“Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world and not according to Christ” Colossians Ch.2 v. 8.
Sociology teaches us that culture is “all that human beings learn to do, to use, to produce, to know and to believe as they grow to maturity…” In other words, it is the philosophies, customs and social behavior of a particular people or society. We are all born into the culture of our family and by extension, our country. The thing about culture is that it ultimately inculcates in us, tradition. That is something we practice regularly or on designated times of the day or dates. Some who migrate are likely to adopt the culture of their new country. The book of Ruth is a very good example of the preceding. Ruth, a Moabite woman, married into the family of the tribe of Judah, lost her husband who died, but opted to remain with her mother-in-law, Naomi. Therefore, completely immersing herself into the culture and customs of the Jewish people. On the other hand, her sister-in-law, Orpah, decided to go back to her people and a familiar culture (i.e. a culture wrought in idol worship) after losing her husband who had also died.
The word culture is also used metaphorically in terms like ‘gun culture,’ ‘pop culture,’ ‘literary culture’ and ‘religious culture’ to name a few. Our discussion will look solely at the latter — religious culture and the impact it has had on people from time immemorial.
Religion plays a very important role in the lives of people “because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead…” (Romans Ch. 1 vs. 19-20).
The scripture verse above is a clear indication as to why men feel the need to worship. Man knows intuitively that there is someone greater than he/she. Unfortunately, the invisibility of the true and living Almighty God appears to invoke in man an unnecessary and spiritually destructive need to construct different forms of what man thinks God should or might look like.
As we all may know, one of the oldest forms of religious culture involves idol worship.
“…Although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God nor were thankful but became futile in their thoughts and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things” (Rom. Ch. 21-23).
Apart from idol worship, the tradition of circumcision (performed only on the male child when he is eight days old), has been upheld by practitioners of Judaism, Islam and Ethiopian Orthodox to name a few.
Its origin is recorded in the book of Genesis where Jehovah God commissioned the ‘custom.’ “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless. And I will make My covenant between Me and you and will multiply you exceedingly…No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations…This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised…” (Gen. Ch. 17 vs. 1-12).
He was literally being commanded to cut off a part of their penises. Abraham believed God and got to work the same day slicing off foreskins in order to bind the promise/agreement that was made to him. Although the act was a physical one it was spiritually motivated. It was the commencement of the sanctification of a people who would be required to hold sacred, the statutes and commandments of Almighty God.
Now, this blog is not about circumcision per se but about a religious culture that was given ordinance to set apart a group of people to be followers of the true and living unseen God.
It would have been quite an honor to be the chosen people of Almighty God. The rest of the world wanted nothing to do with Jehovah. Other nations were busy carving images to worship and sacrificing to those images. Moreover, the bigger picture for setting apart Abraham and his descendants was for the preservation of humanity. It was necessary for those other nations to witness the power of the unseen God through Abraham and his descendants so that it may be known “there is no one like the Lord our God” (Exodus, Ch. 8 v. 10).
Centuries later, Abraham’s descendants — the nation of Israel — were given the law, The Ten Commandments as well as Judicial Law and Ceremonial Law. Which was given to provoke in their hearts and minds, the awareness of sin, as people did what was pleasing to themselves without much consequence.
The Ceremonial Law required a lot of work that would have been extremely exhausting. Attached to the Ceremonial Law were different types of offerings such as—the Burnt Offering, the Grain Offering, the Peace Offering, the Sin Offering, the Trespass Offering and Offerings with Restitution. Imagine having to keep up with all of the preceding on a daily basis. In addition, important days of feasting unto the LORD had to be adhered to as well. Every ritual had to be meticulously executed.
A very vital part of the Law to be kept was the Law of Sabbaths. “Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its produce, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave, the beasts of the field may eat. In like manner you shall do with your vineyard and your olive grove. Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall rest, that your ox and your donkey may rest and the son of your maidservant and the stranger may be refreshed (Ex. Ch. 23 vs. 10-12).
Leviticus Ch. 23 vs. 26-32 speaks of The Day of Atonement. Which was also to be treated as a solemn day of rest. This feature of the Ceremonial Law was done to ‘cover’ Israel’s sin. It is a custom that is still a main part of Jewish culture today, which is called Yom Kippur in Hebrew— “And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: “Also the tenth day of this seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement. It shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall afflict your souls (no eating, drinking or sexual relations) and offer an offering made by fire to the LORD. And you shall do no work on that same day, for it is the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the LORD your God…It shall be to you a sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict your souls (no eating, drinking or sexual relations); on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening, you shall celebrate your sabbath.”
The central theme of the Sabbaths was “to rest.” Just as God rested after he was finished with His work in the book of Genesis.
Keeping the law proved to be quite a challenge for the Jews as they broke it repeatedly. The nation of Israel craved for the ways and the culture of other nations as they regularly defied God and consciously gravitated towards the customs and culture of the other nations. Albeit belonging to the circumcised tribes. Moses, fed up of their stubborn rebellion, chided the Israelites to “…Circumcise the foreskin of your heart and be stiff-necked (stubborn) no longer” (Deut. Ch. 10 v. 16).
I mentioned previously that culture ultimately inculcates in us, tradition. Well, it is apparent from the scripture above, that the Israelites began to treat circumcision and the law as religious formality and not as the binding agreement between Jehovah God and their forefathers.
Nevertheless, their persistent sacrilege did not take God by surprise for He knows all things. He knew they could not remain faithful to His commands because man’s nature is fallible. Why then, would God implement laws He foreknew man would not be capable of keeping? One might ask. Well, for one thing man had to be made aware of his imperfection. Remember, “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges Ch. 17 v. 6). In addition, the law, that is, the Ten Commandments and Judicial aspects of it, became the tool whereby man could now be judged for there was nothing by which to judge man before the law was enacted.
To illustrate, Cain murdered his brother, Abel and the penalty for his crime was, “When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you. A fugitive and a vagabond you shall be on the earth.” Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is greater that I can bear! Surely You have driven me out this day from the face of the ground; I shall be hidden from Your face; I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth and it will happen that anyone who finds me will kill me.” The LORD said to him, “Therefore, whoever kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold and the LORD set a mark on Cain, lest anyone finding him should kill him (Gen. Ch. 4 vs. 12-15).
On the other hand, after the law was enacted, a man was found “gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron, and to all the congregation…Then the LORD said to Moses, “The man must surely be put to death” (Num. Ch.15 vs. 32-36).
Cain’s crime certainly deserved death but instead he was allowed to exist, although existing without God is like death. He even went on to have a family. However, the stick gatherer got the death sentence because de dared to defy God’s law concerning the Sabbath day. The punishment for his crime seemed harsh but it was the law during that era.
As with everything surrounding the law and its ritualistic ceremonies, the Jews did not understand the spiritual significance. Hence, when Jesus began His ministry, resistance to the paradigm shift in their centuries old culture and traditions was with much vehemence. His sermon on the mountain to the multitudes with its repeated phrase, “You have heard that it was said…But I say to you,” testified to a change in the conversation which introduced to those who chose to follow Him, a new culture; a Christ Culture.
All Scripture was taken from the New King James Version Bible.