God had set forth how He was to be worshiped. It was distinctly different than how other gods were worshiped and He would not accept a substitute or imitation. He would also not be supplanted.
The people were going into a territory that had been entrenched in pagan worship. They had encountered it on their present side of the Jordan too. In all their exposure God had held up His standard for them to follow. At Peor when they didn’t they paid a steep price for it. God would NOT share His people with another god nor would He allow them to worship Him like the pagans did.
God wouldn’t even “share” His place with other gods. “You shall not plant any tree as an Asherah beside the altar of the Lord you God that you shall make” (verse 21).
I have a quick question here. Is Moses speaking of the place where God chooses for His presence to rest; Jerusalem? I’m asking because the “altar” here is one that appears to be made in the future: “you shall make.” I didn’t know that there was to be another altar made. I thought the furnishings, including the bronze altar, from the Tabernacle were what was used in Solomon’s temple and the second temple. Is God merely referring to not planting Asherah trees anywhere near His earthly abode?
Moses moves onto the penalty for turning to other gods. These could be any gods other than Him. There were MANY represented in the territory Israel had passed through and was about to inherit. The sun, moon, and constellations was just the tip of the iceberg. ALL other gods were forbidden for the people who bore His name. And He would defend that position to the death.
One reason God so jealously guarded His position with the people is because “it only takes a little leaven to leaven the whole lump” (Galatians 5:9). One person turning to another God becomes one family which becomes one group which becomes on town which becomes one tribe which becomes one nation. God was NOT willing to let worship of other gods get a foothold in His people. He made the punishment severe to deter the people.
God also set safeguards against malicious accusations. It took diligent inquiry into the matter and on the word of two or three witnesses. One person’s accusations alone were not sufficient for a ruling of guilt. This is the same standard He set for all matters in judgment. And His commandment “Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor” was intended to protect the innocent.
The saddest part of this reading is that we know Israel’s future. How “a little leaven” worked its way into their midst. This “leaven” also started from the top down; Solomon’s wives and concubines. I certain this wasn’t the first of idol worship but it set the stage for wholesale idolatry and Israel’s subsequent removal from the land of promise.
How long did the people follow Moses’ directions regarding guarding against other gods? Were neighbors on the lookout? Did that first stone thrown bring with it sorrow or condemnation? How long did it take for the people to adopt an attitude of “don’t ask, don’t tell”? Were reports made out of spite, self-preservation, or loyalty to God?
What do we have today that resembles the “pillars” or “Asherah” trees? We already know that ANYTHING that replaces God in our hearts is and idol or false god but are there some that we try to lay right beside His altar? I have a few that jump to my mind but I don’t want to judge someone unjustly. What I will say is that ANYTHING that receives your prayers and worship that isn’t God, the Holy Spirit or Jesus falls into this category. ANYONE who diverts your attention from the Godhead is likewise in this group. Examine your own heart and see if there is anyone or anything on the throne besides God. If so, GET IT OFF! He won’t share His throne.
Father God, I want NOTHING on Your throne but You! I know I am guilty of trying to make You share at times. Thank You that YOU brought me back each and every time. That You forgave me instead of passing the sentence prescribed in Your Law. Thank You Jesus for taking my punishment required by God’s Law for such offenses. Keep reminding me ANY TIME I try and invite anything or anyone to share YOUR throne in my heart.
Forgive me too Father if I’m too vague in speaking Your truths. I don’t want to offend or judge unjustly. I want to leave that task in Your hands because then I KNOW the judgment is true. Please let those who You want to see be pricked by my words so Your Holy Spirit can move them from there to repentance. THANK YOU that they don’t have to pay the price established either. Thank You Jesus that You paid that price for ANY who would ask.