and how much…stop with the splitting of hairs over the meat sacrificed to idols! This is what Paul would say.

There is a whole other axe to grind:

That is, are you aware of just how spiritual this time of year is?

Are you aware that from a spiritual perspective a meal is just a meal; and from a spiritual perspective a meal is way more than a meal?

From a spiritual perspective the holidays are just a collection of days a year; and from a spiritual perspective the holidays are a hot-bed of spiritual warfare.

Are you aware that this is a sacred season for people who do quite literally sacrifice to idols? Do they pray to no one or nothing?

Investigate 1 Corinthians 8 & 1 Corinthians 10:19-22.

The worst thing we could do this time of year is to ignore the very present spiritual atmosphere while we worry about the past origins of these traditions. The traditions are a technicality.

They are the kind of technicality that Balaam exploited to distract and sabotage the Israelites.

Whenever we can be convinced to focus on only the physical or only the spiritual, rather than considering them and weighing them together, we fall prey to the Doctrine of Balaam and the heresy of the Nicolaitans.

We will be exploring these final four questions regarding spiritual warfare, the “distract to destroy” tactic of the Doctrine of Balaam, and how these concepts have everything to do with the holidays, in my Christmas post due out right around the Winter Solstice.

 

*Side Note: Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving in October closer to Halloween, which is ironic because Martinmas is also called Old Hallowmas Eve or Old Halloween. In some European countries, children trick or treat and carry jack-o-lanterns during St. Martin’s Day festivities.